01/12/2009. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: Tachyon. 403 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-892391-86-5.
check out website: www.tachyonpublications.com
The stories in this 'Best Of' collection were chosen by John Davey with Ann and Jeff Van Dermeer, not by Michael Moorcock himself, though he asked them to do it and wrote the stories so must take the blame or the credit.
It's a very mixed bunch and reading them in all in a row can cause 'a stylistic jarring of the senses' according to Davey. He is right. Moorcock is best known for his fantasy and Science Fiction and that is represented here but in a very modern way, namely it's not very fantastical. Most of the stories are about modern man going about his business and are written in a literary, understated fashion. There are no exclamation marks.
Starting safely it opens with an Elric story entitled 'A Portrait in Ivory'. Elric gets his portrait carved in ancient ivory from a long dead beast by a woman from a race nearly as old as his own. She captures his essence, he feels. And that's about it.
Unfortunately, 'that's about it' is an effective comment on a lot of the stories in the book. In 'A Dead Singer' a hippie drives a camper van around England with Jimi Hendrix in the back. The rest of the world thinks Jimi Hendrix is dead. The hippie has an overdose and drinks too much and chokes on his own vomit. Jimi Hendrix wanders off into the sunset. Perhaps it means something to somebody.
There is a lot of self-referencing to Moorcock's own created worlds. This can work but doesn't here, for me, because it is sort of pointless. 'Lunching With The Antichrist' is a story about Edwin Begg, one of Moorcock's big Begg family. It is narrated by a journalist who has lunch with him a lot and the big mystery hinted at is that there are other worlds - a multiverse of them, in fact! 'The Birds Of The Moon' is another story where this startling fact features largely. But if the reader is familiar with Moorcock's work he already knows this. A story that is just a big hint to a 'secret' well-known is a bit futile, even if the London Arts Board which originally published it didn't think so.
I was under the misapprehension that the major no-no in fiction was to leave the reader with a sense of futility. Well, that may be the case in traditional fiction but in modern literary fiction it seems to be the aim. Too many of the stories in this collection left me wondering what the point was. Moorcock has criticized many traditional genre writers but at least their stories do not rot your soul. In non-literary fiction, whatever its other faults, the characters lives have meaning: James Bond wants to save Britain, Conan wants to loot and drink and ravish wenches, Heinlein's engineers want to build things. Moorcock's junkies drift along in a purposeless fugue state, boring the pants off you.
There is some good stuff. 'Doves In The Circle' is a nice, low-key story about an old Irish community in Manhattan, though it might have been better without that modern standby the paedophile priest, though to be fair, good priests are mentioned. 'The Deep Fix' is a genuine SF story in the mode of Phillip K Dick and features a naked man with blue skin - the inspiration for Alan Moore's Doctor Manhattan, perhaps. 'Behold The Man' is very famous classic SF, too. 'The Cairene Purse' is too long for a story whose alternative title would be 'My Sister Married An Alien' but atmospheric, I suppose. 'A Slow Saturday Night At The Surrealist Sporting Club' is good fun, with God farting and scratching his ass.
It's not all bad and if you went by page count I guess half of it is pretty good. But none of it is brilliant and the futile, despairing stuff seems to weigh more heavily than the other fiction. I hate to write a sour review for Mister Moorcock who has given me a lot of pleasure over the years with his old-fashioned ripping yarns but taken as a whole this really wasn't my cup of tea.
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