Eruditorum Press

Christmas and Easter nihilists

Skip to content

Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

38 Comments

  1. Darren K.
    June 27, 2013 @ 1:00 am

    My Ballard is pretty much non-existent as I am fairly confident I will not like his writing, but I've had a smattering of Moorcock and don't really know where exactly to jump in with him, as I don't expect I am going to want to read all or even most of his work. Does he have an urtext? With Ballard it keeps coming back to The Atrocity Exhibition, it seems.

    Any chance of a suggested reading list to keep up with entries to come?

    Structurally, I think we've been spoiled by the Eruditorum. With the Morrison story using the metaphor of the record to show past and present happening simultaneously, it was actually surprising to see time falling away in this entry as we kept moving further back in time away from Near Myths.

    Reply

  2. David Anderson
    June 27, 2013 @ 1:21 am

    I understand that The Crystal World and The Drowned World are more critically acclaimed and more accessible. The Drowned World I've read as it used to be available in Gollancz's SF Masterworks series. If what puts you off Ballard is the descriptions of injured bodies, The Drowned World is as I remember it fairly free from them.

    Reply

  3. Anton B
    June 27, 2013 @ 1:30 am

    It would be as difficult to recommend a Moorcock 'ur-text' as it would be to suggest one for Doctor Who. Moorcock is not only frighteningly prolific but also a capricious genre-hopper. In the context of where I believe Doctor Sandifer is coming from and in particular in regard to both Morrison and Doctor Who I suppose the Jerry Cornelius novels and short stories are as good a place as any to dive in. They are available in various editions and, to quote the author, 'may be read in any order'. Ballard is not to everyone's taste. He is a minimalist detached observer where Moorcock is more the anarchic psychedelic magpie. Again the already mentioned 'The Atrocity Exhibition' is pure Ballard in experimental mode but I would perhaps reccomend his 'Vermillion Sands' short stories as a more accessible entre.

    Reply

  4. Anton B
    June 27, 2013 @ 1:47 am

    'For Ballard, at least, the goal of science fiction was to abandon outer space in favor of “inner space," which he defined in 1968, saying it’s “an imaginary realm in which on the one hand the outer world of reality, and on the other the inner world of the mind meet and merge. Now,” he continued, “in the landscapes of the surrealist painters, for example, one sees the regions of Inner Space; and increasingly I believe that we will encounter in film and literature scenes which are neither solely realistic nor fantastic. In a sense, it will be a movement in the interzone between both spheres.” '

    It's quite startling how prescient this statement was when one considers the subsequent development of magic realism, post-modernism and the experimentation of movie makers like David Lynch. I also wonder how much of the the almost purely symbolic id-monsters like the Silence and the Whisper Men, the fairy-tale tropes, symbolism and pop-culture historicals of current Doctor Who owe to these SF New Wave attitudes. I think 'Lets Kill Hitler' and 'The Wedding of River Song' were pure Moorcock style romps.

    Reply

  5. David Anderson
    June 27, 2013 @ 2:15 am

    My memory of growing up in the UK in the 80s is that everyone who was interested in fantasy or sf read Moorcock. Even if you didn't like surrealism or inner space, and preferred Str Trek or Star Wars, you read Moorcock.
    That being so, I'd suppose that anything in Doctor Who that looks like it could have been even remotely influenced by Moorcock almost certainly is influenced by Moorcock. And I'd say the vast majority of Doctor Who that's any good from the Williams-era onwards falls into that category.

    Reply

  6. Spoilers Below
    June 27, 2013 @ 6:25 am

    The best short, self-contained novel is probably "Behold the Man," which introduces most of his various ideas and idiosyncrasies while simultaneously being a completely brilliant subversion of the life and death of Christ. It won a Nebula in 1967. It's a pretty good litmus test of which Moorcock stories you're going to enjoy, based on which parts you liked and hated.

    You could also do worse than to pick up the first volume of the White Wolf reprints of his books, "The Eternal Champion," and reading those in order. The first is terribly easy to find, the later less so, but it's also a good introduction to the man and his works.

    The best route into his fantasy stylings are probably the Elric stories, containing the seeds of the Eternal Champion stories, the conflict between Law and Chaos, the various gods which inhabit his world, etc. They are definitely early works, however, and written in conscious reaction to the Conan archetype of the strong and willing hero. No less greedy, mind you. More of a mirror image than a true inversion. These are the ones up there with Leiber's "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser" and Peake's "Gormenghast" in terms of "stories you ought to read if you like fantasy." The Corum and Hawkmoon stories are similarly imaginative fantasy, and you could start with those with no prior knowledge and still have a good time.

    If you didn't like Ballard, I'd recommend holding off on Jerry Cornelius. They're very good stories, but also very much in the "As things fell apart, nobody paid much attention" school of eschatological writing. The first novel is a pretty straightforward spy romp (which also rewrites the first Elric story in its first half, if you like connecting things), but the later novels get a bit experimental. I love them, but I can see how others would find the style irritating.

    Reply

  7. Spacewarp
    June 27, 2013 @ 6:45 am

    I avidly devoured every Moorcock book I could get in the 70s, more for the meta-story of the Eternal Champion than for the individual books. About 4 years ago I began picking them up again in second-hand bookshops and although I enjoyed revisiting my childhood, I found a lot of them absolutely reeked of the 70s.

    Reply

  8. IG
    June 27, 2013 @ 8:15 am

    They do. But I still find them a lot of fun. And at least they're short 🙂

    I second the recommendation for 'Behold the Man', too. Terrific novel (arguably even better in its original novella form, which is, or was, in one of his collections.)

    Reply

  9. Dave
    June 27, 2013 @ 8:30 am

    Blog readers were asked to devise the optimum sex-death of Grant Morrison.

    Reply

  10. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 27, 2013 @ 9:10 am

    The Atrocity Exhibition is one style of Ballard, and the most aggressive, but he's done plenty else. "The Day of Forever," as I said, feels more like Borges than Burroughs. Empire of the Sun is probably quite canonical as well, though I've actually not gotten around to it.

    Moorcock fans will enjoy the next two weeks.

    Reply

  11. Anton B
    June 27, 2013 @ 10:03 am

    I replied earlier but my post vanished. (?)

    I'd recommend Ballard's 'Vermillion Sands' set of short stories and of course 'Crash'. BBC Radio 4 recently did adaptations of ,'The Drowned World' and 'Concrete Island' which sounded pretty good. If you like audio-drama You might want to search those out. As to Moorcock – trying to suggest an 'ur-text' is as difficult as attempting the same for Doctor Who. Moorcock's genre-crashing is just as eclectic. Give me a clue as to what kind of literature you enjoy and I'll suggest an appropriate Moorcock book.

    Reply

  12. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 27, 2013 @ 10:05 am

    Sorry – spamtrap got feisty. I've freed your comment from the abyss.

    Reply

  13. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 27, 2013 @ 10:05 am

    Final Crisis, surely.

    Reply

  14. Spacewarp
    June 27, 2013 @ 10:07 am

    Of course no discussion about Mike Moorcock would be complete without mention of the band Hawkwind. Between the years 1969 and 1975 they constantly mirrored one another, with Moorcock performing with the band while Hawkwind cameod in his novels, and with events in the band's history sometimes being used as plot points especially in Jerry Cornelius novels.

    Reply

  15. David Anderson
    June 27, 2013 @ 10:11 am

    From a Doctor Who point of view, I'd recommend the Dancers at the End of Time sequence as the Moorcock book most directly influential on the series.

    Reply

  16. Anton B
    June 27, 2013 @ 10:12 am

    Like most SF and Fantasy Moorcock's canon says more about the time it was created than anything else. Sometimes this is with deliberate satirical effect as in the earlier Cornelius novels, sometimes, as in the Eternal Champion's more Sword and Sorcery series it is a reflection or an echo of contemporary mores and attitudes; specifically the hippy rock n roll bohemia of west London in the sixties and seventies.

    Reply

  17. Anton B
    June 27, 2013 @ 10:16 am

    Thanks 🙂

    Reply

  18. Spoilers Below
    June 27, 2013 @ 10:20 am

    And if not that, then Morrison-Con.

    Reply

  19. Darren K.
    June 27, 2013 @ 11:17 am

    "Give me a clue as to what kind of literature you enjoy and I'll suggest an appropriate Moorcock book."

    Thanks for the offer, Anton. I'm embarrassingly picky when it comes to literature, but I read some Elric when I was a kid, though I don't think I really got them. I also read Moorcock's Doctor Who novel, which I thought was a hilarious take on "What if GK Chesterton wrote Doctor Who"? Otherwise, I generally enjoy Gaiman and Angela Carter, I think Grapes of Wrath might be a perfect novel, and Alexander Dumas is still a much more enjoyable writer than most writers alive today. And, strangely, I will read pretty much any novel about stage magicians. So what bit of Moorcock should I read?

    Reply

  20. Theonlyspiral
    June 27, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    Hyenas.

    Reply

  21. elvwood
    June 27, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

    I was another reader of Moorcock in the 1970s who drifted away in the '80s.

    Ironically I didn't get into Hawkwind until about the time I was getting out of Moorcock. Interesting band – when I went to see them the audience seemed to have decided there was a dress code, but couldn't agree on whether it was denim & leather or afghans. I still listen to them fairly regularly.

    Reply

  22. elvwood
    June 27, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

    Nibbled to death by an okapi.

    Reply

  23. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 27, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

    Cramming Moorcock in a short period for this piece was interesting – I ended up doing very, very fast readings of Dancers at the End of Time, two Elrics, and two Jerry Cornelius books along with a lot of interviews. I don't think I actually like his stuff very much, although I find it terribly easy to like him.

    There's a project I have zero intention of ever writing about the evolution of fantasy as a genre starting with the death of Robert E Howard and continuing to the present day. It would be fantastic, really. I must find someone to trick into writing it for me like I did Josh with Vaka Rangi.

    Reply

  24. Tim
    June 27, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

    If you liked his Doctor Who novel, then you should definitely read The Dancers at the End of Time. It has much of the same kind of humour, although I found Dancers to be much funnier. "Blood: A Southern Fantasy" the first book in his Second Ether trilogy is also I think a very good place to start. (And it also has some links with a lot of the multiverse material in the Doctor Who novel).

    I'm always wary of recommending the earlier fantasy stuff such as Elric, Corum etc. I understand much of those books written over the space of a few days to pay for New Worlds, and while they have a certain wild energy which is a refreshing alternative to modern fantasy, they're often wildly variable in quality.

    I think, the Cornelius Quartet is probably the best thing he has ever written (or at least the last two books in particular). Its very experimental, but I'm not sure there's any real particular reason not to just start there.

    Reply

  25. BerserkRL
    June 27, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

    There's a systematic parallelism between the first few Elric stories (first published, not first in diegetic chronology) and the first few chapters of the first Jerry Cornelius novel.

    Reply

  26. BerserkRL
    June 27, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

    Elric seems intended to be the anti-Conan. Conan is physically strong and wary of magic; Elric is physically weak and reliant on magic, Conan is a wandering warrior who becomes a king; Elric is a king who becomes a wandering warrior.

    He's also the anti-Frodo — he tries to use the Evil Object for good (with mixed results).

    Reply

  27. BerserkRL
    June 27, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

    Moorcock's books are in multiple genres but all interconneceted. To get a sense of his work one should read a) an Elric story, b) a Cornelius story, c) a Karaquazian story, d) an End of Time story, e) a Colonel Pyat book, and f) The Brothel in Rosenstrasse.

    Reply

  28. Anton B
    June 27, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

    Darren K

    Yeah I pretty much agree with Tim's recommendations above. I reckon the 'Dancers at the End of Time' trilogy and the Cornelius novels are the ones for you. Jherek Carnelian (The protagonist of 'Dancers') is a version of Jerry Cornelius from the other books. Actually most of Moorcock's characters have counterparts or versions of themselves elsewhere in other books. Or as BerserkRL describes – a systematic parallelism. Main characters in one novel will have walk-on parts in others and so forth. Part of the fun of getting into Moorcock is spotting them. Enjoy!

    Reply

  29. Anton B
    June 27, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

    Jerry Cornelius I believe was always envisaged by Moorcock as a kind of hipper James Bond. The same fetishisation of gadgets, designer clothes and cool modernity shot through with a cynical disregard for life and a satirical bitchiness all filtered through a druggy haze of psychedelic Rock and time travel. I understand he always wanted Mick Jagger to play Jerry in the movie of 'The Final Programme' but he turned the part down as 'Too weird' and then ironically went on to play Turner in 'Performance' who was very much written as the same kind of character.

    Reply

  30. Anton B
    June 27, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

    Locked in the Tardis with Alan Moore.

    Reply

  31. Jesse
    June 27, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

    Burroughs provides no such easy access route

    I think he's actually the most accessible of the Big Three Beats, because of his recordings. I remember hearing him on one of the old Dial-a-Poem Poets albums on a college radio station in my teens, and I was hooked immediately. Since then the Dead City Radio and Spare Ass Annie CDs have come out. Both are very inviting, if not to everyone than at least to listeners with a dark sense of humor. And once you've heard his voice, it's a lot easier to handle his prose, even when it's extremely experimental.

    Burroughs had a much bigger impact on me in my teen and college years than either Ballard or Moorcock. (And Ballard had a bigger impact than Moorcock. I've actually read very little Moorcock. Or at least it feels that way, given how much he's written.)

    Reply

  32. Josiah Rowe
    June 27, 2013 @ 10:32 pm

    Apologies if this has already been mentioned, but the magical war between Moore and Morrison must be in the zeitgeist right now, as I just discovered this:

    http://youtu.be/RE3wBUn-0p8

    Reply

  33. Spacewarp
    June 27, 2013 @ 11:57 pm

    When I first began reading Moorcock I was about 11 or 12, and took his work at face value as serious fantasy. Much later I realised I'd missed quite a lot of the irony in his work. Moorcock seems to be one of those writers who can spend years crafting a novel, or churn out a fantasy trilogy in months, and they will be equally readable. At this stage of his career he's got so much past material to draw on that it's almost second nature for him to drag one of his Eternal Champions through the wringer for yet another novel, and whatever else, it'll be enjoyable.

    A lot of his fantasy work hovers continually on the borders of self-parody (and in some cases may even have crossed it).

    "The Stone Thing" is arguably the most self-aware work he's ever written, and manages to condense his whole fantasy oeuvre into a few paragraphs.

    It's only 3 pages long, but it's worth it:

    http://goo.gl/4eYkA

    Reply

  34. Darren K.
    June 28, 2013 @ 2:44 am

    Thanks for the recommendations – I have ordered Dancers at the End of Time Complete in One Volume and shall see how it goes. It started well as I Looked Inside on Amazon, so I await its delivery.

    Reply

  35. Andrew McLean
    July 8, 2013 @ 7:41 pm

    In relation to Moorcock's best-known fantasy characters, it's probably worth mentioning that Elric is the character he returned to most frequently and recently. He wrote two new novels around 1990 and a trilogy in the early 2000s. An Elric variant also turned up in the Second Ether series.

    The Von Bek family is worth keeping an eye out for, with "The City in the Autumn Stars" being of particular interest to readers of this blog due to its strong alchemical element.

    Reply

  36. Daru
    February 13, 2015 @ 5:06 am

    Great to hear the discussion (after the fact!) on Moorcock. As well as devouring his books, the work of Burroughs certainly was a massive influence on me as a student.

    Reply

  37. John
    June 17, 2015 @ 5:57 am

    Your description of Burroughs is pretty shameful and reductionist. Burroughs was never a competent criminal, as the facts of his life and his writing attest to. And he wrote about more than just mere criminality.

    Reply

  38. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 4, 2015 @ 4:36 pm

    I'd point out that on the other end of Book One of Last War in Albion I approvingly describe Alan Moore as a con man.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.