Sunday, April 27, 2014

Michael Moorcock at NorWesCon

So, last weekend I went to NorWesCon, the local science fiction convention held over in the DoubleTree near the airport. I only make it over there for the day once every three/four years --e.g,  once soon after we moved out here away from WisCon, once during the build-up to the launch for Third Edition, last time was to see at 'Secrets of TSR' panel with a lot of my friends and fellow co-workers talking about the Lake Geneva days. And this time it was to see author Michael Moorcock.

That this wd be a draw for me might seem a bit odd, given that Moorcock is a famous Tolkien-basher, ranking in the company of Edmund WIlson and Germaine Greer: he's not just down on Tolkien but has gone out of his way to belittle Tolkien's fans over the years, most notably in his chapbook essay "EPIC POOH" [1978] (since included in his history/survey of modern fantasy, WIZARDRY AND WILD ROMANCE [2004].*

There too I'm not a great fan of Moorcock's fiction. Back in my Fayetteville days when I started seriously reading fantasy beyond Tolkien and Adams, trying to find out what all was out there and what of it was good and how it all fit together in a grand but little-understood tradition, I asked my friend Franklin if he'd recommend Moorcock's ELRIC series, and his answer was 'you wdn't like them'. Since I found Franklin a good judge of such matters (he introduced me to John Bellair's FACE IN THE FROST; I introduced him to Thorne Smith's NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS), I took him at his word and read other things instead, like Fritz Leiber's FAFHRD/GRAY MOUSER series, or Eddison's WORM, or Dunsany's KING OF ELFLAND'S DAUGHTER, or Hope Mirrlees, or Pratt & de Camp, or Myers Myers, or . . .

But then on the other hand, once I was up at Marquette and later at TSR, I'd sometimes hear a friend or co-worker praise Moorcock and urge me to read him,  but suspicion that it was far from my cup of tea kept me from taking their advice. It wasn't until Jim Lowder (hi, Jim!) gave me a set of the six DAW paperbacks that comprised the whole series up to that point (he having upgrade to the hardcovers) that I decided I really shd read the thing, which I did not long after going to Wizards. And while they didn't become favorites of mine, I cd see why others liked them. It seemed to me that Moorcock had gotten ahold of an interesting idea (the story of Elric's death), written it up in a sword-and-sorcery story that both fit into (sword, sorcery) and played off against (decadent rather than primitive, anti-hero rather than hero) the S&S tradition. And it'd gone down well, so he had to write another story just like the first. And then another. And then another. And then another. Till he had six volume's worth, most of them prequels to the original story in the sequence, which told of Elric's death.

So, worth having read once, but not so interesting that I felt any compunction to pick up the additional prequels as they came out, nor to move on to any of his many other series. But not being a fan of his fiction doesn't mean I don't have a sense of Moorcock's importance as a historical figure: he was one of the two people most responsible for the 'New Wave' in science fiction in the sixties and seventies via his advocacy in the journal NEW WORLDS of writers whose work he thought was bringing science fiction up out of its pulp ghetto (his American equivalent being Harlin Ellison, through his DANGEROUS VISION anthologies), replacing the old emphasis on ideas with a new emphasis on style. And given that he's now in his mid-seventies, and the opportunity to see him in these parts was not likely to come around again anytime soon, it seemed like a good idea to go.

So, after arriving and getting through registration, walking around to find the layout of the place (the program book and registration packets lacked any map of the hotel, but to compensate the on-site signage was excellent) and gotten a cup of tea, it was off to the first event: the Q&A.  The G.o.H. was delayed in arriving, and they decided to switch the Q&A with the reading, which had been scheduled to follow. So it wound up with Moorcock reading an alternate-history story about a multinational force slogging their way through Afghanistan, committing and being on the receiving end of various atrocities. This was followed by an interview of Moorcock by Pierce Watters, which did a great job of going over Moorcock's early career. After that came a fifteen or twenty minute Q&A session -- I'd come with a question I wanted to ask, but it was clear that the room was full of people for whom the chance to ask a question of Moorcock wd be a highlight of their lives, so I thought it best to sit quiet. Besides, it was fun watching the devoted fans have their moment in the sun.

That was followed in turn by the book-signing. Not surprisingly, there was a huge long line, and given that they'd left an hour for it in the schedule and there were still plenty of people in front of me as we were nearing that one-hour mark, I thought it likely they'd shut things down before I got to the front of the line. So it goes. But to his credit Moorcock kept right on signing. It was an hour and thirty-seven minutes before I got my three items signed, and he was still going a good ten minutes later before he finally reached the end of the line. I was impressed that, after all these years of doing this and achieving the equivalent of 'rock-star' status within science fiction and fantasy fandom, Moorcock was willing to keep signing until he'd gotten to everyone. Good for him!**

After that came a break, during which time I visited with friends, made a run through the dealer's room (where I was v. pleased to pick up a hardcover of Pratt and de Camp's THE INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER for just three dollars, and amazed to see the same dealer had roughly half of the entire Ballantine A.F.S. paperbacks for sale), and had another cup of tea (I much approve of this hotel's having a Starbucks in the lobby), then on to the final event, the highlight of the day: a panel celebrating the work of the great, inimitable P. G. Wodehouse.   This was why I came. I knew four of the six people on the panel: Wolfgang Baur, Jeff Grubb, Mike Selinker, and Pierce Watters; I didn't know Brooks Peck from the E.M.P., the fifth panelist. But it was the sixth and final panelist who was the big draw for most of the people in the room: Michael Moorcock. Having mainly seen Moorcock in his F. R. Leavis mode, attacking writers he didn't like, it was pleasant to hear him praise a master craftsman who often didn't get his due. Plus, being English and a good generation older than the rest of the panelists, he contributed a perspective that's simply not reproducible in a modern-day admirer. Having read all Wodehouse's Bertie and Jeeves stories myself (as well as the one Jeeves-without-Bertie novel***), I enjoyed the panel quite a lot: the highlight of the show.

After that came some more visiting, watching folks play a new Timeline game (for which I knew two answers in a row, thus earning a wholly undeserved reputation for knowing all when it comes to dates of things), and on to home. An enjoyable day all round.

current reading: THE INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER [1950 edition] by Pratt & de Camp
current audiobook: Shippey lecture series on Heroes (just finished)

*which is interesting but not nearly as good as his FANTASY: THE 100 BEST BOOKS, written in collaboration with James Cawthorn [1988] -- which in turn shd be read in conjunction with David Pringle's MODERN FANTASY: THE HUNDRED BEST NOVELS [also 1988]

**the three items I had signed were EPIC POOH (suspect he doesn't see a lot of these, given that it was a small print run pamphlet from over thirty years ago), the Cawthorn-Moorcock FANTASY: THE 100 BEST BOOKS, and WIZARDRY AND WILD ROMANCE.

***I've never been able to find the Bertie-without-Jeeves story, which I think exists only as a play, not a novel.

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