Silicon Valley Comic Con 2018

The Prophet of Steampunk

Intro | Call the Doctor | Cosplay Queen | Trouble Women | The Little Gentleman | Star Struck | The Prophet of Steampunk

Michael Moorcock

He has the stature of a rock star in the field of writing fantasy and science fiction—and indeed was a rock star of sorts, since he had a stint writing lyrics for prog rock band Hawkwind. Silicon Valley Comic Con headliner Michael Moorcock is a figure who ranks with Alan Moore and Cordwainer Smith, a British writer willing to revolutionize the genre with subversive tales of time-travel, fantasy and speculation.

During his visit to the South Bay from his part-time home in Texas, the seventy-something Moorcock will be in conversation with the writer and live storyteller M. Todd Gallowglas—"It's an Irish word that means 'mercenary,'" Gallowglas explains. Gallowglas will serve as the emcee during the costume judging, and also has a panel on Sunday at noon, "The Geek's Guide to Literary Theory."

"I think if there was one term I'd use to describe Moorcock, it's 'self-confident'," Gallowglas said.

Science fiction and fantasy are a realm in which, formerly, genre authors tended to address social issues in interplanetary drag. Sometimes, the allegory works, and it's what Nicholas Cage was describing when he said "science fiction is the last realm where you can tell the truth." Other times, at its worse, it's all potboilers and kid fodder.

In contrast to the more commercial science fiction, Moorcock was, in Gallowglas' words, "writing what he wanted to write, stories he needed to write, rather than playing against what other people had written. He was Michael Moorcock, and he was going to write Michael Moorcock stories—he'd create a multiverse where all the stories tied together, and it dwarfed what Tolkien was doing."

Moorcock's A Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy changed the way Gallowglas thought about writing fantasy. In this bible of steampunk, Oswald Bastable, a Victorian gent of 1903, becomes unstuck in time and visits a drastically different 20th century—one in which World War I never swept up the old empires, where Gandhi is the leader of a Marxist paradise in South Africa, and Stalin is a mad monk seeking power in Russia.

"It's still kind of hard for me to describe how groundbreaking it seems to me, decades ago... it's not quite fantasy, not quite fiction, so beautiful and odd," Gallowglas says. "The first book that got me into the mindset of, 'Yeah, you can do anything, as long as you earn it.' Moorcock does some weird stuff, but he definitely earns it."

Moorcock has worked on different ends of the fantasy and science fiction spectrum, even writing a couple of Doctor Who novels, but he also has importance as an editor and a critic. Moorcock published the serial form of Norman Spinrad's breakthrough novel, Bug Jack Barron—Spinrad was also famous for The Iron Dream, a book alleging itself to be the work of an obscure and cracked German fantasy writer named Adolf Hitler.

Gallowglas wishes that Moorcock's book of criticism, Wizardry and Wild Romance, was better known. "It's insufficiently appreciated within genre circles." Moorcock starts his critique by tracing the origin of fantasy writing in old epic ballads of heroes, and works his way up to contemporary writers.

"He criticizes the pillars of the genre," Gallowglas says. "Moorcock's work asks why fantasy literature is not pushing more boundaries. We need to be less indulgent of contemporary fantasy relying on old tropes. Largely, at this point in his career, Moorcock is challenging us to be better."

Michael Moorcock & M. Todd Gallowglas
Apr 7, 12:30pm
Silicon Valley Comic Con, San Jose