It’s sometimes said in defence of J. K. Rowling that even indifferent writing can take children towards better fare. I have no idea, from very limited contact with Rowling, if that is likely to apply there, but the principle worked for me in the case of Michael Moorcock, except to say that even when he was working at his fastest and pulpiest in the early 1970s, with Elric doing his angst-ridden thing to keep the wolf from Moorcock’s door, his writing was never actually indifferent but bursting with bonkers energy and always managing to imply that (as with Ballard, in a very different way) there was a hefty mind behind what the garish book covers tried to sell as science-fantasy schlock. And so it was, as Jerry Cornelius pointed to Burroughs (William, not Edgar Rice) and modernist experimentation, and Behold the Man heads towards Jung, the Dancers at the End of Time bring up Peake and Goethe, thus to Dickens and Dostoevsky and after that you’re on your own. Which kind of means that when Moorcock started writing literary novels like Mother London, that was no more than his fans expected.
Which is perhaps a verbose way of saying that, when my friend Henry Gee garners praise from Moorcock (who he’d managed to convince to write a Futures piece for Nature) for his sci-fi trilogy The Sigil, I get a thrill of vicarious pleasure. It’s grand enough already that Henry has conceived of a blockbusting space-opera trilogy now graced with E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith-style covers and with what seems to be the sort of outrageously cosmic plotline that could only have been hatched by a Lovecraft fan ensconced in the wilds of Cromer (I’ve seen only the first volume, so don’t know where the story ends up, but only that this is a Grand Concept indeed). But to see it praised by Moorcock, Kim Stanley Robinson and Ian Watson is a great pleasure. And so here, because my blog is among other things unashamedly a vehicle for puffing my friends, is an advert for Henry’s deliciously retro literary triple album.
And while I am singing praises, I have been long overdue in giving a plug for the album Raga Saga, which features string quartet arrangements of South Indian classical music by V. S. Narasimhan and V. R. Sekar. The CD’s title is perhaps dodgy; the rest is certainly not. This is a fascinating blend of Indian classical tradition and Western orchestration. I’m nervous that my unfamiliarity with this tradition – I know a little about the theory behind some of this music, but have very little exposure to it – leave me vulnerable to that common Western trait of revelling in a vague “exoticism” without any deep appreciation of what is actually happening in the music. I’ve no doubt my enjoyment has an element of this. But it does seem to me that this particular example of “east meets west” brings something interesting and valuable to both. Narasimhan’s brother Vasantha Iyengar told me about this recording, and he says that:
“My brother lives in Chennai, India and is a professional violinist and composer.
He works for the film industry to make a living but is passionate about and has been trained in Western and Indian music. Because of this combination, he always heard the beautiful Indian melodies with harmony in his head and started trying out this idea. He has been working on this kind of style since the year 2000. In 2005, to his utter pleasant surprise, he got email from world class musicians, Yo Yo Ma, Zubin Mehta and his violinist hero, Vengerov, appreciating his quartet work. He has been very encouraged about continuing with this pioneering work. It is still difficult to spread the message that great music can be made with this kind of blend and of course to get attention from companies like Sony for a recording. So my son, just out of business school has taken it upon himself to help the uncle out to bring out his vision: he has built the website stringtemple and is doing his best.”
I hope this effort is still working out: it deserves to.