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.
Michael Moorcock’s stories of Jerry Cornell should not be confused with the Jerry Cornelius saga. For starters, elite secret agent Jerry Cornell in no way resembles Jerry Cornelius – he’s not as clever, not as capable, and is certainly vastly less cool, though I’m sure he’d like to imagine he’s all three of those things. For another thing, Jerry Cornell isn’t actually Jerry Cornell – he’s Nick Allard.
A little history. Once upon a time there was a magical land called 1966, in which Moorcock was publishing a lot of work through cheap and cheerful Compact Books (an arrangement I detailed at the start of the Michael Kane review). Compact Books decided they wanted a James Bond-like espionage series to round out their line, and wannabe author Roger Harris stepped up to the plate with a novel entitled The LSD Dossier, starring the dashing new character Nick Allard. There was, however, a mild problem – the novel was shit, too shit for Compact to consider publishing – and Compact were willing to straight up pirate Dennis Wheatley novels to line their pockets.
Always up for a bit of extra pocket money, Moorcock agreed to take the manuscript and tighten it up. In reading it, he noticed two things. Firstly, it transpired that the writing was so incredibly shitty that he’d have to essentially toss most of the book and rewrite from scratch, following the vague plot structure previously established. Secondly, whilst super-spy Nick Allard was clearly intended to be a charismatic and awesome secret agent, he actually came across as a nasty, slimy piece of work. So, Moorcock rewrote the novel playing it for the lulz, doing a hatchet job on Allard’s personality, and sent it back to Compact. Who then turned around and published it in that form.
Harris, it seems, was upset and never wrote for Compact again. Compact, meanwhile, were pleased with what they got and convinced Moorcock to produce two more Allard stories under the pseudonym of “Bill Barclay” – Somewhere In the Night and Printer’s Devil. In both cases, Compact happened to have cover art lying around for cancelled books and essentially asked Moorcock to compose something fitting the art – the first one was a modern-day thriller involving the Tower of London somehow, the second was for a pirate edition of The Devil Rides Out which got shitcanned when Dennis Wheatley’s lawyers said “no”. In these sequels the laughs were emphasised and Allard’s essential uselessness and scumbaggery was turned up to 11.
The LSD Dossier would not see future reprints due to people being leery about the copyright situation, since it did include some of Roger Harris’s own writing. (That said, you can download it for free from Moorcock’s website – Moorcock’s stance being that nobody should pay more than £1 for the thing, never mind the ridiculous prices commanded for it at auction.) The other two, however, would eventually be republished as The Chinese Agent and The Russian Intelligence respectively – with revisions to change a bunch of names just to make sure there was no copyright nastiness. And as part of that process, Nick Allard became Jerry Cornell because whenever Moorcock is stuck for a name he goes for some variation on “Jerry Cornelius”.
So, it’s essentially a Moorcock series written purely for the lulz. But are these high-class lulz that have stood the test of time or are they tired-out sub-Austin Powers crap? Let’s see.
Continue reading “Cornell, or the Unfunny Clown”