by Paul Di Filippo
June 24, 2012
Let me illustrate how prolific and magnificent the nonfiction career of Michael Moorcock has been.
In 2010 Savoy Books published a wonderful, ginormous hardcover (over 700 pages) by Moorcock titled Into the Media Web: Selected Short Non-Fiction, 1956-2006. Compiler John Davey told us in his “Editor’s Introduction” that he had culled 150 items from “maybe four to five times that number.” It was a marvelous timetripping lineup of brilliant insights and entertainment, and you can read Gary Wolfe’s review of the volume right here at Locus Online. But from what I can research through Google, the book is currently unavailable at any price.
So now comes a shorter anthology of Moorcock’s nonfiction prose, from the bold and challenging and ambitious PM Press. Is it a distillation of the larger predecessor? No, there’s hardly any overlap of content! It’s almost 400 pages of newly collected essays for your enjoyment, making a total of almost 1100 pages of Moorcockiana now dug from his trove. Who’s to say there are not more worthy items to be excavated in future volumes?
Because these pieces are mostly quite short, this book represents a browser’s paradise. You can dip in anywhere for a quick and tasty morsel. But editor Allan Kausch has gone to the trouble to organize the work by topics, so we’ll have a gander using his schema.
Two autobiographical essays open, introducing the reader to Moorcock the man. The longer piece, “A Child’s Christmas in the Blitz,” is melancholy, elegiac and still celebratory: sheer joy to contemplate and share.
Next comes a section devoted to “London,” the city that has occupied a central place n Moorcock’s life and fiction. A piece such as “Introduction to Gerald Kersh’s Fowler’s End” does double duty by serving not only as a meditation on the fabled UK capital, but also as a guide to lost masterpieces of literature. So many of the essays here have a similar function, whatever their ostensible theme happens to be. In fact, a sympathetic reader could use this volume to guide a wonderful course of self-education in a panoply of offbeat literature, from the Victorians to the ultra-contemporary.
The next heading is “Other Places” in which Moorcock gives first-hand and vicarious impressions of global venues. This is followed by “Absent Friends,” heartfelt tributes to many of the writers, now deceased, with whom Moorcock had intimate ties or peer-to-peer friendships. SF readers will be particularly interested in his observations of Thomas Disch, Barrington Bayley, Angela Carter, and J. G. Ballard.
Moorcock has had a long and fruitful affiliation with the musical world, and the pieces under the rubric “Music” include thoughtful appreciations of everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Mozart, as well as a memoir of his own band, the Deep Fix. Surprisingly, the next section—on “Politics”—is the smallest, with only three items, but of course still good.
Then comes what is arguably the core of the book, “Introductions and Reviews,” 150 pages of Moorcock’s witty, informed, illuminating mashnotes to many of the books and authors whom he has loved and bonded with. While quite a few of the pieces are just three pages or so, journalistically efficient, the longer entries-such as those on Leigh Brackett, R. C. Sherriff, Rex Warner and Robert E. Howard-are lush, oeuvre-surveying expeditions. Sadly, so much of what Moorcock observed in the past remains pertinent today. “In the last ten years, as the popularity of this genre [SF] has grown, the number or writers supplying it has risen accordingly. Now, like battery hens, they produce regularly and reliably and what they produce is virtually without flavour or value of any kind.” That’s from a 1976 review of Again, Dangerous Visions.
Moorcock’s prose is as limpid and fluid as a mountain stream, carrying the reader along effortlessly, while still achieving poetic effects that a lesser writer would strain for with pyrotechnics. Frequently he will employ a kind of “Martian observer” cold-blooded objectivity to good use. “Clinical technicians observing on screens London’s wired-up sleepless-sufferers from apnoea [sic], insomnia, and night anxieties-are sometimes shocked at the level of terror or rage they find.” (“City of Wonderful Night.”) At other times he makes pronouncements or coins maxims that are more personal and judgmental. “Authoritarianism stops time. It corrupts history. The best artists working under dictatorships either escape time altogether, into fabulism, or move into an imaginary future or idealised past.” (“A Review of Another Fool in the Balkans.”) In all cases, his voice rings out with sincerity, forcefulness, authority and passion. But he’s never dismissive of the viewpoints of others or caustic, but rather simply affirmatory of his own visions and stances.
The book constitutes not only the record of a wide-ranging, probing SF intellect, but also a mini-history of “Things that Mattered” in the past seven decades of Moorcock’s bountiful life.
Paul Di Filippo has been writing professionally for over thirty years, and has published almost that number of books. He lives in Providence, RI, with his mate of an even greater number of years, Deborah Newton.