Archive for Michael Moorcock

It Couldn’t Happen Here

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2022 by dcairns

I read a ridiculous amount of Michael Moorcock when I was a teenager. With a certain unjustified embarrassment I realize today that I still like him. I can’t see myself rereading the sword and sorcery stuff, except maybe Elric, who always had a lot more character than the iron-hewed knights populating most of the “eternal champion” mythos… it’s Jerry Cornelius, his comic version Jerry Cornell, and the Dancers at the End of Time trilogy that still exert a pull.

So I was glad to pick up England Invaded, which I must have seen listed on some Moorcock bibliography — in his heyday he always occupied an entire man-long shelf at the Science Fiction Bookshop (“only fifty yards from this cinema”) — without knowing what it was. An anthology of early sci-fi dealing with invasions of the UK (generally not just England, but I admit Moorcock’s title sounds better). What got me most interested was the novel by Saki which eats up most of the pages, When William Came.

There’s a whole school of fiction dealing with “What if the Germans won WWII?” — I’ve read Len Deighton’s SS-GB, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (I’m a dedicated Dickhead), and even “Sarban’s” The Sound of His Horn, a trashy, pervy alternative history set a thousand years in the future and with the distinction of having been written while the outcome of the war was still in dispute. I haven’t bothered with Robert Harris’s Fatherland, too mainstream for me, but maybe I should. I also haven’t seen Kevin Brownlow’s It Happened Here (I definitely should) or the TV adaptation of the Dickand Deighton books.

(My brother, a bit of a scholar of military history, convincingly explained to my why a German occupation was never a realistic short-term danger — the Reich were surprised at their success in France and had prepared no scheme to effect mass landings overseas. And Dick’s postulate, of America conquered, was never on the cards.)

Anyway, Saki’s book isn’t one of those. It’s the only example I know of a “What if the Germans won WWI?” novel. But not quite, since Saki doesn’t predict depict conflagration, just a face-off between Germany and Britain in which the superior German airforce sinks our fleet and we’re swiftly blockaded into submission. The other thing about it that’s unusual is that it came out in 1913, so it’s not an alternative history, it’s a wrong prediction. (I like old sci-fi best, the stuff that hasn’t come true — there’s nothing cosier than an apocalypse diverted.)

Jemand für Tennis?

One trouble with this is, Wilhelm’s Imperial Germany isn’t as horrifying a baddie as Hitler’s Third Reich. But that makes the book rather fascinating, as the disaffected hero, who missed the whole thing due to a bout of swamp fever in Norway, wanders around looking at the street signs now printed in both languages, bemoaning the fact that London has become, horror of horrors, “cosmopolitan.”

Another trouble is that “cosmopolitan” is in this context a synonym for Jewish. Though an antisemitic doctor tending to the impotent antihero admits that “some of them have behaved well,” both Saki and his protagonist seem obsessed with their repugnance at Jewish social climbers taking a preeminent place in society. It seems weird at this historical distance for an invading German force to be considered less antisemitic than the British, but it may for all I know not be completely inaccurate. And so you get sentences like, “Men and women there were from Paris, Munich, Rome, Moscow and Vienna, from Sweden and Holland and divers other cities and countries, but in the majority of cases the Jordan Valley had supplied their forefathers with a common cradle-ground.”

Saki also wrote The Unrest-Cure, a short story in which one of his placid young male protagonists, Clovis, I think, overhears a country gent on a train bemoaning the rut his existence has settled into, and so resolves to liven things up a bit, by impersonating an emissary from the new vicar, intent upon enacting a pogrom in the village. “And your house has been selected as the venue!” I always thought of this story as the product of pre-WWII insensitivity, its shocking premise adding a dash of discomfort to the hazy salad days setting, and I found it very funny in an appalling way — but now it seems much more sinister and malign. As it always should have.

There was a sadism to Saki that sets him decisively apart from P.G. Wodehouse, whom he influences and whose characters move in recognizably the same story world. This malice found its healthiest outlet when his stories slipped without warning from drawing room comedy to horror, and sometimes but not always back again (The Open Window).

The horror at a German Britain may well have motivated Saki — in reality a Scotsman called Hector Hugh Munro — to enlist when WWI broke out, even though he was 43 and officially over-age. He was shot dead by a sniper in 1916. Famous last words, supposedly: “Put that bloody cigarette out!”

Saki was also homosexual, which throws the novel’s homophobia, a recurrent sub-theme along with its antisemitism, into a different and more tragic relief. “In what way, he asked himself in such moments, would his life be better than the life of that parody of manhood who upholstered his rooms with art hangings and rosewood furniture and babbled over the effect?” Of course these are the thoughts of the painfully straight, rather sexless hero. It’s notable that the best lines in the book always belong to, or are aimed at, the languid aesthetes his wife hangs around with. “Larry’s father had been a brilliantly clever man who had married a brilliantly handsome woman; the Fates had not had the least intention that Larry should take after both parents.”

Moorcock in his short intro doesn’t address any of this, calling the work “a sophisticated moral fiction.” Um.

Page Seventeen III: The Search for Spock

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2021 by dcairns

Seven passages from seven page seventeens from seven books purchased from Edinburgh’s second-hand bookshops, most of them from the all-you-can-eat bookshop on Ferry Road. For the best effect, I suggest reading them all in Noel Coward’s voice.

Some Little Girls lived nearby, and I forced them to act in a tragedy I that I had written, but they were very silly and during the performance forgot their lines and sniggered, so I hit the eldest one on the head with a wooden spade, the whole affair thus ending in tears and a furious quarrel between the mothers involved.

As a result of this unusual posture of my legs, I seemed shorter and my gait was quite changed. For some reason my whole body was slightly inclined to the right side. All I needed was a cane. One was lying near-by so I picked it up although it did not exactly fit the picture of what I had in my mind. Now all I lacked was a quill pen to stick behind my ear or hold in my teeth. I sent a call boy for one and while waiting for his return paced up and down the room, feeling how all the parts of my body, features, facial lines, fell into their proper places and established themselves. After walking around the room two or three times, with an uncertain, uneven gait I glanced in the mirror and did not recognize myself. Since I had looked in it the last time a fresh transformation had taken place in me.

‘I’m pleased to hear it.’ Jerry’s voice was sardonic as he entered the room rather theatrically and closed the door behind him.

‘That is what we call Forced Acting,’ defined the Director.

‘And how would you know,’ inquired the actress, ‘ with false teeth?’

The Archbishop then enters, and in a speech of paradoxical and somewhat abstract imagery, makes a difficult pronouncement about the human will and its place in the divine pattern of being, what it must suffer and how act ‘that the pattern may subsist’: what Becket says to the Chorus, as their instructor, is said to Becket at the end of the Act by the Fourth Tempter, with a fine dramatic irony; for Becket is to act and suffer, willing both, that the pattern may subsist, yet cannot see (until later when light breaks upon his understanding) how he can do either ‘without perdition’; the advice he has given is turned against him, and both paths before him–acting and suffering–seem to ‘lead to damnation and pride.’ Because the speech is difficult, it seems to need explanation, word by word; and yet, as Dr. Johnson has said, ‘ the easiest word, whatever it be, can never be translated into one more easy.’ It is a difficult thought:

“Well in film you play the theme, and then you play the theme again and then you play the theme and then you play a variation of the theme and then you play the theme . . . “

…said the Actress to the Archbishop.

Present Imperfect by Noel Coward; Building a Character by Constantin Stanislavski; The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock; An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski; Acid Drops by Kenneth Williams; by Nevill Coghill’s introduction to Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot; Michael Kamen quoting Carl Prager in Knowing the Score by David Morgan.

Page Seventeen II: Attack of the Clones

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2021 by dcairns

Leaving the Church changed Luis’s intellectual habits as well. Until then, he had coasted along on the usual teenage reading: Sherlock Holmes and Nick Carter, with the occasional Spanish feuilleton. Afterwards, Darwin, Nietzsche, Kropotkin and novelists of the Spanish realist tradition replaced them. Luis never went back to reading for recreation. In his seventies, the books on his shelves were histories of the Church, some surrealist poetry, and Heni Fabre’s pioneering texts on insects. If one wanted sex, action and travel to exotic lands, they were more easily found in the real world.

“I’ve had time to think it through,” Boyd said. “I’ve come to terms with it. I can accept the fact, but not too well, only barely. Luis, do you have some explanation? How come you are so different from the rest of us?”

He did not believe, and yet he admitted the supernatural. Right here on earth how could any of us deny that we are hemmed in by mystery, in our homes, in the street, – everywhere when we come to think of it. It was really the part of shallowness to ignore these extrahuman relations and account for the unforeseen by attributing to fate the more than inexplicable. Did not a chance encounter often decide the entire life of a man? What was love, what the other inescapable shaping influences? And, knottiest enigma of all, what was money?

The 12th came, and he shot wretchedly, for his nerve had gone to pieces. He stood exhaustion badly, and became a dweller about the doors. But with this bodily inertness came an extraordinary intellectual revival. He read widely in a blundering way, and he speculated unceasingly. It was a characteristic of the man that as soon as he left the paths of the prosaic he should seek the supernatural in a very concrete form. He assumed that he was haunted by the devil – the visible personal devil in whom our fathers believed. He waited hourly for the shape at his side to speak, but no words came. The Accuser of the Brethren in all but tangible form was his ever present companion. He felt, he declared, the spirit of old evil entering subtly into his blood. He sold his soul many times over, indeed there was no possibility of resistance. It was a Visitation more undeserved than Job’s, and a thousandfold more awful.

Before he quitted it, he held up the dim light, and looked around him with a mixture of terror and curiosity. There was a great deal of decayed and useless lumber, such as might be supposed to be heaped up to rot in a miser’s closet; but John’s eyes were in a moment, and as if by magic, rivetted on a portrait that hung on one wall, and appeared, even to his untaught eye, far superior to the tribe of family pictures that are left to moulder on the walls of a family mansion. It represented a man of middle age. There was nothing remarkable in the costume, or in the countenance, but the eyes, John felt, were such as one feels they wish they had never seen, and feels they can never forget. Had he been acquainted with the poetry of Southey, he might have exclaimed in his after-life, ‘Only the eyes had life, They gleamed with demon light.’ – Thalaba.

‘Excuse me,’ said the impenetrable Scotchman. ‘I beg to suggest that you are losing the thread of the narrative.’

‘Anyway,’ Mavis was anxious to reassure him that she had not lost track of the original topic, ‘it’s the same with Swiss Cheese Plants. They’re strong. Any conditions will suit them and they’ll strangle anything that gets in their way. They use–they used to use them, I should say–the big ones to fell other trees in Paraguay. I think it’s Paraguay. But when it comes to getting the leaves to separate, well, all you can say is that they’re bastards to train. Like strong men, I guess. In the end you have to take ’em or leave ’em as they come.’

Seven extracts from seven pages seventeens selected willy-nilly from my charity shop hauls and library visits. Wilkie Collins’ Armadale is my current reading matter, and very thrilling it is too, with shipwrecks, murder, dream detection and sinister schemes. It actually has a chapter entitled “The Plot Thickens” and may even mark the origin of that expression. Highly recommended if you want something fat and gripping, and you have no Laird Cregar in your life.

Thanks to Jeff Gee for the Simak.

Bunuel by John Baxter; Grotto of the Dancing Deer by Clifford D. Simak, from The Best Science Fiction of the Year 10 edited by Terry Carr; La-Bas by J.K. Huysmans; The Watcher by the Threshold by John Buchan, from Scottish Ghost Stories, selected by Rosemary Gray; Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin; Armadale by Wilkie Collins; The Transformation of Miss Mavis Ming by Michael Moorcock.