Today is the 74th birthday of celebrated and influential author and editor Michael John Moorcock. Involving himself in the SF/Fantasy scene practically as soon as he discovered it, Moorcock began editing Tarzan Adventures in 1957 when he was just 17. His love of high adventure, such as the work of Leigh Brackett and Edgar Rice Burroughs, influenced not only his early editorial work but also his own writing. He is often self-deprecating about his style, saying in the introduction to Elric: The Stealer of Souls:
“I think of myself as a bad writer with big ideas, but I’d rather be that than a big writer with bad ideas”
Perhaps best known for his books set in the Eternal Champion universe, Moorcock developed the idea of an epic fantasy hero who isn’t limited to a single storyline or canonical biography. Instead, various characters are embodied with a heroic spirit, whether they are aware of it or not! Also popular is the sexually unconventional secret agent Jerry Cornelius, first appearing in The Finale Programme. This character has proven so popular that Moorcock has allowed other SF writers, including Norman Spinrad, Brian Aldiss and others, to write their own Jerry Cornelius stories.
As the editor of New Worlds in the 1960s, Moorcock’s influence is likely most apparent, in terms of the history of contemporary science fiction. This stint helped establish a whole world of “New Wave” science fiction of which several game-changing writers like Harlan Ellison, Samuel R. Delany, and Roger Zelazny were satellites.
Never shy about his opinions on writing, Michael Moorcock firmly believes in the inherent need for SF writing to be inclusive of all races, genders, and orientations. His writing also reflects the human elements of SF/F writing; the idea that we’re all confused paradoxical beings, struggling to find the answers. In this way, as a fantasist, Michael Moorcock is like a soothsayer of a bygone era. In The Elric Saga Part I, he makes plain the relationship between our imperfect world and the musings of soothsayers:
“Elric knew that everything that existed had its opposite. In danger he might find peace. And yet, of course, in peace there was danger. Being an imperfect creature in an imperfect world he would always know paradox. And that was why in paradox there was always a kind of truth. That was why philosophers and soothsayers flourished. In a perfect world there would be no place for them. In an imperfect world the mysteries were always without solution and that was why there was always a great choice of solutions.”
We think this imperfect world is made a little more manageable through the magic of Michael Moorcock. Happy Birthday!
This post originally ran December 18, 2012