Voted by the London Times as one of the best writers since 1945, Michael Moorcock has long been considered one of the top names in science fiction and fantasy. Here, Moorcock has personally selected his best published and unpublished essays, articles, reviews, and opinions—all uncensored. Covering a wide range of topics including books, films, politics, reminiscences of old friends, and attacks on new foes, this collection is the definitive compilation for any serious fan of Moorcock, or science fiction in general. Drawn from more than 50 years of writing, including Moorcock’s most recent work from the Los Angeles Times and the Guardian—along with obscure and now unobtainable sources—the prose in this compendium showcases Moorcock at his sharpest.
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About the Author
Michael Moorcock is an award-winning author who has written more than 80 works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Cornelius Quartet, Doctor Who, and Elric: The Stealer of Souls. His nonfiction has appeared in Financial Times, the Guardian, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Bastrop, Texas. Allan Kausch is the editor of more than 1,100 projects for Lucasfilm Ltd., and has also edited five volumes of Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick, in addition to 80 other books. He lives in San Francisco. Iain Sinclair is the author of Lights Out for the Territory, London Orbital, and A Walk Around the M25.
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London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
By Michael Moorcock, Allan Kausch
PM PressCopyright © 2012 Michael Moorcock
All rights reserved.
Scatching a Living
From Punch, 17th April 1985
It once occurred to me that if Henry Luce II, having axed Life in the interest of economic efficiency, had taken over this particular journal, its staff might now be clocking in at Time-Punch Inc. I thought of this because a couple of weeks ago I was described by Time as 'a British writing machine'. Flattered though I was to be condensed and, as it were, cleaned up for mass-market presentation, I was also a little stunned to be so characterised by one who as far as I know never met me, let alone spent a few days at my home.
If I'm any sort of machine, then I'm more on the lines of the engine which took the African Queen up-river than the astonishing device which gave lift-off to Jupiter One. I'm far better at sighing, wheezing, clanking, covering myself with warm grease and mysteriously losing pressure in midstream than I am at purring unostentatiously into sophisticated drive mode and carrying a mighty creative tonnage to safe harbour on the other side of some imaginative universe.
It's not a fact I'm particularly proud of, but I feel obliged to record — not only am I baffled by the very notion of word processors, I have been known to write whole novels with the aid of nothing more than a couple of exercise books, a leaking Osmiroid and a bottle of Quink.
When interviewed about my working day I generally say I do a regular nine-to-five shift, take an hour off for lunch and keep weekends free. Actually, when everything's going particularly well I manage a routine which approximates to this. I believe an author has no special right to temperamental fits or an erratic lifestyle which discommodes family and friends.
My image of a really grown-up writer is someone I'd guess George Meredith or Thomas Mann to have been. After a light but nourishing breakfast you disappear discreetly to your study. Emerging for lunch you glance through papers and mail, exchanging a polite word or two with spouse and whatever children are knocking about, returning to work until six or so, when you appear again ready to relax with friends and loved ones.
In the early stages of a book perhaps you rise around dawn. Disturbing no-one, you take your setters for a long stroll. Your keen eye misses nothing of the world around you. With one of those thin gold propelling pencils and neat leather-bound notebooks you record your thoughts and observations before returning home. While consuming your yoghurt and orange juice, you write, in a clear yet idiosyncratic hand, a few pages of your journal. It's true you might be a trifle abstracted. You apologise for this; you make a little joke about it. Your affectionate family, respectful of your creative processes, goes about its business with the minimum of noise or bustle.
In other words a thoroughly humane, well-balanced, civilised sort of working day. All one really needs, I'd guess, if one wants to start aiming for it, is a house roughly the size of Tara, a bunch of servants as cheerful and loyal as the cast of Upstairs, Downstairs, a soul mate who is a cross between Albert Schweitzer and St Thérèse, an agent who is to you what Joan of Arc was to the Dauphin, and off spring combining the decency and virtue of Little Women's Jo and Beth with the resourcefulness of The Railway Children. Not much to ask for, all in all, one thinks as one sits blearily picking one's feet and watching the IBA Test Card at 11:45 a.m. while, elsewhere in the house someone, with the ruthless self-absorption of Caligula, clatters dishes in the sink and demands your attention in the matter of your preferences for that evening's supper. Is it any wonder you haven't got further than typing Chapter One: I am born, and it's now three weeks since your contract stipulated you had to turn in an 'acceptably finished manuscript'? Who would not feel profoundly wounded?
The fact is that like most people I have several sorts of working day. When all's well it's up at seven, feed the cats, make the tea, check the news, get into the shower, and by 8:30 sit down to the previous day's output before rolling another sheet into the typewriter. A break for lunch — soup, some crackers — and by six I'm ready to unwind. That's when I'm fairly well into a book, with a good idea who the characters are and what they're doing. Although sometimes scarcely aware of my surroundings I'm otherwise cheerful, a reasonably tolerable companion. If there's a domestic crisis, I spring to meet it. With loved ones I'm solicitous. These are the days most closely approaching my sense of what is proper.
There are other days, however, when I rise determinedly at seven, feed the cats, etc., etc. By 8:30, having arranged notebooks and pens to hand, I switch on breakfast TV for the news. By 9:30, when all news is over, I catch the weather and headlines on Teletext. This done I look up my Stars on Oracle, road conditions in England and Wales, the value of the zloty against the yen, air-traffic movements at Heathrow, by which time I'm ready for Advanced Urdu, A-Level Mathematics or Scandinavian Reindeer Breeding. As an example of my iron discipline I must say I draw the line at Cartoon Time, Postman Pat, Playschool and, by and large, Pebble Mill At One. If questioned on the matter ('I thought you said you had a lot of work to do') I explain as patiently as possible when dealing with philistine simpletons that this is, of course, research.
When Schools programmes finish I switch off the TV (I can honestly claim never to have seen a full episode of Grange Hill) and go out for a breather before beginning work. I might do a little crucial shopping (five old picture frames, a full set of plastic funnels, a Roy Rogers Annual for 1954) or visit the library for essential reference (Do It Yourself Winegrowing; That Most Urgent Agony: The Creative Process in Crisis 1975-79; First Steps in Urdu; More About Reindeer Breeding). Naturally when I get home I note the living-room floor needs hoovering and that I've forgotten to clean the paint brushes I used just before Christmas. These tasks done I pick up my notebook and retire to bed, saying I'll work as soon as I'm refreshed. By the time I rise again it's close to dinner, so I decide to start after I've eaten. When I've washed up and put the dishes away it's far too late to do much so I watch TV until bedtime. At bedtime I begin to work furiously for fifteen minutes until I fall into an exhausted slumber. At 3:30 a.m. I wake in a sweat of anxious confusion wondering at my weakness of character and the plight of my finances. I resolve to get up earlier tomorrow for a proper start. Let the reader's cynicism determine how long they think this cycle lasts.
At least such working days don't much involve anyone else in my private horror. There are some days, however, when reason and humanity desert me completely. I become a monster of egomania, self-pity, psycho-somnia, vicious complaint and paranoia. There was a time, long ago, when the local glazier used to estimate his annual budget based on my regular custom (we had glass doors then). It's still fair to admit that the occasional cup or lighter item of furniture is not altogether safe during such working days as these. I'm not greatly given to physical violence but whatever creative gift I possess becomes wholly devoted to the art of accusatory rhetoric. Stalin condemning counter-revolutionaries in the Comintern or Hitler on the subject of International Zionism are as nothing when I take on, for instance, The Shocking Discovery of Saboteurs and Traitors in My Own Home.
Perhaps this is why I've become fascinated with the private lives of the great dictators. There's a familiar echo both in their technique and the general drift of their subject matter. I suppose we should all be grateful I never seriously considered going into conventional politics and that sustaining a singular line of argument is not my strong point. I think on the whole I prefer a working day involving a blitzkrieg on a ream of A4 while issuing belligerent communiqués to the cats, rather than one devoted to dividing up Poland or invading Abyssinia. However, on such days it's admittedly a fine difference for those in my immediate vicinity whether I'm getting on with Chapter Two: My Schooling, or invading the Sudetenland.
When it comes right down to it the only important distinction between your war machine and your average writing machine is that the latter is marginally more interested in other people's points of view.CHAPTER 2
A Child's Christmas in the Blitz
From Dodgem Logic #8, April 2011
Because you said that you were curious about my memories of growing up and celebrating Christmas during the Second World War, I'll tell you. Well, Christmas at that time had a special luminosity, a particular atmosphere which I have never been able to recapture, perhaps because I was born into a world darkened, of necessity, by conflict in which one dull day would be followed by a black, black night sometimes suddenly filled with noise and brilliant explosions.
I remember a tree whose tinsel glowed faintly in the light of a dying fire, standing in one corner of the room where I also slept. Out beyond the blackout curtains, occasionally visible as a momentary glare of yellow light or heard as a screaming drone when some plane spiralled to earth under fire, or the steady thump of the ack-ack, the war in the air pursued its course. I hardly knew why or what was happening. Bombs fell, landscapes changed, and occasionally I was even allowed to watch from a darkened room as the searchlights roamed across clouds and silvery barrage balloons, seeking targets.
I'm sure you feel little nostalgia for those times which are marked for most post-war generations by the war films which followed, whether they were stories of the Resistance or epics like Von Ryan's Express, but for me the war years are marked by a sense of domestic warmth and a deep, attractive melancholy which I suspect I am forever attempting to reproduce in my fiction; feelings allied to those that come from what Rose Macaulay describes as 'the Pleasure of Ruins', a romanticism not so much for the vanished splendours of the past as marked by a sense of human aspiration thwarted, of beauty destroyed, of surviving memory, which is the enemy of death.
I might have been able to tell you that Germany was attacking England, but more likely I would have said something about 'dog-fights' and 'us' or 'them'. I was absorbed with my Britain's toy soldiers, miniature hollow-cast models of English Tommies, French poilus and American doughboys locked in conflict with the ultra-masculine Germans, in their pointed helmets, whom I imagined flying the planes that I passed through the beams of my battery-powered searchlights, re-enacting under our steel-strengthened dining room table the conflict which would very much decide my family's fate.
Actually, I always liked the French infantry best, perhaps for the colour of the uniforms, then the English, then the Americans. I must have learned enough not to admire the Germans, who, of course, wore grey, for me never an attractive colour. Even my fleet of tiny battleships seemed dull and though they were distinguished by name and type on the cigarette cards I had inherited from my father's neatly collected sets ('Modern British Warships', 'Our Modern Navy', or 'Our Maritime Heritage') I never could summon much interest in them. The planes at least had brown and green camouflage and could be given thrilling noises as they closed in on their targets.
Of course my army wasn't exactly up to date, any more than our real armies had been in 1939. It consisted chiefly of my father's boyhood collection added to by what had been presented to me at birthdays and Christmas. I had rather more cavalry than was currently in action, a lot of auxiliaries dressed as cowboys or red Indians and rather a preponderance of French zouaves, whose uniforms were considerably more romantic. There were a bunch of rather crudely cast solid metal 1914 machine-gunners. A couple of motorcycle dispatch riders. And a bunch of farm and zoo workers, who were ready, I suppose, as the final line of defence. There was a certain egalitarianism amongst them, I will admit. Sets of British soldiers, usually six to the box, consisted of two running men, two kneeling and firing men, two standing and firing men. More elaborate sets would include perhaps two machine gunners, an officer with a sword, two men lying down and firing. They had identical opposite numbers in the German, American and French armies, in identical poses. The cowboys were often armed only with pistols and the Indians with tomahawks.
Before the war began, there had been a natural tendency for manufacturers, mostly Britain's (though there were some inferior makers who tended to supply the bulk of the cannon fodder), to match both infantry, cavalry and artillery exactly one for one. There were, to be sure, no anti-aircraft guncrews other than British. They came with each gun or searchlight, specially modelled to operate their machines. They sat in little bucket seats to wind their range-fingers, or stretched their tiny arms to operate firing mechanisms. There was something of a dearth of airmen, too, all of whom were either English or American and far too big to enter the cockpits of the planes I sailed over their heads.
The dull thump of guns was echoed by my own childish imitations: 'Bam! Bam! Kerrrump!'
The red boxes that the tiny materiel had arrived in became houses, aircraft hangars, barricades. The dark floral carpet was fields and cushions were hills. As the bombs outside whined down, I would crawl into a world bounded on four sides by heavy wire mesh into which had been let a small door. The mattress and pillows were a haven for my other comforts, the soft toys — patchwork rabbits, curly furred dogs, Mickey and Minnie. Even then I was identifying with the Mouse. Not the middle-class, long-trousered Mouse of sanitized 1950s Disneyland, but the original, aggressive, trickster Mouse whose ancestors were Brer Rabbit and Tom Sawyer. That Mouse sported an evil grin and took cunning revenge on his enemies, mostly muscular cats and dogs in baggy pants supported by a single strap.
Christmas 1944. Homemade bunting, red, green, gold, silver, hanging in every room of the house. The candles flickering to life on the tree, wax dripping over the holders. You had to be careful. Many a house was destroyed by its Christmas candles. First a trip to Kennard's, the big, grey Portland Stone department store in Croydon. They had made the most of little, as we had done at home. And suddenly I am looking in awe at an intense colour. I can't take my eyes off it. A colour I have never seen before. If it spelled a word, I wasn't aware of it. Besides, I couldn't read. It is the sign over Santa Claus's grotto. Neon, rescued from some prewar hoard. A gorgeous, unworldly colour. A heavenly colour. I focussed on it as others might have focussed on gold nuggets or streaks of silver in a mine. I was looking at indigo. Glowing, pulsing indigo. Even as I passed under the sign into Santa's grotto, all scarlet and white, with a big green tree festooned with the square fruit of brightly wrapped packages, I could not take my eyes off it. Indigo. Not until I saw Fantasia, the following Christmas, would I ever witness such intense colour again. Indigo. And then the enveloping scarlet, soft as my mother's furs, of Santa as I sat on his knee and demanded ponies and — and something else. What is it, young man? What do you want?
I wanted indigo. I wanted to swallow or be swallowed by that colour. With Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus and a long-legged homemade Teddy Bear indigo will always mean Christmas to me. My birthstone, according to some, is Blue Zircon, Blue Topaz or Lapis Lazuli. Blue for a boy, the blues and birthdays, for a memory more vivid than flame shuddering up from a ruined house, of thick, black smoke coiling across a blue, late summer sky. Blue for mother's eyes. Blue for peace. Infinite indigo.
Excerpted from London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction by Michael Moorcock, Allan Kausch. Copyright © 2012 Michael Moorcock. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
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Table of Contents
ContentsTHE MAN ON THE STAIRS: INTRODUCTION BY IAIN SINCLAIR,
EDITOR'S FOREWORD BY ALLAN KAUSCH,
Scratching a Living,
A Child's Christmas in the Blitz,
INTRODUCTIONS AND REVIEWS,
AFTERWORD BY MICHAEL MOORCOCK,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,