Law of Chaos – The Multiverse of Michael Moorcock by Jeff Gardiner, Headpress, p/b £13.99 h/b £32.99, Website
Reviewed by Allen Stroud
Why is Michael Moorcock important to writers and readers of Fantasy and Science Fiction?
In many ways, Moorcock is important because he got there first. He wrote steampunk before steampunk was cool, experimented with technique and cross over before genres had fixed locations on the bookshelf. As editor of New Worlds Magazine, he encouraged a whole generation of writers to experiment and innovate. J. G. Ballard, China Mieville and many others cite him as a major influence.
We modern readers owe him a lot too.
In this expanded re-publication by Headpress, Jeff Gardiner charts the work of this veritable Amundsen of writing, no easy task as he acknowledges.
For avid readers of the prolific subject’s work, we have a detailed dissection of themes. Gardiner takes on the prominent characters of Moorcock’s multiverse head-on, managing to distil the raging complexities of all things eternal and connected through more than fifty years of science fiction and fantasy writing. Those who know the books will find all sorts of revealed treasures in Gardiner’s catalogue and the index of titles makes a veritable feast for those initiated, but not yet expert.
The multiverse and vast quantity of Moorcock’s work makes for a vast and sometimes choppy ocean of words. Gardiner’s guide is also something of a restless beast, being accessible and critically appreciative of its subject, but stopping short of offering a starting point for new adventurers to the multiverse. Instead, he offers academic analysis on the pre-eminent characters of Moorcock’s writing and direct insight on their inter-location through the myriad of books he has written. Interspersed amongst this are insights into Moorcock’s writing process, shared by a writer who clearly trusts and respects his critic.
Gardiner tackles each of Moorcock’s major characters in turn, devoting chapters to the important themes of the multiverse pantheon. We have chapters allocated to Colonel Pyat, Oswald Bastable, Elric, Jerry Cornelius, the Von Bek’s, Gloriana and even the way in which London becomes a character in some of Moorcock’s novels. Of course, there are more characters to consider, such as Kane of Old Mars, Una Persson and others. These are also given their moment.
Law of Chaos sets out to offer a roadmap to the Moorcock enthusiast and in this it wholly succeeds. There is so much to learn from the book and this whets the appetite for further reading of multi-verse adventures. Occasionally there is some pedantry. In the chapter on Colonel Pyat, Gardiner probably doesn’t need to explain the different cities that are the subjects of the books; a reader could probably figure this out for themselves. However, this is a very minor criticism and surfaces only occasionally.
Law of Chaos is without doubt the essential Michael Moorcock primer for fans and critics. Any would-be critic or enthusiastic reader should start here. For those uninitiated to the vast pantheon of work produced by ‘the master Storyteller of our time’ as labelled by Angela Carter, would do best to start with those stories and then look to Gardiner’s work as a signpost for further adventures.