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Michael Moorcock

Michael John Moorcock (born December 18, 1939) is a prolific British writer of both science fiction and science fantasy. He became editor of Tarzan Adventures in 1956, at only sixteen, later moving on to edit Sexton Blake Library. As editor of the controversial British science fiction magazine New Worlds[?], from May 1964 until March 1971, Moorcock fostered the development of the New Wave in the UK and indirectly in the U.S. His serialisation of Norman Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron was notorious for causing a British MP to condemn the Arts Council's funding of the magazine.

During this time, he frequently wrote under the pseudonym of "James Colvin"; as an in-joke, one of his later novels (Breakfast in the Ruins, I think) even included an introduction by Colvin that mentioned Moorcock's unfortunate death. Moorcock, indeed, makes much use of the initials 'JC', and not entirely coincidentally these are also the initials of the subject of Breakfast in the Ruins who happens to be Jesus Christ.

His Behold the Man, first published in New Worlds, about a time-traveller taking on the role of Christ won the Nebula award for the best novella of 1967.

His work is complex and multilayered. Central to many of his fantasy novels is the concept of a "Eternal Champion", who has potentially multiple identities across multiple dimensions. This cosmogony is called the "Multiverse" within his novels. The "Eternal Champion" is engaged in a constant struggle with not only conventional notions of good and evil, but also in the struggle for balance between order and chaos.

Moorcock's most popular works by far have been the Elric novels, starring the character Elric of Melnibone. Moorcock wrote the first Elric stories as a deliberate reversal of the cliches common in Tolkien-inspired fantasy adventure novels (which he despised). The popularity of Elric has overshadowed his many other works, though he has worked a number of the themes of the Elric stories into his other works (the "Hawkmoon" and "Corum" novels, for example).

One of Moorcock's popular creations was Jerry Cornelius (another JC), a kind of hip secret agent of ambiguous sexuality; the same characters featured in each of several Cornelius books, but the individual books had little connection wiith one another, as another variation of the Multiverse theme. The first Jerry Cornelius book, The Final Programme was made into a feature film.

Since the 1980s, Moorcock has tended to write more "respectable" mainstream novels, such as Mother London and Byzantium Endures, which have had good reviews, but continues to revisit characters from his earlier works, like Elric, with books like The Dreamthief's Daughter or The Skrayling Tree.

Although Moorcock is mostly known for the books mentioned above, he also wrote several stories which are staged on Earth in some million years at the End of Time. The strange characters inhabiting this world may seem weird at first, but Moorcock's excellency of language and storytelling manage to capture the reader after some pages. Not really fantasy (or dark fantasy, as his writing style has been called by many), these stories are an example for the mastery with which the author handles science fiction, fantasy and classical fiction.

He has also collaborated with the British rock band Hawkwind on many occasions: the Hawkwind track "The Black Corridor", for example, included verbatim quotes from Moorcock's novel of the same name. An album The New Worlds Fair by "Michael Moorcock and the Deep Fix" was released in 1975, which included a number of Hawkwind regulars in the credits. ("The Deep Fix" was the title story of an obscure collection of short stories by "James Colvin" published in the 1960s). Moorcock wrote the lyrics to an album track entitled "Black Blade", referring to the sword Stormbringer in the Elric books, by the American band Blue Öyster Cult: Moorcock has even performed this song live with BÖC.

Moorcock is a fervent supporter of the works of Mervyn Peake, and an almost equally fervent detractor of J. R. R. Tolkien.

Recommended books:

  • Science fiction:
    • The Black Corridor
    • Behold the Man
    • Dancers at the End of Time
    • Constant Fire
  • The Jerry Cornelius quartet:
    • The Final Programme
    • A Cure for Cancer
    • The English Assassin
    • The Condition of Muzak
  • The Elric sequence and other Eternal Champion books
  • Other fantasy fiction:
  • Mainstream fiction:
    • Gloriana
    • Mother London
    • Byzantium Endures
    • My Experiences in the Third World War

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