I mentioned in my post about Michael Moorcock, Doctor Who & Colonel Pyat that there was a new Moorcock anthology due in August. Into the Media Web, edited by John Davey, landed on my doorstep early this morning – presumably the postman put it down gently as it weighs around 2kg; Michael Moorcock himself said ‘I’ve had to employ a sturdy boy to carry it around and hold it for me on his back when I want to read it’. It has 717 pages, and according to Savoy’s website it has 156 individual pieces comprising over 300,000 words.
The first thing (apart from the weight) that strikes one is the design. To emphasize Moorcock’s interests in various media John Coulthart has designed a dustwrapper using Harry Beck’s London Underground map, also reflecting MM’s interest in London; the tube line continues through the book, connecting the contents, and the font used for the headings is the sans serif Johnston (originally called ‘Underground’) which was commissioned by Frank Pick in 1915 for London Underground signage). It’s a good looking book.
Following Alan Moore’s Foreword and the editor’s Introduction, the book kicks off with a longish autobiographical essay. Subsequently the book is arranged, for the most part, alphabetically by title. Notwithstanding the book’s title, the largest subject area covered by far is books, both by MM himself and by others: book reviews, introductions and afterwords to books; there’s a little on music (including album sleeve notes), tv and movies, drugs, politics, obituaries, miscellaneous articles from Time Out, the Guardian and others, early fanzine offerings, and a subset of New Worlds writings including Into the Media Web (1968).
Some of the pieces were written when MM was a teenager (he was 16/17 in 1956), and it is obvious they are juvenilia even without the original date of publication being given (I used to have a mimeographed fanzine of Moorcock’s from the fifties – an MJM Publication – which was an interesting thing to own, but somebody stole it); they are, however, not without interest, showing someone with eclectic tastes and looking for a style.
There are a number of recurrent themes – the expected candidates (Mervyn & Maeve Peake and London for example) cropping up often. This is a book to read episodically, a few articles at a time, and would be excellent for reading in bed, except it’s far too heavy to do that comfortably.
I’ve now (August 10) had time to read more than a couple of the pieces in the book. They are, as is to be expected, uneven, the more recent tending to have better writing. Some of the best offer insight into the writer himself: for example the author’s note to the 30th anniversary edition of Behold the Man, and the Introduction to The Retreat from Liberty (Zomba Books, 1983). This has made me want to reread the book itself, only read once when it was published. It was not a time when I was feeling particularly optimistic, Thatcher had been in power for four years and had another seven to go, and the following years brought civil war between the State and the miners, with the print workers hard on their heels. I don’t feel particularly optimistic now with the current administration’s slash and burn attitude to public services and the Left’s attempt to organise some sort of resistance to it. I don’t really have to wonder what Moorcock would feel about the Tories’ bedfellows – he was a Liberal for a while.
Moorcock is most definitely at his best when he’s writing about what he really feels deeply about – the obituaries for Andrea Dworkin and James Cawthorn are particularly moving. I just wish it wasn’t so heavy – I’m going up to London this evening and would like to read it on the train but it is really a little too weighty to carry round.