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Firing The Cathedral
Michael Moorcock
PS Publishing paperback £8

review by Patrick Hudson

Jerry Cornelius is something of an icon for a certain era of British SF. He made his first appearance in 1968 in The Final Programme, combining the action movie thrills of James Bond with the hipster chic of the emerging rock generation. The Final Programme begins as a re-visiting of Moorcock's Elric story The Dreaming City, connecting Cornelius explicitly to Moorcock's fantasy multiverse, but while the fantasy stories were often potboilers, the Cornelius novels attempted to pursue the concept to its logical and literary conclusions.
   Moorcock used Cornelius as a vehicle for his steady drift away from the restrictions of the genre form and into far more intense speculative work that manipulated both form and content in a way that was new and revelatory. The Cure For Cancer, The English Assassin and The Condition Of Muzak (which won the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1977) chart Cornelius' journey through multiple incarnations and realities, with recurring characters fulfilling similar roles in a dance across the backdrop of a universe in decay. The plot flips and changes as the protagonists exploit their ability to travel between realities, and Cornelius is always a diffident combatant with an eye out for personal gain in a battle between the forces of stability and entropy. The books are loaded with broad, farcical satire, much of it produced by Moorcock's deft use of quotations from tabloid newspapers and popular magazines. They are dense and challenging, but the gradual unfolding of the stories from the generic roots is intriguing to watch, particularly if you are familiar with Moorcock's fantasy work.
   Simultaneously, the New Worlds' gang used Cornelius as a house character, and writers such as M. John Harrison, Norman Spinrad and Brian Aldiss provided his further adventures. He featured in a regular cartoon strip in New Worlds, Robert Fuest (maker of The Abominable Dr Phibes) filmed The Final Programme in 1973, and Moorcock used the Cornelius clan as the basis for his 'novelisation' of the film The Great Rock 'n' Swindle in 1977. By the 1980s, however, Cornelius began to loose his gloss. As with James Bond, the suave, sophisticated hero was out of fashion as was the radical satirical stance of the Cornelius novels, and Cornelius has been relatively quiet for the last couple for decades. Until now...
   Frankly, I'm surprised Cornelius didn't reappear sooner. He would surely feel at home in the world of raves and indie music, dandified male fashion and New Lad sophistication, and it is not hard to imagine him swapping his electric guitar for turntables and sequencer. Austin Powers is merely an envious figment of the Cornelius gloss without the political slant, and even Bond has had a resurgence.
   Firing The Cathedral finds Moorcock and Cornelius in fine form. Although it is initially unnerving to find him shorn of his long dark hair in exchange for a modish buzz-cut, the new look suits him as much as the current age. The usual suspects turn up, bad pennies every one: Bishop Beesley, Colonel Nye, Jerry's vile brother Frank and Professor Hira, as do Cornelius' sometime companions - Una Persson, Shaky Mo Collier and, of course, his beloved sister Catherine.
   There's plenty for them to do in the post September 11th world of the war on terrorism, and once more life is cheap and weapons plentiful. Moorcock makes artful use of clippings from the last 18 months (back to about March 2002) and bits and bobs from the archive that throw the broad satirical sweeps into sharp relief. Perhaps there isn't the same sense of literary experimentation of the classic series, but Moorcock worked hard to develop the Cornelius riff and he plays it here with dynamic assurance.
   This volume from PS Publishing includes a superb introduction from Alan Moore, which incisively pinpoints the appeal and the essence of Cornelius. It is a brilliant essay that is nearly worth the price of admission on its own. However, something must be said about the presentation. The standard of typography, layout and proofreading in this book is amongst the worst I have ever seen. I really wonder if anyone read through the manuscript at all, as the text appears to have been reproduced without the most cursory of checks for typos. Generally speaking the typeface is too large for the format, the paragraph indent too wide, the initial drop capital too small and no attention has been paid to justification, hyphenation or pagination. It is a crying shame that this enjoyable satire by one of our great writers should be treated so shabbily.
Firing The Cathedral by Michael Moorcock
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