A merging of the myth-making impulse with modernism, if you like. I found the success of Asimov and space fiction in general as nostalgic and retrospective, as most successful entertainment always is. It was the zeitgeist all right, given a huge boost by "2001," but we were a different part of it. To me Tolkien's success, his setting the pattern and tone of a genre perhaps even more nostalgic and nonconfrontational than most genre fiction, didn't help either.
To be honest, all I've seen is one dull movie after another. I slept through much of the Tolkien stuff (as I did through "2001," for that matter) and haven't seen many of the others. I liked "Blade Runner," "Dark City" and a couple other sf movies. I liked "The Golden Compass" more than many did (Pullman's one of the few fantasy writers I've read); also Neil Gaiman's movie "Stardust." I really enjoy Chinese fantasy movies like "Hero" too. But fantasy, as I said, needs to contain certain elements to be commercial and most of those elements don't interest me. I enjoy romantic comedies -- what people call chick movies -- cartoons, all kinds of movies, but I rarely go to the theater to see them. I've seen very few of the well-known series, either on the big screen or at home. I saw the last "Star Trek" movie as a Russian pirate version at a friend's house. I thought it was pretty good. But I wouldn't go out of my way to see it. How many really good fantasy movies have you seen in the last couple of years?
Still, don't you envy the advantages of a sci-fi/fantasy writer starting out today -- more outlets in movies, TV, comics for their work?
No. I've often said that if I was a kid these days I wouldn't even think of writing sf/fantasy. I'm not sure I'd want to be a working musician, either. Going back to rock 'n' roll -- when you went into a studio in the late '50s, say, you never knew what you were going to emerge with. You had an hour or two in which to produce a single, and that was that. Equally, with the sf and fantasy of those days, you sat down without that much of an idea of what would come out at the other end, and there were magazines which would almost certainly buy it. But I was a working journalist and short story writer (with one finished novel at 18 which I didn't bother to send out) and would have published anyway. It just wouldn't have been sf. Some form of experiment, though, I'm sure.
The bookstore around the corner from my parents' house was the place where I discovered your work (in a magazine called Epic); the store also carried a lot of 1950s-era pulp science fiction, and it seemed like schlocky stuff to me at the time: I remember one book cover showing a giant, blocky robot carrying a beautiful woman in its arms.
I liked the schlock -- or at least the kind they published in Planet Stories and the really garish pulps. I liked the energy which came off the schlock (if you like) and hated magazines like the Magazine of F&SF, which aimed to make sf respectable. Those moves toward respectability felt a bit like the local burglars trying pass as the vicar and his curate. Our identification, if you like, was with the bad guys who were turning out the good music and identifying the nature of the revolution, who were regarded as vulgar by the generality.
Anthologies can have mixed results. For some writers, they're excellent introductions and have been known to save a few writers. There's the classic example of Cowley's edition of "The Portable Faulkner." Cowley wanted to show how all of F's work was related, interconnected, and I think the same thing is true with "The Best of Michael Moorcock." Each selection seems to belong somehow to the same work. When you started out, did you already envision each of your stories and novels as fitting into a multiverse, or did that concept of an overarching framework come about gradually?
I soon learned I was no good at space fiction, but, before I did, I wrote a two-parter for Science Fiction Adventures in which I came up with rough ideas about black holes (very crudely predicted) and a particular kind of alternate world structure, which I called "the multiverse." At the time, I didn't know William James had coined the term to suggest the many personalities which exist in one individual. It wasn't in general circulation. What WAS in general circulation was the Big Bang Theory and the understanding that the second law of thermodynamics -- entropy -- was showing us where the future lay, in the ultimate end of everything. For a while this was a delightful idea, given I was also flirting with the French existentialists, but I didn't really like the idea of everything dissipating like that.
So the multiverse was your reaction to that?
I came up with the multiverse in direct opposition to the idea of the heat death of the universe. I suspect this was an idea that was in the air, for I learned years later, that a few physicists were also playing with such ideas. They turned the idea into math. I gave it images.
When did the concept of the Eternal Champion develop?
At the same time. In Science Fantasy magazine, I wrote the first version of The Eternal Champion, based on my reading of Victorian gothics mostly, in which a character is doomed never to die, always to take part in some kind of trial, to fight for one side or another in order to attain balance.
And in the Elric stories, for the same magazine, I was developing the notion of the Cosmic Balance, which ideally was always equally balanced between Law and Chaos. Chaos for me could be pretty terrible, with everything in a state of constant change, unstable, while Law represented stability and consistent justice. However, I had soon begun to understand that the world requires equal doses of Law and Chaos to survive. No life without death, no law without chaos. The constant internal debate of the artist.
I think Milton was a big influence there. I had a wonderful Doré Milton, which, with Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," had a huge influence on me as a kid, mainly because of the imagery and because I came to assume that every narrative should carry at least two stories! Anyway, I also found that the multiverse and the eternal champion offered me ways of viewing the same event from different perspectives, allowing me to put the same characters in different contexts.
With your multiverse, you one-upped Faulkner's creation of Yoknapatawpha.
Later, I realized a few writers, including Zola and Faulkner, had linked all their stuff together, in their case mostly through family connections on one plane, as it were. I've never been a huge Zola fan, but I came to love Faulkner, believing him to be the best of his contemporaries. Anyway, the short answer is that I came to it gradually but also pretty quickly, partly, of course, because of the amount of stuff I was turning out so rapidly at that time.
We said goodbye to J.G. Ballard this year. What did he teach you about the craft of writing?
He was one of my closest friends, but I think it fair to say he taught me next to nothing about the craft of writing! I didn't read anything of his until long after I'd started selling to the same magazines. I introduced him to Burroughs, who gave us both hope, stimulated us without influencing us much. He tended to lift whatever wasn't nailed down in the way of story ideas and so on, which he always cheerfully admitted, saying it was better when he wrote it, anyway. Which was true.