‘THE TWILIGHT MAN’:
A CHOICE OF
‘The Twilight Man’ (Compact SF, 1966) started out as a
two-part serial in ‘New Worlds’ as “The Shores Of Death”.
Then it became Michael Moorcock’s third novel – under
his own name. And the literary cross-overs are revealing…
There’s no such thing as a ‘regular’ Michael Moorcock novel. Even so, ‘The Twilight Man’ is untypical of what we think of as a Michael Moorcock novel. There are spaceships, strange alien species, and the Bleak Worlds of space.
At the age of just twenty-six he famously became editor of ‘New Worlds’, despite other more obvious and predictable potential replacements for John Carnell’s chair, reliable and safe pairs of hands such as EC ‘Ted’ Tubb who had piloted ‘Authentic SF’ magazine, or Kenneth Bulmer who would assume Carnell’s mantle at ‘New Writings In SF’. So why was it Moorcock? He was a wild card, known largely for a series of cult tales in ‘Science Fantasy’, and as the teenage protégée who’d edited the juvenile ‘Tarzan Adventures’ comic. Under its new Roberts & Vinter publishing imprint the first ‘New Worlds’ issue to carry his editorial by-line was no.142 (May-June 1964), declaring itself ‘A New Literature For The Space Age’, with a JG Ballard essay proclaiming William S Burroughs as ‘Myth-Maker Of The Twentieth Century’, acting as a manifesto for the rebel regime.
Michael Moorcock’s unique qualification was this new slant on the genre, he was an editor around whom a satellite constellation of young writers orbit, impatient with old conventions and hungry for innovations in style and subject-matter. This insurrection itself has subsequently been unreasonably exaggerated. Check out the contents pages, to find that New Wavers such as Barrington J Bayley had already been championed by Carnell, while there’s a reassuring continuity of established favourites in Sydney J Bounds and EC Tubb himself. In a letter to the magazine, ‘New Worlds’ regular Arthur Sellings concedes that ‘you’re certainly putting out a literate magazine. You’ll have the old hacks like me scratching their heads and wondering if they can make the grade.’
It was a time of change and uncertainty. And in ‘New Worlds’, once the story had been serialised, Moorcock explains that ‘many readers asked ‘where’s the last instalment?’ Because the downbeat ending hadn’t made the clear point it was meant to make.’ Soon after, Robert and Vinter decide to maximise its genre investment with the ‘Compact’ series of spin-off novels. As well as the Moorcock-edited ‘The Best Of New Worlds’ collection – including the aforementioned self-proclaimed ‘old hack’ Arthur Sellings, they published Moorcock’s Martian Trilogy under his ‘Edward P Bradbury’ alias, as well as ‘The Fireclown’ (aka ‘The Winds Of Limbo’) and ‘The Sundered Worlds’ (fixed-up from ‘Science Fiction Adventures’). So it became a natural vehicle for the expanded “The Shores Of Death” rewrite, resolving the reader’s previously-unanswered expectations, and in doing so, forming Moorcock’s third own-name novel, re-titled ‘The Twilight Man’.
The ‘Story so far’ update for new readers in no.145 neatly condenses the imminent threat down to ‘our galaxy is about to be destroyed. Another galaxy is colliding with ours and is approaching the speed of light. When the speed of light is exceeded, it will convert to energy and we shall be engulfed by the same process. The human race prepares for death.’ Despite the cover strap-line boast announcing ‘Intelligent SF For To-Day’s Reader’ this galaxy-smashing inferno is almost an EE ‘Doc’ Smith scenario.
‘Yesterday’s conventions have no place in today’s magazine’ Moorcock editorialises, yet this idea itself has precedents. There’s a gently poetic short fiction in ‘The British Science Fiction Magazine (Vargo Statten)’ (January 1955) – the only documented work by Paul T Evers, in which expeditions to other solar system worlds are doomed to failure by the mind-scrambling “Music Of The Spheres”. But more particularly by Cordwainer Smith’s short story “Scanners Live In Vain” (‘Fantasy Book’ no.6, January 1950) where space travel is constrained by the ‘First Effect’. Here, the ‘Great Pain of Space’ induces a death-wish in all but the surgically-altered Scanners, ‘the enduring agony of space… the pain of space beating against every part of my body.’ When asked directly Moorcock admits that ‘Smith could have influenced me’.
Clovis Marca, the protagonist, is more of a regular Moorcock trope, in that he’s a charismatic loner, driven by an initially unspecified obsession. He’s pursued by lover Fastina Cahmin – at twenty-eight, the youngest person on Earth, and by a mysterious entity-in-black known as Mr Take, with a ‘rudimentary and primordial soul’. ‘Marca was the golden man’ who had abdicated his elected First Citizen council leadership when he deemed the very concept of government itself obsolete in this civilised saintly world, where debate is conducted in the Great Glade of the Flower Forest. The prologue added to the novel fills in detail, about how he’d been born from an incestuous union in a baroque ‘grotesque tower in the twilight region’ between hemispheres.
If the Dark Worlds are a metaphor, they become even more so in the form of the novel’s dark hemisphere of the world. It is the submerged parts of the mind where the fatalistic Jungian Thanatos instinct lurks, the morbid death-wish to the soft nullity of extinction. ‘The darkness mirrors the darkness in their minds’ as Clovis Marca observes. There are no Dark Worlds in the novel, and no Shreelians, unless they are transfigured into the ‘birdlike mammalian bipeds’ who had stilled the world. But Brand Calax is murdered when his Titan expedition is sabotaged on take-off. Narvo Velusi’s transmitter is destroyed. Clovis and Fastina attempt to distance themselves from the growing crisis when the nihilist Brotherhood of Guilt cult is opposed by Andros Almer’s equally fanatical vigilantes, who stage a virtual totalitarian coup. With Mr Take, Clovis and Fastina retreat to his isolated tower in the twilight realm – with a touch of humour, they are pursued by ‘Security Scout 008’! From this stronghold Clovis tracks Take deep into the desolation of the Earth’s night region. The Dark Side Of The Earth. To where a cavern within the fallen moon is refuge for Olono Sharvis’s continuing research.
Thanks to John Howard, Rhys Hughes and
‘Jeremiah Cornelius’ in researching this feature