the whis­per­ing swarm

Michael Moor­cock mixes fan­tasy and fic­tion in this book which cen­tres on a young writer called… Michael Moor­cock.

SFX - - Contents - Jonathan Wright

Re­lease Date: 30 July

480 pages | Hard­back/ ebook Au­thor: Michael Moor­cock Pub­lisher: Gol­lancz

Michael Moor­cock writes like a good re­porter, which is to say he has an eye for telling de­tail yet cuts su­per­flu­ous de­scrip­tion. So aus­tere can his prose be that you could even ar­gue, pos­si­bly with some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, that he’s the least in­ter­est­ing stylist amongst ma­jor con­tem­po­rary Bri­tish nov­el­ists.

Ex­cept, of course, that Moor­cock – whether you’re talk­ing the ex­trav­a­gant Lad­broke Grove hipster of the ’ 60s or the marginally more sober, linen- suited big beard of to­day – has al­ways been acutely aware of style. Even in those nov­els where it’s clear­est he’s writ­ing fast and for the money, there’s an aes­thetic choice be­ing made. With a Michael Moor­cock novel of any stripe, you’re al­ways both in the mo­ment and, as in the best pop­u­lar fic­tion, about to be taken some­where else be­fore you’ve had time to get bored.

There are plenty of clues as to where this ap­proach sprang from in the open­ing sec­tion of The Whis­per­ing Swarm, his first ma­jor novel for a decade. That’s be­cause this first in­stal­ment in a new tril­ogy is, in part, au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal. Here, we meet the teenage MM, a pre­co­cious editor and writer back when, it seems, you could make a rea­son­able liv­ing mix­ing jour­nal­ism with scrib­bling Sex­ton Blake and Tarzan sto­ries.

Much here is al­ready fa­mil­iar as we fol­low a ca­reer on an up­ward tra­jec­tory via “a prof­itable fa­cil­ity for re­viv­ing the pulp sword- and- sor­cery story”, Cor­nelius, Be­hold The Man, New Worlds and such key friend­ships as that with Jack [ JG B] Al­lard, who gets the dri­est of affectionate jibes: “I even­tu­ally re­alised that the only fic­tion he liked was his own.”

Moor­cock’s per­sonal life is far less smooth. Fol­low­ing a se­ries of sex­ual ad­ven­tures, he de­cides to set­tle down, but his mar­riage is trou­bled. Then there’s his abil­ity to ac­cess Al­sa­cia, a mag­i­cal realm hid­den in the cen­tre of Lon­don, where the or­der of the White Fri­ars live, where time doesn’t move as it does in the mun­dane world, and where char­ac­ters from history and fic­tion con­gre­gate.

Yet for all he some­times doubts Al­sa­cia even ex­ists, it’s only here that Moor­cock re­li­ably finds sanc­tu­ary from the “whis­per­ing swarm” of voices that plague him. It’s here that he falls for ad­ven­turer and high­way rob­ber Molly Mid­night. He learns too that he has an im­por­tant role to play in on­go­ing bat­tles in Al­sa­cia. In the sec­ond half of the book, ad­ven­tures im­bued with the spirit of Alexan­dre Du­mas fol­low.

It all makes for a con­sid­er­able au­tho­rial bal­anc­ing act as Moor­cock ( the 21st cen­tury writer, that is, rather than the char­ac­ter) weaves to­gether events in the mun­dane world of his own past and his fan­tas­ti­cal realm. And if the tran­si­tions be­tween the two worlds some­times jar, that’s pre­sum­ably in­ten­tional, a way per­haps to con­vey what it’s like to be a work­ing writer who un­apolo­get­i­cally pro­duces both literary fic­tion and, as a free­lancer ever mind­ful of the need to put food on the ta­ble for his chil­dren, crowd- pleas­ing genre work.

Whether the novel is en­tirely suc­cess­ful is harder to gauge. That’s be­cause there’s an un­der­ly­ing sense that, as the first of­fer­ing in a tril­ogy, it’s just one part of a per­sonal reck­on­ing (“These are the years of look­ing back and tak­ing as­sess­ment,” Moor­cock re­cently told SFX) and we’ll only know how suc­cess­fully the au­thor has divvied up his own ac­tions when we see what fol­lows.

In the mean­time, The Whis­per­ing Swarm is a fan­tas­ti­cally en­ter­tain­ing stand­alone. More im­por­tantly, it sug­gests that Moor­cock’s am­bi­tious at­tempt to fuse to­gether el­e­ments of au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, literary fic­tion and fan­tasy – or, as Moor­cock him­self has put it, “true fic­tion and fic­ti­tious truth” – will ul­ti­mately be suc­cess­ful. Welcome back Mr Moor­cock; no­body else quite has your style.

Moor­cock weaves his own world and a fan­tas­ti­cal realm

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