Social Alliance

Passing time reading books is one of the pleasures of my life. I have a hard time sitting still so it can be a challenge just to sit down, the one thing that can make it happen is the re-reading of an old favorite. I never had this difficulty earlier in life, easily finding time to read, now I have to make time and too often that time is at the end of the day when I am tired and not at my best to pay attention to the  book as well as I should.

The Day of the Triffids is the book I think I have read the most over the years, more than Lord of the Rings and more than any Heinlein although Tunnel In The Sky must come close. I have owned nine different copies and they have either fallen apart or been given away to other deserving owners. The book grabbed my attention from the start and has all 20 times I have been on the journey with Bill and Josella. From the age of about 12 I began every summer holiday with reading it, it was how I knew summer was here in a way, I also began every spring with Meddle by Pink Floyd and ended the Summer with Heavy Horses by Jethro Tull, so as you can see I was a child of traditions. Every year I wondered what life would be like without all the clutter of society, of course it would be a safe life so I could catch up on the reading and listening to all those things I’d missed.

Day of the Triffids and The Death of Grass by John Christopher are the best examples of what Brian Aldiss called the “cosey catastrophe” were life was dramatically changed but the survivors were able to have enough left over from the past to continue to live comfortably. There is little violence in Day of the Triffids  that is motivated by greed apart form the group in Brighton and the red haired thug who later joins them. It is really a book about ideas on how society would need to respond to adversity to survive. The Death of Grass has much more violence, ending in the ultimate betrayal in a sense in order to survive. This betrayal was repeated in Darin Bradley’s Noise which is a more modern take on the collapse and a good example of the direction this genre has taken.

Gone are the contemplative arguments on the need for leisure time and multiple wives, no longer do character’s agonize over taking what they need in the face of collapse and predatory plants are replaced by zombies lurking in the dark corners of the garden. It is probably a case of genre stories reflecting the society they are written in. Post-war England of ration cards and reasonable behavior and doing what is necessary no longer exists. The world Wyndham and Christopher wrote about in the 50’s  has changed to a much more dark world.

Zelazny saw this in Damnation Alley in 67 with his character Hell Tanner having to kill or be killed to survive in the post-nuclear wasteland. Cormac McCarthy’s the Road is a bleak novel of everything gone and predation being the only way of surviving and constant movement being the only way of staying safe. All these books emphasize the individual or the small group/family unit rather than an attempt to rebuild we have survival as the goal. This is similar to Earth Abides when Ish realizes all he can do for his descendants is give them the necessary skills to feed themselves and in the long run their ancestors will rebuild. Martin does have hope in Earth Abides but it is the long view.

I still remember those Summers of laying on the grass and hoping for the end of the world so I could read all those books and not have to go back to school in six weeks. Having read more images of collapse now as an adult I don’t necessarily think I want to be around without a bunker, enough food and plenty of heavy duty weaponry so I can be safe and read.

This last few weeks reading has been:

Day of The Triffids-John Wyndham

Who Fears of Death-Nnedi Okorafor

Deathworld 1,2  and 3- Harry Hasrrison

Inverted World-Christopher Priest still in progress.

All these books are stories of humanity attempting to overcome the challenges of it’s world, whether  that is man made, natural or the adversity of a belligerent indigenous wild life and population. It’s been a couple of weeks of armchair survivalism.

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Song of the Swords

Michael Moorcock has been part of my reading life since my early teens. Yes he can be a difficult author because  he has produced so many words. Some of those words are definitely in the pulp category and others in the literature category. He has at times been called anarchist, iconoclast and sometimes just plain weird, however when given the opportunity to write a Dr. Who novel he jumped at it. Moorcock has an appreciation for the fantasy genre but does not pander to the perceived greats. He has been critical of Tolkien and Lewis although he can appreciate their achievements even though in the fantasy world criticism of Tolkien is tantamount to heresy. Moorcock writes what he wants to read it seems which is what all good authors do, sometimes that is a rip roaring adventure that has more in common with Douglas Fairbanks or Burroughs than anything else, other times it is a reflection on the rock’n’roll world of the 70’s and 80’s and then it can be an homage to London of the blitz and beyond.

Moorcock is not just an author, he has made records, wrote screenplays, published New Worlds, was an editor and was entrenched in the counter-culture. He recorded with one of the most uncompromising bands of the 70’s, Hawkwind. He was part of the Ladbroke Grove scene that spawned much of the stranger side of pop culture of the 70’s and influenced punk. His association with Hawkwind is such they released three albums connected to the Eternal Champion. He has also written lyrics for Blue Oyster Cult which is not as cool but they are their best songs.

For a teenager growing up in the early 80’s he was a role model, if authors are allowed to be role models. Instead of wasting away in my room feeling sorry for myself listening to Joy Division as many of my contemporaries were I was losing myself in the sensory overload of Michael Moorcock and his cohorts. Instead of wondering how the world got so dreary and drab I was wondering how Moorcock possibly came up with those crazy worlds. For awhile I was convinced he had better drugs than other writers, I cast him as an Hunter S. Thompson for science fiction but then discovered he was not drug crazed he just thought up those crazy ideas, they did not come to him in some shamanic  drug fueled vision. At a time when excess seemed the order of the day Moorcock for me signified the idea of being a creative person without having to blow your mind. His ideas are crazier than Dick’s but come from his mind without the clouded view that addiction brings. Now his characters were willing to throw themselves into the party wholeheartedly imbibing and ingesting at a rate that would make Keith Richards have to take a step back in wonder, but you always got the feeling Moorcock was observing this world than engaging in it. This however may be the English way.

Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse and his various incarnations of the Eternal Champion have been constant companions. They have invaded my waking life and at times my dreams. After all who would not want to be Jerry Cornelius, he was well dressed sophisticated, witty and as likely to seduce you as blow you up.  For a period in my late teens I was either reading Moorcock or listening to Hawkwind, sometimes I would be doing both at the same time. To this day I cannot imagine reading a Cornelius story without The Hall Of The Mountain Grill  of Warrior on the Edge of Time thundering away in the background.

Moorcock has specialized it seems in the sympathetic anti-hero. Jerry Cornelius, Elric, Oswald Bastable, Corum , Hawkmoon and all the others are uncomfortable with their situation. They want to live their own lives but are chosen by Chaos or Law depending on what is out of balance to stand in for the rest of us. Their role is to return the balance not necessarily do what we from our perspective would consider the right thing. Right, wrong, morality and ethics are secondary to the balance in Moorcock’s multiverse. There are villains but sometimes they become uncomfortable allies. This is what makes Moorcock’s fiction attractive, there is only one rule and that is that the multiverse seeks balance. He does provide respite in the form of Tanelorn but that can be fleeting for the champion as he is called from his life to fight again. I think it is significant Moorcock chose the word Champion rather than hero to describe his characters. The Champion is a stand in for the king, village, city or world. He represents everyone and his sacrifice is required to appease fate. A hero swoops in to save the day, champions are chosen often against their own will and forced to at times to be representative for the choser.

This weekend as I rummaged through the Book Bin in Corvallis, Robert’s Books in Lincoln City and then on to Powell’s downtown Portland I realized that I am still a collector of Moorcock, for a few months I have been happy with just words on my Nook but when it comes to Moorcock I want the actual physical books. This is not easily done in the USA, Moorcock is not the popular author here that he is in Europe. He has never had a successful movie made out of his work, he has never written a truly popular fantasy, the Elric series is probably his best known cycle of stories but it is a little too ambiguous at times for readers. His idea that Chaos and Law need to be in balance and are neither good nor evil is an idea that audiences find hard to comprehend in a society were the comic book hero fighting for right is so popular. This is especially true when Chaos is seen as being the creative side of the equation.

So now I have finally admitted I collect Moorcock. I looked and I have several duplicate books because oftentimes they have funky new covers. It’s not about the first edition or hardcover over paperback it’s about discovering a new cover or maybe even a little nostalgia for those heady days of the eighties when those Mayflower editions seemed to be so enticing in Philip Son and Nephew in Liverpool all nicely lined up on the bookshop shelves.

For the time being there is only the couple of shelves of Moorcock but I can see that growing. Especially as there are six more sitting on the fireplace waiting to be added.

It really is becoming an obsession to own the books especially the White Wolf  publications of the Eternal Champion series although as with most things that are desirable they oftentimes go for silly money.  It is also good to have a reason to browse bookstore shelves again after the admitted convenience of buying the e-book. So maybe at the end of the day there is a place left in the world for bookstores if only to feed the addiction of the collector.