Corum: The Prince with the Silver Hand

And this is probably the last of the Michael Moorcock series.

Long time readers of this blog will not be surprised that I somehow never managed to read the last three volumes of White Wolf Publishing’s Eternal Champion reprints.

Raw Feed (1999): Corum: The Prince with the Silver Hand, Michael Moorcock, 1973, 1999.Corum The Prince with the SIlver Hand

Introduction” — Not much here except a listing of Irish writers that influenced Moorcock.

The Bull and the Spear — I liked this second Corum trilogy (at least, this first book of the second trilogy) about as well as the first. The cold-enshrouded, winter-bearing Fhoi Myore were interesting villains. Calatin was an intriguing character. With him, Moorcock seemed to be doing a variation on the mad scientist, a critique of the sort of ruthless scientific questing that sacrifices morality, ideology, and family.

The Oak and the Ram — It was nice to see the enigmatic Gaynor the Damned as well as Jhary-a-Conel. I liked Moorcock emphasizing Corum and Goffanon’s befuddlement at the encroaching magic in the Mabden world. I liked the bits about the rescue of Amergin being rescued from Caer Llud. (Evidently, Gaynor the Damned in the first Corum trilogy, but I don’t remember his appearance.) The Fhoi Myore (not gods of Chaos but Lords of Limbo, a change of pace for Eternal Champion stories) are depicted as not evil but simple-minded, needy entities exiled from their world. The dream visions of Corum into his other incarnations as the Eternal Champion (including worlds depicted in the Eternal Champion novels I’ve read) were interesting. I liked Jhary-a-Conel complaining about the limited imagination of the gods in regard to horns:

“Horns for bringing the apocalypse [a reference to Elric], horns for calling demons – now horns for handling dogs?”

The Sword and the Stallion — This was the most interesting book of the second Corum trilogy. The whole end, where Corum is regarded as a traitor, was an interesting turn on the usual Eternal Champion story. Corum’s story echoes (not for the first time proving that some thought went into the ordering of this White Wolf series of Eternal Champion stories) Elric’s in some ways. He gets a magical sword, Traitor, which has a sinister ability to kill Corum’s friends (in this case Goffanon). His life ends at the point of this sword after greatly changing the world (here helping to purge it of “sorcery and demigods”. Corum and Goffanon worry about the influence of an alliance with the sinister Malibann (who seem an echo, ruby throne, sorcery, empire and all, of Elric’s Melniboneans) on Mabden rationality. They might view the world magically – presumably the reason Corum can not be allowed to remain in the Mabden world. The treachery of Medhbh (a sinister prophecy warns Corum about a harp, beauty, and a brother) was not unexpected but still shocking. I wonder in Celtic mythology, the importance of Dagdagh who Medhbh is so loyal to.

 

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Elric: The Stealer of Souls

The Michael Moorcock series continues while I’m off … well, not off writing up new reviews.

Raw Feed (1999): Elric: The Stealer of Souls, Michael Moorock, 1962, 1998.Elric The Stealer of Souls

Introduction” — Detail of fantasy influences on Moorcock and the circumstances that early Elric stories were written under. Elric remains Moorcock’s favorite character because

“He was working through many of his questions at the same time I was working through mine.”

The Sleeping Sorceress — Another of Elric’s battles with Theleb Kàarna. Elric meets another lover, Law sorceress Myshella, the Sleeping Sorceress of the title. The notion of a Beggar Court that derives its power through a natural aversion to disease and dirt was interesting. The third novella in this book is a retelling of an incident in Moorcock’s Corum: The Coming of Chaos where Corum, Elric, and Erekosë team up in a magical union of Eternal Champions to defeat a sorcerer. Erekosë wryly laments that he wishes the Eternal Champions could face a “small problem, a domestic problem” sometime. Theleb Kàarna kills Myshella, and provides still another reason for Elric to kill him.

The Revenge of the Rose — This, so far, is the latest novel written by Moorcock for his Elric series. As the early Elric stories reflect Moorcock’s youthful struggles with various political, social, and personal issues, this novel reflects, perhaps not for the good, the concerns and the style of the later, older Moorcock. As in another late Elric novel, The Fortress of the Pearl (though worse here), this novel’s style and structure jar with those of the earlier Elric stories though they would be just fine in another series where expectations are different. The spare, adventure-driven narrative of earlier novels, usually fixups is gone, replaced by a denser, allegorical narrative that was slower to read. (Moorcock says he wrote the earlier books at a time when, if it couldn’t be written in 24 hours, it wasn’t worth writing). Still, I liked several things about this novel. I liked the character of poet Ernest Wheldrake who, in this novel, has also spent time with John Dee in Elizabethean times. His poetry seems so apt for the saga of Elric that he either had a big influence on a young Moorcock or he’s a creation of Moorcock. [The poetry is Moorcock’s creation. Wheldrake is a persona invented by the poet Swinburne for reviews.] I liked the variation on the plot of a child reconciling or rescuing a parent. Here Elric wants to escape the influence of his father and all he represents and embarks on the quest for his father’s lost soul not out of love (though he is reconciled with his father at novel’s end) but out of fear his father will haunt him, be inextricably linked to his body and soul. I liked references to the Vadagh and the appearance of the Rose (another character with evidently multiple manifestations in the multiverse and depicted in Moorcock’s Blood series and Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse comics). Prince Gaynor, a man who knew and betrayed the Cosmic Balance and who longs for death, appears here. His origins (murky in the Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse comic) are explained here. The most obvious political allegory is the H. G. Wells-like (as in The Time Machine) allegory of the constantly moving, bizarre Gypsy society on huge carts, the elite above enjoying art and riches, while propelled below by suffering masses serving their debts and punishments. All the while the carts move on a rode straight and bordered by near impassable mounds of their garbage, a society that literally would go off a cliff (a destroyed bridge, actually) than stop its tradition of movement. I suspect Moorcock meant this (he was a Laborite) as an allegory for modern capitalism. Power, notes Elric, is as randomly distributed as any physical trait. [There’s a whole lot of forms of power so a whole lot of traits to be randomly distributed to say nothing of developing those traits to exercise that power. Hardly a random or foreordained event.] I suppose he wants to show that sociewty locked into a sterile path it can’t deviate from – and won’t due to tradition. In some way, it also seems a critique of imperialism since Wheldrake finds it worse than the empires of Victoria and Elizabeth. Empire-building is also addressed in the scene where Elric meets his father in a dimension where the city H’hui’shan is. It is a city destroyed in the civil war where the imperialist Melniboneans defeated their non-imperialist cousins. The Three Sisters also represent a related race that renounced empire building. Continue reading “Elric: The Stealer of Souls”

The Dreamthief’s Daughter

The Michael Moorcock series continues.

Raw Feed (2001): The Dreamthief’s Daughter: A Tale of the Albino, Michael Moorcock, 2001.Dreamthiefs Daughter

The struggle between Chaos and Order in Moorcock’s vast multiverse is too vague to give much weight to his allegorical musings. (He imprinted on John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress at a young age) .

The two sides can stand in for any number of opposites: male and female, anarchy and totalitarianism, reason and mysticism, violence and pacifism, fascism and democracy. [This is a false dichotomy and lazy reductionism — there’s a whole lot of ways of politically organizing a society. Also, at this point in time, I’m not sure if that was my laziness or Moorcock’s.] But the vagueness seriously undercuts any political points Moorcock is trying to make about just societies other than oblique references to Ronald Reagan and, perhaps, Margaret Thatcher. (He’s not a fan of either).

However, as a dramatic device, a serious version of the old Commedia dell’Arte, it is very effective. Moorcock, despite the frequent, almost deus ex machina invocations of various magical spells and objects, has a narrative drive that pulls you along as familiar archetypes play their traditional roles but usually with some new variation brought on by the desire, and sometimes conscious will, to alter the role they play in the various incarnations of the multiverse. Chaos and Law take on new meanings, new methods of balancing them are evoked. Continue reading “The Dreamthief’s Daughter”

The Cornelius Chronicles, Vol. III

What happened to volume II?

It wasn’t in the stores I looked in, and I didn’t care enough to order it.

So, the Michael Moorcock series continues with this one.

Raw Feed (1999): The Cornelius Chronicles, Vol. III, Michael Moorcock, 1987.Cornelius Chronicles III

The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century — Published just before the conclusion to Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius books, this narrative is more comprehensible than at least the last three (or, perhaps, I’m used to this series’ idiosyncrasies) books there. We even learn a little bit about the process of going from timestream to timestream and hear about the problems of amnesia (alluded to in the Jerry Cornelius ‘ books but not very clearly) suffered by Jerry and Catherine Cornelius and Una Persson and Major Nye. Like the Jerry Cornelius books, I didn’t mind reading this, especially since it featured Persson, one of my favorite Moorcock characters. It also featured lots of sex scenes (much more explicit than any of the Jerry Cornelius books) with Catherine Cornelius. The book starts out with the lovers Persson and Catherine deciding to take a break from each other and go their separate ways in the timestreams. Burdened by their amnesia, functionally explaining why the short chapters have little obvious plot continuity, they careen about the first 80 or so years of the 20th Century. Persson hops from revolutionary cause to revolutionary cause eventually tiring of the various roles she can assume and going back to the music hall. Catherine careens from lover to lover (of both sexes), getting more into masochism as time goes by. Eventually they reunite and are happier. I’m not sure what the point of all this was other than providing some sex scenes – but writing pornography was never a Moorcock trait even before he championed Andrea Dworkin. If he was trying to make some statement about women struggling for meaningful roles in the modern world, he failed.

The Alchemist’s Question — In some ways, this is the most comprehensible of the Cornelius books. Clearly it’s a satirical work, its targets being Margaret Thatcher and her Britain, pornography, and, surprisingly, Cornelius himself. (Shortly before I read this novel, I came across an interview by Moorcock, from the late 1980s, in which he said he stopped giving people permission to write Jerry Cornelius [several authors did including Norman Spinrad] stories since the character had become a bit on an “egg”, meaning, I suppose, Moorcock grew to dislike him and the values he symbolized.) Una Persson criticizes Cornelius for only valuing his own appetites, says it’s time for him to grow up since he’s past 40 (actually Miss Brunner says this), that he’s only a faux revolutionary and never considers morality. In short, Jerry now seems to be the bad, self-indulgent, spirit of the sixties. Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius are the real heroes here, and there’s a strong feminist streak with talk of women being better fit to rule (that’s real women and not “false” women like Thatcher and her followers – the typical inconsistent, ideological stand of gender feminism), talk of the Goddess, and what seems to be the start of Moorcock’s attack on pornography (he’s a fan of rabid feminist and anti-porn Andrea Dworkin) in the character of Alvarez whose moral decay into a saboteur of the Time Centre and follower of Miss Brunner is mirrored and/or caused by his fondness for bondage magazines. Many of the opening epigrams for the chapters (they seem to be genuine) reference, unflatteringly, the Thatcher administration or develop the theme of 20th century genocide (and, to a lesser extent, colonialism) starting with the Turks killing Armenians. The Thatcher administration is labeled (and is the main target here) as being the worst of both worlds: capitalism and authoritarianism.  The book fails as satire or propaganda since Moorcock simply, most of the time, labels his targets pejoratively without giving enough details to convince us of his point of view; he asserts; he does not convince. We get no specific details why Thatcherism is bad, how pornography corrupts, or why “real” women are so well suited for ruling. As for Jerry, his shortcomings have long been obvious as a hero. Though Frank Cornelius and the vulgar Mrs. Cornelius are dead, the plot is similar to The Final Programme. Miss Brunner and Bishop Beesly are concocting a scheme to start a nuclear war where the unrighteous will be frozen, the virtuous thawed out. The Final Programme‘s first episode in Lapland and its end are alluded to. Here, again, Brunner and Bishop Beesly conspire to bring about an authoritarian regime. Jerry and Catherine are fused into a egg that seems to represent (though it’s unhatched) the cosmic balance central to Moorcock’s stories of the Eternal Champion.

 

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The Cornelius Chronicles

I suppose the time has come in the Michael Moorcock series to look at some of the Jerry Cornelius books.

I didn’t really enjoy these books that much. However, if you realize going into them (and I didn’t), that Moorcock is doing his version of Commedia dell’Arte, they will be a lot more understandable.

However, I really can’t recommend them.

Raw Feed (1999): The Cornelius Chronicles, Michael Moorcock, 1977.Cornelius Chronicles

The Repossession of Jerry Cornelius”, John Clute — While I find Clute’s entries very useful in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (the shorter format curbs his excesses), I find his book reviews less than useful with his self-confessed fondness for obscure words and extended metaphors. I don’t know if Moorcock commissioned this introduction to the omnibus or if Clute’s opinions on these four novels bear any resemblance to the books. From what I gather, Clute (a resident of London where this piece was written and where Moorcock was born and lived a number of years and has written about) views these novels as a metaphor for city life in London from 1965 to 1977, the span of years in which these novels were written.  (And, to a lesser extent, a comment on the contemporary scene in Europe and worldwide.) I don’t agree with Clute’s sociological observation that life in the city is theatrical and involves putting on personas to perform on the metro stage (at least no more than personas are adapted in any social setting). It also seems that Clute is hinting that The Condition of Muzak, the fourth novel in the series, may imply that the previous three books are the daydreams of loser Jerry Cornelius.

The Final Programme — I enjoyed this novel (and certainly found it more enjoyable than Moorcock’s The Black Corridor and The Distant Suns) but found it oddly structured.  It’s light and airy, the dialogue archly ironic and droll, and easy to read, but I never got the feeling of building up to a climax. In fact, since I had seen a film adaptation of this novel, I expected the final ending of Jerry Cornelius (a sometimes callous and ruthless figure given to incest with his sister and, like Moorcock’s Elric, vampirically feeding off others – albeit with no instrumentality like Stormbringer) and merging with Miss Brunner to become a hermaphrodite. However, despite all the talk of a new world emerging, the cycle of time perhaps being broken, and millions following “Cornelius Brunner” into the sea to their deaths (and plague breaking out all over Europe), I never got the sense of a new order (or, at the very least, a significant new order) emerging.  The idea of a dream being used to create a new social order is something in many of the Eternal Champion stories, but I couldn’t tell if Cornelius was an agent of Law or Chaos, or just the new. I’ve seen it claimed that Cornelius was a proto-cyberpunk hero. I doubt that he had much influence and, if he did, it probably was the importance of contemporary popular culture, an international setting, trade and brand names (Moorcock probably was inspired by Ian Fleming in this since the James Bond series, partially parodied here, was big on brand names), and fashion (meticulously described here). Cornelius probably has his place amongst sf characters (this omnibus if frequently cited in lists of classic sf.) because it so stridently (and was probably the first to do so) tries to capture its time and the portents that seemed to be in the air of the very influential sixties’ London. Continue reading “The Cornelius Chronicles”

The Dancers at the End of Time

The Michael Moorcock series continues.

Raw Feed (1999): The Dancers at the End of Time, Michael Moorcock, 1972, 1998.Dancers at the End of Time 

Introduction” — Moorcock talks about the fin-de-siècle writers that influenced him and how this series is different from others in the Eternal Champion canon. It is a comedy (though Moorcock takes pain to emphasize it is not a satire of the other, tragic and romantic, Eternal Champion stories). The fight here tends to be against Law rather than Chaos, and the plot features Jherek Carnelian who is not in any way, physically, mentally, or emotionally, maimed. He has no grand obsessions. He just wants to be around a woman.

An Alien Heat — I wasn’t looking forward to reading this series, but I was very pleasantly surprised. This, next to the Elric series, is the best Moorcock I’ve read. It was witty and funny and very engrossing. The society at the End of Time is one ruled solely by aesthetics. Conventional morality has appalingly fallen away in a society where the humans have god-like powers of life and resurrection, body sculpting of the most extreme sort, menageries of time travelers (not so much captured as too befuddled to explore this world on their own), casual rearrangement of the sun’s position and the land itself (including producing miniature solar systems just to recreate historical battles in miniature), and casual and sometimes bizarre sexual unions in various permutations. Fashion and politeness are the guiding mores as befits a series influenced by fiń-dé-siecle 19th century novels. Emotions are comically affected — all emotions, even the ones we consider undesirable, and some people have dourness and grimness and despair as their emotional trademark. It’s a decadent world, and time traveler Li Pao wastes no opportunity to tell its inhabitants this, but a pleasant one. As the Prologue notes, the world has “rivalry without jealousy, affection without lust, malice without rage, kindness without pity.” The hero, Jerak Carnelian, has, like some of his cohorts, a fascination for historical recreation. His classic misunderstandings of Victorian society provide much of the humor of the book along with his naivete and ingenousness which Amelia Underwood eventually finds charming. This type of humor is the sort usually found in humorous time travel stories, and it is very well done here, and Moorcock proves surprisingly adept at wit and humor. He eventually develops a fascination for Amelia Underwood, an unwitting time traveler of mysterious means of transport. Carnelian eventually becomes fascinated with the Victorian Underwood (the 19th Century fascinates him) and resolves to develop the affection of love. He shocks her in funny ways like his slow realization that she actually requires a bathroom or when he tries to put her at ease by appearing to her in what he thinks are period clothes but really garish drag. After more humor during a trip back to 19th Century England in pursuit of his love, Underwood hints that she has sincerely grown to care for the charmingly sincere and naïve Carnelian just before he’s hung and transported back to his world. Carnelian also has the distinction of being one of only two End of the Worlders naturally conceived.

The Hollow Lands — This novel continues some of the ideas and comical themes of An Alien Heat. Jherek Carnelian is again reunited with Mrs. Underwood (and it is Mrs. Underwood). No matter her attraction to Carnelian, she will not give into it or give Jherek any encouragement despite the fact that Mr. Underwood will have nothing more to do with her after Carnelian shows up at their house. Carnelian, as in the first book, is totally baffled by many of the concepts of Victorian England – for instance the idea of virtues (as the still lecturing Li Pao notes) and self-denial and hopes that Amelia will educate him. There is a great deal of humor involving garbled notions of history as in the first book and a comedy of manners when Carnelian meets the Underwoods and a bit of slapstick when the phlegmatic Inspector Springer, Captain Mubbers, his annoying fellow alien “brigand musicians”, Mrs. Underwood, and Jherek all meet at the Café Royale. Of course, as it is to be expected in a science fiction novel set partly during late Victorian times, H. G. Wells puts in an appearance and is a bit miffed that Carnelian finds the ideas in The Time Machine pretty ordinary. I liked the bit set in the nursery of perennialy arrested children. They live in a time loop maintained by a somewhat senile nanny robot. Here, in one of his splendid snatches of a future history, Moorcock talks about Peking Pa and the age of the Tryant Producers who marshaled entire societies to film their epics. It’s also in this novel we begin to suspect Lord Jagged is more than he seems. There is something very charming about a science fiction novel set in the distant future (and near past and distant past, at novel’s end) where the main plot conflict centers around Carnelian’s desire to marry (though he certainly has a different understanding of the word than does Amelia) and the very old fashioned question as to whether Carnelian and Amelia will kiss. Continue reading “The Dancers at the End of Time”

Kane of Old Mars

The Michael Moorcock series continues.

Raw Feed (1999): Kane of Old Mars, Michael Moorcock, 1965, 1998.Kane of Old Mars 

“Introduction” — Moorcock reveals more of his prodigious talent and history. He learned to read at age three and was a professional writer at age 15. The three novels of this volume were written in “just over a week”. [And, 19 years later, do I remember if that’s a week for each or a week for all. And I’m not going to check.] Moorcock mainly talks about his love of Edgar Rice Burroughs and how this series is a John Carter of Mars pastiche written, under a pen name, at the same time he edited the avante garde New Worlds. He cheerfully acknowledges, but does not try to reconcile, the inconsistencies of editing a magazine rebelling and denouncing genre conventions while writing a pastiche of one of the pulpiest (Moorcock loves pulp) series of all times. I found it interesting that Sexton Blake (a detective that shows up in Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse comic and Tales from the Texas Woods) and Zenith (also a character in the Multiverse comic) were not original to Moorcock. Rather the Blake series of novels goes back into the 1800s and has had many manifestations.

City of the Beast — This is a pretty faithful John Carter of Mars imitation. Both heroes are expert swordsmen who spend a lot of time trying to find and rescue scantily clad princesses and, by accident, befriending nonhumans. Moorcock’s plot coincidences are better hidden than Edgar Rice Burroughs but still there. (Michael Kane just happening to live in a town populated by an ex-fencing instructor of the Romanovs and just happening to meet Shizala, his beloved princess, first thing of Mars and just happening to be rescued by a Argzoon he showed mercy to.) I didn’t find this story very interesting, but then I’m not a fan of its model. I found the most interesting aspect was learning the Martians of millions of years in the past will eventually emmigrate to Earth and give rise to Hindu mythology. Moorcock used the same idea, the reality behind Hindu mythology, in his “Flux”, the installment before this in his Eternal Champion saga as published by White Wolf. This novel has very little seeming relevance to the notion of the Eternal Champion and adds nothing to the notion. Continue reading “Kane of Old Mars”