MICHAEL MOORCOCK

In Conversation with Colin Greenland and the Preston SF Group

In February 1994 Michael Moorcock was the guest of the Preston SF Group. It was the week before his departure from British shores to take up residence in Austin, Texas. Colin Greenland (who wrote DEATH IS NO OBSTICLE, a book-long interview with Moorcock giving away all the secrets of a writer) acted as interviewer and requester for questions from the audience.

In Kimota this interview was edited to fit the space available. This vesion gives the full account.

Colin Greenland:

There is this compulsion to read a Michael Moorcock book to see a character continue to see what happens, but also your writing is so prolific it is possible to take a slice. Itís possible to just read the Dancers at the End Of Time stories or just the Elric stories for instance. Do you have an image of how a reader will read your books?

Michael Moorcock:

What Iíve said once the book is published and once a person has bought it or stolen it or whatever theyíve done, but once itís there, whatever use they want to make of it itís up to them. It never occurs to me that people ought to read in any particular way, thatís not on.

Colin Greenland:

Whose your most popular character.

Michael Moorcock:

Elric. I mean in terms of most sellable character.

Colin Greenland:

Strange isnít it. I mean how does it feel that the character that you decisively killed off in your very first novel has had all those books written about him?

Michael Moorcock:

I have, after all, sort of helped it along a bit by writing about him! But he IS my most favorite fantasy or genre character, you know. I still like him. I find I can still use things with his kind of ambiguity.

Colin Greenland:

Power and vunerability?

Michael Moorcock:

Yes, somebody is frequently torn between one or other. He is probably the character who I still identify with inside the genre. I still have a lot of affection for him.

Colin Greenland:

Do you have any idea why it would be Elric rather than say Dorian Hawkmoon?

Michael Moorcock:

Yes, because Dorian Hawkmoon spawned from the success of Elric. Hawkmoon I donít think a very good character at all. The other characters are more interesting like Count Brass. I mean various other characters, wheras Hawkmoon didnít really figure as a character in fullness, you know.

Colin Greenland:

Never shaped space.

Michael Moorcock:

Whereas most of the other characters were to me more interesting. Itís one of those things where you actually produce an innovation and people like it. Then they ask you for something else, and you sort of imitate youself. Itís not delibarate. Readers have their favorites and usually theyíre all like baby ducks. Itís sort of the first thing they see. Frequently, what Iíve discovered is if say they like Corum books they read Corum books first-

Colin Greenland:

Thatís funny. I read Dorian Hawkmoon first and thatís the first one that occurs to me.

Michael Moorcock:

And thatís really what it usually is. Then they tell you after months that other characters should be more like them.

Colin Greenland:

I like your Elric but why doesnít he have one of those jewels in his head. Now,your next book -? Am I to understand that it is being touted by the publishers as your return to science fiction?

Michael Moorcock:

Well HEís saying that but it isnít SF, it is Science Fantasy.

Colin Greenland:

But thatís not a marketing term Smiths will understand.

Michael Moorcock:

Science Fantasy has more mystacism in it and it works really nicely I think.

Colin Greenland:

More science than science fiction.

Michael Moorcock:

Well itís funny - more science. The weird thing is itís got a lot of chaos theory. I was talking to Barry Bayley the other day. Barry really likes it and Barry is one of the few people who know enough about chaos theory to relish it in a way. Itís really odd. In America there are a couple of stories being drifted around because New Worlds folded. The stories I wrote for New Worlds are kind of in the open - you know, pottering around to editors. Iím not sending them, they get sent from one to another. Itís very clear to me that they donít know what the hell itís about. They think itís some kind of satire or parody on E.E Smith. I mean thatís the only way they can relate to it - itís very bazare, and all it is is it just takes the logic of chaos theory and expans on this using metophores and stuff.

Colin Greenland:

This has been important to you - chaos theory

Michael Moorcock:

Yes very much so.

Colin Greenland:

Somebody who has been writing about order versus chaos since day one; now you have a system.

Michael Moorcock:

Well itís formalised it. Itís what, you kind of, trusted as instinct - now thereís a formula that you can identify. Then the moment you did that you had a tool you could expand on because you had a logic system as well. And therefore you had all this stuff like the multiverse, and all those ideas Iíd already written about. This enabled you to develop techneques to take you further and deal with other things and ideas. And it also it is amazing to me, it gave me an instant access to any kind of fiction I wanted to write using the same characters. I can write a realistic story here, I can write a pure fantasy story there if necessary and thereís no incoherence - itís all coherent. And thatís whatís incredible. In a way this prefigures what Iím doing now which is rather more ambitious than that. And itís actually possible to plan and work with a structure of all this stuff.

Colin Greenland:

Those plans must look very strange indeed. Is there a technique that you employ or is this something which triggers a response in you.

Michael Moorcock:

As I say itís given me a logic system, like music which means you can work and develop outfrom it. You know you have the system running, then you can play with the system if you want. I havnít quite got a handle on it because it started happening naturally.At the moment Iím writing a whole lot of stories around the same characters. Some of them are just pure straight realistic stories about character and atmosphere and, dare I say it, almost post modern. I mean really wierd in that they are playing with the idea of story. I mean theyíre still basically a rollicking good read thatís what Iím aiming for and then another story will shift again. And then you can go to novels, you can go to short stories. You can do almost anything. And the other thing Iíve done is that Iíve invented a whole lot of different areas which Iím writing about. Iíve got areas in Paris and New York, all of which are invented but very much based on places I know very well. So one invented street is next to a non-invented street. But it gives me that ability to use as much or as little fantasy in a story as I want to and still have no lack of coherence to the whole. Itís only just happened. Thatís what chaos theory did for me Colin.

Colin Greenland:

Thereís a lot of talk around these days about revivals like 60ís, 70ís revivals. If Michael Moorcock had the 60ís and that part of the 60ís which actually took place in the 70ís to do over again would you do it differently.

Michael Moorcock:

No, in a sense, because Iíd be just as out of my head. You canít take part of the equation away really.

Colin Greenland:

No, I just thought if you could go back knowing what was coming after would you do the same?

Michael Moorcock:

No, because I did what I did. I did what I felt I had to do and what was the situation was was the situation then. We didnít have any sense of prescription where things ought or be going or ought to be said.

Colin Greenland:

I just wondered that maybe that was bad

Michael Moorcock:

No, I donít think so. What else could you have done? Offer a prescription, do a John W. Campbell turn everything into one kind of stuff, I mean thatís crap. That would have been the death of what we were trying to do. So esentially it was a situation of the moment of ime. Which was a very good time to be alive indeed. Probably the best time ever the world has known in the last 10 years really. Great times - of course not for everybody, but certainly for me. And you canít seperate them. I donít have any thoughts of that sort at all - none. Iíve been lucky. Why should I have regrets. I havenít got very much to regret. All I did was offer a platform for idiosyncratic people but I wanted it to be more - I wanted this stuff to be as angry as I was I suppose. So I tended to favour stuff which was attacking hypocrosy. I donít really remember an awful lot of it.

Colin Greenland:

Youíre moving to America, now?

Michael Moorcock:

Actually Iím being pursued by a lunitic tax man who believes somewhere that Iím a millionaire. Heís convinced of it, heís read my books, itís awful. he thinks Iíve got this money hidden away somewhere. Still itís over now. Iím not given to keeping secrets much. I feel uncomfortable, so I was quite happy really. Thereís also been so many stories thereís no point in hiding anything some are true and some are false.

Colin Greenland:

Youíve lived in the States before?

Michael Moorcock:

Yes.

Colin Greenland:

So this is not a move you view with any great trepidation.

Michael Moorcock:

The part of Texas Iím moving to is more like Califonia, itís full of old hippies and mad computer people. In fact our entire estate is run by old hippies. All of them are lunitics, sort of rolling up joints and telling you how they dug New Worlds in the 60ís. I mean itís amazing to me. I find the people who are most interested - they got it from the SF and theyíre trying to make it real thatís what interests me. Thereís a story that the Americans never quite got the space ship they wanted right because they were trying to make it look like a Buck Rogerís space ship. Which I believe because thatís how a space ship should look.

Colin Greenland:

So science fiction does predict the future?

Michael Moorcock:

No, it creates it which is slightly different. Itís full of looney SF fans. When I went up to see 2001, 2001 ways to fall asleap!, and the NASA people were out there and this is probably what was wrong with the film - the NASA people were out there and they were deeply interested in the science, as if they would really land a space ship on Jupiter. I canít do with all that.

Colin Greenland:

Does anyone else out there have a question?

PSFG :

In the early days you used to do a lot of stuff with certain bands, like Hawkwind and Blue Oyster Cult. How did that come about?

Michael Moorcock:

It just happened

PSFG :

So did they like approach you or did you go there or what?

Michael Moorcock:

Hawkwind based their title on the Hawkmoon books that was the start of it and I didnít meet them for the first few months. I lived in Ladbrook Grove, everything happened in Ladbrook Grove in the sixties and seventies. I mean it was just nice and I happened to live in Ladbrook Grove and it all happened around me. You couldnít actually move for bloody Rock and Roll bands.

PSFG :

What about Blue Oyset Cult being a Canadian band -

Michael Moorcock:

Theyíre not Cannadian, theyíre from Long Island. Every one of them are nice Long Island jewish boys - very neat and tidy.

PSFG :

So how did you get in with them?

Michael Moorcock:

Eric Bloom got in touch with me and I happened to write some songs for him. It quite often happened that Rock and Roll people would get in touch with me. And mostly I couldnít think of anything much to do. But Eric liked the things I was doing at that time. For instance Mark Bolan - now dead - was really keen to work with me and I really didnít want to work with Mark Bolan. He even actually pursued me down Ladbrook Grove in his white Rolls-Royce. I knew him and Steve Took from earlier days, and I disapproved of Mark dropping all his mates. Well itís not so much that, except ten minutes before he was saying heíd never do anything like that - and it took NOTHING to make him dump everybody. Goodbye twenty years, itís all over. So I didnít like him much, I thought he was a wanker. He used to follow me down Ladbrook Grove shouting ĎMichael, Michaelí and Iíd be riding along pretending I couldnít hear him.

I mean if you were where I lived at that time it was where all the underground magazines, newspapers, all those sort of people - everything was happening in the sixties and seventies was happening there and so it just happens.

Colin Greenland:

I remember you saying at one time that it was attractive to work in sf because there was nobody looking over your shoulder. And the same thing being true in comics but also Rock and Roll.

Michael Moorcock:

Yes, that was when I started, by the time weíre talking about things like Blue Oyster Cult, that was when the whole thing was up and running. And I had just been doing Rock and Roll. I had been doing Rock and Roll all the time ever since I was a kid. I had been in and out of bands, it was not particularly difficult for me to do that.

PSFG :

There seems to be a lot of follow up from that. There are very few authors who are able to get games written about their books. Youíve got two games based based on your boosk that I know of; Hawkmoon and Stormbringer.

Michael Moorcock:

Yes, at least two. Thereís all sorts of spin offs and things. Actually they come and go. There are more than that; Frank Herbertís DUNE for example.

PSFG :

Did you have much input with Greg Stapleton?

Michael Moorcock:

No, none at all.

PSFG :

-it was just a case of licencing it.

Michael Moorcock:

Yea. I mean licencing it to the right people, is what it boils down to. I donít just licence it. Itís usually enthusiasts - then of course they donít pay you.

Colin Greenland:

Enthusiasm or more money.

Michael Moorcock:

It never seems to be both, or very rarely- occasionally.

Colin Greenland:

Another question?

PSFG :

Which came first your techniques of chaos theory or the Pyat books.

Michael Moorcock:

The Pyat books. They started before Mandlebrot really published anything. Thatís all there is to say about it really. Why do you ask the question, Iím just curious?

PSFG :

Well I initially came into your writing through Hawkmoon, Elric and so on, and Pyat is set in real events. Virtually everything before that started out or transferred into the fantasy world. I wondered why you chose to stay in the reality.

Michael Moorcock:

Demands of the material. Thatís what it always is for me. Depends how best to handle material, and something like Pyat which is about the holocaust, you canít afford to introduce fantasy. Youíve got to be able to distinguish the hard realities very very carefully and in solid detail because youíre dealing with a real and in my view holy event itís so monumentally part of us, or at least myself, that you canít afford to muddy that water at all. You canít be self indulgent. You can use fantasy techniques but you canít actually make it seem like a fantasy.

Several people have remarked that in some ways Pyat is a kind of science fiction fan. I mean a lot of the stuff you can pick up in fanzines is primitive political ideas - a lot of Utopiaism. You know, a lot of stuff. And he was to some extent based on Aurthur Clarke - without any malice. Because of Aurthur going on and on about his bloody communications sallilite. Arthur has always got these things you know. ĎI invented this, I invented that.í And I wanted to deal with mechanistic attitudes of the world which leads you to solve things mechanically - solve social problems mechanically or whatever it is. So youíve got a lot of that in the sort of personality. Because I happen to believe that that type of mechanical solution is an absolute disaster in real life. So I picked someone like Arthur in a way, as I say without any malice - but Arthurís like that. Arthurís ambition is to be a robot - thatís what he told me - Iím not being cynical.

Colin Greenland:

He doesnít mean that like Andy Warhol?

Michael Moorcock:

No, he means he wants to live in a sphere with all this, his impressions and things coming through screens.

Colin Greenland:

Thatís funny because my impression of Aurthur is that he already lives in a sphere. The whole universe is mirroring back on Aurthur.

Michael Moorcock:

Thatís very much what it is. Heís always been the same. To be fair to him heíll never never change.

Colin Greenland:

Itís very adolecent.

Michael Moorcock:

Heís very likable as a result. I mean the perfect example is that with Aurthur you can never insult him actually. I went to see 2001 - with Arthur. Arthur, of course, had seen it three million times and thought every inch of it was marvelous. He said to me afterwards ĎWhat did you think of it?í I said, quite frankly actually; ĎI thought it was a load of crap!í I thought Planet of the Apes was a much better film. This is true, shortly after that screening of 2001, I was sitting in the dark with Graham Ball in the Odion Leicester Square, watching Planet of the Apes, saying to Graham Ball that this is a much better film than 2001 and he was agreeing. Thereís only two other people in the top bit of the cinema. When the lights go on it turns out to be Brian and Margaret Aldiss and Brian said ĎWow! Thatís a much better film than 2001!í

Anyway I said this to Aurthur. I said what I thought of it amiably enough. He just laughed and said itís made how many million it had made in a couple of days. But he wasnít hurt by what I said he just thought I was nuts. Iíd probably come round later.

Colin Greenland:

Waiting for you to change your mind. Another question.

PSFG :

In Behold the Man you had a controvertial view of Jesus. Did you have any backlash?

Michael Moorcock:

Well yes I did. I was thinking just recently someone asked me this question at a convention in Texas last year. They asked me if I had death threats. I said yes, but only from Texas, which is true. Then I suddenly thought. ĎWhat am I doing? Iím moving somewhere they send me death threats!í But by enlarge most theological critics of that book like in the Tablet or the Jewish Chronical, whatever, it has been reviewed in sort of religious publications they all saw what the book was about. I never intended it to be particularly controvertial. Tom Disch, an ex-catholic, thought the book was a bit ĎAye, Aye,í, you know, that Iíd have a bit of trouble there. But other than that I didnít get much. I got mostly understanding reviews, and I donít think the book was in any way anti-religious - it wasnít intended to. I think it is seen as a reasonable debate about doubt. Iím still afraid Iíll be lynched sometime but thatíll just be bad luck.

Colin Greenland:

How do you cope with controversy and scandal.

Michael Moorcock:

Every scandel Iíve ever been in Iíve settled with drugs.

Colin Greenland:

How did you survive? Die, so everyone can say Phew - now we can praise him without any fear that heís going to embarras us.

Michael Moorcock:

Once Iím dead Iím theirs. In your coffin theyíve got you the bastards, thereís no way out of it. I had a quarrel with a bloke who writes the Times Obitiary column. He wrote a really bad obituary, so I had this argument with him. He was a wanker, an absolute idiot. He used to be a theatre critic, now he writes obituaries. I had this quarrel with him and in the end I said to him, ĎI hope I donít die before you!í. Because if I do heís won. Heís got control of the whole thing.

Colin Greenland:

Another question.

PSFG :

With these stories about your writing trilogies at weekends. Whatís the fastest time you ever did write a novel?

Michael Moorcock:

The usual time for writing a novel was three days. I grew up in a school of journalism where nothing took longer than a week, and a week was a very long time for anything. A day for a short story and three days for a novel. I was just used to writing at that speed. I was used to getting things in on deadlines - daily deadlines. So there is a whole sort of natural expectation. I didnít know any better. I actually didnít know you were supposed to take longer than a week.

Colin Greenland:

Also a novel was shorter in those days.

Michael Moorcock:

Thatís true. The Hawkmoon novels are all very short. They are only about 50,000 words. So that only took three days. 1000,000 words could take a week. Gloriana only took three weeks.

PSFG :

How long did you spend on the actual research on say Gloriana?

Michael Moorcock:

I donít know. Thereís a lot of thinking involved in all of this. The actual act of writing is the least part of it. A lot of it is actually sitting around thinking and then it sort of gelled and you know more or less youíre ready to go.

PSFG :

So really it didnít take three weeks.

Michael Moorcock:

Thatís right, and what youíre working out as well as subjects is the structure. The whole secret of writing rapidly, or doing anything rapidly like music, is that you have a natural grasp of the structure. You can actually understand almost immediately what the novel is doing whether itís Smollett or Henry James or whatever it is. Youíve got the the underlying bones of it. Itís good if youíve worked that out. So what youíve got then is this sort of formalising ability and that is what gives you the facility for working rapidly. This is probably true of about every prodigy, generaly speaking. It could be Edgar Wallace, it could be anyone. The techniques are all worked out before you actually begin. Itís not so much a matter of working out the details of the book or whatís going to happen in it or even the characters in it, itís working out the bones of the structure. Once youíve got that as absolutely tight as you can possibly make it, and it can be a very complicated structure, itís got to be rock solid. Once you have done that you can actually work very rapidly because youíve got the techniques to hand to deal with whatever problem you come across as you write.You have to pick the specific kind of form youíre using. For Gloriana it was a four part seasonal, Elizabethan sort of idea, very much. That was another reason for doing it, because that type of symetry they liked to produce runs through Gloriana in all sorts of ways. Itís all about symetry, about balance, itís very much an Elizabethan notion which is why I refer to Spencer. Thatís whats being debated the whole notion of symetry, thereís all sorts of stuff like that for what itís worth. You can work out everything like that and then you find the formís apt, then you can go . Not everyone can do this type of story that I was doing. I thought it was just a matter of teaching it and everyone can do it. I now know there arenít that many people wo can do it. It happens to be a gift, itís just one of those things you can do.

Colin Greenland:

You take a lot from classic works from the past?

Michael Moorcock:

I sometimes think I was actually asset-stripping novels I admire; going through them with no interest in anything in them at all except discovering the bones of them. Working out the actual dynamics of it. Speilberg is actually similar to me. There is a lot of similar characteristics, a lot of similar attitudes, similar facilities that populate his stuff. Thatís exactly where Speilbergís impressive. He sits down and sees exactly where he can shave off a day or two here before they start, which is the secret of good film making I might add. If you can get everything sorted out ahead of time which they very rarely do, and thatís what brings success. I mean people who actually know every damn shot before it actually comes out, it sounds mechanistic, but it allows you to expand within that.

Colin Greenland:

Have you any film projects on at the moment?

Michael Moorcock:

No Iíve just pulled out to politely coin a phrase.

Colin Greenland:

That must be Warlord of the Air.

Michael Moorcock:

Well his version of Warlord of the Air.

Colin Greenland:

How did you find it?

Michael Moorcock:

This is my constant experience with film makers so far; theyíre all sexist bastards - they donít know they are, they claim theyíre not. Particularly dealing with film stars like Richard Drafuss, who I like very much. Itís when youíre talking about the dynamic female character and he says well my characterís going to have to cut her down to size. And thatís actually when I walked out on the whole thing and thatís the story of my life so far, it goes on and on. they tell you what they want to do. They describe to you their ideals. They describe what they would like to be able to achieve. And you say great idea letís go for it and bit by bit, within days they hammer away with anything which is a bit untoward or a little but hard, whatever it is. Theyíre forever spouting this liberal crap and basically producing faciest muck and theyíre not even stupid. I think itís a shame, theyíre not even stupid faciests.

PSFG :

In The Retreat from Liberty you chart the rise of reactionary ideology over here. Is that one of the reasons you moved to America?

Michael Moorcock:

No, I havnít got any specific reason for moving to America. I have a lot of reasons for it seeming like a good idea at the moment. One of the reasons was that enough people voted for Clinton. Iím not saying I think Clinton was a grat Saviour. It was just that the electorate was willing to vote for an unknown factor. It was just after that that Major got re-elected in. I was abroad at the time and I went to a lot of trouble to get my vote in too. Which I didnít think was going to be wasted. Then tuning in to the World Service, I just couldnít believe it. At that point I thought Iím not going back. I am political and I do need to feel that Iím effective in politics. Itís more optimistic there. Thereís wierd things happening and thereís lotís of stuff which is positive. And I think thereís a lot of interesting ideas in politics at the moment in the South and the West. Whereas here it just doesnít feel weíre getting anywhere. You canít keep on sort of singing a happy song and everyone going around saying "No good will come of that mate!" I just canít stand it. I just want to see smiling faces. People with some sort of positive outlook.

PSFG :

If you had to go back to basics what would your basics be?

Michael Moorcock:

I donít have any basics Iím a situationalist.

Colin Greenland:

Another question.

PSFG :

What period of time in London would be the one you would most like to visit and why?

Michael Moorcock:

The 60s. There was no better time that the 60s and early seventies. It was agolden age, it certainly was. There was no better time. It was phenomonal - it was a coming together of certain factors that made life in the west for people of my age - early twenties, teens, whatever it was - my age. It made life- there was a lot of money about, there was a lot of optimism about, there was a lot of drugs about, there wasnít alot of oppressive stuff, there was but it wasnít affecting us much. There was an enormous amount of optimism - there were a lot of interesting things going on, all sorts of things, and we were actually central to our culture. Whatís happened through the Thatcher period is that me and people like me have been marginalised increasingly. I mean itís a real noticible change. Iím talking about an entire, as it were, what you might call vaguely left culture that was cultuarly dominant during the 60s. We had the edge on everything. When we spoke we spoke with moral authority because we were speaking the language of the day - we were creating the language of the day. Thatcher came along and changed the language. Once you change the retoric you also cahnge the whole way in which people have to address issues. So you become definsive. If they succees in winning, which is what happened. They decided to change the terms , all sorts of terms, took on different meanings. ĎCitizenshipí meaning rate-payers, as it were, people who have paid in. These words took on totally different meanings to the meanings I grew up with.

When I grew up in the first world labour government which was very idealistic. I grew up in tdealistic times and the 60s were very much a result of that idealistic coming to fruition. There was a distinct ongoing sense of real progress. That there were things to be done and we were going to do them. We were going to address the problems of poverty and all the other things. It wasnít a perfect world by a long shot but there was a sense that we could do something about it and should do something about it. And the logic was changed. The logic was changed to a brute stupid logic of a low grade faciest nature. You only have to research, as Iíve done, Mussilini and research Thatcher and you find corresponces - Iím not talking about their effect, Iím not suggesting Thatcher caused the death of anybody- although she may well have done. But the same logic and the same mathods and even the same results, and thatís the amazing thing, you actually see it every time, exactly the same bloody results. What weíre getting now is the results of Thatcherism. No question of it. You can see exactly the same as Mussilini - Mussilini is less dramatic in a lot of ways from say Hitler or Franco, although Franco is interesting because that again is sort of different but close to Margaret Thatcher. But when they change the language youíre lost. Youíre speaking a margionalised patois essentially. What I have to say in my language - which I will not change. I will not sort of move towards the language of Thatcherism, because I donít believe it works. I think itís stupid and dumb. So deeply crazy that I donít even want to even begin to start to use that language. ĎMonitory Disciplinesí. I mean thereís all sorts of stuff which is absolutely meaningless, absolutely tosh and people are going on television and speaking it because it sounds authoritative. Because theyíve actually produced a language which sounds authoritatative but it doesnít actually describe anything. Thatís the amazing thing, itís not describing anything to any of us going about our daily life.

PSFG :

Thankís very much.

 

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