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Wizardry & Wild Romance
Michael Moorcock
Monkeybrain Books, 206 pages

Michael Moorcock
Michael Moorcock has published over 70 novels in all genres. These include several series that share, to different extents, a common multiverse: the Cornelius Chronicles, The Dancers at the End of Time, Erekose, The Books of Corum, Hawkmoon: The Chronicles of Castle Brass, Hawkmoon: The History of the Runestaff and the classic Elric of Melnibone Saga. He has also edited an anthology of late Victorian science fiction, Before Armageddon. Under the pen name E.P. Bradbury, he published a series of novel-length pastiches of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels.

Moorcock was born in London in 1939 and began writing, illustrating, editing and printing fanzines under the MJM Publications imprint at a young age. He became the editor of Tarzan Adventures at 16 (some sources say 17), and later the Sexton Blake Library. In 1964 he became the radical editor of the experimental and frequently controversial British SF magazine New Worlds.

A multiple winner of the British Fantasy Award, Moorcock is also a World Fantasy Award and John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner for his novel Gloriana. He won the 1967 Nebula Award for his novella "Behold the Man." He has twice won the Derleth Award for Fantasy (for The Sword and the Stallion, and The Hollow Lands), and the Guardian Fiction Prize (1977) for The Condition of Muzak. He has been shortlisted for both the Booker and Whitbread prizes, Britain's most prestigious literary awards. Moorcock currently lives in London, Spain and Texas. Moorcock has also recorded music, both solo and with the progressive rock group, Hawkwind.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Close To My Heart: New Worlds: An Anthology
SF Site Review: The Dreamthief's Daughter
SF Site Review: Gloriana or the Unfulfilled Queen
SF Site Review: Behold the Man
SF Site Review: Michael Moorcock's Multiverse
SF Site Review: The War Amongst the Angels
SF Site Review: The Dancers at the End of Time
SF Site Review: Kane of Old Mars
SF Site Review: Sailing to Utopia
Michael Moorcock Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

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Wizardry & Wild Romance Nobody has ever accused Michael Moorcock of being afraid to express himself. As one of the driving forces behind the New Wave, a renowned editor and prolific novelist and commentator, he has built a career out of not only following his instincts, but by keenly analyzing what he finds in the exotic locales said instincts lead him. In Wizardry & Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy, Moorcock holds forth on the sub-genre most closely associated with the author of the enduring Elric of Melniboné series. The resulting commentary isn't always pretty, but it is invariably interesting and, at the very least, thought-provoking in ways the author surely intended.

Reissued by Monkeybrain Books after nearly a decade out of print, this new edition of Wizardry & Wild Romance has been updated and revised by the author, and the result is a book that reads as fresh and relevant as any critical analysis of the field. This is particularly welcome with Moorcock's inclusion of reviews which, for the most part, appeared in The Guardian. Examining such recent books as Jeff Vandermeer's Veniss Underground, China Miéville's Perdido Street Station and Jonathan Carroll's White Apples, Moorcock seizes each opportunity to craft not just a review, but an overview of the literary ancestry of each work, philosophical underpinnings of the author's stylistic approach and all manner of observations and opinions one wouldn't normally expect in something so mundane as a review. The very book reviewed is even relegated to a handful of brief paragraphs at the end of the entry on occasion, further evidence that Moorcock is constantly keeping an eye on the big picture. The reader may not know much about the book in question after reading one of the selected reviews, but it's a good bet the reader will have a good idea whether that author's overall body of work holds any kind of appeal. The reviews read not so much as reviews but rather as mini-essays, which explains why they fit in so well with the rest of Wizardry & Wild Romance, which is, at its heart, a collection of essays.

Over the course of the book, Moorcock examines various facets of epic fantasy in turn: the exotic landscapes and worlds in which adventures take place; the various types of heroes and heroines that embark on hopeless quests; the inclusion (or lack thereof) of humor and comedy into otherwise dire narratives... little escapes Moorcock's notice, and indeed, Wizardry & Wild Romance serves as a sort of primer for the novice -- or even experienced -- fantasist, with the various permutations of the form dissected down to the bone. Moorcock's distaste for J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is well-known, and his discussion of that is represented here in the essay "Epic Pooh":

The sort of prose most often identified with "high" fantasy is the prose of the nursery-room. It is a lullaby, it is meant to soothe and console. It is mouth-music. It is frequently enjoyed not for its tensions but for its lack of tensions. It coddles, it makes friends with you; it tells you comforting lies.
For all that these words resonate as blasphemy among Tolkien fans, Moorcock remains intelligent and erudite in his arguments. Never one to stoop to simple school yard name-calling, Moorcock back up each assertion with examples and quoted passages to prove his point. Sometimes the passages are extensive, pulled from a myriad of sources ranging from the obscure to common. It doesn't hurt that Moorcock is absurdly well-read, ticking off references to 19th century gothics as easily as the latest Terry Pratchett. This leads, ultimately, to several pages where he discusses the sources he recommends for further reading. There are some of the usual suspects on the list, such as John Clute's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and companion volume on fantasy, but also delightfully strange and odd selections, such as Opium and the Romanic Imagination by Alethea Hayter. These references amount to a virtual challenge to the reader: "Don't like the conclusions drawn here? Fine. Do the research. Refute my positions. Convince me." The entire tone of the book is that of a one-sided argument in which the author clearly wants there to be, if not an outright contrary view, then at least one sporting a different perception participating in the discussion. One gets the feeling that vigorous discussion and debate is welcomed as stimulating and, ultimately, enlightening rather than threatening.

Wizardry & Wild Romance is one of those comparatively rare books for people who aren't content to merely read epic fantasy, they want to read about it. This book is for people who want to look behind the curtain and see which levers and switches the wizard is pulling. Those readers might not like what they see. Some will be infuriated while other applaud. To my mind, anything that brings a spark of passion to a form that all too often borders on ossification is a good thing. And while readers might not agree on anything else regarding Wizardry & Wild Romance, there's no denying that it brings plenty of spark to the party.

Copyright © 2005 Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke writes science fiction and fantasy as well as related non-fiction. A collection of his interviews, Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak, is now available from the University of Nebraska Press and he also serves as fiction editor for RevolutionSF.com. His web log can be found at jlbgibberish.blogspot.com


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