Michael Moorcock’s Fantasy Autobiography: The Whispering Swarm

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Whispering Storm-smallMichael Moorcock is a giant. He is probably most famous for his Elric of Melniboné stories, but he also has written many other fine works. In addition, he is also well known for having been the editor of the controversial British science fiction magazine New Worlds from 1964 to 1971. From this position Moorcock is usually credited with fostering the development of the New Wave in science fiction and fantasy.

Personally, I have been a big Moorcock fan for years and was something of a rabid devotee in junior high. I read the Elric stories over and over, almost memorized the “Melnibonéan Mythos” section of the Dungeons and Dragons Deities and Demigods book, and even bought the old Chaosium RPG Stormbringer, which was based on Moorcock’s Elric tales.

So I was incredibly excited when I heard that Moorcock was releasing a new novel, The Whispering Swarm, the first in a new trilogy. Having just finished it, I have to say that it is one of the most unique books I have ever read. Described in a sentence: It’s part fantasy and it purports be part autobiographical.


I think a little light can be shed on the book’s conception with the following.

StarShipSofa, the excellent British science fiction podcast and website, interviewed Moorcock back in 2008 (if you’re interested, you can watch it here). At one point in the interview, Moorcock relates that his publisher thought he should write a memoir. But Moorcock admits that he is very reticent to do so because many of the people he would be writing about are still alive, and he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings — nor did he want to get into any “he said vs. she said” controversies.

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The Anti-Tolkien: Michael Moorcock in The New Yorker

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Michael Moorcock-smallI was surprised and pleased to see a lengthy feature on Michael Moorcock in that bastion of American literature, The New Yorker.

Peter Bebergal, author of Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, wrote the piece, which was published online on December 31, 2014. It’s a well-informed article which celebrates Moorcock’s substantial contribution to fantasy, but doesn’t gloss over his years as a young muckraking editor at the helm of the New Wave:

It was fifty years ago this year that Moorcock, then twenty-four years old, was offered the editorial helm of the British magazine New Worlds… Moorcock and his peers had become tired of the dominant science-fiction landscape: vast fields of time travel, machismo, and spaceships, as well as the beefcake heroes of the fantasy subgenre “Sword and Sorcery.” The Golden Age of Science Fiction, held aloft by authors like Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, and Robert Heinlein had, by the nineteen-sixties, sputtered out into a recycling of the same ideas. Within the pages of New Worlds, Moorcock created a literary revolution, one that would have science-fiction fans calling for his head.

The focus of the piece, titled “The Anti-Tolkien,” is on Moorcock’s criticism of the “troublesome infantilism inherent in Tolkien’s work,” and his response to it in his own work.

Read the complete article online here.

Re-reading Michael Moorcock’s The History of The Runestaff: What I Missed the First Time Around

Saturday, October 18th, 2014 | Posted by Connor Gormley

The History of The Runestaff UK omnibus-smallI don’t do re-reads, not often anyway. I’m usually too busy fighting neo-Nazis in the far future and wrestling dinosaurs on Mars. (You know, normal, everyday sort of stuff.) I decided to make an exception for The History of the Runestaff, however, mostly because I realized I had been recommending the thing to friends for years, but hadn’t touched it since I was twelve, when one of my friends dug the omnibus edition out of some weird corner in our school’s library, plopped it into my hands and mumbled something about multiple universes.

I remember staring, wide-eyed, at the thing, fascinated; the Conan covers might have been brutal and bloody and prominently featured big burly men, but this was strange, this was something different entirely; its pulsing yellows and light greens were alien, steeped in the psychedelia of the sixties (which, as the inside of the book told me, was when the books were written), it completely dashed away my expectations, crushed them under an iron-clad boot, made my little eyes wide. It contrasted brilliantly with the pulsing purples and browns and blacks of the Conan covers, its swirling surrealism was as far away from Frazetta as I had been.

Despite all that, I didn’t get around to actually reading it until a few months later, when my friend convinced the librarian to delete the book from the school files and I, somehow, managed to get him to trade me it for a copy of some other book. So it wasn’t until a few months later that I discovered that it wasn’t actually that different from Conan, anyway.

The History of The Runestaff was what introduced me to sword and sorcery, what truly opened the gate to Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, David Gemmel, Jack Vance, Karl Edward Wagner, and so many others; it was, ultimately, what led me here. If there’s anything I’m going to re-read, I thought, it should be this.

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Future Treasures: The Whispering Swarm by Michael Moorcock

Sunday, July 20th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Whispering Storm-smallWe’re big fans of Michael Moorcock at Black Gate.

I published an original Moorock novella, “The Dreamthief’s Daughter,” way back in our very first issue. More recently, Fletcher Vredenburgh reviewed his classic The Eternal Champion, Connor Gormley looked his at Von Bek series, Matthew David Surridge examined his Hawkmoon novels, and I covered the reprint of his early novels The Warlord of the Air and The Sword of the Dawn.

Now comes word that Tor will publish a brand new novel from Moorcock, a semi-autobiographical fantasy of a young man in post World War II London…

Tor Books now proudly presents Moorcock’s first independent novel in nine years, a tale both fantastical and autobiographical, a celebration of London and what it meant to be young there in the years after World War II. The Whispering Swarm is the first in a trilogy that will follow a young man named Michael as he simultaneously discovers himself and a secret realm hidden deep in the heart of London.

The Whispering Swarm is the first novel of The Sanctuary of the White Friars.

The Whispering Swarm will be published by Tor Books on December 9, 2014. It is 512 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition.

The Shout of a Young Man Who Finds the World a Complicated Place: The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_272267fTHTh1HnWhen I was a kid, all my friends read Michael Moorcock’s sprawling Eternal Champion series. Endlessly resurrected and reincarnated, the Eternal Champion exists to right the balance between Law and Chaos. According to Moorcock in the introduction to the 1994 edition of the novel, The Eternal Champion:

I use the ideas of Law and Chaos precisely because I am suspicious of simplistic notions of good and evil. In my multiverse, Law and Chaos are both legitimate ways of interpreting and defining experience. Ideally, the Cosmic Balance keeps both sides in equilibrium. By playing “the Game of Time”… the various participants maintain that equilibrium. When the scales tip too far toward Law we move toward rigid orthodoxy and social sterility, a form of decadence. When Chaos is uppermost we move too far towards undisciplined and destructive creativity.

Seemingly deep stuff for teenagers to be reading, but I think it was part of the series’ appeal. Teenagers are constantly pushing boundaries and trying to get a grip on right and wrong. I think many of them are as suspicious of supposedly “simplistic notions of good and evil” as Moorcock was. It appeared to be presenting a more nuanced way of looking at the world.

Most of the guys (and it was all guys) I knew who read swords & sorcery back in the 1970s and early ’80s were SF/F geeks, potheads, or metalheads and there was a lot of overlap amongst those groups. In my experience, gaming had a lot to do with bringing those tribes together and we all loved Moorcock’s stories and heroes.

Most preferred the morose albino, Elric, of doomed Melniboné. Dressed in black armor, wielding the evil soul-drinking sword Stormbringer, and riding a dragon — I totally get it. A few liked Dorian Hawkmoon von Koln and his adventures across post-apocalyptic Europe and America better. Personally, I did and still do enjoy the two trilogies about Corum Jhaelen Irsei, last of the Vadhagh. Steeped in Irish myth and a gloomy Celtic miasma, I think they’re the most intense and beautiful books in the series.

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Andre Norton, Michael Moorcock and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D

Monday, September 9th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

stormbringerAnd so we come to two of the most influential and prolific fantasy writers of the 20th Century, Andre Norton and Michael Moorcock, as we follow intrepid literary explorers Mordicai and Tim Callahan on their voyage of discovery through Appendix N at Tor.com.

Tim and Mordicai have been none too gentle to some of the writers in Appendix N, including L. Sprague de Camp, Gardner Fox, and even Roger Zelazny. But in Norton and Moorcock, they find authors they can appreciate.

Here’s Tim on Michael Moorcock:

I read The Swords Trilogy and The Chronicles of Corum early, and they made an impact. They exploded inside my mind in a way I have never forgotten, even if I can’t remember many of the story details from any particular chapter… but I didn’t really feel like I tuned into Elric until halfway through the first reprint volume, when we get the four novellas of Stormbringer

It’s classic Moorcock, in that imaginative and terrifyingly evocative way that I loved all those years ago when I first picked up The Swords Trilogy off a spinner rack in my hometown general store. Stormbringer begins with agents of chaos abducting Elric’s wife, and it takes off into the realm of mass warfare and conflicts with not-quite-dead-gods soon enough.

Moorcock aims for the mythic.

Read the complete article here.

Good to see a little love for classic sword & sorcery, but personally I don’t see a lot of direct influence from Elric on D&D — unless you count the section on powerful artifacts in the Dungeon Masters Guide, which clearly was conceived with weapons like Stormbringer in mind.

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New Treasures: The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock

Sunday, May 26th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Warlord of the AirWe covered several high quality reprints from Titan Books last year, including Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron; Sax Rohmer’s The Hand of Fu Manchu; and books by James P. Blaylock, Guy Adams, and others.

But their accomplishments don’t end there. Starting in January of this year, Titan began reprinting Michael Moorcock’s early steampunk trilogy Nomad of the Time Streams, beginning with The Warlord of the Air, originally published way back in 1971:

It is 1973, and the stately airships of the Great Powers hold benign sway over a peaceful world. The balance of power is maintained by the British Empire – a most equitable and just Empire, ruled by the beloved King Edward VIII. A new world order, with peace and prosperity for all under the law. Yet, moved by the politics of envy and perverse utopianism, not all of the Empire’s citizens support the marvelous equilibrium.

Flung from the North East Frontier of 1902 into this world of the future, Captain Oswald Bastable is forced to question his most cherished ideals, discovering to his horror that he has become a nomad of the time streams, eternally doomed to travel the wayward currents of a chaotic multiverse.

The first in the Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy, The Warlord of the Air sees Bastable fall in with the anarchists of this imperial society and set in train a course of events more devastating than he could ever have imagined.

These classic novels have been out of print for some fifteen years. Titan has already released the second, The Land Leviathan, on April 16; that volume finds Bastable in an alternate 1904 devastated by a terrible war waged with futuristic weapons and deadly biological attacks. The third and final volume, The Steel Tsar, follows Bastable’s adventures in an alternate 1941 where both World Wars were averted and Russia is still ruled by Tsars, and Bastable finds himself imprisoned by the rebel ‘Steel Tsar,’ Joseph Stalin. It will be released on August 13.

The Warlord of the Air was published by Titan Books on January 15. It is 215 pages in trade paperback, priced at $9.95 ($9.95 for the digital edition).

Michael Moorcock’s Von Bek: A Review

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013 | Posted by Connor Gormley

Von BekNo matter what your opinion of Michael Moorcock, you can’t deny that he’s a versatile writer; from the pulpy adventures of Dorian Hawkmoon to the sophisticated high literature of Mother London, this man seems capable of writing anything, and Von Bek, a collection of three stories that focus around the family of the same name and their quest for the Grail, is proof.

This is especially true of the first book: The Warhound and the World’s Pain, which focuses on Ulrich Von-Bek. Here you’ll encounter the same Gothic tones and deep melancholy of the Elric books, the gung-ho adventure of Hawkmoon alongside another healthy dose of Moorcock’s boundless imagination. It is at once questioning and original, daring and clever; unafraid to show the ravages of war, but still enjoyable as simple, leave-your-brain-at-the-door adventure.

A hard to attain but perfect combination. In this tale Lucifer, wanting to redeem himself in the eyes of God, enlists Ulrich Von Bek to retrieve the Holy Grail, or, as he calls it, the ’cure to the worlds pain.’

All throughout this venture, he is hindered by Klosterheim, who has been ordered to prevent him from finding the Grail. Klosterheim’s arrogant nature, intolerable ignorance, and prejudice make him an apt and contemptible rival for our charismatic anti-hero.

I say anti-hero because Von Bek, much like Elric, is a far-cry from Conan or Aragorn in that, rather than having an immovable viewpoint on morals, Von Bek, at least at the beginning, has none. The fact that he only accepts the tangible and takes destruction in his stride makes him a compelling companion, and makes his quest — which surrounds religion and metaphysics — all the more apt, and therefore all the more interesting.

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Michael Moorcock on the Birth of Hawkmoon

Friday, April 2nd, 2010 | Posted by Bill Ward

jewel-skull-moorcock-hawkmoonLast week Tor.com ran a terrific article by Michael Moorcock about the origins of his (recently reprinted) Hawkmoon stories. In ‘The Genesis of Hawkmoon‘ Moorcock talks about method, motive, and how the big cultural changes of the sixties heavily influenced his work. Firstly, the man’s writing MO is legendary, and he wrote fantasy fiction with a journalistic mindset: fast with no revisions. The political elements of Hawkmoon, in which a far-future Britain is the ‘Dark Empire’ opposed by a German hero, was a direct protest of the lingering prejudice and division left over from WWII in England. Moorcock sees the books, and himself, as a product of the times — and the times they were a’ changing.

Finally, Moorcock expresses his quiet astonishment over the longevity of Hawkmoon and all the Eternal Champion stories, and remarks “Not bad, I guess, for twelve days hard work!”

No, Mr. Moorcock, not bad at all.

Happy Birthday Michael Moorcock

Friday, December 19th, 2008 | Posted by Bill Ward

Michael Moorcock turned sixty-nine yesterday, and it’s hard to believe that this prolific, vocal, daring, and sometimes vociferous (see Wizardry & Wild Romance for an idea of what I’m talking about) Grand Master of SF is a senior citizen. Best known, of course, for the brooding albino prince Elric and his soul-hungry sword Stormbringer, Moorcock’s restless energy hasn’t confined itself to one hero, genre, or way of telling a story. So whether it’s the other aspects of the Eternal Champion such as Corum, Hawkmoon, or Von Bek adventuring through his shared worlds of the multiverse, his alternate histories like the Pyat Quartet and Nomad of the Time Streams, his experimental novels like Breakfast in the Ruins and Behold the Man, or a whole hosts of other complex and enduring novels such as Mother London and Gloriana, Moorcock has written something for everyone.

For his wide-ranging talent, refusal to play it safe with his writing, and enormous energy and imagination, Moorcock is truly one of the field’s most inspiring figures. Naturally, at Black Gate our focus is primarily on Sword & Sorcery and Heroic Fantasy, and in that field especially Moorcock stands as a giant — perhaps the last giant still among us — for his blend of old-school storytelling muscle, fertile mind, and New Wave edge. While the other aspects of the Eternal Champion may stand in the shadow of the forever-iconic Melnibonean, the entirity of Moorcock’s Sword and Sorcery oeuvre has to be seen as one of the field’s finest and most epic creations.

So happy birthday Michael Moorcock — and many happy returns!

BILL WARD is a genre writer, editor, and blogger wanted across the Outer Colonies for crimes against the written word. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as gaming supplements and websites. He is a Contributing Editor and reviewer for Black Gate Magazine, and 423rd in line for the throne of Lost Lemuria. Read more at BILL’s blog, DEEP DOWN GENRE HOUND.

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