Wednesday, 2 September 2009

‘The Best of Michael Moorcock’ (Tachyon Press)

Calling a collection of short stories ‘The Best Of...’ always strikes me as rather a risky title for any book as it’s really only a reflection of the author/editor’s own personal opinion. Their ‘Best Of...’ is unlikely to match everyone else’s and it will invariably be the basis for all sorts of discussion (which is a good thing).
When I saw that this new collection of previously published stories, by Michael Moorcock, had input from Ann and Jeff Vandermeer I felt a little happier about the title; these guys know what they are talking about and wouldn’t stick a title like this on the front cover if they weren’t a hundred percent happy with it. There’s also the fact that Michael Moorcock has to be right up there in any list of ‘Prolific Authors’ and although I’ve read a lot of his science fiction and fantasy I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of everything else that he has written. When there’s so much still to read, the odds are good that you’ll find something that will make your own personal ‘Best Of’ list.
It’s taken me a while to get through this one but I’m glad I did. This book can be a demanding read at times but the rewards are great...

This would normally be the part of the review where I’d give you a brief summary of the plot. Well, you’re not getting that today as I’m not going to be summarising each and every one of the short stories on display here! Suffice it to say that fans of Elric and Jerry Cornelius will be pleased to see their heroes make a brief appearance and anyone who has ever wondered what else Moorcock writes about will have their questions answered. There’s a lot of sci-fi on offer here but it goes well beyond Moorcock’s ‘Eternal Champion’ series...

‘The Best of Michael Moorcock’ really isn’t a collection that you can read all in one go, at least I couldn’t. Individually, each story is well worth your time (subject to the laws of personal preference, more on that later on) but when they’re all put together the book becomes full of big ideas and heavy going prose that was a little bit too heavy for me. I found myself getting bogged down in a concept for the simple reason that I was still trying to get my head round something in the previous story! You might breeze through the whole book in one sitting but I found that the best way to tackle ‘The Best of Michael Moorcock’ was in small doses so as to get the most out of each story.

Michael Moorcock is a man who clearly knows how to tell a tale if the stories here are anything to go by. As is the case with all short story collections, not everything worked for me. I’ll own up to being a victim of the hype surrounding how controversial ‘Behold the Man’ is. I liked the idea (how ‘The Time Traveller’ could have turned out if H.G. Wells had been smoking a lot of weed) but it ended up feeling a little tame in its execution. ‘A Winter Admiral’ was another one that didn’t really work for me; I came away with the feeling that a little more grounding in the world of the Begg Family would have opened the story up a lot more.

Despite this, both stories had me hooked from the word go (in fact, all of them did). Moorcock has a way of making a character’s innermost being totally accessible to the reader (the female lead in ‘The Opium General’ is a great example) in such a way that your attention is no longer your own. His love of London also shines through in stories like ‘Lunching with the Anti-Christ’ and ‘London Bone’. If you’ve ever lived in London you’ll know exactly what he is on about and if you haven’t then you may find yourself wanting to take a wander down Portobello Road or around Notting Hill itself.

The ‘stand out’ stories for me were the ones where Moorcock decided to really let go and see what his imagination came up with. ‘The Visible Men’ demands a re-read (at least from me anyway) to get just what the heck he is on about. ‘The Deep Fix’ paints a grim picture of a post-apocalyptic earth (I’ll bet you never saw us going out like that!) and then blows it all away with a massive twist right at the very end. ‘My Experiences in the Third World War’ is a glorious descent past the point of no return into the realm of nuclear warfare. The Cossack’s charge, right at the very end, makes it all too clear that we will never be ready for the horrors such warfare will bring.

Is this collection the ‘Best’ of Michael Moorcock? You’ll get a different answer every time you ask the question (my money is still on the ‘Oswald Bastable’ books) but what I would say is that this book is a great stepping stone for anyone wanting to find out if there is more to Moorcock than Elric or Corum. There’s much more to him than that...

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

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