Michael Moorcock: The Wet Asphalt Interview

This is part of my series on the work of Michael Moorcock.

Today marks the 70th birthday of Michael Moorcock, and for more the vast majority of those years the man has been publishing fiction read by millions. For more on his career, refer to my review of The Best of Michael Moorcock, from earlier in this series. Our interview took place via email over the course of a few months, and ranged widely in topics, including genre, ethics, feminism, imitation, comics, Jung and more.

In my initial email to him, I described my own introduction to his work. Normally, I would edit this sort of thing out of the interview, but I leave it here because it becomes important to his initial responses. In some cases where multiple questions were asked in one email and responded to in another, I spliced the emails together, or moved follow ups next to the questions they referenced, to make the whole thing read more fluidly. I apologize for any clumsiness caused by this technique.

Michael Moorcock's most recent book is Elric: In the Dream Realms.

ER: A little background: I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy when I was a kid, and then as I descended into the insecurity of teenager-hood I became a genre snob and read nothing but "literary fiction." As I got older, I took to reading SF paperbacks as a "guilty pleasure." I had heard of Elric from reading Cerebus the Aardvark comics (long live, I say, long live Elrod of Melvinbone) but didn't get around to reading one of those novels (and thus your work) until I was well into my twenties. It was only a few years ago that I "discovered" the New Wave SF writers and their more adventurous contemporary descendants and realized what I fool I'd been for so long. Soon after I read a some more of your novels, and quickly became addicted, gobbling up a huge number of them, including the entire Elric series, the Cornelius Quartet, Gloriana, the new Best Of collection and a number of other books. (There's certainly no shortage!) There's something in your work that speaks to me, personally, in a way that the other New Wavers (Ballard, Disch, Delaney, Le Guin, etc.), for all their greatness, don't. I think it has something to do with the structural elegance of your work; the way it can comment on socio-political concerns without ever being preachy or didactic or giving up the thorniness of real world issues; the persistent inner-turmoil that seems to pervade your characters and their worlds themselves; and the obsession with continuity and interconnectedness which gives the whole sprawling mass the sense of a unified project, emphasizing how each book can reflect and refract on the others. Also, most of them are fun as heck to read, and encouraging literature that is both intelligent and fun is one of the founding principles of my blog.

To begin, I want to start with the thing I'm most anxious to ask you about, and that is the role of morals and ethics in your books. In the introduction to Death is No Obstacle, Angela Carter says that you believe "fiction is essentially a moral entertainment." And yet, in your writing, morals are constantly flouted, and most of your major characters are extremely morally ambiguous. Elric goes to war on his own people and virtually wipes them out (though feels emotionally tormented about it). Both Jerry Cornelious in The Final Programme and Erekosë in The Eternal Champion commit genocide on the entire human race, and in the case of Erekosë this is viewed as a heroic action. There's a very disturbing scene in The War Hound and the World's Pain where Von Bek's happy-go-lucky sidekick rapes a girl who they've just "saved." In what way is your fiction moral, and how do these often immoral or amoral heroes represent or deal with that?

MM: As a matter of interest have you read much of my non generic fiction? I know it's hard to come by in the US, apart from the Cornelius books, which weren't conceived as generic, although people tend to see them as sf in the US. I have no problems about my genre fiction being perceived as genre but there are practical reasons why I am unhappy about books like Mother London, the Pyat books and the Cornelius books being seen for instance as some kind of 'alternate world' fiction, since they were not conceived in that way and for them to be claimed by the sf world as sf, for instance, tends to distort the intention. This is especially true of the Pyat books which address the matter of the Nazi holocaust and simply don't work if seen as alternate world novels. I understand the problems of snobbery but in the UK and France at least this is less and less an issue. Increasingly it's a question of taste, of preference. Some people just can't 'get into' sf/fantasy. By and large I have to admit that I'm one of them. Most of it leaves me cold and always did. I have tried reading most of the admired writers of it and just can't get into it. While part of the New Worlds agenda was to improve standards of genre writing we were still more interested in improving standards of literary fiction by importing techniques and subject matter from genre! We used Hammett and Chandler as examples quite as much as Bester and Bradbury and also looked to absurdists like Firbank, Jarry and Wm Burroughs. We were against rationalisation as we were against interpretation and my work, at least, has tried to avoid too much of both -- thus I was attracted to supernatural adventure stories a la Howard precisely because you did not have to offer any explanation as to 'when' the story took place. I remember rationalisation was so important to the generation of critics who dominated my youth that they described both Tolkien and Peake as 'post nuclear war' fiction. They were baffled by fiction which, like a fairy tale or 15th century romance, did not offer some clue to time and place or at very least function as obvious allegory. Absurdists in particular offered the best examples which could be why I was more attracted to Peake than Tolkien. And why Burroughs was an inspiration to Ballard, Bayley and myself when we'd discuss ideas which would eventually become New Worlds policy.

Sf readers in general hated Cornelius. When the books were published and reviewed as general fiction they got mostly good reviews but when published, as they were in the US, as sf and reviewed by sf critics they got mostly bad reviews. Many readers of 'my' NW had no idea it had begun as an sf magazine. Ballard's 'concentrated novels' and my own experiments were received as lit.fic, for what it's worth. Only when the same material was received as sf did we have problems of any kind in that sf readers hated it and general fiction readers ignored it because they knew they didn't like sf! Cornelius also gets described as a spy for some reason -- which he wasn't ever meant to be though I did describe him as an 'agent' sometimes. He was more an urban adventurer, at least on one level, of the kind found in certain noir fiction. When Condition of Muzak won the Guardian fiction prize in 1977 there was no suggestion that it was sf or any other kind of genre. This tended to come quite a bit later as sf critics or apologists co-opted Cornelius into their arguments! Most recently someone asked to list the best 10 sf books for a newspaper similarly co-opted Mother London, which is not remotely sf.

This is an odd irony where people were originally complaining that the material published in NW 'wasn't sf' and are now claiming my non-sf as 'new wave' genre.

I am an intensely moral – or at least moralistic – writer; somewhat puritanical. I believe for instance that writing is ‘action’ and that we are morally responsible for our actions. So where, for instance, in Gloriana, I appeared to justify rape I then felt obliged to rewrite the scene at a later date to try to avoid that apparent justification. There are a number of ways in which this sense of morality is expressed. The simple way is in The Eternal Champion where the hero comes to realize that his own people are not the righteous folk they describe themselves as being and so sides with his peoples’ enemies. This echoes one’s early discovery that we are not necessarily ‘the good guys’ (colonialism, slavery and genocide committed by ourselves or in our names). It’s a bit subtler in the Bastable books where we learn that our way isn’t necessarily the ‘best’ way and that our self-interest guides us and allows us to perceive ourselves as benign or at least as more benign than we actually are. Then there’s stuff like the scene you mention in Warhound where clearly the protagonists are so corrupted that they think little of raping a woman whom they’ve saved, where I suppose I’m demonstrating that these soldiers are so brutalized that they think nothing of performing such actions. Then there’s another level of sophistication, if you like, where characters’ actions contradict their statements and self satisfaction, offering a kind of ironic commentary (as in the Pyat books). I’m making moral statements at different levels of ambition and in a sense addressed to readers of different degrees of sophistication. Similar ideas are being expressed, if you like, but at an increasingly complex level. The structure of the novels allows for different degrees of complexity, too. The simple linear Introduction, Development, Conclusion of a Hawkmoon book is a long way from the non-linear construction of a Cornelius book which in turn isn’t as complex as, say, Mother London. The medium being, if you like, the message, the subtlety of the moral arguments offered depends on the complexity of the structure. So in that sense morality and structure are the same.

ER: Irony of ironies if someone who is considered one of the major figures of SF can't 'get into' it. (And by SF, for conveniences sake I mean "Speculative Fiction", so as to include SF, Fantasy and Horror, though of course one could argue about that label and all genre labels ad infinitum.) The obvious question for you then is, if you didn't like science fiction/fantasy, why did you write so dang much of it?

MM: I didn’t say I didn’t like it, just that I can’t read very much of it. Could be that I know the conventions too well. I still review it and I like some writers – Mieville, Ford, VanderMeer etc. – as you can see from my website’s reprinting of my reviews but if I have default favourite fiction it’s Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor and the likes of Ford, Conrad, James and Woolf. I can’t read Horror at all, I must admit. Scares me too much. I write it for the same reason I play the banjo but don’t listen to Bela Fleck – I enjoy doing it.

ER: It strikes me as true that the US is more conservative about genre than Europe, and that writers have a harder time here moving between or away from them. Every other day, it seems, there's another article in the mainstream press offhanded deriding SF, from the essay on Ballard which claimed "saying Ballard is Science Fiction is like saying 1984 or Brave New World is Science Fiction," to the even more recent review in the NY Times of Lev Grossman's book The Magicians which described magic in fiction as something to be grown out of.

MM: I answered Norton's quote about Ballard by quoting Ballard himself. Of course much of my work is science fiction. Neither of us, nor Brian Aldiss, in spite of publishing literary fiction, ever denied we wrote sf or fantasy, nor are/were any of us ashamed of it. The whole point of getting rid of genre distinctions would be nonsense if we did deny it or indeed express shame. We were always opposed to the silliness and snobbery of the academy. But I think you'd find that all three of us actually read very little after the end of the 50s/beginning of the 60s and it could be that the reason for this is that you don't really want to relax by doing your day job, as it were. I read everything from pulp to the subtlest modernism, but I don't read much in the way of modern detective fiction or westerns, either. I like fiction just before it becomes genre and when it's satirising genre. I really never read a whole lot of sf, preferring science fantasy of the kind found in pulps like Planet Stories and Thrilling Wonder by the likes of Leigh Brackett. I did prefer GALAXY over ASTOUNDING, as did Ballard, which didn't publish much space fiction but serialised Bester and of course Dick, though oddly I didn't start reading Dick until The Man in the High Castle, then went back and read all those Ace and Ace Double novels. I've still read very few of his shorts. Bester was the guy who got me reading sf, as such -- oddly enough in Paris. I used to busk outside the bookstore now known as Shakespeare and Company and spend the money on books. [Alfred Bester's] Tiger! Tiger! was one of the books I bought. Ballard liked Bradbury best. Brian, older than us, had read Heinlein and the others. 

The US is generally rather more conservative than Europe. Which isn’t of course to say that all Americans are conservative. There are some progressives in Texas which could give European progressives a run for their money. One of the reasons it’s so hard to find my non-genre books in the US is that publishers have me tagged and therefore so have readers. Some UK readers ONLY read my London books or Pyat books, for instance. NYT is one of the most snobbish papers I know as far as lit crit is concerned. Of course you find such snobbery everywhere but not quite so much in Europe as the US. It’s well known that Chandler and Hammett (and Faulkner and Welty for that matter) were taken seriously in Europe before they were accepted seriously in the US. 

ER: I am reading Mother London now, and have read Gloriana (which I think I consider literary fiction, all alternate universe trappings aside), The Cornelius Quartet and the stories in Best of of course. I haven't read the Pyat books, mostly because I've read so much about WWII at this point it takes a lot for me to be willing to get back into it. The Brothel at Rosenstrasse is on my to-read list, though.

MM: Gloriana was certainly conceived as lit fic. Pyat’s not about WW2 – it starts in 1900 and ends in 1938. It’s about the ‘causes’ of the Holocaust. Attitudes which ‘permitted’ Nazism. They are mostly about racism. It has very little about either WWs In it. The first is set in Ukraine and Russia, second in 20s US, third mostly in Middle East and N. Africa and fourth in Italy and Germany with barely a reference to war – all of them have chunks set in England.

ER: For all your "literary" work, you still describe yourself in Death is No Obstacle as a "popular" writer. Is there a sense that your non-generic books are still aimed at the populace rather than, say, the academy? Should we even make a distinction between "popular" and "academic" writers in fiction? Are such distinctions meaningful? Especially since the situation now seems to be that the academy has warmly embraced SF writers like Dick and Ballard while the populace is still widely caught up in genre labeling.

MM: I think of myself as a popular writer addressing a smart popular audience. A lot of my readers have come to read ambitious literary fiction after reading mine, a fact I’m very proud of. I assume my readers are smart. Many of them come to my work via my supernatural adventure fiction and go on to read, say, King of the City, which means I hope that I’m acting as a two-way bridge helping unite lit fic and pop fic. This is what I set out to do, seeing SF as a form which attracted smart readers and could therefore form the best bridge. The US ‘New Wave’ was more about improving the genre. In the UK I think it’s fair to say it was mostly about building bridges, taking the best from SF and creating ambitious lit fic. I wanted to destroy the distinctions. Some of that seems to have happened at last.

ER: You say here: "I believe for instance that writing is ‘action’ and that we are morally responsible for our actions."

Yet you've said elsewhere, "We must feel virtuous from the actions we take not the fingers we wag at others. My argument against 'liberal' sf has always been that it can easily be a substitute for real action."

Does writing fiction ever count as 'real' action? Does fiction, in your mind, have a responsibility to be morally instructive or revelatory? Would it not be more morally responsible for fiction writers to get up from their keyboards and, I don't know, join the Peace Corps? Or do we simply have a moral responsibility to, like Dave Eggars, divert some portion of our incomes and time to charitable causes?

MM: To some degree it’s a matter of context, of course. Where and when you’re writing. The same book can be an act of heroism in one context or a fairly meaningless action in another. But writing is still action, I think. I don’t think fiction HAS to be anything. It’s a matter of individual choice. As a writer with a fairly large popular audience, much of which claims to be influenced by what I write I do think I have a responsibility to that audience, though I try to produce books which discuss ideas rather than promote them! As Doctorow says, I write because I’m good at it. If I was good at doctoring I’d join Medicin Sans Frontiers or whatever. I’m a journalist as well as a writer of fiction and do what I can. I certainly am involved in various charities in Texas because I can’t stand the poverty and grief and don’t pay State taxes. I support Dave Eggers. I tithe myself, too. I have done for many years, giving a percentage of my income to others in need or in harm’s way (the story I did for DE/Chabon was in support of E’s children’s charity). In France, where taxes are high but generally well spent for the common good, I’d be tithing less because I’d be (a) earning less and (b) it’s needed less. You’ll note that my website supports Womankind Worldwide and we run auctions and so on to support the cost of the site with all extra money (usually quite a bit) going to WW because it’s a charity which does a lot of good across a wide spectrum, putting power into poor women’s hands as well as resisting violence against women. It makes sense to do all this. The more equal people are, the happier they are (cf Denmark which has, I think, the highest taxation and the most egalitarian democracy in the world). And I guess I AM proselytising now!

ER: You've said you're influenced by feminist thinkers. In "The Cairene Purse" you have a character with a harem, and he seems almost embarrassed about it in front of a westerner, "please forgive me my little vices." We think of the harem as this very sexist thing. And yet, Gloriana also has her own, very bizarre harem. Does Gloriana's harem represent sexual exploitation in the way that we think of a male ruler's harem, or is it something else because Gloriana is a woman, or because of her peculiar condition where she can't derive sexual satisfaction? Is Montfallcon's destruction of the harem, in all its horror, necessary for her to be "fullfill'd" (as per the title) as a woman, to cast off not just the decadence, but the sexual exploitation of other people it represents? Can some of the crude man-beasts of the harem even be said to be exploited, given their mental state? Would we feel the same way if they were female?

MM: I was not really thinking in feminist terms, I must admit, when I conceived G's harem. But I was thinking of the hypocrisy involved. Hidden 'vice' behind the idealism, pomp and circumstance, I wouldn't say the monsters were exploited as much as representing her desire. I think you raise some good points and they are all valid.

I tend to judge a book's success by the questions it raises! The images, the metaphors are intentionally open to the reader's interpretation in this case, but I don't really write to provide a single interpretation or, necessarily, any conscious interpretation. In Gloriana's case, of course, given that it's playing, as it were, against The Fairie Queene, interpretation of allegory is reasonable! You're reading the book with greater understanding than most US critics.

ER: Is your depiction in Gloriana (1976) of a hypocritical government, believing itself in a golden age while literally rotting from the inside out a comment Nixonite America or British politics at the time? (It certainly seems to presage the Reagan/Thatcher governments pretty handily.) Is this a criticism of monarchy in general from the perspective of your Kropotkin Anarchist beliefs? Given that you subscribe to this particular ideology, do you find yourself struggling to keep your work from becoming preachy or didactic?

MM: Really a commentary on how idealism is used to prop up any kind of regime. Although I live my life as much as possible to Kropotkin (inc. his pacifism) I don't use my political ideas in my fiction very directly, if at all. That is Kropotkinism informs my morality but not any 'message' you might find in a story. So where it's arguing against TFQ and the use of myths to shore up monarchies (say) it ISN'T arguing that we should all look to Kropotkin for our morality, even though I happen to look to him for my own.

ER: It seems like in the early twentieth century there was much more of a propensity for writers to share characters and ideas, in the way that the group of Lovecraft, Howard and Clark Ashton Smith frequently did, and stories by you have featured Monsieur Zenith and other characters you didn't invent. You've also often invited other writers to write stories using your characters, though you've also expressed some frustration at the commercialization of some of your ideas by folks like the Dungeons and Dragons people. What's your thoughts on the direction copyright law is taking and the rise of the Creative Commons and "remix" culture?

MM: Certainly there's a conscious sharing of characters and backgrounds than in the 19th century when dozens of sequels were written for Pickwick, say. My own theory is that if you've written a series character (in my case comics, Sexton Blake and so on) it's a fairly natural development to offer that character to other hands -- Jerry Cornelius, for instance. There's also a conscious process around genre. Genre is where certain elements created initially by individuals become common property, usually taken for granted by the generic writer (the 'shared future' you tended to find in Galaxy, created by among others Bradbury, Pohl/Kornbluth, Bester and PK Dick). It's a fairly small step from there to a conscious used of 'shared worlds'. Keith Roberts, who was the editor on my Ice Schooner, so liked the background and characters of that novel that he asked if he could write a couple of stories set in that world. Similarly Jim Sallis asked if it was ok if he wrote a Cornelius story and then several other writers asked the same. I didn't offer the character -- the process was entirely spontaneous. These days, of course, there are all the sequels to famous novels done by other hands. To a degree these references to other narratives are a way of telling several stories at once, which was what we tried to do on NW either by calling up iconic names and images or by referring to earlier fiction (not much favoured, though I tried all of these techniques in the Bastable stories). I can't stop people imitating Elric and so on any more than Doyle could stop Holmes imitators. I'm unhappier about people taking my tools, specially created for specific jobs, and using them to recreate genre
material, where they were originally designed to do something rejecting genre tropes.
I think a certain amount of plagiarism has always gone on and where it's blatant we can still go to law. Otherwise I think we're still working out how best to protect original work and discovering what the effect of free books on the web will have on a writer's earnings. We deserve to be paid for making a good story as we are for making a good chair. We can't reasonably get a cut of the proceeds when that chair is sold second hand. But much of the reasoning on this I tend to leave to smarter people who understand it better.

ER: When you say "I'm unhappier about people taking my tools, specially created for specific jobs, and using them to recreate genre material, where they were originally designed to do something rejecting genre tropes," I assume you're referring to, for example, what you mention in your BoingBoing interview, about people using the Steampunk-ish tropes of Warlord of the Air, which were meant to comment on empires, and turning them into superficial adventure fiction. You say there "I was horrified to see those few books turn into a sub-genre all their own." How do you feel about the various "punk" genres that have sprouted up in the wake of CyberPunk, eg. ClockPunk, BioPunk, DeiselPunk, GreenPunk etc etc? Do you have any opinions on the constant splintering and sub-splintering of genre labels that goes on in the SFF world?

MM: I argued from the 1950s that it could all be called 'fantasy' fiction and John Clute recently began promoting the general term 'fantastika' -- I think I'd prefer a slight anglicisation to 'fantastica'. The more you fragment into sub-genres, the more you get those fruitless arguments about what should be categorised where and that's about the nerdiest waste of time I know of. It also takes away, I suspect, from discussions of quality rather than content. I said recently (see Guardian review of The Manual of Detection -- full review on my site) that punk seemed an odd choice for what could more reasonably be called Steam Opera, if you were going to indulge in this game at all. I also discussed this a bit in a review of Perdido Street Station in The Spectator a few years ago. I'm not sure if it's on my site or not. [link above goes to the review on RevolutionSF –ER] There I talked about 'fantasy' and what it meant pre-Tolkien. I think two terms are probably sufficient -- fantasy and science fantasy. But these exercises in branding are more inspired by chain bookstores, I'd guess, than real criticism. I dislike all labelling and always prefer bookstores which shelf according to author's name. I believing labelling allows the conservative reader too much indulgence. I'm baffled by people who 'never read fiction' or 'only read mysteries/sf/litfic' or whatever. But then I'm baffled in general by the conservative mind-set and have spent half my writing life trying to understand it! My advise to anyone who asks me advise on how to write fantasy is usually 'stop reading fantasy for a start'. I believe my own fantasy at least is improved by my reading of Elizabeth Taylor, say, or Colette. An sf writer friend of mine used to be a great fan of C.S.Forester's Hornblower books. One day he accidentally took an E.M.Forster (Passage to India) from the shelf and his reading life changed from that day on. Aspects of the Novel then led him to a range of fiction to enjoy and he never looked back. That's one good reason for shelving by author...
This splintering smacks of religion or politics more than fiction. Are there equivalents
in Westerns or Mysteries ? I suspect their readers don't have quite the messianic need to promote their favourite fiction. I used to remark on the similarity between sf readers and fundamentalist Christians. There's an odd note of religiosity in that need to convert. Most readers have individual authors they promote rather than an entire form.

ER: Lev Grossman recently wrote a controversial article where he says that the Modernists killed plot and the movement of late has been towards bringing plots back into literature. In one interview you say of yourself and JG Ballard "We were, I suppose, anti-modern rather than post-modern." You've frequently mentioned the influence of the Commedia Dell'Arte in your books and you've also mentioned Shakespeare, among other pre-modern influences. Was your harkening back to these older forms/writers a way of escaping modernism for you? Was it an attempt to reclaim a literature where plot and poetry can go hand-in-hand?

MM: I suppose that depends to a degree on your definition of Modernist and plot. Wouldn't apply to Conrad or Ford, would it? We weren't reacting to Modernism as such but maybe to what we regarded as the decadence of late Modernism we believed we saw in post-war novelists, whether conscious 'experimentalists' or people like Updike where we were convinced that, to coin a phrase, the medium had become the message. Conservatives like Amis originally backed us with the Arts Council precisely because they thought we represented a return to Victorian literary values (and were most upset when it didn't happen).

Neither Ballard's 'condensed novels' nor my Cornelius stories were a return to plot but rather a further move away from rationalized story.

ER: Why did you want to move away from the rationalized story? What was it about the rationalized story that you sought to get away from?

MM: Rationalisations tended to become the message, brought the story into a conventional close so that anything fresh one was trying to say got distorted and allowed the reader to understand it as something familiar.

ER: Why did you decide to do the Elric prequel in comics form? [The graphic novel Elric: The Making of a Sorceror - ER]

MM: It seemed the appropriate place to me. I tend to enjoy putting this sort of thing – exposition, if you like – into comic form. I did something of the same thing with MM’s Multiverse.

ER: You say in Death is No Obstacle that you feel like comics can never convey the amount of information that a novel can. Especially since the Making of Sorcerer stuff goes through so many different worlds and characters, did you find yourself butting up against that limitation at all?

MM: I’ve changed my mind about comics since that interview. Alan Moore showed what could be done, I think. Why I didn’t think of that at the time I don’t mind. You can run at least three contradictory stories via continuity, dialogue and pictures.


In the Duke Elric collection, why do you have the script for the comic instead of the comic itself? Doesn't it seem strange to separate the comic from the rest of the interrelated Moorcock's Multiverse series?

MM: Simply, I don’t own the rights to the pictures and I thought a script with my full descriptions in them might be interesting and offer an additional perspective.

ER: Will the last two Pyat books ever be published in America?

MM: I simply don’t know. The first one done here was a travesty, anyway. Mutilated, censored.

ER: It must be frustrating that these books aren't properly available in the US, where you live much of the year, especially since you keep pointing to them as works you're particularly proud of. If the rights aren't totally tied up, have you considered self-publishing them in the US, perhaps through a print-on-demand service or even just in ebook format, so that people who want them can at least get ahold of them?

MM: I don't see much point in self-publishing them here in the US since the interested reader can order them through Amazon UK or other sources.

ER: Given that you made up the shared universe(s) of your book as you went along, do you think there's a cumulative effect, a sort of Proustian thematic unity to the project of your work, with books building on other books?

MM: Yes, though the process is closer to Balzac than Proust – that is, much was done originally unconsciously and only became increasingly conscious as I went on.

ER: You deal a lot in archetypes. Do you think Jungian archetypes are cultural or, as Jung seemed to believe, somehow hardwired into a metaphysical collective unconscious?

MM: I tend to think they're a bit of both! The trilogy (Sanctuary of the White Friars) I'm currently writing looks at this -- asks those questions. I suppose the answer is that I still don't know!

ER: Elric's sword Stormbringer devours human souls. Do you believe in a literal metaphysical soul? Was Stormbringer devouring souls deliberately metaphorical or did it just seem like a good idea at the time?

MM: I think I believed in a 'life force' and probably still do. If anything I'm slightly more sceptical than I used to be.

ER: This passage appears in Mother London:
"I never hungered as so many of my contemporaries did for bizarre or exotic sensation. I have seen half my generation dead or ruined; lost in an increasingly alien world of Low Tories and imperial ghosts; of shameful and wasteful military adventures, of grocery-shop philosophies, the same that made the last Empire of the French the wretched sham, the miserable, cruel, self-serving society it was. And those Little Englanders are so supremely self-satisfied, smug as bishops, they're unaware of the quicksand slowly engulfing them. But make no mistake, they'll be standing on our shoulders when they eventually succumb."

What's surprising about this for me, is that this is being said by a character in 1954, when it could just as easily apply to the 60s, 70s, or even today. Indeed, the Vietnam era was epitomized by people hungering for bizarre or exotic sensation, grocery-shop philosophies and a shameful and wasteful military adventure. Was this intentional? Ie. did you have a character in 1954 making comments that so easily apply decades later a means of commenting about how nothing changes? (And indeed today there's no shortage of imperial ghosts as we squat atop Iraq and Afghanistan.) Or am I reading too much into it?

MM: I don't think you're reading too much into it. I don't think that much has changed since 1954. We have improved our society in some ways, wrecked it more in others, certainly in the USUK. We have lost the sense of commonality we once had. That's why much of continental Europe is still more attractive to me. The sense of mutual interest is still stronger in most of Western Europe. People there are often inspired by American rhetoric but baffled that the rhetoric never seems to be turned into concrete progress.

ER: Finally, with the dramatic upsurge in interest in Ballard since his death, do you ever wonder if you won't get your critical due until after you've passed on?

MM: Not really. It’s a pointless game and how am I to tell what my critical due is? Or anyone else’s, for that matter?