Where to Start Reading
Where to Begin Your Michael Moorcock Reading by Editor Marcus Gipps
Gollancz is deeply proud to be publishing the (almost) complete genre works of Michael Moorcock, an author who has had an incalculable influence on many genres. Fantasy, SF, literary fiction, spy fiction, steampunk, time-travel stories, planetary romances – Moorcock has written a little bit of everything, and he always does it well. The new collection has been put together by Mike and his long-term friend and bibliographer John Davey, and is the ultimate and best collection of his works. Currently predicted to contain 28 physical volumes (and around 60 eBooks), the vast majority of which have some connection (often slight) to the books around them, we realise it can be a little intimidating if you’ve not delved deep into the joys of Moorcock’s multiverse. So, here are a few suggestions as to where you might start.
The most important thing to note is that really, you can start with any series. Yes, all of the works connect and build up into a wider mythos, but each of the series stand on their own. The best way, in my opinion, is to pick one you like the sound of and start from there. That’s what I did as a kid. However, here are a few pointers.
Most of Moorcock’s works feature an incarnation of the Eternal Champion, a hero reflected across the multiverse in a variety of forms and stories. The idea of the multiverse has evolved throughout Moorcock’s career, and you never know which old friend – or foe – you’ll bump into on the next page. Characters jump between worlds and books, and you can never be sure that the one you are currently meeting is the same as the one you met before. Many of the heroes have the initials JC, but so do some of the villains. The order in which you read the books can change your take on things…
Elric: An obvious one, this – Moorcock’s most famous creation, the albino prince with a melancholy air and a soul-sucking sword is one of the cornerstones of modern fantasy. Every anti-hero, every complicated loner, is built on Elric. Our new editions tell Elric’s story in the order in which it occurred (in fiction, not in publication), so the best place to start is probably Elric of Melniboné and other stories. There’s an argument for starting with Elric: Stormbringer! which contains perhaps the most famous of the Elric novels, but you’ll lose the continuity. We should point out that three individual volumes currently available – Daughter of Dreams, Destiny’s Brother and Son of the Wolf – have also been collected into the final volume of the Elric collection, Elric: The Moonbeam Roads. We did individual volumes of these as the last two had never before been released in the UK.
Corum: Perhaps Moorcock’s most straight-forward heroic fantasy series, the two collections making up the Corum saga – Corum: The Prince in the Scarlet Robe and Corum: The Prince With the Silver Hand – are rollicking reads. Infused with Celtic mythology and wild flights of invention, they’re a great place to start reading Moorcock.
Hawkmoon: The third of the great trio of Eternal Champions, the futuristic dystopia of Hawkmoon’s world is one that has resonated throughout SF ever since it was first described. The evil Granbretan empire, with its legions of animal-helmed troops, are faced only by a few ragged heroes. Among them is Dorian Hawkmoon, humiliated and mutilated by the empire, but destined to lead the forthcoming battle. Mixing dystopian SF and heroic fantasy, these are genre-bending Moorcock at his best. A note of warning – the first volume (Hawkmoon: The History of the Runestaff) is a great place to start, but the second (Hawkmoon: Count Brass) should be avoided until you’ve read more of the collection. It essentially acts as an ending to the entire Eternal Champion saga, bringing together elements from half a dozen of the various series.
Gloriana: A bit of an oddity in our collection, this one, and perhaps the book with the least obvious connections to those surrounding it, but nevertheless part of the mythos and, more importantly, one of Moorcock’s most successful books. Telling the story of an alternative England under an Elizabeth I-equivalent, Gloriana; or, the Unfulfill’d Queen is probably the most ‘literary’ of the books we have under contract (grumble grumble Mother London want to publish it grumble grumble). Rich in detail and evocative language, this is a masterpiece.
The Dancers: At the end of the universe, the last ‘humans’ cavort and create wonders on the dying earth. Their power is without limits, their boredom without end. Until a time-traveller from the 19th century arrives, with her Victorian morals and beliefs, and Jherek Carnelian falls in love. This book has sat in the SF Masterworks series for years, and is wonderful. The Dancers at the End of Time is well worth a read if you’re a bit suspicious of fantasy.
Jerry Cornelius: The most mind-bending spy novels ever written, featuring the amorphous and inexplicable titular ‘hero’. The first novel is an echo of the Elric story in a modern setting, but as the series continues things get weirder and weirder. Trick typography, Burroughs-ian ‘cut-up’ techniques, shifting characterisation and description; these are complicated, playful and consciousness-expanding. The Cornelius Quartet contains the novels, but there are also some wonderful short stories in Jerry Cornelius: His Lives and His Times.
That’s a brief selection perhaps the most famous Moorcock. There are plenty more to try, including the Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired Kane of Old Mars; the first steampunk novels (The Nomad of Time); the books that introduced and defined the multiverse, Moorcock’s greatest creation (Moorcock’s Multiverse); and the exploration of his repeated hero The Eternal Champion. And then there’s the short story collections, the ebook-only releases… I hope, as I did fifteen years ago, that once you’ve sampled some Moorcock you’ll devour and explore and make connections across his wonderful body of work. Plus they look great all on the shelf together…