Nomad of the Time Streams

SF fans think of Michael Moorcock as having been around forever – he moved into professional writing hideously early in life, after producing his first fanzine Outlaw's Own when aged about ten. Rather than now being a withered ancient with a long white beard, he turned 60 only on 18 December 1999.

Of course there was a huge party (in Texas, where he now lives and I couldn't afford to go: curses!), and a surprise presentation volume entitled in which family, fans, friends and foes lined up to praise or insult the master. Even I was roped in, and scraped together some reminiscences of when I pulled Mike Moorcock's leg very hard and yet lived ...

I'd been lucky enough to encounter the Moorcock fantasies at the right time of life, as a teenager, and eagerly gobbled up all those colourful exploits of harried heroes who (in the technical terminology of the Encyclopedia of Fantasy) were chronically Doom-Laden as they struggled through garish landscapes thick with the Reek of Wrongness: Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon.

In my jaded twenties, an urge to wickedness came over me. One of my early short stories is an exceedingly broad Elric pastiche, featuring a doomed prince who – a touch of the Corums here – is supported through his Byronic life by a black, rune-carved artificial leg named Slugbane, which has a nasty habit of kicking his dearest friends in the groin and draining their vital juices. (I hadn't at that time read Mike's even sillier self-parody "The Stone Thing".) Naturally I sent this effusion to the Moorcock-founded New Worlds Quarterly, and was surprised to hear from editor Hilary Bailey that she thought it quite funny and – terror! consternation! doom! – had passed it to Moorcock himself for comment. I'd forgotten that he was (then) her husband. Death, I felt, must be approaching me on swift wings.

You can imagine the sighs of relief when I heard that Mike thought it was funny too. A generous and forgiving man. After a rewrite to reduce the length, "The Mad Gods' Omelette" was scheduled for the issue of NWQ that, in fact, never appeared because Corgi pulled the plug on it. Even then, Mike helpfully suggested other places to send the story. It eventually featured in the games mag White Dwarf, whose editor was uninterested in the niceties of literary parody but loved the idea of a fantasy hero who repeatedly booted people in the goolies. ("No! No! I failed to sheathe the Black Leg!")

In the decades since, I've seen that spoof reprinted several times, have reviewed Mike Moorcock repeatedly and perniciously, have even – cruellest of all – written entries about him in reference books. And still, miraculously, he remains genial!

The latest of the slings and arrows of outrageous Langford came when Mike was checking the provenance of his word "multiverse", which he fondly believed himself to have coined, only for that horridly meticulous critic John Clute to trace it back to John Cowper Powys in the 1950s. I rummaged in the Oxford English Dictionary and made things worse with the discovery that it apparently originated far earlier, with philosopher William James: "1895 W. James Will to Believe (1897) 43 Visible nature is all plasticity and indifference – a moral multiverse, as one might call it, and not a moral universe." In between, the M-word had been used by not only Sir Oliver Lodge but one of Mike's least favourite English authors, G.K. Chesterton. Reporting back to him, I helpfully fabricated an extra OED citation:

"1963 M. Moorcock Science Fantasy Dec 84/1 The hellish demon-blade broke into an evil moan of soul-hunger as its deadly ebon edge clove the very fabric of the multiverse itself ..."

Mike's reply was as sunny as ever. But looking back, I suspect that he may possibly not have believed me.

Clearly I was lucky. The wrath of Moorcock is a terrible thing, you know. A recent weekend Guardian carried a "Guide" supplement about SF, that was sponsored by HarperCollins/Voyager – so unwary contributors like myself found that mentions of non-Voyager authors tended to vanish. What made Mike hopping mad was that the supplement's title was pinched from the SF magazine he spent huge chunks of his life working on: New Worlds. There was no legal remedy for this hideous insult, but in a blisteringly exclusive interview Mr Moorcock did very memorably say, "Bloody hell ..."

Lawyers tell us not to let Langford quote any more, especially the bits about HarperCollins owner Rupert Murdoch.