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.

Bookstores

Robert’s bookstore in Lincoln city on the Oregon coast is exactly what a bookstore should be. Claustrophobic low lighting and books everywhere. So many books that they are often in piles in front of the shelves, piles on top of the shelves and collapsing towers of books everywhere.

It is a treasure trove with artwork about books, prints of book covers with the book attached. Cartoons and comic books in the corners and a dark corner of dvd’s by the bathroom.

We spent two hours In there and in a fit of self restraint I only bought two books. One an Eternal Champion omnibus by Michael Moorcock and another Moorcock of The Rituals of Infinity. There were other books but I did not have my list with me and my memory is failing it seems but I will be back.

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The Hills Have Ears

A week or so of listening and enjoying the music of Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts. Two songwriters that transcend there young age with the maturity of their songs. It takes a brave person to write a song about a bookseller in this day and age, it caught my attention because of the lines about the only constant in the characters life being his love of books and reading. Jamie has a deft touch on guitar and Katriona must be one of the finest young fiddle players around at the moment.

Also there has been an obvious rash of listening to the music of Ray Davies as we bought tickets to go see him last week, too much fun in too may ways.

Reading has been busy. I finished several books over the last few weeks and none of them were duds although one Brian Aldiss book was of dubious worth in so may ways but so much fun to read. The Year Before Yesterday was entirely too tempting on the bookshelf. A swastika wearing spaceman with a laser gun is too confusing, especially when he is stood on the moon without his helmet. Thankfully the insanity continued throughout the book, it was a strange fix up of two stories of alternate histories tied together loosely with an excuse of a mystery. Well I am going to hope it was a fix up although it really does not matter considering the amount of pleasure from reading it.

Also in no particular order was Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson which apparently is going to become a Stephen Spielberg movie. It is an intelligent and thought provoking book, although comparison to Terminator are obvious, it also has quite possibly the creepiest cover art in a long time.

Also this month was my second ever Joe Haldeman book with Camouflage. Haldeman’s Forever War is a classic, Camouflage is not a classic but it is a fun read. It concerns two chameleon type creatures on earth and their travels through history. One seems to be learning about humanity the other is more interested in violence and aggression although in the beginning they are hard to distinguish. I found the ending to be disappointing and too easy. Now Camouflage would make a great movie if someone chose to make it, it’s intelligent thought provoking and most importantly for Hollywood full of action.

Also listened to was Ellen and the Escapades. A great English band in that new tradition of folk bluesy English bands made so popular after Mumford and Sons. The truly refreshing thing is the confidence allowing singers to sing in their own accent not trying to adopt a transatlantic middle of the road accent like so many have had to do to be successful. The album has enough feel good songs on it to make it essential for the summer. Here is a suitably atmospheric picture of the band, probably in Yorkshire. Go out and buy the new album it’s called All The Crooked Scenes, you will not regret it.

Back to books, the last one finished was to To Say Nothing of the Dog, which I really enjoyed. It’s a well researched time travel book which is actually funny from start to finish, and considering the length that is no mean feat. Part homage to Victorian fiction and part romantic  comedy it really was a lot of fun. The amount of enjoyment I got from this book will make sure I investigate Connie Willis more.

Of course after such a sweet treat it was essential to jump right back to the conclusion of David Moody’s Hater trilogy with Then Or Us. This has been a thrill ride of a series, following Danny McCoyne and his fellow Haters as they systematically dismantle society. In this episode Danny and Rufus decide that the monster the Haters most resemble in fiction is the zombie, although they are still capable of rational thought but are consumed with hate and attack any of they Unchanged they see. I am about two thirds of the way through this book and still cannot guess how the series will end, every time I think I have a handle on it Moody changes the plot. This is really more horror than science fiction but as I began this blog with a vampire story what the heck.

Well that has been the last few weeks of reading and listening, along the way there was also Bruce Springsteen’s new album and I tried to read Embassytown and gave up. I will go back but I think my mind was not really into it.

Albion Sunrise

A fun filled couple of weeks, new counters leading to now we need a back splash, which is a whole new shopping experience still happening. Off to shopping again today who knew tile would be so difficult to buy, then there is the doubt about the installation, off to youtube videos for that.

Reading wise it has been great, I stated off with Charles Yu’s How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, which a unique funny, engaging time travel story, if you enjoy science fiction the constant reference will amuse, ultimately though it is the story of one mans search for his father.

I then moved on to Alistair Reynolds Pushing Ice, which at times had overtones of Alien with it’s working space ship setting, Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama with the mysterious large object in space needing investigation and soap opera with the relationship difficulties an isolated group  of humans hurtling through space at the mercy of the unknown  would face. The ending is a breathtaking achievement and was difficult to put down for a moment. A hugely entertaining piece of hard science fiction.

The final book I finished was A Princess of Mars. Previously I think I have read one book by Burroughs and that may have been Tarzan or The Land That Time Forgot after watching the movie. This time the same thing happened, we went to see the John Carter movie. Realistically we expected very little not least of all because it is a Disney movie. This means for me the movie comes with baggage as Disney really hasn’t made a great live action movie for a long time. With John Carter it seems they have remembered their roots with adventure movies such as 10,000 Leagues and those great genre movies they made in the dim and distant past. It had to help having an author like Michael Chabon help with the script. Anyway the movie is a fun filled action-adventure romp, no it probably will not win any Oscars but it will reward viewing again I believe. After watching the movie my first question was is the book as good, so I looked online and downloaded the first three in the Martian series by Burroughs and found the answer to be yes. Like the movie it is not high art but it is fun and action filled. I was also struck at the richness of Burroughs language. He is writing a popular pulp story but he does not hold back on the language or talk down to his audience, it just makes me think that our vocabulary as a society has diminished, we are also discouraged from taking the time to fully describe settings and experiences for the reader, so much is in short hand nowadays.

It is amazing to think of the number of authors Burroughs has influenced with his novels, from Michael Moorcock to Michael Chabon, Philip Jose Farmer, Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles was a re-imagining of Mars because of Burroughs, and so many others. Tarzan and his infamous yodel are now part of  our collective consciousness. He also helped define a genre as it was in it’s adolescence.

Listening has been based on my hope of going to Cropredy this year, which is now not going to happen. I have discovered three wonderful new bands in Ellen and the Escapades. Larkin Poe and Brother and Bone all three write great songs with Brother and Bone being a definite rock band anyone going to Cropredy this year will enjoy all three I’m sure but the big discovery for me was the new Albion Band album that arrived this week. A rebirth of the Albion Band without Ashley Hutchings just seems wrong. The band has always been a collective and the bands best album Rise Up Like The Sun was the one with the least Hutchings input apparently but the vision has always been his. So now we have a new band with young performers trading under the Albion Band name. Many find this idea difficult to accept although a cursory listen Vice of the People  will I am sure win over the naysayers. It is a loud album definitely on the rock end of the folk-rock spectrum but with enough sense of the tradition of the music as well as the name of the band to make it a worthy addition to the Albion Band catalog. None of the performers on the album need to spend any more time to defend the work, it stand on it’s own, in fact it is in my mind preferable to more of the twee and at times overly precious attempts the Albion Band has made over the years, of course I always did like them best when they rocked. The versions of Roll Over Vaughn Williams and One More Day are performed with confidence and a contemporary feel. Coalville and Thieves Song as original songs sit nicely with the more traditional tunes and the Albion favorites already mentioned. I am excited by the band and the hope for more albums to come as they may be the most exciting folk-rock band out there which I believe is something that has been said of the Albion Band before.

Wind of Change

A busy couple of days, the weekend was fun until Sunday morning came and work crises happened, it only took the morning though and then Ben had his D&D marathon at the dining room table. Monday was ripping out part of our counters waiting for the new ones to come on Wednesday then out the first stop being Winks hardware in search of the elusive cabinet hardware. Winks was described at one of the three hardware stores we visited on Saturday as hardcore hardware. We didn’t even get the hinge out of the bag when the clerk said I know, disappeared and came back with the needed item. Of course we bought two. Just in case, as it has taken several months to find this item and this is the only store selling them in the city.

Then out to Powell’s downtown and for once I bought nothing although everyone else managed to spend a small fortune. Then the realization it’s a holiday and every coffee shop was full so no treats for anyone.

 

The reading this month has been hectic. I finished Foundation and Empire by Issac Asimov which was as good as you would expect. I figured the Mule out early  but his didn’t ruin the story and I had forgotten the shock ending so it still finished with a bang.

Forge of God was the second book for the online science fiction book club I joined a couple of months ago. It’s a good read, definitely a different disaster book, the end is fairly obvious from the beginning. Some of the characters are really engaging and others are really quickly drawn, Bear seems more interested in the big idea at times, the end is however stunning and there is no way once you get to those last fifty pages or so that you are putting this down until the end. It’s a shame he didn’t write the whole book with such intensity. I have the second book Anvil of Stars and there was enough left unresolved in this book to read on.

Throughout the month I’ve been reading this Joe Boyd’s book and it is a fun, fascinating read but is very much about Joe Boyd who seems to in five years managed to miss more opportunities than most people get in a life time but he did produce some of the greatest music of the decade, discovered Pink Floyd and Fairport Convention recorded Nick Drake and the Incredible String Band and managed to avoid unplugging Dylan at Newport.

 

And then we have zombies. This is the second book in the Hater trilogy and really looks at zombies from a different perspective, doesn’t every zombie book claim that though. These zombies are intelligent, can plan their attacks and are developing throughout the trilogy, in the first book they could not control the impulse to attack, now some of them are getting more capable and able to control their Hate. It also has one of the most terrifying children in any fiction.

Fairpot Convention announced their lineup for Cropredy and since then i have been listening to Larking Poe, Ellen and the Escapades and Brother and Bones, three bands on the lineup I have never heard this looks like a good year, oyu never know maybe I can make it.

 

 

The Reason Is….

The Puppet Masters is a book I read a long time ago when I was a teenager originally and I loved. Spies, aliens and beautiful women, James Bond with science fiction what more could a young man want. The you read it as an adult and there is a certain discomfort with the sexist language and the way the characters treat the female character. Yes she is strong yes she is smart but she is still defined by the males in the book, she is the little lady who has to be protected and Heinlein’s idea of romantic love is about as convincing as a prepubescent fantasy.

Sure it’s a fun story but it’s so hard to get past  how Heinlein treats women. I know you should read these thing with knowledge of the times they  were written in but Heinlein is so often portrayed as a champion of female characters surely he could have overcome his own biases a little. The book is worth reading if only for it;s influence on the genre, it’s not Heinlein’s best but for it’s time it’s original and fun enough.

This story spawned so many copycat stories, the Invasion of the Body-snatcher’s being just one. Of course when they made a movie of this book it was a travesty even with Donald Sutherland.

Fable of a Failed Race

Well another month of reading and a need to decide what to do with the blog. I’ve been happily writing away for myself with no depth and no consideration, it began as an enterprise to read the great s.f. books, morphed into a travelogue of our England journey and had returned to a record of my reading with vague ramblings that are intermittent.

Maybe the close of the year always does this but I may have to rethink.

Anyway the reading list from memory so with lapses:

  • Finished the Ulysses Quicksilver Omnibus, my first excursion into steampunk, a lot of fun I would definitely recommend it.
  • On Basilisk Station by David Weber, it was fun, it was free and so is the next one, Horatio Hornblower in Space if you like that sor of thing go for it.
  • Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, a great idea let down by unsympathetic characters.
  • A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin, still reading it’s heavy going.
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, very fun soaked in 80,s references a good book that could have been great if the ending was better, read it especially if you grew up in the 80’s.
  • Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock, a masterpiece everyone should read, go on have your expectations challenged.
  • The Drowned World by JG Ballard, more style than substance but a great book all the same, it;s really only let down by the quickly and shallowly drawn characters.
  • Flu by Wayne Simmons, zombies provisional IRA members what’s not to like.
  • The Men In The Jungle by Norman Spinrad, this may have been one of the most horrific, brutal, shocking and most important Science Fiction novels forgotten, if you abhor war read this.
  • Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding, this was an engaging and fun book and may turn into a wonderful series, I am looking forward to the next one.
  • I tried to read Galactic Patrol by EE Doc Smith but had to give up
  • Dark at the End by F Paul Wilson, the Repariman Jack series along with Butcher’s Dresden books have been an ongoing obsession for many years, it looks like Jack’s days are numbered though.

Ok that was the most recent reading, we are most of the way through January now and I am just finishing this post now. I am going to rethink what I am doing with this blog, maybe I will try and get some readers you never know instead of using it as my journal of reading alone.

Shade Gate

Reading was Replay By Ken Grimwood. It’s a good book concerning rebirth time travel and possibilities. It is also full of cliches, especially as the protagonist makes his money gambling, takes a dive in the gutter and is ultimately saved by love. He is also not the most likable of characters. It is however well written with enough differences to make it’s shortcomings forgivable.

 I know this opinion is not popular about this book. It won an award and was very popular at the time, what can I say though apart from it’s only an opinion.

 

I have also been reading Directive 51 by John Barnes, this is a fairly straight forward modern science fiction thriller.

It is a fun apocalyptic novel, with the world being threatened by terrorists seeding biotes to attack oil based products and return the world to a simpler time. It is reminiscent of Kevin J Anderson’s novel Ill Wind. It looks like being a fun undemanding read.

In other news Tom came home from College for the first time this month. An event that made everyone happy especially his brothers who had definitely been missing him, as had I. He came we did laundry he ate like a voracious animal and then left, such is going to be the next couple of years. He is of course thoroughly enjoying his new freedom which is as it should be.

Sweet Obsession

I’ve still been reading although not writing, which may be preferrable.

Someone asked me the other day why do you write something you will not share with others and nobody therefore looks at, the answer is not as easy to quantify as you might think. I write a lot for work and lots of people get to read it and therefore criticize it, this writing is for me, to open it up for others would allow criticism and to be honest I really don’t always feel like placing my private writing  under the same scrutiny as my work writing.

However Thomas and I are going to Europe and I may allow access to some so they can keep track of me.

To the reading. Well I moved from one god book to another, this time Robert Sawyer’s Calculating God. It is the first book by Sawyer I have read and was an enjoyable read. Full of warmth and humor which is surprising as the book is largely a conversation between an alien and a man regarding the existence of god. The surprise of this book for me was how well Sawyer writes the alien, there is alienness obviously, she looks different than humans but there is also an genuine connection between Holluss and Tom. They have things in common they grow to love each other and share the same concerns and flaws. Also what genius to make the alien female, how many male aggressive aliens are out there, how different for this contact to be a female scientist.

A good book with a flawed ending but a very different read.

The on to something different, my first steam punk novel. As we are going to England how convenient that the Pax Britannia omnibus arrived in the mail. I love the novels of Haggard, Conan Doyle, Verne and Wells and this series is very much in that vein. Boys own adventure, explosions, damsels in distress and the fate of the empire on the brink ate very turn of the page. Ripping yarns with a hero who seems part Jerry Cornelius, part James Bond and all stiff upper lip English Gentleman with a sardonic grin and an eye for the ladies. This is Victorian England with a twist.

Lots of fun, well written, memorable more for the spectacle like a summer block buster than the ideas. There are two stories left in the omnibus that I will read as who can resit a hero called Ulysses Quicksilver, I may even search out the other stories in this franchise.

What would happen if the USA was governed by a hereditary presidency, had a fully functioning feudal system and was overseen by a fundamentalist christian watchdog that required all religions to meet the same standard of conformity. Some might say that would be a good thing and others may say we already do.

This is the world of Julian Comstock after the efflorescence of oil. Like Pax Britannia this is a book written in a style of the past but it is a book that holds mirror up and says this is what might happen if you are complacent and allow the corporate aristocracy to continue to hold the purse strings the way they do. It is also timely as oil becomes more expensive as a commodity and investors move towards land as an investment.  This is really a possible future, it is not a post apocalyptic novel but a fairly reasonable extrapolation of current events, especially valid as this week we watch the intransigence of our political system being held hostage by fixed thinking on both sides of the aisle.

Wilson with this book has done what many Victorian novelists did which is comment on their society while at the same time tell a good story and he has done it with a consistency of style.

 

 

Void City

Philip K. Dick, along with Ray Bradbury is an author that it is almost impossible to effectively criticize without attack from the rabid fan base who will hoist you on your won petard. Like Bradbury however Dick is able to tell a story in an effortless and all enmeshing way.

I am not sure if anyone would ever class this as one of Dick’s greatest but it is an engaging story that envelopes you almost immediately. This would have made a great twilight zone episode, it is a mysterious story where from the start everything is not right, it also connects on the level that everyone can imagine returning to somewhere from childhood and discovering that everything is not as they remember it.

The ending is a little disappointing but the journey to the end is well worth the miles traveled. It really is no surprise that so many of Dick’s stories have been filmed they are so good. Maybe I just joined the rabid fan base.