Moorcock the author, Mike the Man by Chris Roberson

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Over the years, I’ve written any number of pieces on Michael Moorcock and his work—reviews, retrospectives, tributes, and such—most of which can probably still be found online in one form or another. As I’ve said time and again, discovering Moorcock’s novels when I was in high school was a crucial step in my development, both as a reader and as a writer. Not only was he one of the biggest influences on me in my formative teenage years, but he continues to influence my work now (it’s for this reason, and for many others, that Moorcock is one of the three authors to which my forthcoming End of the Century is dedicated, along with Alan Moore and Kim Newman).

But as often as I’ve written about Moorcock for public consumption, I don’t know that I’ve ever shared in writing my personal experiences with him. Not with Moorcock as a writer, but with “Mike” as a person and, ultimately, as a friend (which is something I still can’t get my head around, but more on that in a moment).

Years ago, in the summer of 1999, I wrote a lengthy and somewhat rambling review of Moorcock’s “Second Ether” trilogy (encompassing Blood: A Southern Fantasy, Fabulous Harbours, and War Amongst the Angels) for the now-departed Clockwork Storybook webzine. In the review, I talked a bit about my first encounter a decade and a half before with Count Brass in my high school library, and how that book had lead me to Elric, and Cornelius, and Von Bek and Bastable and on and on. I then examined the trilogy at hand, and after delving a brief while into its complexities, mentioned that every time I finished one of Moorcock’s novels I was immediately inspired to go and read another, to follow down thematic connections, or Multiversal alternatives, or both. I concluded my review with the following ramble:

As you can see, Moorcock’s books are a dazzling maze of character and plot, which once encountered is very hard to leave. Though some might see this a shortcoming, for a reader such as myself it is mother’s milk itself. Each new layer of meaning, each new alternative, shifts the meaning and focus of each previous story prismatically, and like a fractal the deeper one goes the more complex things become. I don’t think I can ever hope to fit all of it into my head at one time, not unless I quit my job and give up writing and devote my life to the pursuit of all things Moorcock. Which I have no intention of doing. Instead, like an old and distant friend, I’ll continue to visit Moorcock on occasion, checking in every now and again, and staying until my head aches, and his ideas have taken over my own. Then I’ll stop, and recover, and wait a few months or years for it all to start over again.

A few days after the review appeared online, I received an email from “MM” that contained only five words: “Great review. Thanks. Mike Moorcock.”

Of course, jaded cynic that I am, my immediate response was that the email was from one of my friends, pulling some sort of prank. After all, I’d never met Moorcock, so why would he be emailing me? So a few moments later, I responded with a quick note, asking a trivial question about a character’s name change that had been bugging me. I think my rationale was that if it was one of my friends pulling a prank, this would trip them up, and if it wasn’t, but really was Moorcock writing me out of the blue, then I’d get an answer to my fanboyish question.

Later that evening “MM” replied, with a genial answer that contained enough detail to convince me that yes, indeed, I was hearing from the actual Michael Moorcock. At the time, I was working at Dell Computers in their phone support queue on the night shift, so over the course of that evening and the following days, Moorcock and I maintained a lengthy correspondence, swapping paragraphs-long emails every few hours. Needless to say, my coworkers in the phone bank failed to appreciate the significance, by and large. But for someone that had grown up on Moorcock’s books, this was all but unbelievable. To be corresponding with one of my personal idols, to have a conversation with him? Aside from the stories I’d posted to the Clockwork Storybook site, I had no published credits to my name, and no “professional” credits at all. But still Moorcock was taking time out, for days on end, to keep up a lengthy discussion with me by email about writing, genre, publishing, et al.

The already all-but-unbelievable circumstance went completely off the rails when, seeing my “@texas.net” email address, Moorcock asked me where in Texas I lived. When I said that I lived in Austin, he replied that I should come down to Bastrop sometime, so he could buy me a drink.

Um, okay.

A few weeks later, I headed down to Bastrop. I dragged my old college buddy Matt Sturges along with me, not feeling up to approaching Moorcock’s house on my own. He greeted us at the door in overalls, insisted we call him “Mike,” and showed us around his house. His wife was away for the weekend, and so we spent all afternoon sitting in his office, him telling us stories about London in the sixties or the private lives of authors we’d only read before, us trying to remain cool and cavalier about the whole thing. At one point, Mike went to the kitchen to bring us a couple of beers—he told us he didn’t drink the stuff, but that we were welcome to his wife’s supply—and Matt and I turned to each other with identical expressions of awe on our faces. “We’re hanging out with Michael Moorcock,” Matt said to me. All I could say was “I know, I know!”

Finally, the afternoon wore down to early evening, and Matt and I saw it was time to let Mike get back to work. As we headed out, Mike offered us each copies of Mother London, from a box of comps he had by the door. When I mentioned that I was already reading a trade paperback edition of that very book, he just shrugged and said something about this one being signed, and put personal inscriptions in each.

And that was how I met Mike.

I didn’t kid myself in that first meeting that Matt and I were anything but acolytes at the feet of the master. Not, of course, that Mike treated us as anything of the kind, but was instead a gracious and generous host. I’ve talked to any number of other writers and artists over the years who have had similar experiences with Mike, who like me have benefited from his encouragement and advice. And like many of those others, as the years wear on I’ve had to gradually come to accept that Mike and I aren’t just friendly, but are friends, which has been a difficult concept to get my head around.

And while I’m now a proper “Professional Writer,” with somewhere near a dozen novels of my own in print or in preparation, I still find it all but impossible to avoid the occasional fanboy moment with Mike, as when I told him over dinner a couple of years ago that I’d read nothing for the previous few months but his novels, some 30 of them in all. I think that caught him a little off guard. (By way of explanation, I should point out that I’d just gone full-time as a writer with my daughter’s entry into preschool, and as I’d opined in my review of the Second Ether books years before, the first thing I did was devote myself for a month or more to “all things Moorcock.” It seemed only fitting.)

And then there was the time Mike brought his master-forged replica of Stormbringer along to dinner for John Picacio to inspect before starting on his gargantuan project illustrating the Elric stories, and Lou Anders and I descended for a moment into fanboy bliss, taking turns swinging the black blade around in the darkened street in front of an Austin restaurant, quoting lines from the death scene of Elric.

Moorcock the author remains one of the seminal influences on my writing, but I think I may have come to value my experiences with Mike the person even more highly. He truly is one of the treasures of the fantasy field, as writer and as an individual, and I consider myself truly honored to be counted among those he has served to inspire.

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