Michael Moorcock, Doctor Who, Colonel Pyat, and Mervyn Peake

Coming of the TerraphilesThis should be interesting – and enjoyable, I hope: Michael Moorcock has written a new Doctor Who novel, The Coming of the Terraphiles, which ties the Doctor Who universe with Moorcock’s own Multiverse. Wide Screen Baroque aimed at ‘grown-ups who enjoy a bit of fun’, and it’s due out on 28 October (ISBN 9781846079832). There’s an update from Moorcock here. And as of 24 October a review here.

“Miggea – a star on the very edge of reality. The cusp between this universe and the next. A point where space-rime has worn thin, and is in danger of collapsing… And the venue for the grand finals of the competition to win the fabled Arrow of Law. The Doctor and Amy have joined the Terraphiles – a group obsessed with all aspects of Earth’s history, and dedicated to re-enacting ancient sporting events. But just getting to Miggea proves tricky. Reality is collapsing, ships are disappearing, and Captain Cornelius and his pirates are looking for easy pickings. Even when they arrive, the Doctor and Amy’s troubles won’t be over. They have to find out who is so desperate to get the Arrow of Law that they will kill for it. And uncover the traitor on their own team. And win the contest fair and square. And, of course, they need to save the universe from total destruction.”

As a young adult I was an avid reader of science fiction & fantasy, although my reading hasn’t included much SF for a long time. My favourite writer then was Michael Moorcock, luckily he’d written rather a lot of books for me to work my way through. Unluckily I found New Worlds in its new wave magazine format just as it was about to cease publication. He’s one of the few writers I read as a teenager that I can still read and enjoy now, although I haven’t tried rereading his Hawkmoon/Corum etc fantasy series lately and am not planning to do so anytime soon; I do have a hankering to go back and retry others, including Gloriana, the Dancers at the End of Time series, the Jerry Cornelius stories, and Mother London.Metatemporal Detective

The most recent book I’ve read that could be described as science fiction or fantasy was his The Metatemporal Detective (2007) (ISBN 9781591025962), a collection of short stories featuring Sir Seaton Begg, a Holmes/Sexton Blake-style detective who moves through the Multiverse fighting his nemesis, Zenith the Albino. I’ve only read rather negative reviews of this, but I thought these stories were a lot of fun – probably you need to have read Moorcock’s books and Sexton Blake to get the most out of them.

The latest Moorcock I have read was the Pyat series, a picaresque journey through four volumes and the first half of the twentieth century, moving from the Russian Revolution through various events and various parts of the world – including Turkey, the USA, Egypt, fascist Italy.

I found it hard going in (quite a few) places as the main protagonist (Maxim Arturovitch Pyatnitski) is such a bastard, addicted to sex and cocaine, racist and anti-semitic (although almost certainly Jewish himself), leaving a trail of human wreckage behind him. He really is the most unpleasant character I have come across, and as the books are supposedly written in the first person posthumously from Pyat’s notes he’s omnipresent. The only other character who recurs throughout the series is Mrs Cornelius (the mother of Jerry and Frank).

There was rather a long time between volumes; when #3 eventually appeared I decided to wait for #4 so I could read the whole series at once. Unfortunately, having misplaced Byzantium Endures for a while, I only just this year managed to read the series from beginning to end.Pyat tetralogy

  1. Byzantium Endures (1981) – set in Tsarist & Revolutionary Russia;
  2. The Laughter of Carthage (1984) – Turkey to the US, touring with the Ku Klux Klan;
  3. Jerusalem Commands (1992) – New York to Hollywood and then to north Africa;
  4. The Vengeance of Rome (2006) – Tangier through fascist Italy to Dachau.

Into the Media WebSomething else to look forward to: Into the Media Web, selected short non-fiction, 1956-2006, due on 2 August, (ISBN 9780861301201). And a little further ahead on 15 & 16 July 2011, a conference in Chichester to mark the centenary of Mervyn Peake’s birth.

The conference also coincides with the publication of Titus Awakes, Maeve Gilmore’s conclusion of her husband’s Gormenghast sequence. I love the Gormenghast books, although the third in the series, Titus Alone, is much less satisfying than the first two, Gormenghast and Titus Groan. I read years ago that Peake would write a very detailed outline and then rework it into a novel, what was left on his death was the outline and notes for Titus Alone, which Langdon Jones fashioned into the published novel. The new novel will have to be approached with an open mind, I think, but I have hopes it will be worth reading, fuelled by Brian Sibley’s positive comments.

P.S. Michael Moorcock will be appearing on Broadcasting House at 0900 on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 15 August; he’ll probably be talking about his new Doctor Who book.

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