COMING OUTTA NOWHERE, DRIVING LIKE RAIN
As a teenager in the 1980s I fell deep into the Michael Moorcock Eternal Champion-shaped hole and burned my way through his Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon/Count Brass, and Jerry Cornelius books and stories. They were of varying quality, to be sure; Moorcock was famously prolific in those days, and literally writing a novel (or rewriting several short stories to combine them into a novel) over a long weekend to pay off your tax bill is no way to be precious about quality control.
But as happened to so many others, something about the sheer imaginative lunacy on display, the furious psychedelia combined with an attitude to story logic that can best be described as tolerant, grabbed me. And none of them more so than the Elric of Melniboné saga.
I mean, look; I was a working class teenage goth, raised on 1970s heavy metal and progressive rock. A pale, black-clad, cynical and drug-addicted anti-Conan whose strength came from a cursed sword that hungered for the very souls of his friends and lovers… is not something I was going to resist.
(The second tattoo I ever got was of Moorcock’s eight-arrowed Chaos symbol — also not uncoincidentally the logo of my first heavy metal band.)
I owned a full collection of the Grafton editions, with beautifully evocative Michael Whelan covers — I believe they’re essentially the same as the DAW editions in the US — bought with my meagre teenage funds because I simply had to have them. I treasured those books, re-read them, took them with me across many house and apartment moves… only to somehow lose them years ago in one such move. Boo.
So as an early birthday present to myself this year I bought a second-hand set, assembled from various Amazon and eBay sellers, and began re-reading them again.
I’m only a few books in, but so far they hold up surprisingly well so long as you’re inclined toward Moorcock’s antiheroic brand of fantasy in the first place. What amazes me most, though, is their length — or rather lack of it. ELRIC OF MELNIBONÉ itself clocks in at just 48,000 words, little more than a third the length of an average modern fantasy novel. Heck, THE WEIRD OF THE WHITE WOLF is just 39,000 words; I’m pretty sure there are China Miéville novels ten times that length. Even the longest book, the climactic finale STORMBRINGER, is just 71,000 words.
They’re the equivalent of an early Sisters of Mercy single; three minutes of relentless amphetamine-fuelled gloom that smacks you around the face before vanishing in a fog of dry ice.
And yet, none of them feels short. This is mostly achieved by Elric rarely sitting still; he’s always on the move, always doing something. But it’s also down to not wallowing in detail. There’s plot a-plenty in these books, but written so sparingly that in the time it takes Tolkien to describe ten generations of a minor horseman’s lineage, Elric has sailed halfway across the world and fought a kraken to boot.
The ‘big fat fantasy’ took over the marketplace in the 1990s and has dominated ever since. But I wonder if the continued rise of ebooks, and the renewed appetite for serialised shorts concurrent with our modern oh-my-god-we’re-all-too-busy lifestyle, will see something more like this style of short-sharp-shock fiction regain prominence? Venues like Wattpad are already thriving with ultra-short serial pieces. The future could turn out to be more like the past than anyone expected.
SATURDAY REVIEW NOW ON IPLAYER
Last week’s Saturday Review, featuring myself, publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove and novelist Patrick Gale alongside host Tom Sutcliffe, is now available on the BBC iPlayer. I had a great time recording, and the show producers did an excellent editing job to make me sound halfway intelligent. Give it a listen.
BUT IT’S NICE TO BE NOMINATED
ATOMIC BLONDE has been nominated for a Harvey Award in the “best adaptation from a graphic novel” category. So has BLACK PANTHER, so I won’t be packing my tux any time soon. But still.
I’m not the biggest fan of talking about work that isn’t yet finalised. It’s all too easy to excitedly ‘pre-announce’ something only for a deal to fall through, or an editor/producer/publisher to change their mind, or for life to simply throw a curve ball at you, and you just end up with everyone disappointed. I've already rewritten this section five times, and even considered deleting it altogether. But people are asking...
What I can tell you is that I’ve finished the first draft of my productivity book THE ORGANISED WRITER; I’m a little under halfway through a sequel to THE EXPHORIA CODE (if it was an Elric book it'd be done by now); and I need to start scripting the third COLDEST graphic novel soon. Those are all things that will definitely happen sooner or later, one way or another.
What I can’t tell you about are the various movie, TV, and video game projects I’m in talks to write over the next couple of years. Which is extremely frustrating, because they’re all rather exciting — and some of them are tantalisingly close. But even "tantalisingly close" isn't "done", so no more details yet. Watch this space, and all that.
MOORE 24 PANELS NEWS
The Guardian has a piece focusing on Alan Moore's contribution to 24 PANELS, and Image Comics have released publication and ordering details. The book will go on sale November 21, and you can pre-order copies now from comic stores with code SEP180079, or bookstores with ISBN 978-1-5343-1126-8. Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/aug/20/disgrace-and-shame-alan-moore-points-to-boris-johnson-in-grenfell-fire-comic Image Comics: https://imagecomics.com/content/view/24-panels-anthology-will-feature-contributions-from-alan-moore-kieron-gille
THRASH IT OUT: “WOLVERINE BLUES” BY ENTOMBED
The latest episode of my heavy metal podcast THRASH IT OUT is now live, as I lead Brian LeTendre through one of my all-time favourite albums, WOLVERINE BLUES (no, the animal) by Swedish “death ’n’ roll” pioneers Entombed.
NO POINT RUNNING COS HE’S COMING YOUR WAY: