Friday, October 16, 2009

Michael Moorcock's "A Cure for Cancer"

Michael Moorcock's novel "A Cure for Cancer" is broken up into small chapters, each one headed with a lurid tabloid-style headline which may or may not relate to the text. The chapters themselves are all of a single tone: laid-back and deadpan and absurdist, featuring dead-eyed characters who do random things to other dead-eyed characters within static sets; there are lots of vehicles and rooms that are an awful lot like the vehicles and rooms which came before.

While the tone remains the same, the direction of the story changes every few paragraphs. Characters will be contemplating something, and then suddenly there will be a bombing or a battle or maybe just the arrival of other characters, and then everybody moves to a vehicle, and then they're someplace else, all in the span of four or five paragraphs. Because of this lack of focus, you never know what's going to happen next; when people get into a vehicle you don't know where they're going until they arrive.

More importantly, even when they DO arrive, you don't know WHY, because the characters are all identical and none of them have any motivation. You cannot tell the hero -- Jerry Cornelius -- apart from anybody else. You have no idea what anybody wants, feels, or believes. The characters just ARE, and when they talk, they speak in a free-flowing semi-witty banter which has all the sense and purpose of two plastic balls rubbing together:
"And how did you leave Europe?" Captain Brunner unbuttoned his uniform jacket to show a yellow shirt of Sea Island Cotton.

"Much as I hope to find it." Jerry pushed his dinner away and took another sip of his Californian Riesling. "It's an uphill struggle."

"Perhaps it always will be, Jerry."

"One door opens. Another closes."

"Isn't that for the best?"

Jerry raised a jet black hand to a jet black face and rubbed his right eye. Captain Brunner smiled.

"The illusion of power," said Jerry. "It sometimes seems too sweet for words."

"Or actions, for that matter."

It's all f*cking like that.

Very few books annoy me to the point where I put them down after 100 pages, but "The Cure for Cancer" is one of them. It seems to me to be Michael Moorcock's great big joke; a combination of moddish flippancy and William S. Burroughs' disdain for linearity. Separately, those things are good enough when done well...but when put together it's like experiencing somebody's really boring dream.

I enjoyed (most of) Moorcock's Elric stories, and I liked his first Jerry Cornelius book well enough ("The Final Programme"), but "A Cure for Cancer" is so wanky and featureless that I fear I'm "off" Moorcock. There are so many great authors out I really want to spend time and money on the guy who wrote this awful book?

Well, yes. Because I think I recognize what Moorcock was trying to do, and I suppose I respect him for at least trying. I'm also sure there are people out there who love "A Cure for Cancer," just as there are people who love William S. Burroughs.

So I'll give him another chance. But I'm warning you, Michael, that the next one had better be good...

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