Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review - Michael Moorcock: Fiction, Fantasy, and the World's Pain by Mark Scroggins

Short review: A summary overview of all of Michael Moorcocok's work from the 1950s through to the present day.

Eternal Champion
Balance of Law and Chaos
In the Multiverse

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Michael Moorcock: Fiction, Fantasy, and the World's Pain is a comprehensive evaluation of Michael Moocock's body of work as a whole, evaluating it from his earliest writings in the 1960s, all the way through to his most recent published works. In the book, Mark Scroggins discusses Moorcock's influences, the recurring themes and elements in Moorcock's work, how they connect to one another, and how they connect to events drawn from Moorcock's life. This is, in short, a book that should interest anyone who is familiar with Moorocok's work, or who wants to become familiar with Moorcock's work.

The book starts off at the beginning of Moorcock's career, discussing the first works that Moorcock published, and then proceeds from there chronologically. As Scroggins notes, due to the almost cyclical nature of many of Moorcock's works, one can enter into them from multiple points, but for the purposes of this book, he decided to start at the beginning and deal with Moorcock's oeuvre more or less in the order that Moorcock wrote them. This works reasonably well as an organizing principle, since it presents Moorcock's career in a manner that highlights his development as a writer, but due to the unique way that Moorcock's works relate to one another, it means that there is a certain repetitiveness to the text as a result, as the recurring themes and elements of the works come up time and again.

Given its importance to Moorcock's work, the "Eternal Champion" cycle is a prominent subject of discussion in the book, which Scroggins returns to time and again. It turns out, the Eternal Champion story was the first thing Moorcock wanted to write, and the book starts by discussing the original John Daker story and from there moves on to the other iterations of the character such as Elric and Hawkmoon. Most critically, the book explores the meaning and evolution of the concepts of Law and Chaos as they apply to the Eternal Champion cycle, as well as Moocock's somewhat clumsy and inherently contradictory efforts to incorporate some of his other characters into the mythos later in his career such as when Moorcock retroactively inserted the von Bek family into it.

The book isn't solely about Moorcock's "Eternal Champion" cycle, despite that theme's dominance in Moorcock's work. The book also discusses the related theme of the "multiverse", which is so critical to Moorcock's work, and the many recurring characters that crop up in various guises across his stories, most notably Jerry Cornelius, and all of his variants. The book also delves a bit into Moorcock's tenure as the editor of New Worlds, and how that affected his thinking and his writing. One of the more fascinating segments discusses the Colonel Pyatt series of books, including a description of just how difficult they were for Moorcock to write owing to their disagreeable protagonist and subject matter.

Scroggins also highlights Moocock's more recent works, such as Silverheart, his collaboration with Storm Constantine, and The Coming of the Terraphiles, his Doctor Who novel. The most interesting discussion of Moorcock's late-career novels relates to the semi-autobiographical book The Whispering Storm, and the quasi-related books Mother London and King of the City, all of which diverge quite significantly from the other works in his career. But this puts into focus what I consider to be one of the few weaknesses of the book: Moorcock's career has been so long and so varied that it is all but impossible to do more than scratch the surface with 169 pages worth of text. Scroggins is able to cover many of the larger recurring themes, but this book is definitely not an in-depth analysis of Moorcock's work. In many cases one of Moorcock's stories is only referenced to say that it is similar to another Moorcock story in theme and nothing more is said about it. To be fair, this kind of treatment is necessary given the volume of work that Moorcock has produced, however it does mean that anyone looking for in-depth critical analysis is likely to come away somewhat disappointed.

Michael Moorcocok: Fiction, Fantasy, and the World's Pain is an overview of Moorcock's work, and nothing more. It is not comprehensive or extensive, providing only a cursory evaluation of the largest themes in Moorcock's oeuvre. That said, this book is an excellent summary and introduction to Moorcock's work, suitable both for someone just starting to read Moorcock, or for a veteran who has already read dozens of his books.

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  1. Not sure I would pick this one up but am glad you enjoyed it.

    1. @fredamans: It is a good book, but it does have a fairly narrow focus.