Thursday, 21 April 2011

King Of The City by Michael Moorcock

I find Moorcock an extremely frustrating writer, sometimes brilliant, but so ridiculously prolific that editing and quality control often go completely out of the window. His Pyat Quartet is wonderful, but I’ve tossed at least one of his books to one side after less than three pages, and his input into Hawkwind’s back catalogue has been distinctly shaky at times too.


King Of The City is typical of his work; not Moorcock at his best, but full of wonderful vignettes and turns of phrase, although it can get wearing. It’s probably meant to be that way, Dennis Dover, underground rock guitarist and intrepid photojournalist is such an intense character that being subjected to a relentless 400 page monologue is more trial by ordeal than reading. It is not without reward, however.

Dover starts the book suspended from a hot air balloon, taking paparazzi shots of the supposedly deceased zillionaire Sir John Barbican Begg, who is in a compromising position in a hammock with someone else’s wife. It’s the tabloid scoop of the year, well worth maxing out the last credit card to get.

I only had one crack at the shots. Drunk or sober, mad or sane, I only needed one. As we dropped lower over the convulsing soul mates, I clipped on the D-ring so that I could lean further out and take some side views, hoping that in their ecstasy they couldn’t hear the thump of batty-gangsta rap vibrating from my pilot’s pulsing boombox and amplified by our vast silver canopy, or catch a whiff of the roiling cushions of reefer smoke probably keeping us airborne. Not that you could do much about steering or speed in an FG-180. Plus the volume was busted on the blasta. Plus Captain Desmond Bastable, the pilot, had insisted on bringing two magnums of champagne for the trip as well as a pound of ganja so strong you could get cheerful just being in the same city with it. Also a bottle of Stolichnaya. I never drink on the job, it interferes with what I put up my nose, so Captain B had enjoyed both magnums and now lay spread eagled on the bottom of the basket chewing on his dreadlocks and cackling at his own smutty porkboy stories. Every so often he did something amusing with his burner. I didn’t care. I had three full rolls of FX-15+ with digital back-up and was on my fourth. The smoke pacified my mind. I relaxed so much I almost went completely over the side. I started to laugh. Captain Bastable found the vodka bottle. Life was never going to be better.

He’s got his shots, so now all he has to do is relax, get home safely and all his money worries are over:

I dropped our penultimate sandbag, and we rushed rapidly upward and back the way we’d come... I waved farewell to the Isles of Greed and sat down on the floor, zipped up my camera, sealed my film bag, flipped back at the digitals, secured my disc, lit a spliff, popped my last E, sipped the dregs of the Moët, ate my wholefood patty, threw the bottles over the side and saluted the soft emerging stars, wondering vaguely whether Captain Bastable would wake up in time to get us down somewhere near Kingston or if by tonight we’d be trying to bribe ourselves out of Havana with eight dollars, some seeds and stems, and old climbing harness and about six thousand yards of second-hand balloon silk.

Unfortunately, Dover comes home clutching his paparazzi shots to an icy reception:

I’m not the first conquering hero who returns home expecting a big welcome only to discover that in the meantime the social climate has gone a bit radical and the mates who sent him off with wild applause are not all that pleased to see him now. Embarrassed silence as Lawrence walks into the mess. I had left the bosom of my nation, or at least Marriages new Wharf, Wapping, one of the lads, popular with my peers, credit at every pub, a well-respected pro people were proud to know. I’d returned to feel like Herman Goering popping in at his local to down a last stein before going on to his trial at Nuremberg. “Well, mates, wish me luck.”

What an earth could have happened? While Dover has been snapping his scoop in the Cayman islands, there’s been a rather nasty road traffic accident in Paris:

...an over-tired driver did a few pills too many, had a few extra Scotches and decided to take the tunnel rather than the bridge.

In the post-Diana landscape, nobody wants to know him or what he’s seen. The celebrity snapper is now a social pariah and Dover is out of a job and frighteningly broke...

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