Titan Books is doing the world a great service by reprinting the works of Michael Moorcock. Though his books have been reprinted countless times, most recently in the Del Rey editions of the saga of Elric, many of his lesser known books have been out of print for quite a while. But now you can read about Corum, Oswald, Bastable, The Eternal Champion, and soon Jerry Cornelius.
Jerry Cornelius is one of Moorcock's strangest creations, a young man who is part super hero, part spy, part messiah, and part any number of other things. In John Clute's 1977 introduction to The Cornelius Quarter, reprinted in Titan's The Final Programme, Clute gives a nice history of Jerry and his adventures, but he leaves out an important part. The Final Programme is quite intentionally written with the same story structure as the adventures of Moorcock's most famous creation, Elric of Melnibone, wielder of the soul-sucking sword, Stormbringer.
Long time fans of Moorcock can see the similarities. Jerry's brutish brother Frank and his ethereal sister Catherine stand in for Elric's cousins Yyrkoon and Cymoril. Frank is something of a drug cook in sixties London and he manages to put Catherine into a drug induced coma just as effective as the enchanted sleep spell Yyrkoon places over Cymoril.
The plot of The Final Programme is something about the building of a super computer by some villainous types, but it's mostly there as background. The characters and the incidents are what shine here. Jerry dashes about a world of sex, drugs, and rock & roll, having superspy adventures and trying to save his sister from his brother.
Speaking of sex, keep in mind that this book was written in 1965, and not published until 1968, but Moorcock was, as usual, ahead of the times. Jerry is bisexual, equally comfortable in bed with men, women, or both. There are no explicit sex scenes, but the prudish should be aware that this book is very much a product of the swinging sixties.
However, despite its sense of place and time, The Final Programme doesn't feel at all dated. Many think Michael Moorcock something of a hack because of the sheer amount of books that he has written. (His newest, The Whispering Swarm, came out last year.) But trust me, the man can write. Here his prose sparkles, at turns wry, playful, and deadly serious. When the needle gun goes in, you'll feel it.
Titan will follow The Final Programme with the other three volumes in the Cornelius Quartet, A Cure For Cancer. The English Assassin, and The Condition of Muzak. All are groundbreaking books. Works of science fiction and social commentary as only Moorcock could write them. Deal yourself in and take a walk on the wild side with Jerry Cornelius. But watch out for Frank. He's a right villain.
The Titan Edition of The Final Programme will be available on Feb 2. Titan was kind enough to send me a review copy.