Moorcock, Michael

About the Author:

Michael Moorcock was born in London, UK in 1939.  He worked as editor of the magazine New Worlds from 1964 to 1971 and again in 1978.  Moorcock also performed with the rockband Hawkwind for a number of years.

 

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:

2.6 out of 5

(9 books)

Doctor Who: The Coming Of The Terraphiles

An original adventure featuring the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companion Amy Pond.  With the fate of the multiverse in the balance, the Doctor and Amy join the Terraphiles, a group of historical re-enactors obsessed with Old Earth, in travelling to the Miggea system in an attempt to win the coveted Arrow of Law.

If psychadelic stream-of-consciousness mixed with Wodehousian farce with a veneer of Doctor Who sounds like your sort of thing... then you and I are very different people.  I hated this book from start to finish.

The book Moorcock gives us here is often incomprehensible whilst also being constantly, painfully tedious.  I actually came close to giving up reading halfway through, and that's something that I never do, no matter how little I like a particular book.  Things aren't helped by Moorcock's attempts at humour, a concept he has presumably heard of somewhere but failed to fully understand.  The humour on offer consists of basically 'Wouldn't it be funny if, in the far future, people got mixed up about how cricket works and what things are called?'.  The answer is 'No, it would not'.  It's like the author is attempting to emulate Douglas Adams but thought that the reason the 'Hitch-Hiker's Guide' books are comic genius is because some of the characters have silly names.

The book's worst crime is pretending to be a Doctor Who story.  I'm fairly confident in saying that Moorcock has probably never seen an episode of modern Who and whilst there is a character called the Doctor and one called Amy Pond, they have nothing in common with the characters of the same name in the TV show.  Really, can you imagine Karen Gillan's sassy Amy ever exclaiming "Gosh!"?  Let alone doing it time and time again.  Also, Moorcock seems to have little regard for the universe his story is set in and, rather than following the science-based nature of Who, decided to just use this as an opportunity to waffle on about his tedious multiverse concepts.  This is a book where all you have to do is fly through a blackhole to enter the anti-matter universe and where the Doctor is a proponent of metaphysics over actual physics.

This book is utter garbage and an insult to any Doctor Who fan who buys it.  I suspect that if you're a Moorcock fan you'll be just a disappointed too.

1 out of 5

 

Elric At The End Of Time

Book Seven of the Elric Saga (except it's not really).  This anthology reprints a couple of previously uncollected Elric stories, Moorcock's first fantasy stories featuring Sojan the Swordsman and several articles in which the author relects on his own work.

This book began surprisingly strongly with the titular short story actually playfully poking fun at the seriousness and conceits of the Elric stories using the characters from the Dancers at the End of Time series.  There's also an interesting essay on how Moorcock's life directly influenced how he wrote the adventures of the albino swordsman.

Unfortunately, the latter two thirds of the book are of much lower quality.  The largest part of the book are taken up with the adventures of Sojan the Swordsman, which the author began writing at the age of fifteen, and they're completely lacking in complexity or engaging characters and, for all their swashbuckling, are really quite dull.  Then there's another essay, but one in which Moorcock espouses his famously elitist attitudes to fantasy and SF, which reads as almost pure hubris.

Put simply, if you're looking for the conclusion to Elric's story, then you'll find it in 'Stormbringer'.  This book is mostly a curiosity best-suited for Moorcock fans and purists.

2 out of 5

 

Elric Of Melnibone

The first book of the Elric Saga (which is itself part of the larger Eternal Champion series).  Elric, the albino Emperor of Melnibone, is uneasy on his throne, eschewing the traditions and mindset of his people and dependent on drugs to maintain his strength.  When his cousin Yrkoon attempts a coup, Elric is set on a quest that will lead him apart from his beloved Cymoril and towards the mythical black sword Stormbringer.

Moorcock gives us an interesting protagonist in Elric, who is an outsider at the heart of his own empire and troubled by its decline.  Unlike his followers he begins to experience concepts such as good and evil, morality and justice.  But whilst he is a very interesting main character, he's not an engaging one.  You don't sympathise with Elric or share in his triumphs or even, in most cases, even understand his decisions.  The author, very cleverly, sets Elric outside normal human reasoning, but that comes with the sting in the tail of being led through this fantastical adventure by a character we can't really connect with.  It means that there never actually feels like any emotional stakes in the story for the reader.

The author writes very well but, similarly to the situation with Elric, Moorcock never manages to quite make you believe the fantasy world he's describing.  I know that he was among authors who rebelled against the Tolkien-style of world-building, but unless you can immerse yourself in the fantasy, the book never really excels.

Overall, a solid and well-written fantasy adventure (and much better than the last Moorcock book I read, 'The Dreamthief's Daughter') but not one which really gripped me.

3 out of 5

 

Stormbringer

Book Six of the Elric Saga (which claims to be the final book but which is also followed by a seventh, so who knows how that works).  The sorcerer Jagreen Lern attempts to conquer the entire world with the overwhelming support of the Lords of Chaos.  As the kingdoms of humanity fall one by one Elric must rally his allies and the remaining realms to prevent the Earth from falling eternally to the corruption of Chaos.

This was Moorcock's first ever attempt at a full-length novel (his other books up to this point where cobbled together from previously published short stories) and it tells in the structure of the book.  There are numerous side-quests and plot diversions that take place almost in isolation from the larger story being told, giving the whole thing an episodic feel that detracts from it as a single cohesive narrative.

This book is a real mixed-bag of triumphant high points and inane low points, with all-too-much middling tedium in between.  For every brilliant bit, such as the sea battle against the Ships of Chaos or the perfectly bittersweet ending, there is a moment so stupid or contrived that it stops your enjoyment dead.  For me the most egregious of these is the way that Elric repeatedly fights his way through to confront Jagreen Lern, only to decide not to kill this bitter enemy and instead say something along the lines of "Next time!" before abandoning his attempt to win the battle altogether.  The repetition of this sort of scene over and over reveals Moorcock's transparent need to have each chapter come to a climax, whilst also dragging the story out to novel length.

Ultimately though, between the highs and lows, the majority of this book is just a bit tedious.  The endless repetition of Elric's destiny means that there feels like very little actual peril for him in the countless battle scenes and for every step forward the narrative takes, there's then a drawn-out side-quest that slows the pacing of the book back to a crawl.  After reading eight of his books, I've started to think that I just don't particularly enjoy Moorcock's writing (a bit annoying since I already own another ten I haven't read yet!), but there was just enough good stuff here to get me through.

3 out of 5

 

The Bane Of The Black Sword

The Elric Saga Book Five.  Elric and his companion Moonglum engage in a series of adventures which see the finally catching up to their nemesis Theleb K'aarna, facing an undead king in a decaying kingdom and leading dragons into battle against a barbarian horde intent on destroying civilsation.

The last book saw me grow weary of the, frankly, dull repetition of scenarios and tropes in Elric's adventures and whilst there is still a strong element here of having seen much of this before, here Moorcock's talent with prose manages to just about outweigh that negative point and make the reading fairly enjoyable.

I also liked the fact that the author finally takes Elric's character in new directions, going so far as to have the albino sorcerer fall in love and try to rid himself of Stormbringer, his cursed sword.  However, it has to be said that Moorcock also skips over some fairly important moments in Elric's story without giving them the attention and gravity that they deserved, much like he did with the fall of Imrryr in book three.  The two main instances here are the fate of Theleb K'aarna and Elric's relationship with Zarozinia.  The final confrontation with the evil sorcerer is brief and unsatisfying, much like that with Yrkoon was previously, but far worse is the fact that Elric and Zarozinia meet, fall in love, have sex and decide to get married in the space of about two pages.  You never actually get a feel for their love for each other and Zarozinia (who's only seventeen, it should be noted) is never really developed as a character, let alone a suitable partner for the haunted and semi-deranged Elric.  I was particularly annoyed at how their two-page courtship plays out too; they meet, the girl asserts that she's 'no wanton' but then proceeds to shag Elric on the forest floor whilst Moonglum watches.  It's at best weird and at worst horribly misogynistic.

The book's salvation as a whole comes in its Epilogue, which doesn't feature Elric at all and instead focuses on Rackhir the Red Archer's attempts to save the city of Tanelorn from a Chaos-led assault.  This was far more enjoyable than most of the preceding book and it made me realise that the problem with this series is not so much Moorcock's reuse of cliches as it is Elric himself.  In fact, earlier in the book, Elric proves himself to be an actual idiot when, more or less just for laughs, he leads his companions into a situation which goes horribly wrong and where he's almost killed and Zarozinia is almost raped.  I think this series as a whole would be much better if it followed a mixture of characters, as it does with Rackhir here, instead of being focused on the mopey idiot Elric alone.

3 out of 5

 

The Dreamthief's Daughter

A so-called 'Tale of the Albino', this book ties in to the Multiverse of Moorcock's Eternal Champion stories.  In 1930s Germany, Count Ulric von Bek finds himself at odds with the rising power of the Nazi regime, who are eager to acquire the black sword which has been a family heirloom for centuries.  Becoming a fugitive, Ulric is taken into a magical subterranean world by Oona, the titular Dreamthief's Daughter, and there he meets his counterpart from an alternate reality; Elric of Melnibone.

Despite being a huge fan of fantasy, I'm new to Moorcock's writing on the basis that he has written some fairly unkind things about the likes of Tolkien and Howard and subsequently spawned a cult of fantasy elitists who seem to believe that mainstream fantasy has no value.  Nevertheless, the author is recognised as a master of the genre, so I decided to give one of his books a try.  Sadly, I found that this wasn't the one to win me over to Moorcock's supporters.

The book begins very well, with the wonderfully tense setting of Nazi Germany before the outbreak of war.  Von Bek is also a great protagonist, with whom you instantly side as he brazenly defies the demands of the Nazis and their agent, his own cousin Gaynor.  Slowly Ulric is shown a strange magical world hidden within our own and it is here, where things should get really interesting, that the book goes off the rails.

More or less as soon as Elric of Melnibone, Moorcock's most famous character, shows up the book becomes confusing, unfocused and, frankly, unenjoyable.  Since I have no previous affinity for the character, I actually found him quite annoying and far less engaging as a protagonist than Ulric, who is sadly totally sidelined for the entire middle section of the book.

It gets a bit better in the last third or so because we're returned to Nazi Germany with Ulric as the main character once more.  However, this too is spoiled by Elric's deus ex machina return.

Overall, too much tedium in the middle made worse by wasting a great character (Ulric von Bek) in favour of a more saleable one (Elric of Melnibone).

2 out of 5

 

The Sailor On The Seas Of Fate

Book two of the Elric Saga.  Wandering the Young Kingdoms, Elric finds himself taken aboard a mysterious ship which seems able to sail between the very planes of existence.  This sets in motion events which will lead him to discover the lost homeland of his ancestors and, in doing so, unleash a terrible fate upon his world.

This book is in three parts, with each part telling a largely self-contained adventure for the ill-fated albino warrior.  The first is a bit too metaphysical for my tastes, with Elric moving between worlds and encountering sorcerers who are also castles, whilst merging with alternate incarnations of himself.  It's all very weird and, as someone who tends to prefer down-to-earth prosaic fantasy settings, it was a bit much for me to get to grips with.  I did however enjoy seeing Elric interact with three other incarnations of the Eternal Champion, specifically Erekose, Hawkmoon and Corum.  I've not read enough Moorcock to really know those characters but the author still manages to convey the significance of these Four Who Are One being gathered together.

The latter two parts of the book, whilst still episodic, tell a more coherent and less metaphysical tale of Elric's return to his own world and his subsequent quest to discover the city where his ancestors first allied with the demon lord Arioc.  Here we get a sense of what really drives Elric forward as a character, with him pursuing the rumour that his people, among whom he is an aberration, were once far more of his own mindset.

At first I felt that I was enjoying this book less than the previous volume due to a lack of an over-arching narrative for the whole book.  However, by the time I'd finished the book I realised that I actually preferred the episodic pulp fantasy feel here.  It reminded me pleasantly of the like of Robert E. Howard in the way it tells several self-contained adventures whilst gently nudging the protagonist himself along his larger path.  Don't get me wrong, Elric and Conan couldn't be more different (nor Howard and Moorcock for that matter), but the way their tales unfold resonate with each other.

4 out of 5

 

The Vanishing Tower

The Elric Saga book four.  Elric and his companion Moonglum dedicate themselves to hunting down and destroying the evil sorcerer Theleb K'aarna, pursuing him across the lands.  Eventually they travel to the eternal city of Tanelorn and there Elric must ally himself with other aspects of the Champion Eternal in order to save the city from K'aarna's latest magical assault.

Up to this point I've been finding Elric's adventures perfectly adequate fantasy adventures but not remarkable ones.  This is more or less the same case with this book, but it was here that my patience for 'perfectly adequate' ran out.  Four books in to the series I felt that there really should've been something new being said or perhaps some significant revelations about Elric's oft-talked about higher destiny, but there's just not.  What we get here is another series of episodic adventures in which Elric mopes about a bit, cries "Arioch!  Arioch!  Arioch!", slaughters everyone with Stormbringer and then goes back to moping about.

Read in isolation this would probably come across as good pulp fantasy fayre but, having read the other books of the series, this just feels like Moorcock trotting out more of the same tropes over and over.  Whilst the series as a whole has never really wowed me, this book was the first time that I started to actively dislike it.  Were it not for the fact that I already own the remaining three books of the Elric Saga, this is where I probably would've stopped reading.

2 out of 5

 

The Weird Of The White Wolf

The third book of the Elric Saga.  The self-exiled Emperor of Melnibone returns to his homeland at the head of a Young Kingdoms fleet intent on gaining revenge against his cousin Yrkoon.  Later, cursed and forsaken, he embarks upon quests to recover the Book of the Dead Gods and to prevent a Lord of the Higher Planes from establishing a foothold on Earth.

Once again this book is divided into three separate and mostly self-contained parts, a mixture of previously published material and new stuff added to create this novel-length story.  Well, 'new' for when it was published anyway.  The third part here is by far the best, with Elric becoming the lover of Queen Yishana and agreeing to help her drive an apparent Lord of Chaos from her realm.  It's every bit the sword and sorcery adventure you could hope for.

The second part is not as impressive and runs a little into cliche with it's quest for an arcane magical item and series of perilous encounters en route.  It's not bad, it's just nothing new really.  Also, the introduction of the character to Moonglum is pretty contrived.  He just happens to be on Elric's path and, with little discussion as to why, decides to accompany the albino on his subsequent adventures.  You never feel like he has motivations of his own, but rather that Moorcock just needed a human companion for Elric to replace Count Smiorgan.

Unfortunately, it is the first third of this book which really lets it down and ruins the reading experience as a whole.  It covers Elric's return to Imrryr and his ill-fated confrontation with his hated rival Yrkoon and his beloved Cymoril.  Having read the two preceding books, this moment should have been an epic climax to the first stage of the albino's life and probably warranted an entire novel in and of itself.  Unfortunately Moorcock skips over it fairly quickly and you get the definite sense that telling this story is something the author begrudges but knows it's necessary in order to lead up to the previously published adventures of Elric's later life.  It's clear that the past-haunted Elric which the author originally wrote is who the character is intended to be and that Moorcock isn't comfortable with retrospectively trying to explain how that character came about.  Honestly, I almost felt that this book would have been better if the tragic events of the attack on Imrryr had happened off-page between the last book and this one.

Still, at least the steadily increasing quality of the stories here shows promise for the rest of Elric's adventures in subsequent books.

3 out of 5

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