Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index



to e-mail us:

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK



the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Cornelius Chronicles
(The Cornelius Quartet)

Michael Moorcock

general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Cornelius Quartet

Title: The Cornelius Chronicles
Author: Michael Moorcock
Genre: Fiction
Written: 1965-77, rev.ed. 1979
Length: 974 pages
Availability: as The Cornelius Quartet - US
as The Cornelius Quartet - UK
as The Cornelius Quartet - Canada
Les Aventures de Jerry Cornelius - France
  • The Cornelius Chronicles / The Cornelius Quartet is a tetralogy consisting of:
    • The Final Programme (The Final Program; see our review)
    • A Cure for Cancer (see our review)
    • The English Assassin (see our review)
    • The Condition of Muzak (see our review)
  • This collection was first published as The Cornelius Chronicles in 1977
  • A revised edition was published in 1979
  • The collection was first published as The Cornelius Quartet in 1993 (in the UK; 2001 in the US)
  • The Cornelius Chronicles (the original edition of which this review is based on) differs slightly from The Cornelius Quartet (the latter incorporating a variety of apparently relatively minor revisions)
  • The Cornelius Chronicles includes an Introduction by John Clute; The Cornelius Quartet does not.
  • Illustrated by Malcolm Dean, Richard Glyn Jones, and Jill Riches

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : odd, surreal, literary sci-fi

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The four novels collected in The Cornelius Chronicles (republished in slightly revised form as The Cornelius Quartet) present an arc of Jerry Cornelius-adventures, from the (fairly) straightforward action-adventure of the first, The Final Programme, to the metaphysical summa of The Condition of Muzak. Cornelius, of course, lives on elsewhere: Moorcock created the template, but never fixed the characters's identity, and freed him to be used by others as well. And Moorcock himself has also penned other Cornelius-tales.
       These four novels, written between the mid-1960s and the mid-70s, are very much of their time. They are novels of London, and of the England of that period.
       Cornelius is a superhero, but a flawed one. He is indestructible and yet has weaknesses. He is both a former Jesuit and a physicist. Party-animal and solitary soul. By the end of the tetralogy he is a messiah -- yet another role he is not ideally suited for.
       More than anything, Cornelius is defined by his origins. He is a city-creature through and through: "The city was his security, with all its horrors", Major Nye diagnoses. "When they began to destroy his city he lost his bearings completely." Not that he was entirely firmly grounded even before. The physical destruction of the city and the world progresses through the novels, but the London in which we first encounter Cornelius was already unstable. His luxurious housing (which he tries to recreate several times over) and his wild parties notwithstanding, London teeters from the first.
       The Final Programme culminates in "the world's first all-purpose human being" striding confidently eastward. " 'A tasty world,' it reflected cheerfully." But it is not an idyll that will last. The being is, after all, only half Cornelius, and the twinning is not the one that can ultimately satisfy Cornelius.
       In the books that follow he is, indeed, barely half a man. Cornelius can -- and does -- change appearance, but he finds it more difficult than most to adapt. He rarely seems comfortable in his skin. His ideal, his complement, is his sister Catherine, and throughout the novels Cornelius tries to find her -- and himself. She is his goal and aspiration. Events -- and brother Frank, in particular, -- thwart his ambitions, and people use his weakness to their own ends.
       Cornelius' world is a culture beyond decline: a reflection of England in the years when Moorcock was writing these books, the inner rot made glaringly visible in an exaggerated apocalyptic vision. The Dark Ages seem to sweep across the globe again, for better and worse.
       Moorcock spins both traditional adventures and metaphysical ones. There is warfare of familiar sorts, and surreal occurrences. There are both quaint airships and vibraguns. And a good number of curious and oddly engaging characters surround Cornelius.
       The malleable, happy-go-lucky (where possible) Cornelius is an unusual sort of hero, but fascinating nonetheless. Moorcock does a great deal with him -- more than might expect from a fictional character.
       The books try a variety of approaches, as Moorcock experiments with form and content. The English Assassin is cinematographic in its layout, and The Condition of Muzak is musically-composed. Moorcock also incorporates newspaper-quotes as chapter headings and epigraphs, an effective and telling counterpoint of reality and fiction.

       The Cornelius Chronicles is a mix between sci-fi and metaphysics, literary and pop fiction. It's likely to disappoint those who prefer shallower fantastic tales. It is determined by flux, chaos, entropy. It can't be pinned down. It's not always satisfying, but it is strangely gripping. One wonders (and hardly ever guesses) what comes next. It can be a bit arduous, but it is worthwhile.

- Return to top of the page -


The Cornelius Quartet: Reviews: Michael Moorcock: Other books by Michael Moorcock under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Michael Moorcock, born in 1939, is a prolific British author.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2001-2010 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links