Friday, March 21, 2014

Michael Moorcock: Rock 'n' Roller

Having blazed through a copy of The Dragon in the Sword my son got me for Christmas (the final tale of the Eternal Champion), I've found myself in a mood for Moorcock (that's what she said). Michael Moorcock, that is. I fumbled my way through the Elric books as a youngster, but they were a bit over my head at the time. But the last two Moorcock novels I've read - the incredible Gloriana and the aforementioned DitS, I devoured. So I decided to delve back into the Elric novels as the first stop on my quest to read all of the novels mentioned by Gary Gygax as "essential reading" in the famed "Appendix N" of the original Dungeon Masters Guide.

This coincides happily with an obsession I developed last year with Blue Oyster Cult. Moorcock was a fan of the band, and wrote lyrics for "Black Blade," "The Great Sun Jester," and "Veterans of the Psychic Wars." He was also a confidante of the band Hawkwind (somewhat obscure in the United States, where they are known chiefly for having schooled Lemmy of Motorhead), for whom he also wrote lyrics.

Reading about Moorcock's relationship with rock'n'roll, I learned that he actually released an album of his own - New World's Fair, by Michael Moorcock and Deep Fix. Fans of his Jerry Cornelius novels will recognize Deep Fix as the fictional band fronted by Cornelius, but this album is all too real. Check out some details here. Another article focusing on Moorcock the Hard Rocker is here, and worth reading.

My reaction - Moorcock has a weird voice, one that ranges from warbly, high-pitched keening to malevolent, sinister whispers. He also uses the word "dude" almost constantly, which I found strange in a British guy. Tracks range from somewhat folky ballads to balls-out rock in the Blue Oyster Cult vein. Moorcock sings and plays guitar, and he's not half bad at it. Highlights, however, are Moorcock's spoken word bits between the tracks. His spoken voice is creepy.

All in all, it's perhaps best that Moorcock's career has been focused on what he's really good at - writing mysterious, evocative, psychological but action-oriented prose. However, this album is a must-have for Moorcock fans, as it shows a side of him one might not expect. Whether you think it's cool or embarrassing depends, of course, on you. It is certainly not in the ranks of the finest rock albums of the 1970s, but it's an interesting addition to my collection, and one I'll probably listen to again. It's no surprise, really, that Moorcock, arguably the vanguard of fantasy and sf's "New Wave" of the 1960s, should have been involved with the hipsters, stoners and rockers of his day. He was, in fact, one of 'em, and may have consumed more drugs than everyone's favorite incarnation of the Eternal Champion, Elric.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Spooky Old Tree, or, "Do they dare?"

One of my favorite books for children is The Spooky Old Tree, a Berenstain Bears tale. It's entertained at least two generations in my family so far. I discovered today that it was made into a board game. Luckily, this site has some very high resolution images of the game. If you came up with your own spinner and pawns, I think you could pretty much infer the rules. A great game for little ones, I'd think. Though it might seem dirt simple, there's a direct line of continuity between this and games like Talisman.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The New Cosmos

Last night the new version of the late Carl Sagan's classic Cosmos aired. I grew up on the first one - it, and Carl Sagan's books, were a huge influence on me. I think Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan and (oddly) Seth MacFarlane have done Sagan proud with their reboot.

The "spaceship of the imagination" is still present, but it's lost its dandelion shape (which I loved). I think the new shape must have some significance but I imagine I'll have to wait a few episodes to find out what. Host Tyson doesn't quite have Sagan's charisma, but he strikes the right tone, as does Alan Silvestri's score, which captures the appropriate uplifting, triumphant sort of feel I think this show tries to evoke.

Excellent use of clever animation stands in for what would have been dramatic reenactments in the first series, and this will rise or fall on how the viewer likes the animation style. I liked it - especially a segment showing the evolution of humanity through animated cave paintings.

This first episode was more of an overview, a trumpet-call announcing that it's time to get going again with Sagan's dream. A segment on Giordano Bruno got more detailed attention. The episode also focused on our "address in the cosmos," and speculated on the existence of the multiverse - an infinity of universes like ours.

The biggest champ in this whole thing is, for me, MacFarlane, known primarily for being the creator of The Family Guy and a slew of other shows on the Fox network. MacFarlane was instrumental in funding Cosmos, proving he's got more to do than make mean-spirited jokes about - well, pretty much everyone. In fact, Druyan, Sagan's widow, said MacFarlane and Sagan would have been "kindred spirits." MacFarlane also provided funding for many of Sagan's personal papers and whatnot to be processed and included in the Library of Congress. He's a believer, and more multidimensional than his comedy indicates.

I'll keep an eye on this series. Did I like it as much as the original? Not quite. But it's not a fair question, either. This show isn't a remake, but a continuation, of Sagan's Cosmos. This is hammered home when, at the end of the first episode, Tyson briefly eulogizes Sagan, recaps his scientific and cultural influence, and tells a touching story of how, when Tyson was a 17-year-old kid from the Bronx, Sagan befriended him and influenced him to become an astronomer.

This gets to the core of Sagan's gift, at least as I see it - the ability to speak to you across a television set or through the printed page and make you feel like he's speaking directly to you, and that what he's saying isn't just interesting in an academic sense, but that it matters to your life, right here, right now.

I say the new Cosmos hit a home rum in its first episode, and I hope it influences a whole new generation the way it influenced mine.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pharaoh Publishing USA Previews...

Pharaoh is now in the position to be able to purchase pro-quality art. Here are some previews of the covers for Tales From Cape City, Colin Campbell's new book of superhero fiction and the second printing of Funeral Train & Other Stories.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The McAnally Crest

Here's a nice scan of one my mother painted a long time ago. It's currently hanging in my dad's house.

This is really cool-looking, but fans of Metallica will note a disturbing resemblance to the album cover for Metal Up Your Ass.