Jerry Cornelius: His Lives And His Times by Michael Moorcock (book review).

October 13, 2014 | By | Reply More

While reading ‘Jerry Cornelius: His Lives And Times’ by Michael Moorcock, I pictured him as played by Lewis Collins. Something about his bearing, the seventies suits and the patter. It’s probably not how Moorcock pictured his time-travelling ‘urban adventurer’, physicist and rock star, but that was my initial impression of the man. This book collates all the short stories (except ‘Firing The Cathedral’, Moorcock’s post 9/11 novella) featuring JC and works as both a record of Moorcock’s changing attitudes, his ability to satirise current events and experimental approach to the form of the stories.


Many of the Cornelius short stories are interspersed with real-life news articles detailing events in the world, juxtaposed with the sections of the stories they head up. Alongside his friend, JG Ballard, Moorcock was a proponent of the cut-up style of story-writing. Often disconnected ‘chapters’ of the short story are set next to each other giving the reader an ‘impression’ of a theme or flavour without relying on a conventional narrative. Many of the earlier short stories here operate in this way such as the ‘The Peking Junction’ or ‘The Dehli Division’.

The disconnected nature of the stories though suits the time-travelling disconnected life of Jerry Cornelius, unsure if anything is true anymore. ‘The Swastika Set-up’ details his sexual relationship with his mother as the background to him foiling a wider plot involving sex toys. Moorcock’s black humour is at its height as Miss Brunner, Jerry’s sometime lover, colleague and occasional foe throws a newborn baby over the side of a boat. ‘I only hung on to it in case you wanted to have it,’ she deadpans.

Brunner is one of a regular cast of characters that appear in the stories, many of them are either fighting a war in one facet of the multiverse or plotting something at the edge of society or even reality. The characters recur time and again though in differing circumstances through each different adventure. The impression one is left with is like listening to a compilation of episodes of ‘The Goon Show’ with Cornelius being the eternal Neddie Seagoon, dispatched to deal with the machinations of a Grytpype-Thynne and Moriarty in a series of disjointed, surreal moments.

The surrealist nature of the stories play into Jerry’s origins from psychedelia, The Beatles and Moorcock’s old mates, the band Hawkwind, getting mentioned as Jerry’s favoured music to listen to. He feels very much like a product of his times, an SF version of the movie ‘Performance’, swinging London, drugs and guns.

As we progress through the seventies and eighties, Cornelius slows down and even ceases to function by a story like ‘The Camus Referendum’ held on a rope leash and sexually deprived. Given that many of Cornelius’ experience, for example, growing up in the Blitz-strewn ruins of London, mirror those of Moorcock directly, it’s tempting to see the author placing himself directly in the shoes of Cornelius.

I enjoyed some stories in the collection, others were harder to get my head around and would require re-reading. ‘The Spencer Inheritance’, for example, detailing the civil war in England that breaks out over the death of Diana is fantastic satire, but other pieces are harder to gauge and one is often left with a confused feeling. Confused though is how the multiverse-wandering, time-traveller would feel and Moorcock’s inventive prose is at the very least colourful and never dull. It has impressed upon me that I should read the Cornelius novels to try and understand one of Moorcock’s most famous creations all the better.

John Rivers

October 2014

(pub: Gollancz. 385 page with a couple illustrations small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK)). ISBN: 978-1-473-2007-2)

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