See full transcript of the Michael Moorcock interview on The Zone
“The Dreamthief’s Daughter also features the return of another classic character, Oswald Bastable. The first Bastable novels anticipated the ‘steampunk’ genre (sub-genre? micro-genre?) by a good decade or so. Were you consciously trying to do something new with these novels? What new possibilities did you see in this milieu?
This reflects the problem I just mentioned. I came up with the idea for Warlord Of The Air specifically because I was quarrelling with [Joseph] Conrad, if you like. There’s a piece about this by Brian Baker on the New Worlds site. He calls it ‘intervening’ and it’s what I do a lot – go into the genre or kind of story and then start messing with its message. Unlike Kipling, for instance, I didn’t believe you could have benign imperialism. It is a fantasy, usually maintained by injustice and cruelty. So I developed a method of writing a story which would at first seem to show a wonderful Pax Britannica – all the romance of giant airships, idealistic young servants of Empire and so on – and would then slowly show what it was really like. And, inevitably, Hiroshima still got bombed. As I wrote the Hawkmoon books deliberately against a mood of anti-German feeling in Britain at the time, so I wrote the Bastable books to reveal, if you like, the dirt under the carpet. So the form, the idea and the character were all specific and married to underpin the moral debate. This is what I understand science fiction to do best. It’s what attracts me about science fiction. So I developed a technique, imagined a world where giant airships had maintained the peace, as it were, and off I went.
Then someone comes along and thinks “Cool! Giant airships! Alternative world where everything runs on steam! Wow! I can do one of those.” And your own book tends to get buried amongst such works to the point where (I heard) someone on a panel in Montreal last year suggested that they didn’t like my work because it “had an agenda.” And there was I thinking that’s what it was all supposed to be about. Certainly Wells, Huxley, Wylie, Orwell, Pohl and Kornbluth had agendas.
It probably suggests why SF and fantasy have become the largest-selling single genre now – they have found a way of removing the content and leaving the surface more or less intact. If I were 18 today I would not be thinking of writing in the SF or fantasy field as such. People think an idea is to do with how you mine minerals on alien planets or what would happen if people from the future tried to warn us about something. These are familiar riffs. It’s more like sampling than original music. Sometimes that sampling can sound great. But it’s still sampling.