The Hipster On the Seas of Fate

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

We were somewhere around Melniboné on the edge of the Young Kingdoms when the drugs began to take hold…

As much as the Michael Kane stories pay tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs, the fact is that Michael Moorcock and the literary circle around New Worlds during his editorship were much more interested in producing fiction worthy of William S. Burroughs instead. Moorcock’s first attempt (at least, in the context of a novel) to abandon traditional SF-fantasy genre conventions in order to embrace a more avant-garde, counter-cultural approach to the genre was The Final Programme, which introduced the world to Jerry Cornelius: amoral dandy, mad scientist, rock star, hipster, music snob, and agent of entropy. When extracts from the novel were published in New Worlds as Moorcock strived to find someone willing to publish the complete novel, various other writers in the New Worlds stable were inspired to riff on the premises outlined in the extracts, leading to an ongoing literary game in which writers would appropriate Cornelius with Moorcock’s blessing whilst Moorcock worked on producing the core narratives of the mythos.

The Cornelius Quartet, the set of four novels beginning with The Final Programme and building on its premises in an increasingly experimental and avant-garde direction has few precedents, though Moorcock’s pal J.G. Ballard was working up the material which would become The Atrocity Exhibition at around the same time. Perhaps the only previous work in the genre that took an even vaguely similar approach was William Burroughs’ own Nova Trilogy (The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, and Nova Express), a saga of alien invasion and scientifically induced apocalypse featuring time-travelling agents using Scientology techniques to eliminate Aztec word viruses from the human subconscious.

As always in Moorcock’s fiction, Law and Chaos is the name of the game here, although Moorcock tends to use euphemisms for those terms rather than referring to them openly. “Entropy” is used in place of “Chaos” much of the time, whilst those who know their thermodynamics will realise that the occasional references to Jerry gaining or losing or maintaining heat will refer to an entropic sort of energy (as opposed to “work”), and the way these references are used make it fairly clear that Jerry is an entity of Chaos who is sustained by entropy. Law, meanwhile, hides behind various masks – culture, civilisation, empire, religion – which Jerry delights in kicking to bits.

In the ancillary novels and novellas collected in A Cornelius Calendar and the various short stories written by Moorcock and his pals some more explanations are offered – it is often stated explicitly that Jerry and pals can travel in time and between planes of the Multiverse, heavily implied that Jerry can travel in time and manipulate causality by accumulating energy through violent action, and there are regular references to Jerry and the others being connected in some way to the Time Centres maintained by the Guild of Temporal Adventurers, who play a rather more prominent role in the Oswald Bastable stories and the Dancers At the End of Time trilogy. (An even more detailed and nailed-down theory of time and multiversal travel is outlined at the start of The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius In the Twentieth Century.) However, in the Cornelius Quartet itself such explanations are either avoided entirely or kept significantly more obscure, Moorcock’s stated aim being to create novels you can just dip into and paddle about in without stressing out too much about trying to put them into a linear order or making sense of every little incident. In other words, they’re designed to encourage you to take Jerry’s relaxed view of causality; those beholden to fannish instincts, intent on working out the “canon” of everything they encounter and reluctant to let an ambiguity just stay ambiguous, are going to be pretty lost here.

All of the Jerry Cornelius stories are self-consciously designed to be products of their time; whilst the novels of the Quartet and, to a lesser extent, the stories in A Cornelius Calendar are mostly responses to the general spirit of the age, the shorter stories written by Moorcock are often his taken on particular topics – though the shorts written by other hands are as diverse as the writers who’ve produced them. Beyond that, various writers (many of them in fact working in comics rather than prose) have used Jerry as the blueprint for their own, similar characters, with varying responses from Moorcock – the great man has embraced Bryan Talbot’s Luther Arkwright, but he’s excommunicated Grant Morrison’s use of a Jerry-like figure as King Mob’s 60s alter-ego in The Invisibles. The borrowing of Cornelius shows few signs of slowing down, with Alan Moore giving the Cornelius siblings a cameo in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier and having Jerry play a rather more significant role in the upcoming 1969 episode of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century. The obvious question, of course, is if the original material is any good, or whether it’s a theme that’s been played better by other creators than by its originator. There’s only one way to find out. Wish me luck.

As Close as It Gets to Canon: The Cornelius Quartet

The Final Programme

Written in 1965, with extracts appearing in New Worlds but no publisher willing to stomach the entire thing until 1968, The Final Programme is the most straightforward of the Cornelius novels; Moorcock didn’t go for all-out nonlinearity this time around, though he’d entirely abandon conventional narrative structures by the end of the Quartet. Moorcock introduces us to Jerry through a tripped-out retelling of the first two Elric stories (The Dreaming City and While the Gods Laugh), transplanted to an odd alternate version of the late 1960s with the incestuous triangle of Jerry, his sister Catherine and brother Frank taking the place of Elric, Cymoril and Yyrkoon. Thus – after a prologue in which Jerry has a holiday fling with one Professor Hira and listens patiently to his theories about metaphysics and the end of the current cycle of time and the coming of the messiah of the Scientific Age – we have Jerry amassing a team of mercenaries, spies, and adventurers to invade his deceased father’s chateau off the coast of Normandy, which has been taken over by Frank, so that Jerry may rescue Catherine from the drug-induced trance Frank has placed her under. Likewise in the middle section of the novel Jerry is lured by the promise of revenge on Frank into accompanying an expedition to Lapland in pursuit of a mysterious cave where, amongst other things, there is rumoured to be stashed the lost diary of Major Newman, an American astronaut who supposedly attained some kind of cosmic insight on a particularly stressful mission.

However, this isn’t merely a copy-paste job; across these two segments of the novel Moorcock slips in numerous hints that there are number of things wrong – with Jerry, with the world he occupies, and with the mysterious Miss Brunner who accompanies him on both missions (and is the driving force in organising the second one) in the hope of gaining insights into Jerry’s late father’s work on designer hallucinogens. Jerry himself, on the surface, is entirely too awesome to be true; he’s this super-cool renegade who clearly has access to ludicrous levels of wealth – there’s a good room permanently reserved for him at every hotel he cares to visit, he has this enormous, sprawling home in Ladbroke Grove, he’s got awesome cars and he listens only to the best music and he dresses like an Edwardian Dandy and an almost Laurel K. Hamilton level of attention is paid to his sartorial choices.

If that were all there was to the character, he’d look like a ludicrous teenage fantasy. But there’s a bit more to it than that. First off, Jerry is in no sense the typical 60s spy adventure protagonist. The most obvious sense in which he confounds the expectations of the genre we are meant to be lulled into believing he inhabits is in his unconflicted and guiltless embrace of bisexuality and mildly androgynous looks, which isn’t so shocking or even uncommon in SF/fantasy these days but still isn’t really accepted in spy thrillers, and would obviously have been significantly more startling to a mainstream audience coming around half a decade or so before Ziggy Stardust. Jerry’s defiance of audience expectations of male heroes in what would be considered a manly genre doesn’t stop there, either. Rather than being a square-jawed Bond type who takes the lead and commands every situation he gets into, he’s often happy to passively go with the flow, showing a passive acceptance of events when they turn against him which you wouldn’t expect from your average square-jawed two-fisted hero of the era.

Jerry is at his most proactive in the first phase of the novel, when trying to rescue Catherine; once Catherine is dead, he’s not so much mopey and depressed in an Elric sort of way so much as disinterested and bored and lethargic, as though rescuing Catherine was kind of a game that he’s a bit disappointed to lose but he doesn’t consider it the end of the world. He tags along with Miss Brunner when she mentions the possibilities of getting revenge on Frank and reading Newman’s diary, but Jerry just takes up the offer of revenge because that’s kind of what he feels expected to do and is only mildly curious about what’s in the diary. (Perhaps he remembers the last time the Lords of the Higher Worlds pranked him with such a document.) In the last third or so of the novel, when Miss Brunner has gone full-on supervillain, he doesn’t ever seriously attempt to stop her – the most he does is go off and get married to a version of Una Persson in an attempt to ignore what Brunner is doing and pretend it’s nothing to do with him. This passivity extends to his sexual escapades, in which rather than always actively pursuing sexual partners (although he does do that) Jerry is just as willing to be seduced as to seduce. Furthermore, whereas male heroes in just about all male-dominated genres at the time held to strong moral codes – even in comparatively gritty genres such as hardboiled detective fiction – Jerry is an amoral sort of guy who doesn’t share Elric’s qualms about killing. (There’s one bit where he assassinates someone on behalf of Miss Brunner and is more upset about the fact Brunner lied to him about the target than the fact that he straight up killed a completely innocent party who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in addition to the actual target.)

But more than not quite fitting the genre you might mistake him for belonging to, Jerry doesn’t quite fit the world he occupies. The text will regularly note Jerry’s thoughts about “this world” as though he were assessing it like a gourmet assessing a meal – as though it were one of several he had experienced and he happens to be trying this one for size. Miss Brunner seems to be in the same boat; there’s one oblique conversation they have in which Brunner points out the mistakes that Jerry deliberately slipped into a scientific paper he wrote about cosmology – errors which, Jerry realises, only somebody with a certain direct experience of the sort of phenomena he was talking about would note. The implication is that both Jerry and Brunner are strangers to this particular plane of the multiverse; they’ve wormed their way in from outside and the world has distorted (providing Jerry, for example, with a father with a castle off the coast of Normandy) to accommodate them.

Both Jerry and Brunner are reliant on unusual sources of nourishment too; Jerry is a sort of emotional vampire, feeding off the vitality and energy of other people, so after the close of the While the Gods Laugh segment he throws a ludicrous, months-long party in order to surround himself with people to recharge his batteries. (The list of party guests, incidentally, includes the first appearance of several recurring Moorcock characters – Una Persson, Major Nye, Bishop Beesley and Colonel “I’ve got my own solo series you know” Pyat.) Miss Brunner’s implied habit of entirely consuming her lovers implies an even greater hunger, reminiscent of Stormbringer – and the way she goes from being an acquaintance who’s willing to provide a bit of assistance at the start of the novel to being completely in control of Jerry’s life and destiny towards the end mirrors Stormbringer’s own relationship with Elric.

The treatment of Miss Brunner, incidentally, is fascinating in its own way. She is, of course, another perilous dominant woman along the same lines of Queen Yishana from the Elric saga – but I think Moorcock does a better job of avoiding total failure this time around. Part of the reason is that transposing tropes from one genre to another actually does change the way they come across. In a sword and sorcery context, Queen Yishana was part of a long tradition of male writers being uncomfortable around and/or suspicious of women, but in 1960s spy stories women are not a threat to be eliminated, they are (thanks primarily to Bond) a territory to be conquered. Bond seduces women in order to maintain or obtain their loyalty as a matter of course; the hostility (and, in the novel, homosexuality) of characters like Pussy Galore is a barrier to be overcome, and once it is defeated the women in question will most likely end up compliant and willing to go along with what Bond wants. Even when a woman attempts to seduce Bond, Bond tends to find a way to turn the situation around so that he ends up in control. Jerry doesn’t even try to change Miss Brunner; nor does he make any effort to control her or steer the course of their relationship.

And ultimately the peril Brunner represents does not stem from her sexual preferences and isn’t really connected to it. Try to find a single female supervillain in 60s spy fiction, I double dare you; if you want a hard-mode option, try finding one whose schtick isn’t some sort of horrible parody of feminism (which she is eventually converted away from by the rugged, manly hero’s rugged and manly manliness). Conversely, Yishana is primarily dangerous in the Elric books because of the way she uses sex to establish and keep control over people; sure, in Stormbringer she dons armour and cuts a bloody swathe through the Chaos forces, but for most of her appearances she’s playing Elric and her pet wizard off against each other. Brunner is, mind, about as promiscuous as Jerry is – after all, if she’s a parallel Stormbringer they’re basically two halves of the same soul, they’re bound to share some appetites – but that’s background flavour rather than the reason why her character is important to the story. Miss Brunner is dangerous not because she’s in control of her sex life, but because she’s a supervillain in the service of Law intent on dictating the terms of the new world that will rise from the ashes of the old.

About that. Just as Jerry and Brunner seem to be intruders or impostors and might be two halves of the same soul, there’s something just a bit fakey and threadbare about the world. Glancing references to the Russian Empire and Italy leaving the Common Market establish that this isn’t quite our own world; furthermore, the place seems to be falling apart at the seams. The global situation is deteriorating, Europe is circling the drain, towards the end of the novel there’s mass migration out of the cities into the countryside and a general expectation of doom. What’s more, both Jerry and Miss Brunner seem to have some foreknowledge of this; Jerry talks about time as though it were a finite resource which this particular world is running out of, and is surprised by the pace of apocalyptic events not because they are happening at all, but because they were happening before he expected – but since he’s a nihilist who’s happy to let entropy and Chaos have its own way he’s not really got much of a plan to deal with it. The final programme of the title, meanwhile, is Miss Brunner’s project to generate Hira’s messiah of the Age of Science (which is not, unlike in the catastrophic 1973 movie adaptation, a comedy caveman), a deliberate attempt to generate order out of the wreckage left by Chaos, much like Sepiriz’ plan in Stormbringer. As in Stormbringer, of course, it’s the coming of the Balance which brings a resolution, although in this case it’s far more apocalyptic in tone (and a hell of a lot weirder).

The unreality of the world which Jerry and Brunner end up euthanising and consuming makes some of the stranger aspects of the later novel – such as the way Jerry’s party might possibly involve characters popping in from other planes of the multiverse, and ends up lasting for months on end until it’s the only population centre in an otherwise deserted London – seem much easier to accept. The party sequence is still kind of dated – it’s very 60s, after all – but in this light it seems like a little more than a simple parody of the mystique surrounding legendary counterculture gatherings (though it is that): it’s also an example of Jerry exploiting the loose threads of this particular cosmos to allow him to put on an event which could never work in a more robust universe, as well as providing his guests with a bit of fun to distract them from Chaos consuming the entire world.

It’s no surprise that Moorcock wrote The Rituals of Infinity at around the same time, because the theme of a third-rate cosmos getting past its sell-by date and being kicked over is quite similar. But The Final Programme is a bit more successful than Rituals. It manages on the one hand to be a powerful evocation of the counterculture spirit of its time, but also prefigures some later trends in SF – there’s a certain cyberpunk edge to it, not in the precise technologies exploited but in the idea of setting a story on Earth in a near future with technological advances that aren’t directed towards spaceflight, as well as the attention paid to style and fashion and music. And, of course, in the figure of Jerry himself, slipping between the cracks, hacking the system, and taking the world as he finds it and rolling with it. Bruce Sterling and William Gibson thought that Jerry was the first cyberpunk hero, and The Final Programme provides good grounds for agreeing with them.

Multiverse bollocks: The novel is replete with them, though that is kind of the point. The parallels with The Dreaming City and While the Gods Laugh are sufficiently ubiquitous that it’s not worth listing them, though a certain self-pitying albino does turn up to Jerry’s party. Jerry’s father’s castle, as well as being a stand-in for Melniboné, is also full of automated traps, making it reminiscent of the towers of the nightside people in The Shores of Death. Miss Brunner’s phony nuclear threat against the great cities of Europe is a lot like the nuclear conspiracy in The Winds of Limbo. Jerry’s needle gun might be a Martian model as seen in the Michael Kane stories, and one of his helpers in the assault on his dad’s place is a Mr Powys – possibly a relative of Edward P. Bradbury of the Kane books (or possibly EPB himself… in which case we now know why there aren’t any more Kane stories), and possibly an ancestor of the Powys family of The Winds of Limbo.

Oh, and strictly speaking Una Persson first appeared in The Warlord of the Air, the first Oswald Bastable novel in 1971, and her appearances in this book and A Cure for Cancer were parachuted in when Moorcock made mild revisions to the novels in 1979. But I’d argue that this barely counts since Una ends up becoming such an important force in the Cornelius stories that at this point it seems that she belongs to them more than she does to Bastable’s world.

A Cure For Cancer

Jerry’s major adventure of 1969 unfolds in a universe close to the territory that J.G. Ballard would later explore in Theatre of War. It’s a world in which the psychotic, knives-out conflict between the superpowers and their proxies which unfolded across Southeast Asia in our world has been transferred to Europe – and Britain is this timeline’s Vietnam. American and Russian ships blockade the nation, Israel engages in its own military adventurism in Europe to counter the Americans’ moves (perhaps to suggest an Israeli-American split to mirror our own world’s Sino-Soviet split), and U.S. mass bombing runs eliminate entire cities in the name of burning out a cancer which may only exist in the American imagination.

Jerry, in this environment, is enjoying himself immensely – though once again, he very clearly doesn’t belong to this universe. This time it’s emphasised by him literally walking around like a three-dimensional photographic negative – he’s got white hair, black skin, and black teeth resulting not from tooth rot, but from his enamel and bones being black naturally. This does have the consequence that sometimes people will mistake Jerry for a black person – but his passport lists his ethnicity as being Caucasian and shows a photograph of him as he was in the previous novel, so this doesn’t seem to be an attempt at disguise or appropriation on Jerry’s part so much as, perhaps, the consequence of a botched experiment in identity modification, of the sort he inflicts on various persons over the course of the novel. (Or perhaps he’s just a drow in this incarnation.)

Joining him as he evades a helicopter attack on the Kensington Roof Garden tea-rooms, we gradually learn that he’s up to a curious new scam, operating a clandestine international organisation devoted to providing to those that need it the bizarre “transmog” process which seems to offer them a complete rewrite of their identity from the ground up. Of course, sometimes people don’t realise they need a transmog course – how they struggle and fight! – but Jerry has few qualms about that. Nor does he have sleepless nights about the way he’s deliberately hastening the destruction of this timeline so that, with the aid of a strange black box of his own design, he can utilise the Chaos energies released for the mildly selfish end of resurrecting Catherine, whose death in The Final Programme appears to have been sufficiently resonant to “stick” from universe to universe. (Usually, when people die in a Cornelius story they only die for the purposes of the current timeline, and they’ll pop up again in a different timeline perfectly fine – which leads to many of the characters with a multiversal perspective getting particularly flippant about killing or being killed.)

This, and a healthy round of kidnapping, murder, and destroying libraries as part of his personal war against history might make you want to give Jerry a stern telling-off, and on balance I don’t think he’s meant to be as much of a quasi-heroic protagonist this time around so much as a sociopath at war with a society horrible enough to deserve him. Then again, the forces arrayed against Jerry are hardly more appealing – two of the ugliest forms Law can take, in fact. On the one hand, you have the hedonistic Bishop Beesley seeking to turn back time and reimpose the domination of organised religion and moralistic traditionalism; on the other hand, you have psychotic militarists – assisted by Frank Cornelius – whose vision of progress entails the “depersonnelisation” (read: nuking) of numerous European capitals. And then you’ve got the increasing burden of entropy breaking down the structure of spacetime; in particularly Chaos-infested places in this world, such as Europe, you can just stroll into the Shift, a place where travel between planes of the multiverse is trivial.

As well as being one of the rare explicit references to the multiverse in the Cornelius stories (most of the multiverse content is relayed through inference), the situation surrounding the Shift mirrors the calculated loosening and breaking-apart of the structure of the novel. Whilst still telling a more or less linear story unfolding in a single continuity, A Cure For Cancer is written as a chain of loosely-connected dadaist vignettes as opposed to the more traditionally structured story of The Final Programme. That said, Moorcock does a wonderful job of slowing bringing the big picture into focus, and then towards the end bringing some returning elements from The Final Programme in – the continued death of Catherine, the return of Frank – to give context to the whole escapade. Although the last lines of the novel come completely out of left field, as opposed to being the culmination of themes developed throughout the story as in last book, as a whole I think the plot is a success – Moorcock does a good job of jettisoning the Elric-sourced scaffolding that held up the The Final Programme and diving into writing a story from the point of view of a character for whom Chaos is his everyday existence.

In the gap between the release of the first extracts of The Final Programme and the writing of A Cure For Cancer, of course, the game of writing Cornelius stories as responses to current affairs had kicked into high gear, and A Cure For Cancer is, obviously, Moorcock’s Vietnam novel. Ten to twenty years ago it would have probably seemed kind of dated as a result, but I found that here on the other side of 9/11, Iraq, the Bush administration and other early 21st century adventures the book feels extremely relevant. The idea of transferring the action of Vietnam to a place where those of us who don’t remember the Blitz can’t really imagine wars and stuff happening not only makes it more shocking, but also means that the story is less tied to that particular war and is more suited to taking aim at militarism as a whole. At one point, General Cumberland, the leader of the American forces in Britain (who has taken up residence in Buckingham Palace following the voluntary retirement of the Queen) goes off on a speech which, according to Moorcock, is essentially a copy-paste of a Vietnam-era speech from some American warmonger with the place names changed. The resemblance to more recent war rhetoric – especially that surrounding Iraq – is hilarious in a gallows humour sort of way.

The novel is still something of a product of its time – there’s still this gleeful edge about it, the sort of playful enthusiasm which you find in an awful lot of countercultural artifacts from the era before people realised that on a political level the counterculture hadn’t actually achieved a hell of a lot and the 1970s malaise really started to kick in. But as far of products of that time go it’s pretty awesome. It’s got as much claim to being the archetypal Cornelius novel as The Final Programme does, and arguably more; what The Final Programme sketched out in blueprint form, A Cure For Cancer gives shuddering, horrifying life to. Sure, Jerry’s kind of a dick and you’re supposed to flinch a little at what he does even as you’re cheering him on. But he’s got a secret base below the Ashmolean Museum, which has escaped the bombing because in this timeline Oxford is underneath a big dome. How can anyone not love that?

Multiverse bollocks: At one point Jerry is mistaken for Alan Powys, hero of The Winds of Limbo. Cardinal Orelli from The Rituals of Infinity shows up towards the end to help out Bishop Beesley. The Kensington Roof Gardens are real, but are also a recurring location in Moorcock novels – the opening scene of Somewhere In the Night (later revised as The Chinese Agent) was set in them, and they would later play a role in other Moorcock books. Jerry riding off to the north as ice conquers the globe is reminiscent of Konrad Arflane’s exit at the end of The Ice Schooner. Otherwise most of the interconnections are callbacks to The Final Programme.

The English Assassin

By 1972 the Nixon administration, the apparently unending bad news out of Vietnam, Altamont, the Kent State shootings, and a sweep of other downers had taken the wind out of the sails of the counterculture. Even the Beatles had broken up, and without his Beatles soundtrack you might expect Jerry to be a bit down. So it is that our hero spends most of The English Assassin dead, or hibernating, or as a shuddering, shrieking wreck… well, his status is complicated. After being fished out of the ocean near Tintagel, Cornelius is diagnosed with a severe state of hydrophilia, having apparently gone down there and stayed down there for a quite ludicrous amount of time. (This ties in with a strong association between the ocean and death which pops up from time to time during the series, going right back to The Final Programme.)

Mrs Cornelius, Jerry’s mum who makes her first major appearance in the novels here, dismisses this as Jerry’s typical laziness; Major Nye, who’s a sort of allegorical stand-in for British militarism just as Bishop Beesley is the all-purpose church figure of the series, tuts to himself and considers that maybe the whole Messiah of the Age of Science thing might have been hype. Either way, Jerry’s body is shipped about, plays a key role in an assassination, and at some point slips between the cracks and is lost from the reader’s sight entirely. In his absence, the cast of characters surrounding him are free to take the spotlight. With linearity going out the window, the narrative lurches from timeline to timeline, hovering around the first half of the twentieth century – hovering around an interlude showbiz world here, a nuclear attack on India there, a Scottish war of independence fought with zeppelins over there, and several other worlds besides.

The pasts, or at least possible pasts, of various characters and their “first” encounters with Cornelius (though “first” is a fairly meaningless term from a nonlinear perspective) are explored, the effects and the strains of the thousand psychic wars they participate in is sketched out. An attempt is even made to set up a peace conference to defuse the whole thing, but Jerry remanifests briefly in order to put a stop to that. With the cast members faced with the cold hard facts of thermodynamics, the response of each to entropy is explored. Finally, Jerry re-emerges as a Pierrot for a seaside reunion with Catherine. (If you’re not down on your commedia dell’arte archetypes, Pierrot is the sad clown David Bowie dresses as in the video for Ashes to Ashes, which considering Bowie’s reading habits and the beach/ocean/drowning imagery could well to be a reference to this novel…)

With The English Assassin Moorcock makes his big push to abandon linear storytelling entirely in order to depend wholly on inference – setting up apparently-unconnected vignettes with sufficient connections in terms of tone and theme to convey a vague overall impression of what sort of thing is going on and how the characters feel about it even if you can’t quite pin that down in words. It’s the sort of thing which is often attempted and rarely succeeded; Burroughs pulled it off in the Nova Trilogy, and David Lynch did it in a cinematic medium with Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, and I think Moorcock succeeds at it here. Like Mulholland Drive, all of the scenes in The English Assassin seem to belong, even though there’s no way you can come up with a fully-realised explanation of what is going on that puts every single one of them in context on a unified timeline. Moorcock had been developing this technique (with mixed results) in his Cornelius short stories over the past few years, and would rely it in The Condition of Muzak (where I think it is equally successful) and most of the subsequent Cornelius novels (where I think the results are, again, very much mixed).

General themes and trends can be plucked out of the story here and there; the trappings of the age of European empires are still present in a lot of the timelines we drift through, possibly left over from the Oswald Bastable stories that Moorcock had been writing in the meantime, which lends a particular aesthetic to the novel which is in keeping with the general air of retrospection – not in the sense of nostalgia, Moorcock doesn’t consider the era of European hegemony to be anything to be nostalgic for, but in the sense of a stock-taking, a moment to stop and reflect on past mistakes and the bloody things done in the heat of enthusiasm for a cause that the participants have kind of lost sight of.

A major strand seems to be the development of the character of Catherine, who – now entirely alive – gets a chance to have a bit of fun herself in Jerry’s absence. Though she is romantically pursued by many of the characters – possibly paralleling their other attempts to displace Jerry in his pivotal role in the canon – she seems to be the only major character in the story who’s really capable of establishing a relationship (of any definition) with other characters without either trying to control them or kill them. Many of the characters use each other to fulfill some need or advance some agenda – whether that agenda is a grand ambition, like Miss Brunner’s cosmological schemes, or a more simple desire, like Jerry’s mum’s enthusiastic and exhausting (to those around her) enjoyment of heavy drinking and traditional Bank Holiday jollity at the seaside. And those of the characters who get their hands dirty in the various epochal wars raging in the different timelines (which is the majority of the cast) get their hands very bloody indeed, though in a mechanical, jaded sort of way – as though for all of them the whole Chaos-vs-Law bash has just become a stupid game of tag where you score points if you end up being the last person alive in a particular timeline. Catherine, meanwhile, manages to find a perfect balance between engaging people and getting close to them whilst giving them sufficient space to do their own thing, all the while remaining true to her own self. (In this respect, she’s the only solid candidate for a Jerry Cornelius cast member who follows the way of the Cosmic Balance.)

Other characters are likewise embellished upon. Una Persson, in her evolution from promising West End star to international assassin and war-monger, is developed further as a female counterpart to Jerry – a fellow anarchist and multiversal traveller who, unlike the emotionally fragile Jerry, is able to fully embrace the idea that the great cross-dimensional game is just a game; on one of the times she assassinates Prinz Lobkowitz (she does this several times) she gloats about it as if she’s just played a good hand of cards. In becoming one the most significant of Catherine’s lovers after Jerry’s disappearance, she shows signs of stepping into the big man’s shoes; certainly, in a novel entitled The English Assassin, she actually gets around to doing more assassinations than Jerry does. Well, if you don’t count the bit where Jerry gets a bunch of gunmen to open fire on a cosmological diplomatic gathering called in order to try to take advantage of his absence and bring about a multiversal peace treaty. (To reiterate: Jerry Cornelius is kind of an asshole.)

But then, I suppose on my next pass through the book I might interpret completely differently. Like Burroughs and Lynch, The English Assassin is a bit of a Rorschach test; the picture it paints is developed enough that a particular set of interpretations are more viable than others, but that set is so broad and diverse and complex it would take a better reviewer than me to encapsulate them all. If you put a gun to my head and made me sum it up I’d probably burble something about it being a saga of world-weariness and being tired of fighting and the fact that any true cultural revolution has to be sustained for a far longer duration than many revolutionaries are able to keep it up, but that wouldn’t quite suffice to sum up the strange, sad aura that hangs over the entire thing. It’s the sort of book where you aren’t sure where it’s going most of the time and then towards the end everything comes together into a whole, a neat trick which Moorcock would attempt to repeat with most of his subsequent Cornelius novels but which he wouldn’t always pull off.

Multiverse bollocks: Several other incarnations of the Eternal Champion show up at the Peace Conference: Oswald Bastable, Karl Glogauer, and a “tall moody albino”. Also, some of Moorcock’s real life buddies show up, including M. John Harrison (under a pseudonym) and most of the then-current lineup of Hawkwind, aside from Lemmy (whose absence is, if anything, damning evidence of the Peace Conference’s illegitimacy). Cornelius emerging from the ocean near Tintagel could well be a reference to the Corum series, which is set in a mythic version of Cornwall, and which makes reference to the Vadhagh (Corum’s people) being descended from aquatic creatures.

The Condition of Muzak

Although it won the Guardian Fiction Prize for 1977 and kind of replicates the structure of the last three novels within it, and even though Moorcock claims you can read the Cornelius Quartet in any order, I really don’t advise taking on The Condition of Muzak until you’ve digested the first three books. The novel seeps out of the cracks and gaps in the earlier three, offering a new take on the circumstances surrounding them and offering a potential linear interpretation of them for those readers who are truly desperate to find one – and if you’re not interested in that, it also takes the Jerry Cornelius idea to bits and examines how it ticks.

In particular, Moorcock considers Jerry and the extended cast surrounding him as characters with more or less human motivations and needs and goals and desires on the one hand, and as metaphorical symbols on the other, and leaves it up to the reader to decide whether they would rather see the Cornelius crew as actual human beings or as archetypal demigods of the post-60s collective unconscious. That old theme of his, the nature of heroism, comes out to play; yes, heroes can be potent and useful and comforting when we take them as ideals, but what becomes of us when we buy into those ideals uncritically and the heroes turn out to be incapable of satisfying us? Over the course of the novel Jerry, having lost all faith in his ability to affect the world he occupies, pines after both Catherine and his own lost faith in himself and in his musical heroes. The vital, urgent rock music which kept him chipper over The Final Programme and A Cure For Cancer has stagnated with the death of Morrison and Hendrix and the breakup of the Beatles and the capture and taming of the rock scene by commercial forces. Likewise, the idea that young people with fresh ideas and an impish defiance of tradition can change the world and remake it in their image had, by the mid-1970s, seemed to collapse entirely.

Grasping on to his “last chance for linearity”, Jerry moves through the preludes and aftermaths of the earlier novels, giving readers who might want to try and sort those events into a coherent order unfolding in a single timeline a hope of being able to do so. But it ultimately turns out to be a false hope, the hero letting us down once again. Maybe we could buy the idea that after The Final Programme Jerry dyed his skin and put on a white wig to become the Jerry of A Cure For Cancer, but making his tooth enamel grow out black is a bit of a stretch. The impression created is not, in fact, of us literally revisiting the scenarios of the earlier books and getting additional insights into what happened then, but of Jerry ritualistically repeating the whole cycle with new and curious variations incorporated into it as a result of the traumas of the previous run-through.

And then, of course, there’s the question of the “real” Jerry Cornelius. A framing story within the narrative suggests that the whole Jerry Cornelius thing could be the dreams or delusions or drug trips or whatever of an impoverished lad from Ladbroke Grove who cooked up the whole thing as an act of escapism from a life which seems to conspire to keep him away from what he really wants to do with himself. All he wants is for his proto-space rock band (the Deep Fix) to get a shot at the big time like Hawkwind and Pink Floyd, but it never quite happens; the commercial climate is never quite accepting enough, and the band’s one major gig ends in disaster and a heavy-handed police raid. An acting job he sort of slid into by accident ends up giving him some kind of fame and success in the end, but it doesn’t mean anything to him and he just goes through the motions because it’s just easier not to struggle. But even this apparently mundane origin for Jerry turns out to be a house of cards; the conclusion of the framing story, in which Jerry’s ailing mum outlines the twisted Cornelius family history, makes it clear that even this mundane Jerry in this mundane universe is on some level repeating a symbolic pattern that has persisted for over a century.

On the archetypal level, meanwhile, a more fantastic and positive ending is enjoyed; Jerry the man might ultimately be impossible to define, but Jerry the symbol finally solves the mystery of his identity. Having thought he was the dashing Harlequin winning the heart of Columbine (Catherine), as Harlequin does in the commedia dell’arte time and again, he’s actually the sad clown Pierrot who pines for Columbine but is destined always to lose her. But even if it’s impossible for a man to live up to the promise of a symbol, it is implied that it’s possible for symbols to change as the society in which those symbols are a currency changes. Una Persson, the true Harlequin, in this narrative as in the mundane narrative is not jealous of Jerry and Catherine’s feelings for each other – indeed, she’s as affectionate towards him as she is towards Catherine. A future in which the trio form a polyamorous unit of apocalyptic mayhem is hinted at.

More broadly, the novel seemed to me to suggest that those of us who grew up after World War II, thanks to the breakneck pace of technological change, are living in the condition of muzak – what was cacophonous and revolutionary and exciting and novel and scary to our parents or grandparents is just background noise to us, as natural as anything. The Jerry archetype, in his early novels, offered one way to live in the Age of Science – choosing technologies and clothes and music and cars and so forth to surround themselves not based on their functionality but based on how they look and what they say about us, and refusing to give history any say in who we are or what we do. But like all Messiahs, Jerry turned out not to be what he’s cracked up to be: far from overcoming history, he’s part of it, an expression of the Pierrot symbol and all the history behind it. Perhaps we can’t simply choose to ditch all the archetypal masks that the past has lumbered with, but we might just be free to decide what they mean – and the choice of masks is growing all the time. (Doctor Who fans will be pleased to know that in a grand conclave of archetypal figures that come together to celebrate Christmas in the symbolic future-London of which Jerry becomes the powerless but revered figurehead, the Doctor pops in to join the party – presumably acting as a reminder that even heroes of low budget TV can worm their way into the cultural pantheon.)

The close of the Cornelius Quartet is in part a repudiation of the philosophy of utter Chaos, a reminder that at the end of the day nobody operates outside of the context of history; a rejection of tradition is still a response to tradition. But there is no victory for Law here either; life is complicated and no matter how much the likes of Miss Brunner or Frank think they can pin everything down and see which way the wind is blowing, there’s always some Harlequin with a needle gun ready to pull the rug out from under them. The Condition of Muzak is not only a wonderful summation of the themes that had emerged over the course of the quartet, it also completely recontextualises the first three books, Moorcock setting things up so that a second readthrough can be just as surprising and intriguing as the first whilst not forgetting to make sure the first readthrough is a blast as well. Like I said, it won an actual award and stuff so clearly Moorcock convinced someone it has literary merit; for my part, I think it’s one of the cleverest literarily-styled novels to emerge from the SF scene.

Multiverse bollocks: Partway through the book there’s a Reunion Party where almost every incarnation of the Eternal Champion and several supporting characters from their respective series show up – as well as Jerry himself and most of the recurring characters in his series, there’s Alan Powys and the Fireclown, Renark, Clovis Marca, Corum, Elric, Edward P. Bradbury (presumably standing in for Michael Kane), Professor Faustaff, Jerry Cornell, John Daker and Urlik Skarsol, Jherek Carnelian and some other Dancers from the End of Time, Konrad Arflane, Karl Glogauer, Oswald Bastable… and there’s even Queen Gloriana and Captain Quire, and the novel they featured in hadn’t even come out yet.

At the big celebration towards the end of the book where the symbolic-Cornelius is reconciled to his role as a Pierrot to Una’s Harlequin, he spends most of the party wandering around with a cat. This is clearly meant to put us in mind of Jhary-a-Conel, a Cornelius-analogue originating in the Corum stories and representing an Eternal Companion figure, the archetype supposedly behind all of the Eternal Champion’s various sidekicks.

Oh yes, and there’s the Doctor’s cameo, but Moorcock wouldn’t write a Who novel until 2010. But since he isn’t described in such a manner that he has to be Tom Baker, I choose to imagine him as Matt Smith because that’s the incarnation Moorcock wrote a tie-in novel for.

And there’s a couple more name-droppings of Hawkwind when the “real” Jerry is trying to make a success of the Deep Fix.

Too Long to Be Short Stories, Too Ancillary For the Quartet: A Cornelius Calendar

The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius In the Twentieth Century

1976 saw the publication of the first novel-length side-story in the Cornelius saga, which as the title suggests follows the further exploits of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius, who having become firmly ensconced in the Harlequin and Columbine roles they had attained at the end of The Condition of Muzak decide to launch another expedition into the 20th Century after a restful holiday. Una, favouring physical peril, gets entangled in all sorts of lost causes in increasingly devastated alternate realities. Catherine, meanwhile, prefers emotional adventure – specifically, she engages on a series of sexual relationships at different stages of a 20th Century which, if it isn’t our own, is at least a closer facsimile than the realities Una is exploring, through which she seems to be trying to find some model for crafting a relationship in which she can attain the particular type of sexual release she craves whilst at the same time maintain an otherwise emotionally healthy connection to her partner.

Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius is one of a trio of novels Moorcock wrote in the mid-1970s prominently featuring female protagonists. The other two have slightly unfortunate histories; both Gloriana, or the Unfulfill’d Queen and The Transformation of Miss Mavis Ming ended up being revised later on when Moorcock realised that actually the conclusions to both of them suggested particularly grotesque and unsupportable things. Although all three involve Moorcock contemplating the subject of sexual masochism in women on some level, in Gloriana he appears to conflate it with rape and the consent issues in Mavis Ming are hardly any better. This time around, though, Moorcock makes no such obvious blunders, though to be fair the ambiguous structure of Cornelius-type stories are inherently open to interpretation – it could be that the novel is saved by the fact that Moorcock specifically refuses to make overt judgement calls within it. Still, the fact that Catherine’s sexual masochism is portrayed as something which can exist within a healthy relationship and which is completely compatible both with her maintaining control over her consent and taking a decidedly non-submissive role in the political arena should she choose to step into it at least evades utter failure, though I’m probably the wrong person to declare it a full-blown success.

The other thing which makes the novel work is that the protagonists succeed or fail at attaining their ultimate goals without men forcing a particular outcome on the situation, whereas in both the original version of Gloriana and the original and revised versions of Mavis Ming the female protagonists essentially have their emotional epiphanies forced upon them by men. In particular, Moorcock is careful not to let Jerry upstage either Una or Catherine – in both strands of the novel he has only a peripheral role. He makes a half-hearted attempt to flog Catherine (at her insistence) but he’s kind of crap about it and Catherine gives up on hoping he’ll be something he’s not. In Una’s strand, she regularly finds herself tripping over messes Jerry has left behind; whilst Jerry is fully sympathetic towards Una’s goals he can’t fight her battles for her, though he can get her out of immediate peril in a pinch.

On the political side, meanwhile, Catherine’s story is actually more interesting than Una’s. Una’s story is a long saga of failures and the failure of the anarchist/left-libertarian ideals Moorcock espouses to win through over and over again despite coming tantalisingly close so often, a concept which gets a better treatment in The Entropy Tango. Catherine’s tale, meanwhile, is essentially a sequence of relationships which exemplify the changing relationships between men and women with the progress of feminism in the 20th Century. Actually, although taken by itself Una’s story doesn’t feel particularly satisfying, it actually works quite well if it’s meant to stand in contrast to Catherine’s adventures; taken together, they seem to hold out hope that whilst victory may not be possible on a society-wide scale, it may be possible to win some kind of victory on an individual level in terms of how we relate to those closest to us.

Having mulled this one over for some time, I’m still kind of ambivalent about it. Although I think Moorcock does a good job of tackling the subject matter in question, I am less sure he actually succeeds in doing anything of substance with it beyond saying “Hey, check this shit out, isn’t it complicated?” And whilst it’s an fun enough trip, the fact remains that whilst Catherine’s exploits are gripping and engaging, Una’s blood-drenched story lacks the urgency and immediacy of Jerry’s similarly violent escapades. It’s probably worth a look if you were really into The Condition of Muzak or The English Assassin, but I wouldn’t say it’s something you urgently need to read in order to properly appreciate the Cornelius cosmos.

Multiverse bollocks: The theory of time travel outlined at the start seems to stem from a particular interpretation of Karl Glogauer’s experiences in Behold the Man. Otherwise, there are comparatively few references to other Moorcock series aside from Frank Cornelius wittering on about the Conjunction of a Million Spheres, which played out mainly in the second Hawkmoon trilogy.

The Entropy Tango

Another Una-centred novel, The Entropy Tango was originally meant to be a multimedia project; the novel features extensive illustrations from Romain Slocombe and is interspersed with lyrics to a concept album that was going to be released by Moorcock’s band the Deep Fix (named after Jerry’s band, of course) with music composed by Moorcock and Pete Pavli. The project never came to fruition (although demo recordings for the album and an album inspired by Gloriana were eventually released in 2008), and the novel eventually limped out in 1981.

This one is from beginning to end an enormous downer, possibly a result of Moorcock’s increasing disgust at the political climate of the early Thatcher era. Una appears intent on cultivating the career of Nestor Makhno, who in our timeline was the leader of the Ukrainian anarchist forces during the Russian Civil War. Una seems to have hit on the notion of setting him up as a Che Guevara figure, popping up all over the globe setting off anarchist revolutions wherever he goes. It’s an audacious plan that doesn’t really go anywhere – not even when Una helps Jerry out of retirement and back into the Chaos game – and Una is left pondering why no matter how hard she fights to put power in the hands of the people, they always turn around and surrender it yet again.

What is a decent enough premise for considering the failure of anarchism to really establish much of a foothold except at the very fringes of 20th Century political discourse unfortunately turns into a vehicle of Moorcock indulging an extended grump-on. Moorcock clearly considers the potential of the 60s to have been wasted – a point also made in the mid-70s novels of the Quartet; the crucial difference here is that whilst the Quartet does not require us to necessarily agree with or support what Jerry is doing, The Entropy Tango sets Una up as a full-on martyr of anarchism. One of the climactic scenes involves most of the major characters standing around Una’s hospital bed, contemplating what a wonderful ideal she is and how they and the world as a whole has failed to meet her expectations. Given the high degree of allegory in the Cornelius stories the point seems to be obvious; the ideal of anarchism has been failed both by its advocates and by the general public, a wonderful future has been lost and the alternative is to just find our own comfort and consolation as we drift inevitably towards collapse and heat death. (The end of the book sees the entire recurring Cornelius cast cruising into a new ice age.)

The Entropy Tango, like The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius In the Twentieth Century, has a much more direct and clear message than the novels of the Quartet. But whilst Adventures had narratives strong enough and interesting enough to more or less justify presenting the ideas in the context of a novel as opposed to just writing a pamphlet, The Entropy Tango comes across as a political lament whose points are obscured by the fictional narrative they are embedded in. In particular, Una’s disillusionment here feels a lot like Una’s disillusionment in Adventures, or Jerry’s disillusionment in The Condition of Muzak. Mourning the end of the 60s is fair enough in the 1970s, but over a decade down the line it’s time to draw a line under what’s been lost and start engaging with the future again, and that’s the failure of The Entropy Tango – and, as I’m about to get into, most of the Cornelius material produced for the following decade. Whilst Una, Jerry, and Miss Brunner are all very much associated with possible futures, Moorcock’s writing at this point had become preoccupied with the failed potential of the past. The end result is something which goes through the motions of being a Cornelius story but doesn’t quite have that quirky Cornelius feel to it.

Multiverse bollocks: Jerry’s mum makes a quip about Catherine sleeping so heavily you’d need the Horn of Fate to wake her up, which considering Catherine’s apparent connection to the Cosmic Balance seems to be a wry reference to the end of Stormbringer. References to the Guild of Temporal Adventurers pop up here and there, the Guild having previously been outlined in the Oswald Bastable and Dancers at the End of Time stories, and in fact Una’s interest in Makhno is reflected in the Bastable novel The Steel Tsar. (Makhno’s Ukrainian forces also appeared in Breakfast In the Ruins.) There’s more cameos for Moorcock’s real world pals too, as both Hawkwind and Motörhead make appearances. Lastly, the image of a world enshrouded in ice due to a failure of the Balance to maintain equilibrium and the triumph of Law is reminiscent both of The Ice Schooner and Phoenix In Obsidian.

Gold Diggers of 1977 (AKA The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle)

The context of this one demands some explanation. In January 1978 Johnny Rotten quit the Sex Pistols and the band effectively ceased to exist as a functional entity. Determined not to let his cash cow die, Malcolm McLaren pushed ahead with recording sessions involving the remaining members (with the occasional deeply inappropriate string orchestra or sensationalist guest vocals from exiled train robber Ronnie Biggs) and getting Julien Temple in to film The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, a mockumentary about the band designed mainly to push McLaren’s version of events in which the musicians were essentially irrelevant and the whole phenomenon came down to his genius management skills. This process was disrupted by Sid Vicious dying (and sort-of murdering Nancy Spungen too, perhaps, depending on which version of events you listen to), and by John Lydon (Johnny Rotten in a suit) suing McLaren for all those royalties he forgot to pay the band, a court case which saw the remaining Pistols abandoning McLaren in order to add their claims to Lydon’s.

As a consequence of the latter, the Swindle soundtrack and film were put into receivership so that the profits could be used to pay off the band members. In 1980, Julien Temple finished editing the movie and it was ready for release, but by this point it was well past the point when it would be considered at all topical or relevant. Lydon’s Public Image Limited had already released two albums, the Swindle soundtrack album had been out for over a year, anyone paying attention knew that the Sex Pistols had been dead for over a year, the punk explosion had died down to leave behind diverse goth and indie and post-punk movements scuttling about in the debris, and Sid Vicious was smelling really, really bad. The commercial prospects of the film didn’t look great.

Still, Virgin Films wanted to make a success of it, so their marketing and advertising people had a brainstorm and thought about ways to promote the film. Someone at some point came up with the idea of getting a known author to produce a tie-in story for the film – a short novella that could be printed in a replica tabloid newspaper and sold cheaply at showings of the film as a souvenir. For some reason, which totally wasn’t cocaine or anything like that, someone down the chain got it into their head that it’d be a good idea to ask Michael Moorcock to do it. Moorcock thought it was a stupid idea until he heard how much he’d be paid for it, at which point he thought it was a great idea, so he sat down with a video of the film and a ten day deadline and got ready to knock out a novelisation of the thing.

Then he all but completely ignored the film and wrote a Jerry Cornelius story instead. (It’d subsequently be revised and retitled Gold Diggers of 1977 to emphasise the Cornelius elements and downplay the Sex Pistols just a little in order to protect Moorcock’s rights to the material.)

Moorcock casts “Shakey” Mo Collier, Jerry’s disreputable little buddy, in the Steve Jones role. Mo’s washed up after the destruction of his band and wants his back royalties; his slimy manager Frank Cornelius claims there isn’t any money, and is unbeknownst to Mo conspiring with the likes of Miss Brunner and Bishop Beesley to bring punk under the control of major corporate labels and maintain major label control of the music scene. Increasingly desperate, Mo follows up a tip from the ghost of Jimi Hendrix and tracks down a mighty figure of legend to help him out – specifically, Lemmy from Motörhead. Lemmy, as any fule kno, used to be in the secret society of Musician-Assassins that were the subject of some Cornelius-themed infographic from back in the 1960s, but Lemmy explains that he’s out of the Musician-Assassin game. There is, he reveals, one sole survivor of the order who is still operational, one lone killer who Mo can prevail upon to help out if he’s willing to face the consequences.

That, of course, is none other than Jerry himself, who once roused from his deathlike slumbers in Ladbroke Grove lurches into action and launches an all-out shooting war against the music industry. Brunner and Beesley marshall all the dark forces under their control – Abba, Mike Oldfield, Rick Wakeman and the rest – to try and counter the assault, but not even they suspect Jerry’s true plans. These involve Sid Vicious, who has been powerlessly watching affairs from Hendrix’s cafe in the afterlife for cultural icons who died too young.

Although in theory it’s Moorcock’s response to McLaren’s mythologising of his role in the Sex Pistols debacle, Moorcock isn’t exactly innocent of buying into a few music-related legends himself here. The evil anti-music conspiracy is supposed to be part of the same plague of corporate selling out that killed the spirit of the 1960s and all the hope that burst forth during the hippie era, as though the likes of the Beatles (who are, remember, Jerry’s favourites) were not a commercial enterprise as well as a countercultural institution. Still, it is at least true that the punk craze did help inspire a rapid expansion both of independent music publishers on the one hand, and on the other a whole swathe of bands and artists whose work provided an alternative to the sort of soulless, plastic fare that graces your average mainstream “best of the 1980s” collection. Any timeline that yields Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Public Image Limited and the Smiths counts as a win by my reckoning.

The major accomplishment of this story, though, is that it’s one of the last times that Moorcock seems to be having fun writing a Jerry Cornelius story rather than indulging a bad mood, as he seemed to be in The Entropy Tango and as he would in many subsequent stories. (In fact, there’s a direct correlation between Cornelius stories I enjoy and the playfulness on display; the poorest stories tend to be the ones where Moorcock seems to be sullenly going through the motions, which results in Jerry sullenly going through the motions, which leads to a poor quality of explosions and mayhem.) Rattling this one off in ten days was probably the right approach to take, since it seems to have forced Moorcock to stop overthinking things and just get creative.

Plus, Moorcock just plain deserves props for writing a tie-in novel lambasting and minimising the role of the rock and roll manager in the success of bands for a movie which went out of its way to maximise it. Masterful trolling, would lol again.

Multiverse bollocks: The spectre of Jimi Hendrix also haunts Mo Collier in the non-Cornelius short story A Dead Singer. Oh yeah, and Lemmy shows up, I guess that’s another crossover with Moorcock’s association with Hawkwind and related bands.

The Alchemist’s Question

A novella first published in the short story collection The Opium General and billed as “the Final Episode in the Career of The English Assassin”, The Alchemist’s Question is nothing of the sort. Whilst it is quite clearly structured to provide some variety of conclusion to Cornelius’s development, it fails for two reasons: firstly, Jerry dies or gets merged into godlike entities or transforms or has a bizarre apotheosis in his stories all the frigging time, so the fact that at the end of this one something of that sort ends up happening doesn’t feel conclusive in the slightest. Secondly, Moorcock couldn’t resist writing more Cornelius stories in response to later events – so, of course, next to those stories, the setting of this 1984 tale ended up feeling dated.

In this particular timeline Miss Brunner, having apparently faded into irrelevance by the end of the 1970s, is enjoying a resurgence; she’s Prime Minister of a Britain allied with a fascistic, racist international federation led by Australia (rather than being in Reagan’s pocket), and she’s managed to shut down the Time Centre, leaving Jerry and his allies apparently incapable of stopping her. Soon enough both “Shakey” Mo and Jerry have been co-opted into her plans, and it appears that her vision of cryogenic totalitarianism merged with pseudo-medievalism (epitomised by her gradual transformation from Thatcher into Mary I over the course of the novel) cannot help but come to pass.

Una and Catherine, however, are having none of it, and rallying the forces of freedom intend to make a last stand at Stonehenge, where using alchemical principles Catherine and Jerry will perfect the merging of which a corrupt form was presented as the climax of The Final Programme. Miss Brunner and Bishop Beesley are having none of it, and bring all the forces of the state to bear in order to break up the Stonehenge gathering. There’s a siege and a battle and a big confrontation and then there’s an egg, the end.

Part of Moorcock’s thrust this time around is to rail against the reductionist attitudes he saw as prevailing in Thatcher’s government, and so to mirror that he took a reductionist approach to the novel, yielding the most linear narrative offered in any of the Cornelius stories he penned following The Final Programme. However, in doing so he makes the message he wants to push with the novel obnoxiously loud and overwhelming, and it isn’t accompanied by a narrative nearly as strong as that of The Final Programme. Worse still, the decided lack of obliqueness and ambiguity stands directly opposed to the Cornelius storywriting method’s core tenet (as regularly declared by Moorcock himself) of leaving things open for the reader to interpret.

Sometimes this unasked-for clarity results in Moorcock’s missteps being impossible to ignore. In particular, Una and Catherine’s plans involve the pair loudly espousing ideas of gender essentialism which are both kind of offensive (apparently being a technocratic politician is an inherently masculine pursuit, whilst magick and witchcraft is an absolutely feminine scene) and seem to fly in the face of the redefinition of masculinity and blurring of gender distinctions engaged in by Jerry in the earlier novels. In particular, there seems to be a suggestion that Thatcher’s policies and success are a reflection of her effectively no longer being a woman, as though she’d abdicated her gender for the sake of power. Whilst I wouldn’t ever claim Thatcher was some sort of feminist champion, I think declaring people to have lost their right to their own gender as a result of breaking the rules is pretty dodgy, and when it’s a male author doing it to a woman it’s a whole cosmos of dodgy.

The New Agey guise that Una and Catherine take on this time around are, I suspect, meant to remind the reader of the controversy surrounding New Age Travellers in the UK at the time the novel was written. The authorities had been adopting a particularly aggressive and confrontational attitude towards such persons in the 1980s, especially with regards to the annual Stonehenge Free Festival; I suppose Moorcock deserves at least some credit for predicting, in the novel’s conclusion, the outbreak of horrendous violence in 1985 which became known as the Battle of the Beanfield. But still, the hectoring, lecturing tone taken by the novel makes it a chore to read – again, it’s the sort of thing where just writing an essay about the subject matter would be a lot more effective than writing a novel about it. The Alchemist’s Question is too mired in Moorcock’s political depression to be entertaining, and too fictionalised to be informative.

Multiverse bollocks: In parts this kind of feels like a Cornelius-flavoured counterpart to Stormbringer, especially in the way Law exerts its terrible power over ever-increasing swathes of the countryside, just as in Stormbringer Chaos nommed up more and more of the world as the novel progressed. However, the parallels are weaker than, say, those between the first parts of The Final Programme and The Dreaming City/While the Gods Laugh. Oh, and as in The Entropy Tango Moorcock uses the threat of a global Ice Age to represent the triumph of Law, which in turn is reminiscent of The Ice Schooner and Phoenix In Obsidian.

Let a Hundred Needles Bloom: The Short Stories

The New Nature of the Catastrophe

Published as part of Millennium/Orion’s series of Eternal Champion reprints in the mid-1990s, The New Nature of the Catastrophe is an expanded version of The Nature of Catastrophe from 1971. Both volumes were edited by Moorcock and Langdon Jones, and both were meant to be a compilation both of Moorcock’s Cornelius short stories to date as well as the best Jerry stories cooked up by other authors. The basic difference between the volumes is the obvious one: The New Nature has way, way more stories than the earlier one, due to being published a couple of decades later. (There’s a couple of James Sallis stories missing from this one that were present in the original, but the James Sallis stories that are present are so bad I don’t think we’re missing anything. But more on that later).

By far the most consistently interesting and entertaining stories are Moorcock’s own this time around. As I mentioned previously, references to the Time Centre are more common in the shorts than in the Calendar, the concept providing sufficient structure to avoid the need to take a long time easing the reader into the premises of the story at hand. A result of this is that there are a few stories here where, interestingly, Jerry and Miss Brunner actually collaborate, presumably in order to defeat threats to Law and Chaos alike – this occurs in The Sunset Perspective, in which the dubious and never directly depicted activities of one Colonel Moon causes Miss Brunner to undergo a personality crisis, transforming from ultra-rationalist computer programmer to superstitious shaman, and The Swastika Setup, in which Jerry and Miss Brunner hatch a futurist conspiracy against Captain Maxwell and Lady Sue’s regressive, conservative axis.

That said, the short story format allows Moorcock to flip the character’s allegiances from story to story within the volume with dizzying speed, and Jerry and Brunner find themselves at odds a lot of the time too. One of the best stories, Sea Wolves, depicts a timeline in which Miss Brunner achieves an ultimate victory, leading to a world in which computers and AIs rule over human beings. This story does rather exemplify the problem with the very topical focus of the Cornelius short stories, in that they become dated quite quickly; Sea Wolves is based on an early 1970s view of computers in which they’re huge, take up most of a room, and are mainly the purview of big business, with personal computers being little more than desktop terminals to access corporate mainframes. In that context, it makes sense that computers are seen as a centralising, authoritarian technology, because Moorcock was writing before personal computers and Wikileaks and LulzSec made it clear that computers could be a tool for individuals to wreak chaos. This is an issue which is, of course, also true of Moorcock’s use of computers in the other pre-cyberpunk Cornelius stories, but in the context of the novels there’s enough other stuff going on that it’s not such a problem, whereas here the premise of the story is sufficiently narrow that it’s now completely out of date. (Still fun though.)

In fact, the more closely the short stories focus on specific events as opposed to more being more general reasons to stuff going on, the more difficult they are to follow. The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle probably wouldn’t be so much fun for someone who isn’t as into late-70s/early-80s alternative music as I am, and likewise The Tank Trapeze‘s allegory of the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring as a cricket match in Burma attended by Jerry and one Captain Maxwell would make absolutely no sense if you a) weren’t aware of the Prague Spring and b) didn’t make the connection that Captain Maxwell is meant to be Robert Maxwell, a British establishment figure who happened to have a Czech background.

Conversely, stories such as The Delhi Division and Voortrekker, which tackle a topical subject generally rather than focusing tightly on specific real-world events, are more successful. The latter is a whistle-stop tour of terrible things happening in former British colonial possessions, with Jerry as the English onlooker powerless to affect events – to intervene would be a horrible breach of his (and Moorcock’s) values, but at the same time the things that are happening (such as apartheid in South Africa and the similar events in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe) plague his conscience horribly. The Delhi Division takes a similar look at the tension between India and Pakistan, and also serves as a dry run of an image later recycled in the Quartet of a bombed-out colonial mansion that is the subject of terror for a particular character because said character’s son might be haunting it. (Though in the novels the character in question is Major Nye, not Jerry Cornelius, Nye being a better allegorical avatar of the dead spirit of British Imperialism.)

The best Moorcock stories here are the ones he wrote from around 1968 to 1971 or so. After that, Moorcock becomes sufficiently morose over the death of the counter-culture and other societal trends that it begins to affect the short stories – plus, his best Cornelius-related ideas are being diverted into the novels, leaving only scraps for the short stories. The Dodgem Decision is essentially Moorcock going off on a grump about the state of British literary creation and criticism, with self-serving references to New Worlds making the story especially irritating. (He also disses the Doors, which I absolutely cannot forgive.) The Nature of the Catastrophe is utterly incoherent, Jerry wobbling around in search of a stable world just as Moorcock stumbles about in search of a plot – whilst such meandering is used to good effect in The English Assassin or The Condition of Muzak, if it doesn’t have the space a novel offers to breathe in then it just doesn’t work. Dead Singers tries to make a ridiculous connection between the death of the likes of Jimi Hendrix other 60s heroes and the death of the spirit of the 1960s, which is a cliche so tired not even bringing Cornelius into the mix can save it, The Longford Cup tackles censorious individuals like Mary Whitehouse – hardly a tough or controversial target for criticism – whilst The Entropy Circuit reads like a desperate attempt to reinvigorate the aging Cornelius format by writing a comparatively linear and conventional story in which an aging Cornelius reinvigorates itself; it does not convince.

By the 1980s and 1990s, as seen in The Entropy Tango or The Alchemist’s Question, Moorcock is wallowing in nostalgia for the lost spirit of the 1960s to a point that becomes increasingly irritating. The Murderer’s Song adds nothing to the Una-centred novels except for an emphasis on racism and an irritating number of crossovers – Una’s visits to the End of Time (home to the eponymous Dancers) and Oswald Bastable’s cameo being particularly tiresome. The Gangrene Collection grumps about AIDS and pollution in a directionless, unsatisfying manner, whilst The Roumanian Question fails to engage with the perfectly good themes of the fall of the Soviet bloc and corruption in the new Eastern European democracies in favour of yet more whinging about the death of the rebellious spirit of the 1960s. This last one was particularly irritating to me because it comes across as Moorcock being so grumpy about the failure of his generation’s revolution that he is unwilling to give any credit to the Romanians’ revolution; whilst obviously the new governments of the ex-Communist countries were not perfect and did require scrutiny, you need to be particularly bitter to suggest that the revolutions changed nothing at all.

The final Moorcock story in the collection, All the Way Around Again, is actually a pretty good return to form, updating Jerry for the post-cyberpunk age and seeing him once again seeking Catherine and duking out with Frank in a world in which the rich elite enjoy their VR paradise whilst the poor have to pay top dollar just for their air. However, it was also published (as The Enigma Windows) in Fabulous Harbours, part of Moorcock’s Second Ether trilogy, so it’s not as though you need to get The New Nature of the Catastrophe just to get this one.

As far as the Jerry Cornelius stories by other hands go…

Oh god, why did I sign up for this shit?

Now, don’t get me wrong. They’re not all disasters. M. John Harrison, in particular, manages to “get” the Jerry Cornelius ethos in a way most of the other authors don’t. In his fun cyclical trilogy of stories – The Ash Circus, The Nash Circuit, and The Flesh Circle – he shows an understanding that what you want out of a Cornelius story is apparently meaningful violence, scattered references to entropy and the heat death of the universe, everyone talking like they understand what’s going on even if you as the author don’t, and some explosions and transgressive sex to spice things up. He also understands that Jerry isn’t necessarily meant to be nice or someone you can support, which is a point which often evades even Moorcock. It’s telling that Harrison seems to be the only author that Moorcock borrows from in turn – he’s responsible for the invention of “Shakey” Mo Collier as Jerry’s shabby explosion-loving pal, Jerry’s use of a “heater” as part of his arsenal (along with the needle gun and the vibragun), the image of Jerry being buried at sea and Jerry’s title of “the English Assassin”.

But the other authors. Where to begin? Brian Aldiss in The Firmament Theorem writes a version of Jerry that doesn’t seem like Jerry – too dismissive of aesthetics and seeking of substance over style, too committed to the cause, too nice – and dismisses Amazon tribes as “primitive”, as well as just being too Utopian for his own good. Norman Spinrad’s The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde combines horrible stereotypes about Maoist China, the Mafia, and Mongolians in one enormous racist smorgasboard. Charles Partington’s Niki Hoeky combines lazy Haitian stereotypes with a narrative too conventional for the source material, an invented cousin for Jerry who serves no real purpose to the story, and the bizarre assertion that Frank Zappa, Yes, the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and David Bowie were all heavy metal acts. Simon Ings’ Bruised Time appropriates Jerry for what is otherwise yet one more AIDS story of the sort that might have been groundbreaking in the early 1980s, but since it was written in the 1990s it has no excuse for being so cliched. Langdon Jones’ own Jerry and Miss Brunner at the Beginning makes a lame and utterly misguided attempt to tie in the preceding stories into one continuity, “continuity” being a concept anathema to the Cornelius stories.

I want to pick out John Clute’s The Repossession of Jerry Cornelius for particular disapproval, because it isn’t even a short story, just a summary of the Quartet with Clute’s own interpretation of it. I have real problems with Moorcock and Jones including this sort of criticism in the context of this collection; it’s not that Clute’s interpretation is bad per se (though I don’t agree with it), so much as the inclusion of a particular work of criticism in an official Cornelius book would seem to elevate it head and shoulders above other such works, as though it presents a Moorcock-endorsed interpretation of the Quartet – when the whole point is that the thing was meant to be utterly open to reader interpretation.

I could go on, but it’s just get depressing. The fact is, so many authors got the idea that they could write a Cornelius story, but it’s harder than it looks to do that sort of thing and produce something which isn’t all style and no substance. (Hell, Moorcock himself couldn’t do it consistently.) The real nature of the catastrophe is that Moorcock and his friends basically got into a circle jerk here and the produce is… well, about as unpleasant to encounter as the produce of an actual circle jerk. As far as Cornelius short stories go, it’s better to stick to one of the various editions of The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius, which collect Moorcock’s stories whilst leaving the inferior third party contributions out. But which version? Well, I’ll get to that.

Multiverse bollocks: Obviously this varies massively from story to story; significantly, The Peking Junction seems to be one of the earliest explicit declarations that all Moorcock’s heroes really are different incarnations of the Eternal Champion, with references to The Blood-Red Game, The Dreaming City, and Karl Glogauer all in the mix.

The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius

There have been several collections of Moorcock-penned Cornelius stories issued under this name; the first edition, from 1976, collected most of the shorts issued at that point in time, whilst the second edition in 1987 added The Dodgem Decision as an epilogue. Both versions are entirely contained within The New Nature of the Catastrophe.

The version I’m reviewing here is a new third edition which came out in 2003, in which Moorcock took the bold decision to actually trim back a bunch of the weaker stories – The Nature of the Catastrophe, Dead Singers, The Longford Cup, The Entropy Circuit, and The Dodgem Decision, none of which I really feel are worth mourning the loss of. Replacing them are four newer stories – The Spencer Inheritance, The Camus Referendum, Cheering For the Rockets and Firing the Cathedral – which take up just over half the page count of the book.

Of the new stories, The Spencer Inheritance is probably my favourite, being a darkly comedic take on the death of Princess Diana – or, more accurately, the public reaction to the death of Diana, along with the sanctimonious tone taken by the Blair government at the time and the failure of its much-vaunted “ethical foreign policy” to be really ethical. Jerry and pals are Dianist shock troops fighting those with a heretical or atheistic attitude to the new saint, fighting a war which is not just about sanctifying the memory of the Queen of Hearts, but is also intended to give a bloody good stimulus to Britain’s vehicle manufacturing and arms industries. (Fun fact, the much-vaunted landmines ban which Diana campaigned for and which Blair made a great show of signing up to after her death only covers anti-personnel mines, not those designed against vehicles. What’s to stop anyone “accidentally” using anti-vehicle mines in such a way as to target personnel as well? Not much.) The conclusion, in which the aging Baroness Brunner plays a key role in literally putting to rest the memory of the Thatcher era, is uncommonly action-packed for late-period Cornelius stories, which tend to degenerate into Socratic dialogues without very much in the way of anything going on.

Speaking of which, that’s exactly what The Camus Connection and Cheering For the Rockets both turn into. The Camus Connection is, at least, fairly brief – a snapshot meditation on relations between Western culture and the Arab world. Interspersed with quotes from various Daily Mail-esque publications cherry-picked to highlight the ridiculousness of Little Englanders worrying about immigration and the European superstate when they have no real idea of what cultural invasion actually looks like from the receiving end (unlike the people in those countries the West habitually culturally invades), it’s too brief to be taken as anything more than a sketch rather than as a full-blown story.

Cheering For the Rockets, Moorcock’s response to Bill Clinton shooting cruise missiles at Sudanese pharmaceutical factories, is long enough to have no such excuse for its lack of action. It also includes a couple of acts of calculated offensiveness on the part of Moorcock, one of which could potentially be passed off as being the attitudes of a character which do not necessarily reflect Moorcock’s own outlook, one of which isn’t. The former is a racist quip from Prince Lobkowitz about the Americans’ violent international behaviour as being a result of “that savage land” having conquered what was civilised in them. Since the good Prince is meant to be an allegorical representation of old European aristocracy it’s completely possible to believe that Moorcock wouldn’t stand by that statement and would say that it’s meant to be a reference to racist European ideas about America. Whether you believe this or not is an exercise for the reader.

Less easy to distance Moorcock from is the treatment of “Jillian Burnes”, a female novellist who seems to be Moorcock’s chosen vehicle for savaging the British literary establishment. Jillian is introduced as a transsexual when she first appears in the story, and every physical description of her draws attention to features of hers which are either portrayed as being impediments to her passing as female, or being surgically constructed or artificial. This extreme failure to lend any degree of reality or validity to the character’s gender identity are all delivered in the narrative voice rather than being put in the mouths of any of the characters is sufficiently shocking that anyone teaching a class on transphobia could well find it useful to photocopy extracts from the story as a textbook example of What Not to Do. This is more or less the only use anyone could have for the story, which is otherwise impossibly tedious.

The novella Firing the Cathedral, written against a backdrop of 9/11, the War on Terror, the impending war in Iraq, and the dogmatic refusal of the Bush administration to take climate change seriously, is something of a return to form. Beginning in the stodgy, Socratic model of late Cornelius stories, the novella takes on vitality just as Cornelius regains his lost youth during the progress of the War on Terror, as Cornelius and his crew depose George Bush, set up the even more incompetent General-President Ewell in his place, and act as the powers behind the throne during Ewell’s disastrous reign and his cataclysmic fall, during which the USA loses control of the entire continental US and is forced to set up shop in its African conquests, whilst continuing a mad campaign of international vengeance against anyone who looks at it funny – including a number of pretenders to the US presidency, and the much-feared but never seen Death Star Terrorists.

Jerry’s plot is depicted as a deliberate ramping up and exaggeration of the War on Terror and global warming – the idea being that rather than trying to fight what’s happening, Jerry finds it better to just embrace it and push on through, on the basis that the faster a process unfolds, the sooner and faster the next zeitgeist will come along. The plan eventually results in the destruction of all cities, massive global floods, and the privileged few who remain behind living carefree lives in luxury underwater domes – a psychotic goal that only an amoral Chaos-serving sociopath like Jerry could desire, but which is refreshingly entertaining to watch him accomplish. And when the story closes, with Jerry contemplating the domes, whilst Moorcock doesn’t spell out what he’s thinking you can swear that our cosmic vandal is contemplating what it would take to smash them. He’s having more fun with his adventures than he has for decades, and I’m having more fun reading them than I have for what feels like decades, and Moorcock seems to be displaying more enjoyment in the writing process than he has for ages – there isn’t a post-1980 Cornelius story in which Moorcock sounds less like a grumpy counterculture relic than this one.

The focus on America and apparent disappearance of the customary British perspective in the story is apparently a result of Moorcock moving to Texas in the 1990s, and Moorcock’s despair for his adoptive home is palpable. The breakup of the United States into a series of fiefdoms, each no larger than the Isle of Wight, is depicted as a consequence of the nation being excessively interested in fucking with the internal politics of other countries whilst having little patience for actually taking their internal politics seriously. This is an outlook which, of course, already seems rather dated; the likes of the Tea Party and its ilk screaming about Obama’s birth certificate, the necessity of sorting out the national deficit by not taxing anyone and abdicating all governmental function, and “the queering of America” might be cartoonish, but it’s just the most colourful front of entrenched cultural infighting over what the US is and what it stands for that looks set to define American political discourse more than national security and international adventures for the near future, the national mood swinging from desperately trying to ignore internal fractures to obsessing about nothing except internal fractures. Doubtless Moorcock will end up having something to say about that in the context of a Cornelius story; Firing the Cathedral, whilst not quite being good enough to make The Lives and Times a must-buy, is good enough to make me actually look forward to that, whereas before I’d have rolled my eyes and wished Moorcock would just give the old dandy a rest.

As for the old stories, as I explained above they are, at best, kind of fun – but are never much more than “kind of fun”. They’re brief sketches which would have their best parts fleshed out in greater detail in the Quartet, and so they aren’t good enough to carry the book by themselves. And that, on balance, is why I can’t recommend any of the Cornelius short story collections in any of their editions to anyone who isn’t already a confirmed fan of the series. Not only is their quality extremely variable, but even the best of them aren’t quite good enough to make me overlook the flaws of the others. As far as Lives and Times are concerned, the third edition is probably the best one since it has a lot of the dead weight cut out and two pretty good stories added – but even then, the other two new stories slap that dead weight straight back on.

Multiverse bollocks: As well as the previously mentioned crossover material in the old stories, Jillian Burnes would go on to play a role in Moorcock’s King of the City.

The Hipster Buyer’s Guide

I honestly don’t recommend reading the Jerry Cornelius stories first if you’re just getting into Moorcock; even if you’re a fan of William Burroughs and the weirder J.G. Ballard stories, the fact is that whilst The Final Programme can stand alone, it’s much more enjoyable if you’ve already read the relevant Elric stories and can follow the parallels, and having some prior knowledge of Moorcock’s multiverse will be a big help. But once you’ve read the core Elric stories and feel ready to tackle this material, I heartily recommend giving The Final Programme a try as your first port of call; it’s got a significantly easier structure to follow than the later Cornelius novels whilst being strange enough to give you some idea of whether you really want to get deeper. If you enjoyed that, you might as well give A Cure For Cancer a try, and if you enjoy that then you may as well keep going and polish off the Quartet.

As for the rest? Well, I really do like Gold Diggers of 1977, but there’s multiple ways to get that one aside from buying A Cornelius Calendar – it’s in the short story collection Casablanca, and the unrevised edition sometimes pops up on EBay. As for Adventures of Una and Catherine, The Entropy Tango and The Alchemist’s Question… well, I think the first one may be worth a look, but only if you’re really into the approach taken in the latter half of the Quartet – in which case you’re probably excited enough to read all the Cornelius material, short stories and all, at which point there’s no reason to be paying close attention to my recommendations anyway. I’m not sorry I own A Cornelius Calendar or the third edition of Lives and Times, but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to come back to them as often as the Quartet, and I think that anyone who didn’t enjoy the Quartet – and The English Assassin and The Condition of Muzak in particular – would be well advised to stay clear.

The thing is, Jerry is the sort of character who’s quite entertaining if he’s handled well, but is at best tedious and at worst completely infuriating if he’s mishandled, and the line between enjoyable and irritating is extremely thin. Not even Moorcock can do it consistently, and Moorcock seemed to lose the knack of being able to do so repeatably after 1980 and Gold Diggers of 1977 – of the stories written after that, I only really enjoyed The Enigma Windows, The Spencer Inheritance and Firing the Cathedral. In fact, I’d say that from the 1980s onwards the best Cornelius stuff doesn’t actually feature Jerry at all, but characters influenced by him – like The Adventures of Luther Arkwright or the first volume of The Invisibles or, hell, even the cover of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Then again, since so far in this review series I’ve failed to endorse any Moorcock material written after 1980, I could say the same about any of Moorcock’s stuff. There might, on balance, be a reason that I rely on Warhammer so heavily for my Chaos fix.

The full picky buyer’s guide, as it currently stands, is as follows:

The Stealer of Souls [1]
Stormbringer (post-1977 edition) [1]
The Eternal Champion (the novel, not the omnibus)
Clovis Marca:
The Shores of Death (AKA The Twilight Man) [2]
Michael Kane:
City of the Beast (AKA Warriors of Mars) [3]
Lord of the Spiders (AKA Blades of Mars) [3]
Masters of the Pit (AKA Barbarians of Mars) [3]
Alan Powys:
The Winds of Limbo (AKA The Fireclown) [2]
Jerry Cornelius:
The Final Programme [4]
A Cure For Cancer [4]
The English Assassin [4]
The Condition of Muzak [4]
Gold Diggers of 1977 (AKA The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle)
Professor Faustaff:
The Rituals of Infinity (AKA The Wrecks of Time) [2]

[1] Collected in Elric or the Del Rey edition of Elric: the Stealer of Souls.

[2] Collected in The Roads Between the Worlds.

[3] Collected in Warrior of Mars or Kane of Old Mars.

[4] Collected in The Cornelius Quartet or The Cornelius Chronicles (2-volume UK edition, or 1st volume of the US version).

19 thoughts on “The Hipster On the Seas of Fate

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  10. Thanks for this. I’m relatively new to SF and Moorcock. I read and reviewed 8 of his SF novels including The Cornelius Quartet but since I’ve read nothing else by the British author, I couldn’t begin to position the novels within the greater context of his writing. You could and did. Thanks! I’m reading Pegging the President at the moment.

    Link to my Moorcock reviews in case you would care to take a look:


  11. William Burns

    Did Moorcock (or anyone) ever do a Jerry Cornelius/Jeremy Corbyn story? Because just in terms of the similarity of names it’s probably as close as you’re ever going to get.


    1. Not impossible, though I think Cornelius has fallen out of fashion as a communal character for other authors to use and I’m not sure how closely Moorcock has followed UK politics lately.


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