This article is part of a series on the work of Michael Moorcock that will culminate in an interview with the man himself. The story collection The Best of Michael Moorcock is his most recent book.
Considering the work of a writer like Michael Moorcock can be a little intimidating if only because of the sheer volume of material one is dealing with. Over the course of his fifty-year-plus career, Moorcock has written dozens and dozens of books in nearly every genre, and his influence has been broad and immeasurable. His books were formative to the New Wave SF movement that he himself spearheaded in the sixties and seventies, which in turn helped define the SF (and much non-SF) that would come after. His books influenced the creation of Dungeons and Dragons and the plots of children's TV shows. His character Elric was parodied by Dave Sim in the comic Cerebus, his literary fiction novel Mother London was called "one of the most astonishing London novels ever written ... a tour de force" by Alan Moore, and Michael Chabon dedicated his Moorcock-esque historical adventure novel Gentlemen of the Road to him. In the seventies Moorcock even performed with the rock bands Blue Oyster Cult and Hawkwind, who both based songs on his work (in Hawkwind's case, a whole album), as well as with his own band The Deep Fix. The man is an eclectic talent, and a prolific one.
But if you're looking for a good place to start, you could do a lot worse than the new collection The Best of Michael Moorcock. The short stories contained here range throughout his career, as the master traipses through genres and ultimately comes to question the idea of genre itself. We are introduced to many of his most important characters, including Elric, the tortured albino king of a dying race, and the hallucinogenic adventurer Jerry Cornelious. We have Moorcock's bold, Nebula-award-winning take on the story of Jesus, "Behold the Man". We have his band's namesake story, "The Deep Fix," equal parts Philip K. Dick and William H. Burroughs. We have his legendary apocalyptic series of war stories, "My Experiences in the Third World War."
But as classic as these much-anthologized tales are, the preface points out that the '90's represents a kind of "golden decade" for Moorcock's short fiction. Take, for example, 1997's "London Bone", a story which contains no overt fantastic elements. "London Bone" is a political allegory, a criticism of the Thatcherite era disguised as the story of a dealer in rare antiques who finds himself unwittingly selling off London's past. This is as excellent example as you will find of Moorcock's mastery of narrative, a lean mystery set in the unlikely world of the antiques market that manages the feat of being both compelling on a page-by-page basis and also, upon reflection, to reveal layers of deeper meaning.
Other recent stories, such as "The Cairene Purse," "Lunching with the Antichrist" and "Doves in the Circle," are in a similar vein; understated, finely hewed stories about secret histories, that explore Moorcock's interest in the course of the twentieth century and the creation of the contemporary world.
If you've never read Moorcock before and are interested, this book gives you a good sense of where he's been and where he's going. If you have read only his novels, this gives you an excellent introduction to his short fiction. And if all you want is a book full of great short stories by one of the form's greatest practitioners, then you'll find what you're looking for here too.
And where to from there? If you're interested in his fantasy work, I'd recommend the first two books of the new Elric collections, The Stealer of Souls and To Rescue Tanelorn. In those volumes not only do we see the original Elric tales that basically made Moorcock's reputation as a young writer, but we also meet Erekosë, the original 'eternal champion', and are introduced the Multiverse and to the city of Tanelorn, the mythical paradise that Moorcock would return to time and time again.
For those looking for a Moorcock of a less fantastic bent, I would recommend Gloriana, a romance (in the classical sense) of the story of Queen Elizabeth I via Edmund Spenser, and Mother London, Moorcock's loving paen to his hometown.
And for those who like their Moorcock at the extremes of surrealism mixed with social satire, the collection The Cornelius Quartet is delirious and mad.
All of the above books are in print with the exception of Mother London, which can be gotten via Abe Books and other online used marketplaces. Happy reading.