Thursday, July 18, 2013

Teetering on the brink of the metrosexual apocalypse: Michael Moorcock's The Final Programme

Is it time for a Michael Moorcock revival? Granted - Elric, his existential riff on swords 'n' sorcery has never been really out of fashion. But to reduce his body of work to an albino with a black blade is to diminish a far more varied and interesting writer.

His pulp fantasy homages - not just Elric, but Corum, Hawkmoon and more - increasingly look like a bridge from the old weird to the new, keeping the uncanny alive through the high noon of Tolkien's imitators. While in other books such as Warlord Of The Air, Moorcock both foreshadows the steampunk boom and provides a ferocious auto-critique of his own Victorian preoccupations.

But today, we're concerned with The Final Programme and Moorcock's status as one of speculative fiction's foremost prophets of catastrophe. Like his New Worlds compadre J G Ballard, his work confronts us with apocalypse after apocalypse. 

Unlike the Sage of Shepperton however, Moorcock gives the impression of revelling in The End; if the world is making its merry way over the final cliff, why not be the Pied Piper?

And pied piper, holy fool, party-hardy Prospero - these are all accurate-yet-partial descriptions of the anti-hero of The Final Programme, Jerry Cornelius. His is an alternate Cold War world in which existing certainties have collapsed and the moral order has been superseded, where technology seems only able to precipitate disaster and the arts to celebrate the end. 

And Jerry is a man whose response to civil collapse is to hold a season-long swinging sixties party as a new form of social organisation.

If this makes him sound like some kind of Nietzschean Austin Powers, it's not altogether far from the truth. This dandy, sexually flexible assassin and playboy wanders through spy thriller scenes - glamorous international locations, underworld plots, secret lairs and the like - obsessed with love and revenge. 

His nemesis (and antithesis) is Ms Brunner, a vampiric computer programmer and authority figure who wants to calculate the answer to everything in the titular program. Shades of Deep Thought, perhaps...

Moorcock has a serious, bleak point to make about the impossibility of sustaining life in a society seemingly in love with death, but The Final Progamme is also a great deal of fun, as sixties London frantically frugs its way towards the Eschaton.

And while the book is inevitably rooted in its own mid-sixties cultural moment, its exhilarating nihilism is still both a challenge and an inspiration to anyone seeking to make anything anew amid the febrile wreckage of the old.

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