Friday, 22 May 2009

The Best of Michael Moorcock - Michael Moorcock (eds Davey, VanderMeer & VanderMeer)

As far as I am concerned, you could put anything by Mike Moorcock into a collection and it would be The Best Of… Even stuff he wrote at a speed that must have left smoke pouring from the typewriter keys outranks most other stuff for clarity, style, pace, and excitement. Of course, one of the problems is that Mike is often classified by this swiftly produced fantasy work and thus condemned to a literary ghetto (albeit one in which there is more than a fair share of high class work).

It is because of that erroneous perception of Mike as a hack writer of sword and sorcery that this collection (edited by John Davey and the VanderMeers) is all the more precious. Although it contains nods to Elric and to Jerry Cornelius, the rest of the collection is a display of the remarkable range of Mike’s work. I won’t insult it by calling it ‘literary’ for that would be to demean the work with a label that has no real meaning beyond publisher-speak for a book they couldn’t fit into any other genre. Besides which, Mike has always been at the forefront of attempts to rid us of those false divisions and allow written work to find its own form.

The pieces in this collection cover a time span of 43 years, allowing the reader to see how this writer’s work has developed. It also covers a range of styles, themes, and subject matter. They all touch on fundamental human concerns, they are all imbued with the warmth that is typical of the author, and they are all well-written. What is more, they are unique. Moorcock’s work is inimitable. True, there have been others who have used his characters, but a Mike Moorcock book is a Mike Moorcock book, be it a sword and sorcery pounded out in three days, or a quartet of novels taking a quarter of a century.

And underlying this collection there is deep, personal mythology that connects with the real world at a tangent. This is not just a fictional mythology in which all of Mike’s fiction interconnects. There is also the mythical quality that attaches to Moorcock the editor and which resonates in his own work. Because, not content with writing some of the finest and most iconic work of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (a feat in itself), he was also at the centre of a revolution which provided a platform for many writers. A place where they could hone their talents and expand the boundaries of writing.

If you have fought shy of Michael Moorcock in the past, please try this collection. There are one or two science fiction tropes (a time machine, for example), a few head trips (but doesn’t all good writing do that?), but most of all there is top quality writing, a glorious use and development of ideas, humour, warmth, and some of the best stories you’ll ever read.