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Preston Speculative Fiction Group

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  • Jerry Cornelius
    Corsair of the Second Ether
    • Dec 2003
    • 98

    Preston Speculative Fiction Group

    Michael Moorcock has always been driven to write. While still at school he produced a hand-made magazine called Outlaw's Own. He continued with similar fanzine titles for some time. When he left school he professionally contributed to Tarzan Adventures and in 1958 he ended up edited it. It was here that the first Moorcock Sword and Sorcery series was published. Moorcock wrote scripts for some IPC comics, wrote pulp crime fiction and even sang as a blues singer in night clubs. All the while he contributed stories to magazines like SF Adventures and Science Fantasy. His first novel, The Sundered Worlds (later renamed The Blood Red Game), was a fixup of a series which had appeared in SF Adventures.

    One of the magazines he contributed to was New Worlds which was edited by Carnell. This published straight forward SF stories like all the other magazines. However, Moorcock had always had literary ambitions. he produced fast pulp stories to pay the bills but his love of fiction came from the past innovators in fiction; Dickens especially, but also H.G. Wells, Conrad and from nearer home Alfred Bester.

    The structure and balance of a story was vital, however this did not always mean the linear structure with a beginning, middle and end. There were writers experimenting with new concepts in writing and Moorcock was one of the first. When he became editor of New Worlds, in 1964, the safe and unsatisfying stories accepted by Carnell were rejected in favour of the radical and experimental.

    `Some people think those of us involved with New Worlds had called ourselves "New Wave", an we never did.' Moorcock says. `We were not proscribing what it should be, we were proscribing what it shouldn't be. That's all New Worlds had a policy of never telling you what it was. We didn't want old fashioned Carnell type science fiction, I must admit, but there were plenty of markets for that anyway, so we weren't trying to take the bread out of anybody's mouth. We were just saying "Look, if you're an eccentric or an individual and you want to try something out, this is the place for you, and you're welcome to use it." That's why we had a lot of editors running, who would buy stories on their own independent decision. The decision didn't rest with me. I knew I didn't have a broad enough appreciation of certain kinds of fiction to be able to select it. But as far as general decisions were concerned, it still had to have an essentially loony dictator, which is what I was.'

    Moorcock came in for some pretty severe abuse for turning the magazine around, both from critics and fans. At the time in the sixties and early seventies sf fans in London met at The Globe pub, and here Moorcock in his beige suit, paisley tie and floppy hat met with depression the rabble of fans who bemoaned the passing of the "Golden Age" of SF pulp.

    NEW WORLDS was a very influential magazine, under Moorcock's editorship, and was the only market for unconventional science fiction. Stories by Ballard, Disch, Sladek, Delany and Aldiss were welcomed with open arms.

    The magazine was supported by an Arts Council grant for a time due to the help of Brian Aldiss. Mike was grateful to Brian for organising the cash but would never have asked them himself. Only one person on the Arts Council committee had ever heard of Michael Moorcock or NEW WORLDS; Angus Wilson had once read Behold the Man in it!

    They expected Moorcock to use the money to make the magazine more glossy and respectable, and friction occurred between them and Moorcock who had no intention of allowing it to become respectable.

    Another method of raising money for the magazine was Moorcock's Sword and Sorcery novels. He would bang out novels at a great speed, although the preparation for the three days writing ran into months. He would get the plot and characters straight and draw a map of the land. Then when he could not put it off any longer he wrote the novel in a white heat of concentration. These dedicated novels complimented the fix-ups of series from magazines and in total Moorcock's output became legendary.

    Moorcock ran New Worlds until 1970, just before its demise in 1971.

    Moorcock developed a "Multiverse" which allowed him to use a set of characters which were essentially the same but lived in different universes. Elric of Melnebone, Jerry Cornelius, Corum, Von Bek, Hawkmoon and the Warlord of Mars were all THE ETERNAL CHAMPION in their different worlds. This reuse of a basic set of characters for different plots may be an early reflection of Moorcock's interest in early European theatre of Commedia dell'Arte where Pierrot, Scaramouche, Columbine, Harlequin and Pantaloon performed different plays but retaining the same personalities but with different names. However later on he was to make more obvious use of the Commedia dell'Arte characters.

    Although Sword and Sorcery novels were satisfying to the reader they gave only limited pleasure to their author. He longed to be able to take the time to develop other, non-linear, novel structures. To investigate character, psychology and place. This was the reasoning behind the creation of his most famous character Jerry Cornelius.

    The creation of Jerry Cornelius coincided with Moorcock's observation on the emotional power of Rock and Roll. He thought that the combination of SF and music could provide the medium for a powerful voice for the comments he wanted to make. To amplify this voice as much as possiblehe let comic creators and other authors use the character as they wanted, expanding the myth and the Cornelius name. However, the vitality of the mix was not as influential as Moorcock had hoped and after The Final Programme he turned to other carrier-waves in the next three books in the Cornelius set.

    The final book of the Cornelius series, The Condition of Musak, won the Guardian Fiction prize and is the most successful in terms of structure. They all try for a complicated non-linear structure, with the climax in the middle of the book rather than the end. John Clute has written an illuminating introduction to the American collection of all the Cornelius books.

    London has always been more than a just a city to Moorcock. It is full of resonances with the past. In his book MOTHER LONDON, he tries to relate these resonances with place and person in a timeless setting. Again the structure in non-linear and was called Moorcock's 'finest single novel' by John Clute.

    `I started Mother London,' he says, `with a wish to write about my own experience of the world in my own city, and I wanted it to be a celebration of that city.'

    So it comes with a shock to hear of his imminent move to America. Whatever his reasons the Group wishes him all the best for the future.
    Moorcock Bibliography
    References :

    * FANTASTIC ANARCHY in FEAR 23 by Stan Nicholls
    "Jerry Cornelius was based, for instance, on a young man I used to see around Notting Hill where there was also a greengrocer called Cornelius of London."

    --Michael Moorcock