Jun 18, 2009, 10:50AM

The Readers of BoingBoing interview Michael Moorcock

The legendary sci-fi writer tells all.

In recognition of the newly released "Best of Michael Moorcock", we recently coordinated an interview between the celebrated author and the readers of www.boingboing.net.
We hope that you enjoy reading it! We'll select three lucky participants to win their own copies of the collection later this week. 
Ever since the late 60's and early 70's there has been a strong connection between fantasy fiction and heavy metal music, and most fans of one are also into the other. Mr. Moorcock has always been involved with rock bands like Hawkwind and the Blue Oyster Cult, not to mention his own band The Deep Fix. I'd like to know from Mr. Moorcock what his views are on this curious relationship between fantasy fiction and heavy metal music.
In my experience, sf and rock have always gone together. Not just heavy metal. In the UK, at any rate, during the 60s and 70s when New Worlds was being published, the 'cultural mix' contained as many NW people as rock people. Admittedly this was in Ladbroke Grove/Portobello Road (pretty much the equivalent of Haight/Ashbury in San Francisco) where so much literary and musical experiment was going on. I have to say that more musicians were fans of sf writers than the sf writers of the day were rock fans. I remember when one very well known SF writer, a good friend of mine, asked me to introduce him to some rock people (to do music for some lyrics he'd written) he was uncomfortable when I took him round to see some equally well known rock musicians and let's say their 'lifestyle' didn't suit him. Generally, the musicians were a lot friendlier and easy going than the writers.
This was as true of US sf writers of the day as UK ones. Admittedly, I was in a fairly unique position, since I'd been a performer from an early age and for some reason also had a lot of readers amongst other performers, but I wasn't the only sf/fantasy writer musicians read. Not so many that I know of in what you might call the 'first wave' (Shadows,Beatles, Swinging Blue Jeans etc) but a lot in the next waves (Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Elton John, David Bowie, Cream, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan, Roxy Music etc. etc.). I was always surprised to meet well-known musicians who were as familiar with my stuff as I was with theirs. Not so much with US bands, I have to say, though I didn't know as many Americans, of course. I remember talking to Lou Reed, who was anxious to let me know he had an English degree! He didn't read sf as far as I know, but we had Burroughs in common). Ballard was another great favourite. And, of course, Tolkien and Peake. Why this eventually seemed to become mostly heavy metal bands (by the 80s, say) I'm not sure. Mod bands seemed to have as many sf fans amongst them in the early days, at least. I knew a lot of people on the Stiff label who were pretty keen readers of imaginative fiction. Deep Fix was by no means a metal band and Hawkwind was more prog-rock than anything. Even BOC was scarcely typical metal. It wasn't just sf -- Hesse, Burroughs, then magic realists -- and probably psychedelic drugs had something to do with it. The Damned were huge Harlan Ellison fans, but the one time I tried to introduce them, Harlan was very nervous and uncomfortable and took exception to one of them asking him when he was going to write a novel and left. Later he described us as battling our way out of a den of 'punks' (it was at Blitz, about the most middle class club for New Romantics I knew), so after that I gave up trying to bring rock people together with the people they admired. These days, as you suggest, most bands who like sf tend to be heavy metal, but, living in Austin, I meet a lot of individual musicians of all kinds who are keen sf readers. Demographics explains that, I'm sure. I suspect drugs have much to do with it with metal/sf mix. A liking for 'souped up' entertainment with a bit of extra punch? I'm not a great metal fan myself but of course I see a lot of my titles (and others) turning up on metal albums. The last band I was seriously talking about working with was New Order, quite a while ago, but I wouldn't call them metal. I worked on Calvert's albums and although he used sf influences and imagery he wasn't metal either. I'm not a great fantasy fan in the way the term's used, these days (Tolkien and LOTR derivatives). It perhaps had more to do with urban themes, for me at least, originally. I did that Sex Pistols 'newspaper' and got on as much with punk bands like The Adverts as I did with anyone. Long answer, I'm sorry to say. I'd say with me it was urban imagery but a lot of the metal bands seem somewhat retro/rural -- maybe metal is designed to carry across long distances. Visionary rock uses a lot of acid. I know a lot of metal guys were convinced that Ballard and I did tons of acid. Ballard did one tab in his whole life, admittedly supplied by me with due warnings. He ignored warnings, had a terrible trip and never touched the stuff again. I tell people that, when I wrote, my drugs of choice were strong coffee and sugar.
I really love the Moorcock multiverse. It took me a while to find out that Moorcock was a big influence of Moebius, Alan Moore, Hawkwind, Blue oyster cult and some of my other favorite authors, artists etc. I think Moorcocks parallel worlds and alternate realities were so believable that he influenced other writers and artists to bringing more dreamlike states of reality into the forefront of conscientiousness. True mind expanding and altering reading. My question is: What was your influence to create such a wide influential idea like the multiverse? 
I honestly don't know. I could say it was just a yearning for continuity. I came up with the idea of Elric, the Eternal Champion, the Multiverse all about the same time when I was around 21. In the late 50s and early 60s we were confronting the idea of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics a lot. Now this was faintly depressing -- the heat death of the universe, the dissipation of everything and so on -- so we were casting around both intellectually, spiritually and emotionally for some sort of counterbalance, something a bit more 'positive'. The Big Bang Theory told us that the end of the universe was inevitable. In common with a few theoretical physicists we were hoping to find a contradiction to that inevitability. And so, as much in a quest for a spiritual answer as a scientific one, a few of us began to inch towards the notion of the Multiverse. I also came up with a rough and ready notion of Black Holes. As it happens, I was the first person, as far as I know, to start giving names and imagery to these ideas -- if you like, an optimistic model of the universe, allowing a sense of constant renewal. Put that together with a person representing humanity who is also constantly being renewed (if only to perish again) and you get a modern version of a regeneration myth! And that, I'm pretty sure, is why the idea caught on and became so popular. Also, on a cruder level, it allowed comic book writers to rationalise story threads which were getting increasingly over-complicated! 
I'm curious about the roots of Moorcock's conception of the Multiverse, which plays such a big role in his work. The notion of a Multiverse has floated around for a long time in many contexts, and it's a difficult thing to deal with well in fiction, but he definitely does it well. There are scientific conceptions of a Multiverse that come out of theoretical physics (which I have no clue about), and there is a good amount of philosophical literature on it, sort of. The notion of 'possible worlds' has been around at least since Leibniz, and there has been a lot of development of that notion in analytic philosophy since the 60's. Leibniz influenced literature in the form of Candide, and a more recent example of philosophical views on this influencing literature is the obvious nods to David Lewis's On the Plurality of Worlds in Neal Stephenson's Anathem. Lewis is notorious for having believed that possible worlds exist, which is sort of a notion of a Multiverse. So what I'm curious about is whether Moorcock cares at all about what physicists or philosophers say about possible worlds or Multiverses, and whether that shapes his own conception of it. If not, is there something else in particular that has shaped it, or is it primarily just a great imagination?
Mandelbrot. is the short answer. When I first started reading Mandelbrot it was as if someone had handed me a map of my own mind. Once I had Mandelbrot I could start formulating all sorts of ideas which had been only inchoate notions until then.
For me, Mandelbrot opened all the closed intellectual doors. z=z2+c (excuse crude rendering) became the mantra for me that e=mc2 had become for an earlier generation. It moved everything forward. We didn't have to contradict Big Bang, but Big Bang didn't have to mean the dissolution of everything. I think all this stuff was in the intellectual/spiritual/scientific air. It's not unusual for creative people in various disciplines and arts to arrive at similar ideas around the same time. I just happened to be the writer who grabbed the idea out of the air at the same time others were doing it in math or, by golly, meteorology!

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