Michael Moorcock’s The Whispering Swarm is part autobiography and part sprawling literary fantasy. Moorcock is a giant of the genre whose contributions stretch, like his fictional counter part, from the pulp science fiction of the 1950s to the New Wave and beyond. His concept of the Eternal Champion has inspired generations of imitators and his writing style has legions of ardent admirers. Despite being aware of him, and having a vague secondhand knowledge of his more famous works and concepts, I had never read any of his novels until now.
The Whispering Swarm with its part factual, part exaggerated, part fictional autobiographical plot line is, perhaps, not the most obvious entry point. However, even on that level I found it fascinating. Growing up in post-World War II London and working his way up through the science-fiction and fantasy publishing community, Moorcock looks back blurring the lines of fact and fiction to create an interesting look at a world, a time, a genre, and the development of a writer, which is exactly the sort of thing I enjoy. Obviously, however, this is not for everyone. There is dryness to these passages, that even Moorcock’s practiced prose cannot always overcome.
The narrative also has more overtly fantastical elements, namely the timeless realm of Alsacia—an alternate world of literary adventures and romance, where heroes and characters from all ages live together untouched by the constraints and concerns of the mundane world. The fictional Michael finds himself torn between the worlds, between a career and family on one hand, and adventures and fantasy on the other.
The Whispering Swarm is a superb technical achievement. Moorcock glides between different genres, and skillfully blends multiple layers of fantasy and reality with deceptive and enviable ease. There is not, however, a great deal of plot. The main character spends much of the novel meandering, and the autobiographical passages were occasionally overlong, even for me. Perhaps a committed fan might have gotten more out of it, or even seen connections with Moorcock’s earlier works. As it stands, I enjoyed the novel, but wanted more.
The Whispering Swarm can be found here on Amazon
Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review