East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

A day in the cold with Jerry Cornelius


I had to spend one day on the town attending various things, and I got a copy of Michael Moorcock’s Modem Times 2.0, a book that includes a Jerry Cornelius story, an essay by Moorcock on the London in which he grew up, and a lengthy interview with the author.

It was almost forty years ago (1981? Probably) as, on a Saturday afternoon, some state TV guy, forced to sit in office on the weekend to decide what was going to play, decided to pass Robert Fuest’s The Final Programme – and I was rather baffled in seeing that the weird movie that was starting on the telly was based on a work by Michael Moorcock… quite obviously the same Moorcock that had written the Elric stories and The Land That Time Forgot screenplay.
I watched the movie, I was confused, and I first met Jerry Cornelius.

The Cornelius books became sort of a Holy Grail of mine, while I read my way through Moorcock’s catalog. And yet, the only book I was able to get was The Life and Times of Jerry Cornelius – that let to more bafflement.
Finally, in January 1992, I landed in London with my Erasmus scholarship and a bad case of bronchitis, and fast retreated to a pub for a dinner of fish & chips. Along the way, I stopped in a used bookstore and bought two Moorcock books: Mother London, and the first half of the Cornelius Quartet.
I remained quite baffled, but at least I was in London.

After all these years, a new (to me) Jerry Cornelius story is always a treat, and while I still have to grapple with the developments and piece together the new puzzle, I still get lost in the style and in the fragmented, hectic, yes, baffling prose of these stories.
Moorcock weaves snippets from news and magazines, tongue-in-cheek chapter headers and a writing style that normally leaves some of the central elements off-screen. Modem Times 2.0 is not different, and reading it was an exhilarating experience.

HE HAD BUILT up his identity with the help of toy soldiers, cigarette cards, foreign stamps, all those books from the tuppenny lending library with their wonderful bright jackets preserved in sticky plastic. Netta Muskett was his mum’s favourite and he went for P. G. Wodehouse, Edgar Rice Burroughs, P. C. Wren, Baroness Orczy, and the rest. They were still printed in hundreds of thousands then. Thrillers, comedies, fantastic adventure, historical adventure. Rafael Sabatini. What a disappointing picture of him that was in Lilliput magazine, wearing waders, holding a rod, caught bending in midstream, an old gent. It came to us all.

Michael Moorcock, Modem Times 2.0

So today I sat in the cold, waiting, but it was all right.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “A day in the cold with Jerry Cornelius

    • I am with you about the Cornelius books moving from action/adventure to social satire – while still using the feel of action/adventure. And I agree that The Final Programme is well worth watching. A missed opportunity, as the script is somewhat confused, but Finch and Runacre are gold.
      And the final scene is the stuff of legends.

      Liked by 1 person

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