Before I review this book I want to describe it as a physical object. It was printed in Britain in Suffolk around 1976, contains 178 pages, and the cover is predominately a sickly green colour. Last year during a university lecture I learned that books with green covers just don’t sell. Well this one apparently did, to yours truly, for twenty Australian cents. I’m unsure about the cover – I don’t approve of what’s going on with the woman’s rib cage – and the image is placed off-center, which feels deeply wrong to me.
The back cover more than makes up for the front. The blurb impressed me so much that I feel compelled to type it out for you, since it is not available on Goodreads or Amazon. As you read it, please try and guess whether it was written by Moorcock himself, or just by a particularly ardent fan.
‘MOORCOCK WRITES LIKE AN ANGEL, A MOD, APOCALYPTIC ANGEL.’
From the return of Jimi Hendrix, as witnessed by a hero-worshipping, spaced-out roadie, to the death of Christ, as witnessed by a time tripping tourist, from the end of the universe to the creation of a new one – these are stories about martyrdom, salvation and apocalypse.
Michael Moorcock, their author, selected them himself. Published together here for the first time, they include the Nebula award-winning ‘Behold the Man’; ‘The Greater Conquerer,’ in which are revealed the dark secrets of Alexander the Great; ‘Goodbye Miranda,’ a story of release from both gravity and sanity; ‘Islands’; and ‘Waiting for the End of Time’. This anthology offers a unique taste of the manifold talents of a writer with more imagination and more skill than other authors can summon in an eternity of Sundays.
Did you see those semicolons? How about that dash? Now I don’t think Moorcock wrote this himself – from what I’ve read of him he doesn’t strike me as particularly vain, although he might have the certain sort of humour required to write the phrase ‘eternity of Sundays’. I’ve enjoyed this blurb more than I’ve enjoyed entire books. You hear of some writers who type out Hemingway stories, trying to get into the man’s head, but ever since I snored through the portentous vacuity of Hills Like White Elephants I knew that such a path was never for me. Consider this to be my Christmas gift to the internet, my humble recitation of what could well be the greatest blurb ever written.
The book is pretty good. I’ve decided that short story anthologies are like albums, with your singles and all the other songs that nobody really cares about. ‘Behold the Man’, about a Woody Allen type who travels back to Bible times and impersonates Jesus, and ‘Flux’, another time-travelling tale that gets weird in ways that would be spoilery to describe, are the singles. ‘A Dead Singer’ gets an honourable mention, and the story ‘Islands’ would make great radio, if anyone out there is still interested in that sort of thing. ‘The Great Conquerer’, about Alexander the Great, was something of a disappointment. I was hyped up to read Moorcock riffing on the Alexander Romance, but no, what I got instead was a sword-and-sandal novella with pronounced Zoroastrian elements.
The blurb alone was worth the twenty cents I paid for it, to the point that the stories could even be considered extras. This book would also be agreeable to fans of Grant Morrison, Philip K Dick and anyone who enjoyed Harlan Ellison’s famous anthology Dangerous Visions. Moorcock’s Book of Martyrs is arguably a gateway drug for his other work – I know that I’m definitely going to watch out for this guy from now on.