Rediscovering Michael Moorcock: Rock Music, Multiverses, and Buckaroo Banzai Nostalgia

On the last day of 2014, The New Yorker published a piece on legendary fantasy author and editor Michael Moorcock. I’ve been rediscovering Moorcock this year, mostly due to connections in SF, music, and 80s nostalgia.

As the NY article notes, Moorcock’s influence on all sorts of fiction is immense.  He put ideas like the “Multiverse” on the SF map.  He edited the ground-breaking New Worlds periodical that gave birth to “New Wave” science fiction in the ’60s.  He wrote some of the earliest modern SF set in Victorian times, making him a steampunk godfather.  And he famously inspired songs by Blue Oyster Cult, Hawkwind, and other bands.

I haven’t read a lot of Moorcock; there were a few impediments along the way:

A) As a kid, I skimmed a couple of Elric books at a time when I was already losing interest in all things swords-and-sorcery.  Elric didn’t rekindle my interest.  The timing was all wrong.

B) I just can’t get into Hawkwind’s music, and my enjoyment of Blue Oyster Cult is hit-or-miss. (Although “Burnin’ for You”, co-penned with rock critic Richard Meltzer, is a gargantuan power-pop classic.)

C) As I specialized in SF research, Moorcock sat just outside my area of focus on 19th-century and Modernist speculative fiction.

But 80s nostalgia saved the day.  My interest was really rekindled when I spoke to an SF scholar last year who was doing research on Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius stories.  He described it to me this way:

“Buckaroo Banzai.  He’s the prototype for Buckaroo Banzai.”

That’s all it took to re-ignite my interest in Moorcock.  I’m a huge Buckaroo Banzai fan.  My 80s nostalgia for that movie is deep.  I loved the idea of a hero who is both a Doc Savage-like scientist adventurer and a Bruce Springsteen-like bandleader.

Cornelius is a Moorcock superhero–a spy, a rock guitarist, a polymath scientist.  He predates Buckaroo by 20 years, and is in many ways a product of the swinging ’60s.  He’s a proto-hipster and an aloof intellectual; Cornelius isn’t for everyone.

But, man, there are so many ideas on every page.  In the first Cornelius story, we get a hollow earth trip, posthuman body augmentation, pinball, digressions on guitarists of the 60s, and more.  This is clearly the work of a writer having a hell of a lot of fun synthesizing a bunch of his interests into an action/adventure tales–and warping the very nature of action/adventure tales in the process.

So now I’ve read the first two Cornelius novels, enjoying them in a “how the hell did I not know about this?” kind of way.  I’ve also finished The Eternal Champion, and I’m planning to plug my way through Elric again this year–giving it the time and attention it merits.

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