Terminal Café

People Online Chat Transcript

December 2nd, 1997

PEOPLE Online: Hi everyone - I'm Patrizia DiLucchio, this is PEOPLE Online in the Time/Warner multiverse called Pathfinder - and tonight's guest is the esteemed science fiction-fantasy writer-editor Michael Moorcock. A double-hyphen! One of the most prolific and imaginative of parallel-universe creators, Moorcock has published more than 70 novels and has received numerous awards for his fiction, including the World Fantasy, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. As the long-time editor of New Worlds magazine, Moorcock helped popularise the work of important "New Wave" writers like J.G. Ballard, Samuel R. Delany, Thomas M. Disch, John T. Sladek, and Norman Spinrad. His latest novel, The War Amongst the Angels (Avon), the third volume in a trilogy that also includes Blood and Fabulous Harbours - is vintage Moorcock, colourful, confusing, phantasmagoric and endlessly fascinating.

Welcome, Mike. The Internet is kind of a multiverse unto itself in a way - colourful, confusing and phantasmagoric. Are you active much online? Are you ever going to write a novel or a story set in cyberspace?

Michael Moorcock: I'm not that active online because I'm busy writing novels set in cyberspace. To a degree, everything I'm doing at the moment is set in cyberspace. I do agree that it is like a multiverse.

PEOPLE Online: Mike, The War Amongst the Angels is the last volume in a trilogy. Did you know you were starting a trilogy when you started with the first book? (I'm always curious why a trilogy, say, and not a tetralogy...) Which themes in the previous books does Angels expound and elaborate upon, and which themes are new?

Michael Moorcock: I usually plan things in 3s or 4s, I plot it on a duodecimal system...I break things into twelves. Thematically, Angels is dealing with, if you like, the consequences of publishing the omnibus sequence of the eternal champion. In a way, this boots the whole thing up to a higher level of ambition.

Question: Fantasy fiction is often pretty unoriginal but your books are amazingly imaginative and fresh, peopled with fabulous characters and places. How do you keep your creative imagination alive?

Michael Moorcock: I rarely read generic fantasy books. My advice to anyone who wants to write good fantasy is to stop reading my books and all fantasy books. Read some social fiction, poetry, almost anything. Essentially, it's best to go back to source, instead of taking a cloned version of something.

Question: Can you tell us a little about the Multiverse comic you're doing for DC?

Michael Moorcock: That also is an amplification of what I've been doing recently. Essentially, I'm exploring...it's easier to explore these nonlinear ideas through a medium like comics or TV or film where you can show different things going on at the same time in the scene. You can carry a number of narrative strands. I didn't want to work in TV and film because of the restrictions in time, money and people. It's my perception that there's a very sophisticated comics readership, at least enough people to address to create something that is fundamentally adult. I try to address an intelligent and sophisticated readership, a readership that is cyber-educated as well as well educated. The kind of readership one finds on the Net.

PEOPLE Online: Is "multiverse" a word you coined to describe the overlapping realities that provide the backdrop for your work? Or is it a word that someone else invented to describe that place? And what exactly does it mean?

Michael Moorcock: I did coin the term. It has since been used by a lot of different people to mean a lot of different things. It's hard to describe, but I do describe it pretty thoroughly in the first issue of the comicbook. Also, in my new book from MOJO Press, Tales From The Texas Woods.

Question: At the chat from World Con, you said you were looking into using Anime as a format for an animated film maybe: Any headway?

Michael Moorcock: In short, no. I've been sick this year, really for the first time in my life. That means that I haven't done as much as I'd hope to do. Apologies to anyone out there who hasn't heard from me lately. I've got neuropathy and also an auto-immune disease, neither of which is life threatening, but both of which are a total drag.

PEOPLE Online: You're an amazingly prolific writer and you've had a long and distinguished career. How does The War Amongst the Angels differ in scope, theme, use of language etc from your earlier works, say Stormbringer? How have you changed over the years as a writer?

Michael Moorcock: The War Amongst the Angels is about as far removed from Stormbringer as you can get. I don't quite know how that happened...War doesn't just make reference to my science fiction, but also to my social fiction. I call it an autobiographical novel because it deals with many themes and influences from my childhood. The way I'm writing now there's little distinction between the so-called "real world" and the alternative realities of the multiverse.

Question: What writers inspired you when you were starting out? And what's the first book that completely captured your imagination when you were a kid? That you fell in love with?

Michael Moorcock: Really, they were the books my father left in the house when he left home. The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Apple Cart by George Bernard Shaw, The Constable of St. Nicholas by Edward Lester Arnold. These are the first three that captured my imagination.

PEOPLE Online: How old were you when you read them?

Michael Moorcock: I was probably 4 or 5. I was a very early reader. My problem with school was I'd read an enormous amount before I ever went to primary school. So I was bored out of my brain. As far as fantasy writers, the most inspiration I got was from Mervyn Peake, who wrote The Gormenghast Trilogy. It is superb. If you don't like fantasy you'd still like this book.

Question: Is there some contractual problem with getting books like The Caribbean Crisis released or some of the older books that I am searching for.. any chance of reissuing these older books? Who was the main protagonist in The Caribbean Crisis?

Michael Moorcock: The main protagonist in Caribbean Crisis was a serious character called Sexton Blake. While it would be possible for me to rewrite the book not using the copyrighted name of Sexton Blake, I hardly think it would be worth it. As for my other detective stories, they usually sell very well when published, but commercial publishers always seem to think they won't sell well because that's not what I'm associated with. To deal with this, MOJO Press of Austin, Texas is planning to bring out some of my comedy thrillers in the near future.

Question: If the Multiverse had a physical form, an object, say, how would you describe it? Like a circle or a slinky bent into a circle?

Michael Moorcock: I actually have a very clear mental image of the multiverse. The broad version is what you might call a multifaceted gem which both reflects and absorbs light so that you can see different versions of the same thing from different angles and different planes. The best thing that's happened to me in the last 10 years is the publication of Mandelbrot's chaos theories. When I first saw the computer-generated versions of fractal geometry it was like being handed a series of maps of my own mind. This system has worked great for me. It gives logic to what was previously instinctive. This in turn, like a new musical form, allows you to develop ideas further. It feels very similar to the development of 12-tone music.

Question: Will Jerry Cornelius appear in any short stories in the near future, with things to say about our "modern age?

Michael Moorcock: He is already appearing in a short story to appear in magazine called The Edge. I think it has a Web site. It's about Princess Diana. I doubt if it will get me a knighthood.

Question: Mr. Moorcock, have you had a chance to look at web pages dedicated to your stories?

Michael Moorcock: A few. I've actually had technical trouble accessing a lot of stuff, but I'm hoping to remedy that soon.

Question: Hello Mike. Thanks for being such a good sport at WorldCon. Any chance of you visiting New York in the near future?

Michael Moorcock: I had planned to visit NY next week, but unfortunately my oldest cat has become very sick which means we've had to give up any travel plans for awhile.

Question: Sir Michael, I just finished reading a bunch of CS Lewis for a class. Can you recommend anything to get the taste of propaganda out of my mouth?

Michael Moorcock: [laughs] There's a new collection of Herbert Huncke coming out. He influenced everyone from William Burroughs to Jack Kerouac. He was a thief, a junkie, a liar, a self-invented pervert and everything you need for a quick anti-CS Lewis fix.

Question: Mr Moorcock, if there was any one single book written in the horror/fantasy/SF genre that you so admire, you wish that you had written it yourself--what might that book be?

Michael Moorcock: It's probably The Teeth of Angels by Jonathan Carroll. I admire him enormously. I've written about him in Tales From The Texas Woods.

PEOPLE Online: Much of your work is an impressive example of what I've heard the writer Geoff Ryman call "world-building." For you, what goes into world-building? Do you plot your universe out before you start your narrative or do the two develop simultaneously and symbiotically?

Michael Moorcock: It's simpler than that...it's all in my head. Essentially, the imaginative element has to resonate with my experience of reality. That's all there is to it.

PEOPLE Online: Obviously you've carved a great career niche as a writer of genre fiction. But I read your book, Mother London, and loved it. Are you ever going to try your hand again at so-called mainstream fiction?

Michael Moorcock: I always have. Mainstream fiction, ambitious mainstream, takes more time because you're not allowed to make anything up in the same way. The first novel I ever wrote was mainstream. It was literally eaten by rats...probably killed the rats. My Holocaust series are non-genre novels. A lot of my ambitious work is not known outside the U.K.. For the same reason that my light comedy thrillers are not well known, in that publishers prefer to play safe with genre fiction. But I am currently writing another London novel, called King of City, as well as the last Pyat/Holocaust novel which is called The Vengeance of Rome. In fact, most of my current projects are non-generic, and I suspect even my comicbook is non-generic. It's starting to warp...you start using the elements of stuff rather than them using you and it's amazing what happens.

Question: Any chance for more music coming out from you? Or any Blue Oyster Cult or Hawkwind. Are you on a Robert Calvert album?

Michael Moorcock: I'm on at least two Robert Calvert albums, but mostly just doing guitar work and backup vocals. I am very admiring of Robert's work.

Question: I recently read Leiber's Gonna Roll the Bones and the setting reminded me very much of The Terminal Cafe. Was it any influence?

Michael Moorcock: Not consciously, although I think it's a very good story. I've got a horrible feeling I better not read it. I've written about this too, in a book called Casablanca, originally in Punch Magazine.

PEOPLE Online: Can you tell us a little about your work habits. Do you write every day? When? For how many hours? On a word processor?

Michael Moorcock: Rather than being the well oiled Jupiter space craft people think I am, I'm really more like the engine that got the African Queen up river. Much of my working day consists of whining and complaining. My wife says I work all the time, and in a sense I do. An old girlfriend said I had an unsleeping mind. My mind does seem to keep going all the time. Proof of this is the number of books I've done. But I do use a word processor, and once I'm running well with a book I work a regular routine, but I usually have at least three projects going at the same time.

Question: I'm a big fan of yours, Mike - I've done a webpage. I'm interested in your take on other entertainment mediums - what movies have you liked this year. Are there any TV shows you really like and that kind of thing.

Michael Moorcock: I've seen quite a few movies I've liked...Trainspotting, Secrets and Lies. M. John Harrison's latest novel is great. Let's see, it's called, um, oh well, I really like it. I hardly watch any TV in America, to my great disappointment. There's just no TV here I really like. The difference between Europe and America is that the culture is always available in Europe. Here in America it's packaged as special. All the airspace here is commercials. People think the BBC is controlled by the government, but it's owned by the public and frequently works in opposition to the government. There really isn't any strictly public voice in the US, except on the Net.

Question: Which book do you wish you'd never written?

Michael Moorcock: Let's see. Fifty percent of my own, and you can guess what they are. [laughs] I think probably Long Day's Journey Into Night. I wouldn't want to have written any of Heine's or Celine's books either.

Question: Rose von Bek is really a dynamic character! Can you foresee her in other stories and settings, and perhaps encountering other incarnations?

Michael Moorcock: Absolutely! She's currently my favourite character and the dominant character in the comic. I'm trying to extend her story. She's very likely to turn up in Modern London.

PEOPLE Online: Mike - I know it's late in Austin. Thank you so much for joining us here tonight. And thanks to everyone in our audience who joined us too.

Michael Moorcock: Goodnight to everyone. I really enjoyed myself here tonight.