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Really not feelin' the love for Jerry Cornelius.

I've an ambivalent relationship with Michael Moorcock's work: yes, I recognize how fraggin' seminal it is to science fiction and fantasy, I realize that he's a prime exponent of the British New Wave in science fiction, and any self-respecting, self-described geek, especially one with even a casual interest in these two genres, is almost contractually obligated to read at least some of Moorcock's stuff; however, I can't help but feel that Moorcock rarely writes to the limit of his ability. (Maybe that's just wishful thinking?) Too often it feels like he's phoning it in.

As much as I loved the original Hawkmoon series (The Jewel in the Skull, The Mad God's Amulet, The Sword of the Dawn, and The Runestaff), I've yet to make it all the way through the sequel trilogy (Count Brass, The Champion of Garathorm and The Quest for Tanelorn; finally read The Champion of Garathorm after two tries, but still haven't finished The Quest for Tanelorn); while I liked the first Corum trilogy (The Knight of the Swords, The Queen of the Swords, The King of the Swords), I was less impressed with the second trilogy (The Bull and the Spear, The Oak and the Ram, The Sword and the Stallion) and, at this remove, I can remember demmed little of either series. Kane of Old Mars was a mindlessly fun swords and planets pastiche, originally published under a pseudonym (Edward P. Bradbury). And Elric -- ah, Elric, Elric, how many different versions of the Elric books have been published; how confusing it is to try to suss out which book to read, and in which order. I love the concept of Elric, but ofttimes the execution leaves much to be desired.

My hands-down favorite book by Moorcock thus far is The War Hound and the World's Pain; I liked that one so much that I dread reading the rest of the Von Bek series, for fear of finding that the quality drops off a cliff.

But Jerry Cornelius: how often others have riffed on the character, if not out-and-out ripped him off, not always with Moorcock's blessing. Whither Grant Morrison without a Jerry Cornelius to steal refer to? JC, JC (the initials are surely not coincidental, given his occasional messianic "Jesus Christ pose"), the "adult film" version of the Mad Mod, a being of no determinate gender, sexual orientation, or "race," he shifts back and forth from life and death as quickly and, to this reader, as nonsensically, as he changes other aspects of his being. Indeed, Jerry Cornelius's particulars are so much in flux, moreso than with even Moorcock's other Eternal Champions, that one has to question whether there even is a Jerry Cornelius: surely the notion that one may usefully describe a single being as possessing the characteristics (one dare not call them "personality traits," given that Jerry Cornelius effectively has no personality, only a constantly shifting series of wants and hungers, forever in the present tense) of Jerry Cornelius is a laughable one; Moorcock here attempts to out-Brecht Bertolt Brecht.

Jerry Cornelius: a pan-sexual (if not omni-sexual), pan-gendered, pan-racial scientist, rock star, surgeon, secret agent, connoisseur, revolutionary, religious icon, trickster god, and lover par excellence; Buckaroo Banzai is a more rational imagining of Jerry Cornelius, filtered through Doc Savage.

In theory, Jerry Cornelius sounds like the type of character I should take to like a duck to water; in practice....

I've read a baker's dozen of William S. Burroughs's books, and, honestly, thus far, the Jerry Cornelius books (I've finished The Final Programme and I'm between a third and a half of the way through A Cure For Cancer) read to me like Burroughs-lite, with maybe a soupçon of John Dos Passos for flavoring.

As little as I think of The Final Programme, I think that A Cure For Cancer is even more of a failed experiment. A Cure For Cancer is, thus far, almost wholly empty calories: a series of trite expressions and by now meaningless clichés intermingled with advertising copy, tabloid headlines, the occasional high-brow quotation, and a minimalist outline of an utterly meaningless, irrational espionage thriller parody. Israel has annexed Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey? How? Why? Who knows? Who cares?

I really disagree with Brecht's premise that the dramatist (and, by extension, the novelist) has to constantly remind the audience that it's watching a performance; to my mind, the real trick for any self-respecting dramatist or writer of fiction is to make the audience forget that it's watching a performance, it's reading a work of fiction. Damned few creators are good enough to do that for more than brief sections, and a depressingly large amount of them aren't able to accomplish even that much.

Moorcock might as well have scribed A Cure For Cancer with a dog turd on a Franklin Mint commemorative plate, then smashed said plate over the head of a random passerby; it's that pointless and that puerile.

Yes, I can read it with greater ease than, say, Burroughs' The Soft Machine or The Ticket That Exploded; but that's a pretty goddamned low bar.

If Moorcock was really trying to advocate the position that "Nothin' matters, and what if it did?," why did he even bother writing these bloody books? (A more compelling question, perhaps, is, how in the hell did he ever get them published in the first place?)

I suppose I should grit my teeth and finish at least A Cure For Cancer and, ideally, the other two books in the first quartet (The Chronicles of Cornelius); I just can't guarantee that I'm going to read them right away.



Comments

( 2 monkeys shocked! — shock the monkey! )
dfordoom
Jun. 23rd, 2014 07:16 am (UTC)
My hands-down favorite book by Moorcock thus far is The War Hound and the World's Pain;

It's so superior to anything else he's written that you wonder how it came about.
uvula_fr_b4
Jun. 24th, 2014 11:41 am (UTC)
Kind of makes you feel sorry for anyone whose first exposure to Moorcock's oeuvre is The War Hound and the World's Pain: they'll have a wildly optimistic impression of his quality of writing.
( 2 monkeys shocked! — shock the monkey! )

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