Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

Shameless promotion of myself and someone I admire

I read the early Mike Moorcock fantasies pretty much as they came out - I've written elsewhere about how they helped me cope with my adolescence - and he was one of the first people whom I had always admired whom I ever got to know. Which did not go so well in the event and there is a long saga of my relationship with him, his wives, his daughters and which of them I was on speaking terms with at a given time. All of this got complicated by critical and political matters - Mike and his wife Linda were friends of Andrea Dworkin and his daughter Sophie edited a lesbian porn mag and somehow I was a sinister bit player in a Dostoevsky novel called 'Fathers and Daughters'.

Which is all more or less OK now.

So he is someone I am not entirely easy reviewing any more, but feel quite OK profiling.

With 'The Vengeance of Rome', Michael Moorcock finishes the Pyat Quartet, novels that have taken him a quarter of a century to write. This is a long time by any standards - even more remarkable from someone who, when younger, turned out dazzlingly entertaining heroic fantasies so quickly that he once joked, of one of the better ones, that the extra week had made all the difference...'I think of my shorter novels more as Mozart sonatas but this had to be distinctly Wagnerian, slow and massive, inevitably tragic.'

Where most of Moorcock's novels, lightweight or more serious, feature heroes who can be seen explicitly aspects of a single eternal champion, Pyat is only ever a hero in his own eyes; he is the dark contemptible side of the urge to be special. He is also the most unreliable of narrators, a vicious anti-Semite continually denying his own Jewish background, a bisexual drug addict who likes to claim to be a voice of order against chaos and aligns himself at various times with many of the worst things in the 20th Century.

He is, though, staggeringly incompetent at being evil. 'Pyat's ultimately a victim. Or at least he represents victims. If his lies, deceptions and betrayals really got him anywhere, I suspect we'd hate him and that would be it. But just as we continue to feel sympathetic to people who know who are their own worst enemies, I think we wind up sort of liking Pyat.' And it is true - Pyat is a fool as much as he is a monster. He goes so far into iniquity that we find ourselves giggling in complicity at how utterly he sells his soul time after time and for what small prices.

One of the reasons why writing his story has taken so long is the sheer difficulty of maintaining the voice: 'It's not really a question of Pyat being any kind of safety valve for me. I have to think myself into his head completely.It's hard to 'become' Pyat and that means my nearest and dearest have to put up with at least a minor version of the old rotter while I'm writing in his name.' And then there is the research - along the way, Moorcock has had to inform himself to the point where he can write a plausible account of the Russian Civil War, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the Hollywood of the silent era and the sexual underside of the Nazi party. Almost all of his research took the form of reading, or listening first-hand to, people who were actually there - one of the strengths of Moorcock's Pyat voice is the way his experiences draw on so many originals and yet seem plausibly those of a single man.

Pyat started off as part of the stock company of the novels and stories, the Cornelius books, that Moorcock wrote about Notting Hill in its glory days - and as such had an actual original. 'I based Pyat very solidly on a man I knew pretty well in Ladbroke Grove in the 70s, who was known as 'the old Pole' . My first wife Hilary and I lived across the road from him and frequently had to go to help his wife and kids, whom he abused on a fairly regular basis and I'd try to distract him with conversation while Hilary talked to his wife. I picked up most of Pyat's prejudices, fantasies and attitudes from him. Like Pyat he had a house full of mechanical junk which he was saving for various projects he never started.' The name Pyat came appropriately from a literal dinosaur; the mythomaniac obsession with technological marvels never in fact delivered from the love of scientific romances which produced such other Moorcock novels as 'The Land Leviathan'.

All of Moorcock's novels have a fierce ethical layer under the flying swords, hipster chic and, in the Pyat books, fascist technoglitz. 'I never thought of the Cornelius sequence as amoral. In a sense it's a search for morality in an increasingly amoral world. So I don't think Pyat's a rebuke, but he is, I suppose, an attempt to underline the relativism of post-modernity.' Some things are, in the end, wrong - Moorcock was a close friend of the late Andrea Dworkin who loved these books simply because scenes like the one in which Pyat, in SM drag, buggers Adolf Hitler, are not here simply for perverse erotic effect - though the scene is disturbing enough - as because we need to feel just how far into the nightmare of modernity Pyat's lies and cheating have taken him. Dworkin admired the sheer ruthlessness of these books: ' She understood what it was like, she said, to volunteer to make trips into hell.' The particular journey into Hell which Moorcock gives us in the Pyat Quartet is as terrifying and argumentative as that taken by Dante in the Divine Comedy. It is also like Dante - in spite of the fact that Comedy means 'story with a happy ending'- in being brilliantly, horribly funny.


In other matters, I loved 'Life on Mars' and am seriously hoping for an episode which addresses gay life in Manchester in that period, with a thriving scene largely tolerated by the police and a mad Christian Chief Constable who helped make homophobia unrespectable, we now realize, by being so extreme. And I remember copping off in a night club with an extremely cute middle-aged guy who turned out to be CID and not there in the line of duty...

Other major slashiness in toon land - 'Maid of Honour' JLA 92.7/8) pretty much says 'you know Wonder Woman has a thing for this Eurotrash princess but we can't actually show them doing more than being romantic on the Eiffel Tower and the princess saying "Well, I didn't expect to be doing that the night before my engagement party"' and 'Mystery of the Batwoman' has interesting implications. That particular bit of DC toonery ought to have slash, is all I'm sayin'.

My thanks again to all the kind people, recruited by thete1who are sending me toons for the superhero book, and all I can say is 'Keep'em coming'.

And I am sorry George Galloway and Pete Burns are up for eviction, because the chances are we will lose George's prurient fascination with Pete's gender identity. And also the cute bonding of George and the lovely Rula Lenska, whom age has not withered. Well, not as far as I am concerned anyway, whatever the objective truth.

Contrary to popular belief, I am mostly attracted to women my own age. It's just that I hardly ever meet any, any more.
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