The Works of Moorcock and Genre
© 1997 Max Wilcox
Walking into a bookshop, perhaps the first thing you will notice is the way in which different categories of books are broken up into different areas - that is, different genre. It would perhaps not be unreasonable to claim that one of the more prevalent methods of categorizing fiction today is through the frame of genre. For this reason, it is important to cast an eye to the way in which our ideas about genre influence our perceptions of writing, and the authors who do it. There are many important aspects to consider with reference to the notion of genre, some of the most important being: - "is it a useful tool?"; "how is genre bound into the judgment of quality of a work?"; "what harm does it do to the author?", amongst others.
A reader who is unfamiliar with Moorcock's writings, while yet having vaguely heard of him, may well believe that he is a "fantasy" writer, or even worse, an author of "swords and sorcery" books. I use the phrase "even worse" because even though generic terms are commonly thought of as solely being terms used to categorize different types of fiction, they are also a value judgment (at least, to some). The notion of "fantasy fiction" today has attained some credibility (though not enough), while when someone uses the term "sword and sorcery" fiction, they commonly mean low quality pulp efforts such as the Gor novels. Once an author has been boxed into a particular genre, it is commonly very difficult to escape from an endless repetition of the same categorization. Many authors who were involved with New Worlds, Aldiss and Ballard particularly, show that this does not have to be the case - but they are in some ways, exceptions to the rule.
Even though Moorcock began his career with novels that could validly be inserted into the genre of Fantasy fiction and Science Fiction, he has "branched out" in his subject matter, themes, structures, etc. This being so, it is quite common that you will find a copy of Byzantium Endures right next to Stormbringer in a bookshop. There are many effects of this type of mistake - one being that someone who is a "fantasy fan" will pick up the Pyat book, thinking it to feature a tale of the Champion, and be quite disappointed. The same goes for someone who reads more "literary" books - they would not even consider looking at a book in the fantasy section of a bookshop, never even having the chance to see one of Moorcock's "literary" outings.
It would perhaps be valid to say that anyone who was this snobbish with regards to the types of book they read, probably wouldn't appreciate his work, anyway - but this is, in my opinion, being a little too critical. No matter how open minded we all think we about the books we read, we all still lean towards certain favourite genre of fiction. Perhaps even more than this, I think we would all admit that there are some genre of fiction, particularly some types of formula fiction, that is of fairly consistently low quality (though this is a very sweeping statement).
To be contiuned...