by Jeff VanderMeer
March 29, 2012
From mainstream realism and surrealism to fantasy, science fiction to swords & sorcery, Michael Moorcock has done it all. Honored as one of the most iconic British writers of the post-World War II era, Moorcock has already won several lifetime achievement awards—even as he continues to produce vibrant and relevant work. His latest book, from PM Press, is London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction, and features an introduction by novelist Iain Sinclair.
This collection features the best of Moorcock’s nonfiction, with an emphasis on 2006 onward, but with plenty of material representing the full span of his fifty years of work. In addition to insight into Moorcock’s own literary output, readers will find excellent appreciations of Angela Carter, J.G. Ballard, and Thomas Disch, along with great essays on music and politics. A selection of introductions and reviews carefully chosen by Moorcock and PM editor Allan Kausch round out London Peculiar.
The most personal sections of the collection can be found under the headings of “London” and “Other Places.” The title essay, “London Peculiar,” is an impassioned relating of Moorcock’s memories of wartime London and the architectural “improvements” that occurred in rebuilding the city after the war. It is beautifully complemented by a longer rumination entitled “A Child’s Christmas in the Blitz,” which will fascinate readers. Other essays on London include “Heart and Soul of the City,” “Building the New Jerusalem” and “City of Wonderful Night.”
The variety on display in London Peculiar reflects several core strengths: curiosity, passion, a need to understand the past, a compulsion to spin entertaining yarns, and a restless intellect always engaged in sharp and insightful analysis.
As Sinclair writes in his introduction, “The Man on the Stairs,” “I could never quite persuade myself that there was any such human entity as Michael Moorcock. I mean in the sense that you could touch him, or talk to him, or sit down with him for a meal at which the seamless stories, the astonishing anecdotes, the myths and memories, would ravel and unravel, lap and overlap like swirling, contradictory, sedimentary-heavy Thames tides. The man was too fecund, too prolific, in too many places, high and low culture, for me to believe he was one person and not a Warholite factory.” And yet, as Sinclair attests to, that is exactly the protean talent embodied by Moorcock.In his afterword, Moorcock notes that although he has “been a working journalist all my life,” he believes U.S. readers will “be surprised by what they find here,” given his reputation in this country primarily as a “writer of imaginative fiction.” Perhaps, however, this highly entertaining collection will only confirm what most readers know: Moorcock is ubiquitous in the best possible way.
PM Press has also done an excellent job with the design of London Peculiar: it invites extensive and comfortable reading, and also includes a comprehensive bibliography of Moorcock’s works. Highly recommended.