Sunday 4 March 2018

Michael Moorcock's Legends of the Multiverse

Soul Duggery

Michael Moorcock's
Legends of the Multiverse

Edited by J. M. Lofficier
Black Coat Press ISBN: 978-1612272726

For a book with such a title as Michael Moorcock’s Legends of the Multiverse, it’s surprising how little of it is actually written by Michael Moorcock...

But that wasn’t exactly unexpected and it does kind of uphold a certain tradition in terms of where this particular writer sits with his phenomenally successful characters. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

I first discovered Moorcock in the early to mid 1980s. I managed to somehow see a rare television screening of the excellent screen adaptation of the first of his full length Jerry Cornelius novels, The Final Programme... which I reviewed here a number of years ago. Now, Moorcock reportedly hates this movie but, I have to say, if I’d not seen it then, in all likelihood, I wouldn’t have ended up reading about 60 of his novels over the next few years, picked up along with many other writers’ works from various second hand bookshops at between 10p to 30p a shot. Some of his ones I even bought brand new... which is saying something for those days (in actual fact, what it’s saying is that I couldn’t find a cheaper way to read some of these things).

I soon discovered two of my other favourite Moorcock characters too. There was Elric Of Melnibone, the albino king and last of his people who travels The Young Kingdoms calling upon Arioch, The God of Chaos, to help him in times of trouble and carrying the black rune sword Stormbringer... which drinks the souls of Elric’s enemies and, sometimes, friends and lovers, in it’s insatiable thirst for more souls, some of which it channels back to it’s current owner to keep strength in the albino’s weakened limbs.

And my other favourite was Dorian Hawkmoon, who had a black rune stone planted as a third eye in his skull to feed back pictures of his deeds to his enemies, so they could keep tabs on him... and his quest to be rid of this curse and destroy those who would harm him and his friends. I’m sorry if that’s vague but... it’s quite a number of decades since I read these but I would very much like to read them again. I remember the Hawkmoon tales were the first time I’d come upon the concept of an ornithopter.

Of course, I also read others of Moorcock’s heroes such as The Chronicles of Corum, The Dancers At The End Of Time and Erekose and, after a while, you start to realise that there’s a common thread to these tales. For example, some of the events of the first Jerry Cornelius novel and various Elric adventures are echoed in both dialogue (“What’s the hour?” VS “What time is it?” etc.) and events such as the inadvertent death of each one’s sister by their own hand - a needle gun dart through the heart for Catherine Cornelius and a run in with Stormbringer for Elric’s sister. That being said, especially in terms of the Cornelius chronicles, nobody stays dead for very long but then again, it’s really hard to tell just what the heck is going on in the Cornelius books from moment to moment anyway and, perhaps, that’s a big part of their appeal to me (after merging with Miss Brunner as a hermaphroditic creature leading mankind to its own death at the end of The Final Programme, Cornelius turns up alive and well as a negative impression of himself with black flesh and white hair in the next story... but he’s back to his normal look in the third novel, The English Assassin... although he does spend pretty much all of that novel inside a coffin... but that’s another story).

Anyway, there’s a point you get to with Moorcock, when heroes start converging on a place called Tanelorn, in whichever book from whichever series you are reading, that you realise that all his characters are manifestations of the same character, The Eternal Champion, in different incarnations in a vast ‘multiverse’. And when Elric blows a mythical horn and brings an end to all the different dimensional worlds in one fell stroke, there is nothing left of any of these characters or their universes. But, of course, Moorcock being Moorcock, this doesn’t really phase any of them for that long, it seems to me.

So here I am right where I came in, with a timely reminder that Michael Moorcock’s Legends of the Multiverse doesn’t have that much of Moorcock himself in it. I didn’t realise it until it was in my hands but this tome is an imprint of Black Coat Press, who bring out some unbelievably cool short story collections by various genre writers mixing up various heroes and villains from every walk of literature, cinema and TV and kind of scramble them up in unusual combinations, calling it Tales Of The Shadowmen. So you have things like young Bruce Wayne meeting The Shadow or Judex... Fantomas, Arsene Lupin  and Diabolik all sharing a story. Or Barbarella kidnapping Captain Kirk. Or something unusual going on with Babar the elephant. I read one of these annually  produced collections every year (pretty much every Christmas) but I’m always a year behind so I never quite get around to reviewing them for this website. Maybe next year will be the year I catch up and write that review.

Anyway, the two tales from Moorcock which turn up in this volume are actually reprints of previous Tales Of The Shadowmen collections (Kim Newman’s Angels Of Music also started life in the pages of these editions, for those of you who are interested in such things)... so I’d already read those. A lot of the other stories are from a proposed French edition of new Elric stories which never came to fruition. About half of those stories only made it into this volume because... and I don’t know why this was... the remaining writers didn’t want their stories translated into the English language, apparently. Which is curious, to say the least.

I personally have no worries about other writers handling Moorcock’s characters and, apparently, nor does Moorcock. Which kinda makes sense because, when Jerry Cornelius was a star character in the Moorcock edited anthologies of new science fiction writing in the 1960s called New Worlds, he made a present of his Jerry Cornelius character to a number of writers who kinda did their own thing with him. So, in a certain way, this book is almost harkening back to tradition with the way it’s been put together.

It would be fair to say that the book is pretty Elric-centric and you would kind of expect that given the origins of most of the tales here but it doesn’t get too wearing. There are a few Cornelius tales and even a, fairly strange, Hawkmoon story set both before and after (depending on which character you are talking about within the story), the events that transpired at Tanelorn.

And most of the tales are actually quite good and, surprisingly, a fair few of them are pretty much in the style of Moorcock himself. The Elric stories are a bit of a cliché most of the time... you can figure out, for instance, that a character who he goes out of his way to protect in one story is going to become a victim to his savage rune sword before the story is done. Tragedy, death and ambivalence continue to follow Elric and his faithful companion Moonglum through story after story and... yeah... most of these are pretty cool.

There were, however, three stories which I found especially impressive...

The first of these was by Matthew Baugh and it’s called The Garden Of Everything. This one is an additional tale to the chronicles of Corum, who was a character who I never really liked as much as some of the other incarnations of The Eternal Champion but Baugh weaves a quite moving and interesting story of innocence, love, fatherhood and loss which takes place all over the space of just a few days. The writing is sensitive and definitely kept me guessing all the way through.

The next one I’d highlight would be Paul DiFillippo’s Elric tale, The Stealer Of Marketshare (after Moorcock’s own The Stealer Of Souls). This is a curious metaphorical story which takes the hero of The Young Kingdoms and sets up a satire about and the way it conflicts and swallows small businesses. If that sounds silly, well... yeah it is but, somehow, the writer manages to make this thing work and, it has to be experienced to be appreciated, I think.

My last ‘one to write home about’ story in this collection would be Johan Heliot’s The Music Of Souls. This has the main protagonist, a music reporter for a small newspaper in the 1950s and, in particular, in Liverpool, a few years before the emergence of The Beatles. It’s a fascinating look at the music scene of the time and the main protagonist spends his time following a version of Elric who is a session musician working with numerous new bands at places like the famous Cavern Club. Except the albino rocker carries with him his black rune guitar with which, after a while, he tends to slaughter his fellow band members and absorb their souls as he might when Stormbringer was a sword and not a musical instrument. It’s a really great piece as we learn how Elric uses the main protagonist as a kind of Moonglum figure, to chronicle his misdeeds while he is in our dimension. Really interesting stuff.

And that’s me done on Michael Moorcock’s Legends Of The Multiverse, I think. A great little read and, if anything, it’s reminded me what I’ve been missing over the years so I think a Moorcock re-read may well be in the cards sometime over the next few years... once I can get the book backlog under a little more control. Definitely recommended for fans of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion, for sure but probably not a good jumping on point for those unfamiliar with his work... but I guess that’s the nature of the beast... or perhaps the nature of the catastrophe. My watch has stopped.

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