Could there be a more daunting challenge than to explore more than 40 years’ worth of work by one of the most inventive, diverse and at times baffling authors in science fiction and fantasy, and then come up with a selection entitled THE BEST? No wonder it took the skill of no less than three editors to produce THE BEST OF MICHAEL MOORCOCK, and somehow keep it to less than 500 pages.
But John Davey and Ann and Jeff VanderMeer obviously knew what they were getting into, as evidenced by both the introduction (by Davey) and afterword (by the VanderMeers). So, are these 15 selections, going back as far as 1964 and up to 2007, really the best of Moorcock? Well …
Any such collection must contain a representative story featuring both Elric and Jerry Cornelius, the two best-known of Moorcock’s creations. Rather than opt for classics, the editors here chose more contemporary selections. “A Portrait in Ivory,” from 2005, presents the albino warrior Elric in a more meditative mood, as he reflects on his adventurous past while sitting for a sculpture made from materials of his lost homeland. And “The Visible Men,” from 2006, presents Cornelius and his familiar cronies far removed from the mod ’60s, but still suffering the effects of recklessly traveling between dimensions.
But there are classics here. Like “A Dead Singer,” where a spaced-out roadie travels the British back roads with a recently resurrected Jimi Hendrix, all the while contemplating the source of the legendary guitarist’s inspiration and power. And “Behold the Man” is here, too, in its original novella length. And this story of a time traveler who arrives in ancient Rome, meets John the Baptist and carries out the messianic mission of Jesus, still retains it ability to provoke as it did some 43 years ago.
Other selections, varying from short-story- to novella- and near-novella-length, demonstrate Moorcock’s handling of such themes as chaos theory, war, religion, physics and drugs, in terrestrial settings as diverse as New Orleans and North Africa, as well as planets and entire universes of his own design. The narrative styles range from the near-straightforward to the downright disorienting (as in the William Burroughs-influenced “The Deep Fix”).
So if the editors have not provided the best of Moorcock, they have certainly succeeded in showing his breadth and range of fictional ideas and techniques, including — believe it or not — three “non-fantastical” (aka mainstream) stories.
There will be those who think a more appropriate title for this collection would be A MICHAEL MOORCOCK READER or A MICHAEL MOORCOCK TREASURY. But whatever your opinion, the editors have provided a handy, one-volume collection that serves as a superb introduction to the boundless imagination of this unique and fascinating author, while reminding the rest of us why he is so honored and revered. —Alan Cranis
OTHER BOOKGASM REVIEWS OF MICHAEL MOORCOCK:
• ELRIC: TO RESCUE TANELORN by Michael Moorcock
OTHER BOOKGASM REVIEWS OF ANN AND JEFF VANDERMEER:
• FAST SHIPS, BLACK SAILS edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
• THE NEW WEIRD edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
• STEAMPUNK edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer