The Roads Between the Worlds

The Michael Moorcock series continues not with sword-and-sorcery but science fiction.

Raw Feed (1999): The Roads Between the Worlds, Michael Moorcock, 1964, 1971.Roads Between the World

Introduction” — An interesting introduction in which Moorcock not only talks about the three novels in this omnibus but his relation to sf. Moorcock cites Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man as an influence which made me eager to read the novels in this omnibus. Moorcock has said he doesn’t have a lot of interest in “modern sf” but liked the works of Fritz Leiber, Philip K. Dick, and the Frederick Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth collaborations. This explains his dislike of Larry Niven and Robert Heinlein. He doesn’t like conservative sf with its preeminence of rationalizing with hard science its fantasy elements. For him, sf (he’s hardly alone in this nor is it an illegitimate stance) is a way to understand our world. The fantasy element in his sf is both a symbol as well as a device to move the story. He says these three novels trace the evolution of the “rationalist apparatus” of sf from “stage machinery” to symbolic writings. Moorcock also, as I didn’t know, worked as a writer for the British Liberal Party for awhile. These novels were written in one draft and very slightly revised for this edition. Evidently, they were written in a hurry to provide more traditional far for the experimental magazines Science Fiction Adventures and New Worlds.

The Wrecks of Time — I liked this novel a lot more than I thought I would. Its plot of Earths being built and destroyed and altered (and the inhabitants amnesiac about the alteration of their planet’s geography) reminded me of Philip K. Dick’s themes of what is reality and simulating it. The scheming groups of D-Squads and aliens obsessed with recreating the society that birthed them reminded me of A. E. van Vogt (also an influence on Dick). Continue reading

Elric: Song of the Black Sword

The Michael Moorcock series continues with a look at his most famous character.

Raw Feed (1999): Elric: Song of the Black Sword, Michael Moorcock, 1961, 1963.Elric Song of the Black Sword

Introduction” — Moorcock talks briefly about some of the inspirations for Elric – who he never considered an anti-hero: Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, American Beats, French Existentialists. James Dean was also an inspiration as was the early Elvis Presley. Moorcock cites a fascination for how the heroic ideal can be used to manipulate people.  (The Bastable series by Moorcock, in a way, deals with this theme.) That is reflected in the Elric saga as he initially takes the steps down the road which will lead to the death of his family and friends, the destruction of his home and world, and, eventually, his own death by seeking to rescue his lover. I was surprised to learn Moorcock started working on Elric in the 1950s, a time, he notes, when J. R. R. Tolkien and Robert Howard were available only in small press editions.

Elric of Melniboné — This book is as compelling, as grim, as foreboding as it was the first time I read it more than 20 years ago. This book is a classic with the doomed Elric dependent on Stormbringer, the vampiric sword that sustains him at the cost of other’s souls. Continue reading

Tales from the Texas Woods

The Michael Moorcock series continues.

Moorcock lived in Texas for a while — in Austin, of course, given his political proclivities.

Raw Feed (1998): Tales from the Texas Woods, Michael Moorcock, 1997.Tales from the Texas Woods

Introduction” — An interesting introduction in which Moorcock reveals, surprisingly, (I saw no clue of this before reading his collection Fabulous Harbors), a long standing fascination with the American West and tales of it. Indeed, some of his first sold writing was pulp Westerns.

The Ghost Warriors” — A tale featuring a new Moorcock hero, the Masked Buckaroo (mentioned in Moorcock’s Fabulous Harbors and The War Amongst the Angels), Count Ulrich aka Monsieur Zenith, his nemesis Sexton Begg, and some marauding Apaches. The disguised Ulrich leads a band of Ghost Warriors in an elaborate ruse to get the trumpet note (supplied by a pursuing military party) needed to magically open the pathway to the Grey Fees or Realm Below and the multiverse beyond. Besides the story’s wit, I liked the deliberate echoes of the Ghost Dance in the Ghost Warriors and their quest for a land of “lost dreams” where herds of buffalo still roamed, justice prevailed, and virtue is rewarded. I also like that, though the Masked Buckaroo is willing to let Count von Bek escape unpursued, that indefatigable force of Law, Sexton Begg, is not about to give up the chase just because Ulrich went to the Grey Fees.

About My Multiverse” — Short explanation of how mathematician Mandelbrot’s chaos theory and fractal sets lent coherence to Moorcock’s conception of the multiverse, its use as a political propaganda metaphor for the “Happy Mean” (which seems to resemble the unconvincing “Third Way” between capitalism and communism), and Moorcock’s belief that popular culture is where authority can be attacked. Continue reading

The War Amongst the Angels

The Michael Moorcock series continues with a look at the concluding book in the Second Ether Trilogy.

Raw Feed (1998): The War Amongst the Angels: An Autobiographical Story, Michael Moorcock, 1996.War Amongst the Angels 

Moorcock, when venturing outside the straightforward fantasy novel format of his Elric and von Bek series with their straightforward plots, grows on you with his psychedelic, initially incomprehensible plots in this, the culmination of the trilogy beginning with Blood then Fabulous Harbors and in his Multiverse comic book series which retells and expands on the trilogy.

A cynic would view Moorcock’s multiverse with its theoretically endless variations on certain characters, archetypes, plots, symbols as a lazy excuse to constantly recycle the same stories or an inability to collapse the story potentials of an idea via the act of observation, i.e. writing, into an artistic statement.

However, after awhile, the variations (complicated by the non-linearity of time in Moorcock’s Multiverse) become hypnotic. Continue reading

Fabulous Harbors

The Moorcock series continues with what is sort of the middle book, even though it’s a collection, of the trilogy, the so-called Second Ether Trilogy, that started with Blood.

Raw Feed (1998): Fabulous Harbors, ed. Michael Moorcock, 1995.Fabulous Harbors

Introduction” — Mock introduction to the collection. Moorcock claims these stories were related to him by Edwin Begg and that these stories tell of a “slightly better world”. On the other hand, Moorcock, in a serious vein, says our “visions reveal our motives and identities.”

The Retirement of Jack Karaquazian” — Fragment mentioning, in the title, a character from Moorcock’s Blood. I still don’t really understand Moorcock’s multiverse, but I like it. Many characters with the same name or similar names pop up. They seem to be manifestations of the same personality across the multiverse or, sometimes, the same character. Of course, the balance between Law and Chaos – not to be confused with good and evil, is of paramount importance. I’m not sure how the Holy Grail and the Bek’s, particularly Rose von Bek, figure in all this. The multiverse also seems to operate on many different scales of time and space. This story mentions the “Masked Buckaroo” which Moorcock has written of elsewhere as well as his creator.

The White Pirate” — An entertaining, playful fantasy that does a twist on the Wandering Jew tale. Moorcock gives us the Wandering Gentile, unjustly cursed by Christ and an immortal wanderer about the Earth, a miserable man with a tinge of Hitler about Him. (His name is Manfred von Bek and, at one point, he says “Mein Kampf! Mein Kampf!”). Only finding the Wandering Jew can remove the curse. Finally, after a 2,000 year search, he finds him – and he’s infuriated. The Wandering Jew, sensibly, has made the best of his lot (as he remarks being cursed with immortal life’s not a bad thing). He leads a rich, rewarding life of study, surrounded by riches and adoring families and friends. The Wandering Gentile can’t accept he’s wasted so much of his life on despair and bitterness, and he strikes off again. Moorcock even works in a bit of an attack on the idea of political ideologies. Continue reading


The Michael Moorcock series continues.

Raw Feed (1996): Blood:  A Southern Fantasy, Michael Moorcock, 1994.Blood

This was probably the strangest, most obscure novel I’ve read of Moorcock’s though, in skimming over his The Warhound and the World’s Pain [incidentally, one of my favorite Moorcock novels, but I made no notes on it], I realized they both share Moorcock’s typical preoccupation with the contest between Chaos and Law. That struggle is not to be confused with contending Good and Evil. Neither Law or Chaos can be allowed to win. Life can only exist through their struggle and all its many symbolic connotations (justice and tyranny, life and evolution versus entropy).

Usually, in the novels set in Moorcock’s multiverse (virtually all of them as far as I can tell), there is a struggle about maintaining the balance between Law and Chaos or, as in his Stormbringer, a loss of that struggle.

This novel’s plot is more ambitious in that the Rose and Captain Billy-Bob Begg (the von Bek and Begg families seem to be nearly ubiquitous in Moorcock novels and show up here as does a Renark – a protagonist in Moorcock’s The Sundered Worlds) seek to fashion – and seem to be at least temporarily successful – a new order in the multiverse, an order less inimical to human life and needs. Continue reading

The Eternal Champion

Well, I’ve been putting off this series for a while because I’ve read a lot of Michael Moorcock, and there’s a lot of Moorcock I haven’t read because there’s a lot of Moorcock.

Moorcock is a very uneven writer.

He’s given to constantly revising his work.

And most of his work fits in a series called the Eternal Champion and deals with the eternal conflict between Law and Chaos in the multiverse. Or you could cynically see this as a marketing ploy. Buy one Michael Moorcock book and you have to buy them all. Not an opinion, I share. You can read most of the series independent of each other.

I think I first came across him in Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords #4 anthology with a story that was incorporated into Moorcock’s The Sailor on the Seas of Fate which is part of the long Elric saga.

I eagerly devoured all the Elric books, when there were only six, in the DAW editions with the Michael Whelan covers. (I even have a limited edition print of Whelan’s Stormbringer.)

Moorcoock’s work has found its way into music and comic books too.

White Wolf Publishing put out omnibuses of most of the Eternal Champion books in the 1990s.

Raw Feed (1995): The Eternal Champion, Michael Moorcock, 1994.Eternal Champion

Introduction” — An interesting introduction to the first volume of the saga of the multiverse hero, the Eternal Champion aka many other names including Elric of Melnibone. Moorcock explains that his Eternal Champion in his many manifestations allows him to create and explore many ethical situations and show the eternal tension and battle (the Eternal Champion very often wars to establish a balance between the two) between Chaos and Law — not, he says emphatically, to be confused with Good and Evil. I find it revealing, given his outspoken political views, that one of Moorcock’s favorite books is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Moorcock also reveals a dislike for hard sf (which explains his public statement about Larry Niven boring him) and a love of romantic sf, in particular C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Charles Harness, Phillip K. Dick, Alfred Bester, and Jack Williamson. Moorcock’s sf and fantasy was an attempt to re-evoke a type of wonder in sf. Continue reading

A Nomad of the Time Streams

My look at steampunk continues with a Raw Feed on one of the proto-steampunk texts: Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air.

A Nomad of the Time Streams was an omnibus in the 1990s from the White Wolf Moorcock reprint series.

I’ve read a lot of Moorcock, but there’s a lot I haven’t read because there’s a lot of Moorcock. I have in no way kept track of the variant editions of his work since Moorcock is a frequent reviser.

Incidentally, my older self finds Moorcock’s political musings even more incoherent and unconvincing than I did in 1999 though not without some value.

Raw Feed (1999): A Nomad of the Time Streams, Michael Moorcock, 1995.Nomad of the Time Stream

“Introduction” — An interesting introduction in which Moorcock states the three Oswald Bastable novels in this book deal with themes of imperialism and ‘racialism” as well as being a homage to admired pre-WWI British writers: Amongst those writers, Moorcock includes William Morris, George Bernard Shaw, and H. G. Wells. While Moorcock admires socialism but not their particular type, he regards “paternalism and centralism” the bane of socialism, and he thinks some on the left guilty of them. Moorcock has an unclear line about “ … their social solutions, however well-meant, however they hoped to achieve the millennium, to give self-respect to ‘minorities’ and the poor were always doomed while they kept to their prescriptions.” Is this Moorcock’s way of phrasing the criticisms of conservatives that leftists have a “murderous drive for utopia”? I suspect he’s just disagreeing with their policies for utopia. Moorcock, inexplicably, views paternalism and democracy as incompatible. (They seem quite compatible in modern America.) He decries “laissez-faire capitalism” as not being real equality under the law. Somehow, he thinks America (I’m assuming he intends this for an American and, possibly, British audience since this is an American edition, and he resides in America) does not guarantee equal voice, equal access (he may have a point here) and equal responsibility (seemingly, I believe, at odds with socialism). He then has another odd line about the “democratic infrastructure” being under attacked by various quarters in the guise of freedom by things like the telephone company, porn videos, and choice of washing powder. (These are his actual examples, and I don’t understand their significance except for the porn – he’s an admirer of Andrea Dworkin.)

The Warlord of the Air — I liked this adventure set in an alternate history where history seems to have taken an alternate path about the time of the Boer War which, here, only lasted about six months. Oswald Bastable, narrator and hero of the story (the framing conceit is that Moorcock’s grandfather, Michael Moorcock, meets Bastable in 1903 and writes the story down), Captain in the British army, is magically and mysteriously transported to an alternate timeline, circa 1973, during a show-the-flag expedition to the small Himalayan kingdom of Kumbalar. There in the ancient, mazelike palace, Bastable is transported to another universe where lack of two world wars has kept colonialism (practiced by the usual suspects of England, France, Italy, Russia, Germany, Japan, and a US that denies it has an empire, just a “Greater American Commonwealth”). It’s a world of wonderfully developed airships, clean cities, women’s’ suffrage, and, compared to his 1902, improved standard of living. Part of the attraction of alternate histories is the encounter with alternate historical personages. (And, with Moorcock, alternate versions of the personalities found in his Eternal Champion cycle. Here we meet the usually unpredictable scoundrel Captain Quelch as a nice airship captain that Bastable’s fond of. Von Bek shows up here as an anarchist.) Ronald Reagan (at least a “Reagan”, no first name given) gets Bastable kicked out of the Special Air Police. (I suspect, given that this novel seems to have been written in 1971, that this incident was a revision for this edition.) Bastable, disgraced, falls in with a band of anarchists that includes von Bek, Una Persson, and the Nemo-like Captain Korzeniowski. Bastable thinks the imperial world of this alternate 1973 is a utopia until these anarchists show him the repression of the colonized people, economic trade arrangements that exploit them, and the indoctrination of the natives which leads them to believe this all just, inevitable, and an improvement. Bastable meets an alternate historical personage, Vladmir Ilyitch Ulianov (Lenin in our timeline) who is an exile from a democratic Russia that never suffered a violent revolution. It is here the book starts becoming ambiguous in its politics. Ulianov comes across as a man hoping for a miserable proletariat so they will incite revolution. General OT Shaw, a Chinese warlord, is sort of a Vernian figure, think Robur, who has constructed sort of a high tech, anarchist utopia in China. Allegedly, the freedom he offers attracts many brilliant scientists from other countries to build advanced weapons including a nuke. Totalitarian countries, in our world, never seem to have trouble finding scientists for such projects. Bastable argues with Ulianov (and Shaw agrees with him) that the revolution is better motivated by hope rather than misery. He also argues that a quest for a perfect utopia can never be resolved permanently, that imperfection will always exist in the world, that justice can be achieved by small individual acts as well large abstractions. Given the remarks in the introduction to this omnibus, Bastable seems to speak for Moorcock. I get the impression that we are to find fault with Ulianov (and, perhaps, Shaw) but neither one really argues with Bastable and they don’t seem guilty of these crimes. Not guilty, at least, until the end when Shaw sends Bastable on a mission to nuke Hirsohima via airship, a job which horrifies Bastable (and is clearly to horrify us). The efforts of Shaw and the anarchists lead to, eventually, war between the Great Powers – or so one British character, part of an international expedition to crush Shaw, tells Bastable (then allied with Shaw). Bastable replies that war should have come a long time ago between the powers, that only its absence kept their empires intact. This adds some poignancy to the note at novel’s end that presenter Michael Moorcock died in World War One. Continue reading

An Ornament to His Profession

The Charles L. Harness series continues.

I have by no means read all of his work but, between this and the novels in Rings, you get a good sense of his work.

This is the only collection of Harness fiction and includes the short novel The Rose.

Raw Feed (2002): An Ornament to His Profession, ed. Priscilla Olson, 1998.Ornament to His Profession

“An Ornament”, Priscilla Olson — A brief but informative introduction to Charles Harness’ characteristic subjects and themes.
“Charles Harness:  New Realities”, David G. Hartwell — A brief and useful overview of Charles Harness’ themes and writing career and the influence and significance of Harness’ novels Flight Into Yesterday aka The Paradox Men and The Rose.  Hartwell makes the interesting observation that, like Alfred Bester and Philip K. Dick, Harness put his own spin on the type of stories written by A.E. van Vogt.  I think that’s a valid observation and explains my like of all three authors.
The Rose — This is the second time I’ve read this short novel.  I didn’t think much of it the first time.  At that time, I was rather puzzled at Ruy Jacques quest for the rose, though he won’t acknowledge the quest to Anna van Tuyl.  This time it was obvious that his quest was for his art to not only maintain immortality but equal power to his wife’s Martha’s Scionmnia Equation.  It was also obvious that love has turned to possessive, bitter competition between the Jacques.  I was even more forcibly reminded of the van Vogtian elements of using artistic concepts in a systemized way as weapons.  I have no idea how true Harness’ examples are, drawn from music, art, and ballet, of art discovering scientific principles first.  Nor do I have any idea if the Oriental five-four rhythms of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony require special training by Western musicians to play or if Delcrozian eurythmics are real.  (Harness mentions Tchaikovsky in several stories.)  After this reading, I can spot the influence of this novel on Michael Moorcock. (Moorcock wrote a very favorable introduction to the novel in another edition.)  Specifically, you can spot Harness’ influence on Moorcock’s The Winds of Limbo.  Harness’ introductory notes were interesting.  John W. Campbell rejected this story, evidently because of his lack of knowledge about music.  Harness was, as you would expect, deeply influenced by the death of his older brother, age 26.  The brother was an artist and the inspiration for the imperious artist Ruy Jacques.  Harness also said that the story was built around a story beloved by his brother:  Oscar Wilde’s “Nightingale and the Rose”.  The story provided the theme and plot outline of the novel. In Wilde’s story the nightingale, provides the dye, with the blood from its fatal, self-inflicted injury, to turn a white rose red.  The Student needs a red rose for admission to a dance.)  At the end, Harness playing with the reader’s expectations by making us believe that it is Ruy who is really to die like the Nightingale and Anna is to be the Student.  I appreciated the story’s blatantly allegorical qualities this time.  It’s another Harness tale of transcendence.
Time Trap” — This is Harness’ first published story and has many of the themes and elements of his later work.  There are the two individuals, Poole and Jon Troy who turn out to be the same individual, existing contemporaneously due to time travel.  There is the mutation, in Jon Troy, looked for by shadowy groups.  Harness throws in a scientific explanation on how Troy’s power to prevent “devitalization” and general death from violence and poisoning.  It involves manipulation of carbon dioxide and oxygen cycles in hemoglobin and was evidently good enough for the story to be published in John W. Campbell’s Astounding SF.  Harness carefully doesn’t explain how physical injuries, like a rabbit being resurrected after its head is severed, are reversed in Troy’s “viton” field.  Harness also doesn’t come up with a good explanation as to how come Poole/Troy doesn’t remember all the times he’s been through this “standing wave” of time until he goes back in time one last time.  The systemization of even prison escapes bears the hallmark of 30s–50s sf where almost any human activity can by systematized and rationalized.  Harness, in his introduction, explains that the legal chicanery of Poole claiming his younger self, Troy, is innocent of murder because, at various times and locations, the intent did not match the actual act is drawn from a real case he studied in law school.  Specifically, an attempt to murder is unsuccessful.  The wouldbe killer transports the body elsewhere, believing the victim to be dead, and then cuts the head off.  The defense is that the initial act was only assault, unintended by the perpetrator, and the actual decapitation was intended to only be a mutilation of a corpse, not murder.  Of course, legal elements were also to become part of Harness’, a patent attorney, fiction.

Continue reading

The Fantasy Hall of Fame

An unproductive day new writing-wise, so you get a retro review from June 12, 2009.

Review: The Fantasy Hall of Fame, eds. Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg, 1983.Fantasy Hall of Fame

The reputations of some of these stories and that of their authors may have waned in the 26 years since this anthology was published. None of the stories are bad though a few aren’t that special. The stories were selected in a manner similar to the Silverberg edited The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One. Attendees of the World Fantasy Convention chose stories to honor that were published before the convention begin doing their annual awards.

The stories are arranged chronologically, and the first is Edgar Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” (1842). This classic tale of a plague, mysterious colors, and death coming to a cloister of aristocrats is the grandfather of all those far future tales of decadents on a dying Earth. Poe influenced the prose and poems of Clark Ashton Smith, but the influence isn’t very evident in the latter’s “The Weird of Avoosl Withoqquan” (1932). It’s a story of an avaricious man who hears an ominous prophecy from a beggar he snubs. Smith’s Zothique series, very definitely a series of far future decadence, is not represented here directly, but it’s certainly echoed in Jack Vance’s “Mazirian the Magician” (1950), part of Vance’s Dying Earth series. In a story full of Vance’s exuberant palette of colors and exquisitely named magic, a sorcerer determines to possess a woman who has avoided him.

Of course, Poe was not just an inspiration but an idol to Smith’s friend, H. P. Lovecraft. He is represented here by “The Silver Key” (1937). It’s an odd choice, perhaps dictated by its length. There is nothing wrong with the story. Featuring Lovecraft’s alter ego Randolph Carter, it’s Lovecraft’s most autobiographical work. Carter, a man in his thirties, goes on a quest to find his way back to the world of dreams – and its innocence – that he knew as a child. There are many better Lovecraft stories though. Lord Dunsany was an influence on Lovecraft’s dream tales, and he’s represented here by “The Sword of Welleran” (1908). A wry tale of a city no longer defended by its legends and full of humor and despair and perverse emotion. Dunsany’s oddly syntaxed voice is probably still unique in fantasy. A lesser influence on Lovecraft was Ambrose Bierce. He shows up here with “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” (1886), a short, eerie tale of life after death in a far future land. Continue reading