BREAKING WINDOWS: PART ONE OF AN INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL MOORCOCK
"'Would it be worth doing a link with the site? I'm helping edit Fantastic Metropolis which, like New Worlds, started as a sort of edgy sf site but is broadening all the time. We're trying to broaden to include examples of non-Anglophone writers and have already run several original translations. In May, when we're ready, we'll be relaunching the site with the bits we inherited that we don't like dropped. You might like the stuff on and by Sallis, Mieville, Harrison etc. as well as Gerald Kersh. I think it can now be reached at fantasticmetropolis.org.' This was my first contact with Michael Moorcock. It was the first half of the interview -- the rest will happen after surgery -- but even as he prepared for hospital he had time to put to bed any notion that he was going to retire from the barricades. He was seething with projects, ideas and a general bad-ass attitude."
Richard Marshall Interviews Michael Moorcock
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ABOUT MICHAEL MOORCOCK
3AM: I read your recent piece in The Idler and it reminded me just how confrontational and dissenting a writer you are. Iíve been speaking to various people -- Steve Wells, Stewart Home, Steve Aylett, Tony White for example, and they seem pretty fed up with the state of publishing and the novel in general. What are your views about this?
MM: I think the conventional modernist novel is a great comfort to the middle classes who still refer to people as 'little Chinamen' and that 'awfully nice Indian chap' and in a way its shift into Asian dress isn't all that surprising. If the medium is the message, as I think it often is, it doesn't really matter whether V.S.Naipaul, Julian Barnes or Salman Rushdie wrote it -- the fundamental tone is that of a familiar lullaby. If that's what you want, well and good, but you ought to know you're sucking on the genre conventions to which you are addicted. I find most of the middle-brow fiction around -- Amis, McEwen, Byatt and so on -- offers more comfort than it does confrontation. It's the same reason I don't read Tolkienoid fantasy. Tolkien said 'I write to comfort' and Peake said 'I write to break windows' and you can imagine whose side I'm on in that one. I think where we're going is where the best of us are going -- I don't have any strong ideas about ought or need. I think there are lots of great young writers with high ambitions around today. They are getting at least some sort of airing through the Net and fanzines. They are read by at least as many people as read posh arts magazines -- probably more -- and there is a steadily growing audience, I think, for the idiosyncratic, the genuinely ambitious -- Mike Harrison, Iain Sinclair are two I like a lot -- China Mieville and Steve Aylett are two of the most stylistically ambitious in their different ways. All I look for is a response to experience -- not a sort of invented response to invented experience. In that I might have too much of the journalist in me -- but I heard Philip Hensher talking on the radio a while back, saying a novelist couldn't respond to something as terrible as the WTC attack, that he would have to see it through the eyes of a character passing it, perhaps. Is this literal-minded or what ? Here's the guy who only just started reading Isaac Babel, by his own admission. What Ballard and I talked incessantly about in the early 60s was the need for producing forms which could respond well to modern experience with some of the immediacy of TV (or today the Internet, of course). We tried to produce fiction which took most of the modernist stuff for granted, shrunk it down to a para or two so as not to get boring, and then took off from there. It's the writers who still do that who interest me, I suppose -- there has to be a high ambition in the writing as well.
3AM: Iíve read much of your work -- Mother London I thought was brilliant and King Of The City, but you have written such a range of books and seem to have a kind of limitless ambition and imagination. Looking back, what would you say you were up to, what did you want to achieve and are there things you might have done differently?
MM: If I was a careerist I would have known better in the first place what to do and what not to do. I more or less drift. I take the jobs I'm offered, more or less, and I finance my harder to sell work (like the Pyat books) with easier to sell stuff (like Elric). I sort of wish I hadn't left London, but I wouldn't have volunteered to have left London in the first place. I moved to Texas because Linda had done 15 years in England and felt I should do a few in the US. I am beginning to think I should have time off for good behaviour now. I suppose if I'd been luckier with my literary fiction, I might not have muddied my own water so much with producing commercial fiction, but then I enjoy the fantasy stuff most of the time, or I wouldn't do it.
Christ Priest once advised me to change my name so that my 'serious' work wasn't mixed up with my genre work. I told him to fuck off. I was offended in fact. I just put it all out there. There isn't any pseudonymous stuff that hasn't been republished under my own name apart from the Sexton Blake Caribbean Crisis I did in the late 50s (published in the early 60s) which had so many other hands involved there's no point in claiming it. Equally I don't claim a book I rewrote, called The LSD Dossier. Other than that it's all out there for people to like or dislike as they wish. But I won't be moved by silly 'career' decisions, even though I know they actually work for you, those decisions. I am not much at ease with the generality of writers and critics.
3AM:So what can we look forward to?
MM: I've got one more Elric book to do. I want to do a memoir of Maeve and Mervyn Peake -- more or less in collaboration with the Peake children, who are all friends of mine -- it was Sebastian's idea. King of the City did so badly Scribner aren't interested, so I'll have to find another publisher for it. I also have a new Jerry Cornelius collection, which Scribners also don't want to do, and I've almost finished the final Pyat book, The Vengeance of Rome, which I think is probably going to be okay. Taken long enough. Had some moral problems with it re camps and peoples' experience etc. I said I was going to retire at 65 and just produce one book a year... Might not have the choice. The eleventh hour has come and I'm off to have me arteries opened and me toes sawn off. I hope to be back with you in a week or two. Meanwhile it would be best to write and remind me of the rest of this. When I get home I intend to fuck up my short term memory something royal.
3AM: Iíll do that. We can do the rest after. Just a final question -- some people express pessimism about the state of culture -- that itís dumbing down or something. What do you think?
MM: I'm not at all pessimistic about the state of culture -- we're in a big transition -- when we get New Worlds up and running, once Fantastic Metropolis which will have a different function is running -- we'll be commissioning new work which can only be read, seen, heard on the screen. It has to be proper PC harmonious, no fucking around. So I think there's a huge potential we have hardly begun to use yet.
Born in London in 1939, Michael Moorcock has had an important influence in fantasy and science fiction since the '60's. He started out at the age of fifteen as editor of the Tarzan Adventures magazine, eventually being thrown off the magazine for trying to publish too much prose (it was supposed to be a comic strip magazine). After this he began selling stories to the Science Fiction and Fantasy magazines of the time, coming up with the Eternal Champion; a figure which has appeared throughout most of his fiction.
When Moorcock was offered editorship of New Worlds, he was already a successful writer with the Elric character, his most famous creation, under his belt. He took New Worlds, a traditional SF magazine filled with space ships and sword fights, and turned it into a vehicle for the '60's alternative culture as well as paving the way for modern contemporary fiction. Publishing authors such as JG Ballard and Brian Aldiss who went on to further mainstream success.
During the New Worlds period he created one of his most interesting and enigmatic characters, Jerry Cornelius. He became a modern myth figure, mirroring the culture that produced him, a messiah for the technological age. The New Worlds authors at the time, including Aldiss, M. John Harrison, Norman Spinrad & others, wrote a series of stories based on this character which were released in the anthology The Nature of the Catastrophe. Moorcock then used characters from these stories when he went on to create the other Jerry Cornelius novels, taking the character to even greater heights, along with the great supporting cast.
This led to a period during the 1980's where Moorcock concentrated on more literary works and less on the more fantastic novels. That is not to say that he ignored fantasy altogether, with brilliant works such as The War Hound and the World's Pain. He wrote The Brothel in Rosenstrasse, a novel of erotomania, and then plunged into the Between the Wars sequence of novels, a series set in the earlier parts of this century looking at the events that led to the Holocaust, following the adventures of an unreliable and untrustworthy Russian emigrate who stumbles from situation to situation in an increasingly disturbing world.
Recently whilst creating the final volume of the Between the Wars sequence, Moorcock returned to writing more fantastic works, including two new Elric volumes and the brilliant Second Ether trilogy, which combines both a fantastic literary vision and a firm grasp of Chaos Theory. Go to Fantastic Metropolis.