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Many Lives, Furnished in Middle-Period Moorcock
October 17, 2011 7:15 PM   Subscribe

Intrigued by the trolley problem? Here is a link to the full text of Michael Moorcock's 1971 SF novel Breakfast in the Ruins. Moral conundrums at the end of every chapter for you.

The author talks about the novel and his obituary contained within here.
posted by infinitewindow (43 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's a little morality quiz that is tangentially related, for anyone interested in that sort of thing.
posted by phunniemee at 7:20 PM on October 17, 2011


Hah! A link to Revolution SF. I still remember back in the day reading Zealot SF and entering their contests. Fun times.
posted by cthuljew at 7:23 PM on October 17, 2011


I cannot take quizzes like that! once I hear the term "morally obligated" my brain just shuts down. morally obligated does not equal " yeah I would do that, I'm not an asshole"

obligation should never be the basis of generosity or altruism in a culture, or we are all fuuuuuucked.
posted by supermedusa at 7:30 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Heh, I referenced this book just the other day.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:42 PM on October 17, 2011


David Foster Wallace does something similar in one of the stories in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.

Normally someone saying something like that would be a bit snobbish, but the only reason I can't specifically remember Breakfast In The Ruins is because I've probably read close to 100 Moorcock novels and short stories.

I wonder if Moorcock helped write Dancing In The Ruins, since he's so close to BoC.

BTW, the real answer is 'whatever doesn't piss off the Knight of Balance'.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:43 PM on October 17, 2011


Here's a little morality quiz that is tangentially related, for anyone interested in that sort of thing.

I got a 50% is this graded on a curve?
posted by humanfont at 7:49 PM on October 17, 2011


Question:
You see someone at a party with the Symbol Of Chaos tattooed on his body. You try to talk to him about Moorcock (or at least Warhammer) and he tells you with a hippie laugh that the symbol means 'love in all directions'.

Is it ethical to kill him?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:51 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Lovecraft: I think you are morally obligated to kill him.
posted by arkham_inmate_0801 at 8:01 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Symbol Of Chaos

I've never understood how that meant chaos, at least the one with arms the same length, because that looks the most orderly, and in balance.

tells you with a hippie laugh that the symbol means 'love in all directions'.

If he was discordian or chaotic, he's probably messing with you. ;) Hence, spot on.
posted by usagizero at 8:02 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Depends on what you do with his blood. And his skull.
posted by dragoon at 8:06 PM on October 17, 2011


Forgot to mention, on one the D&D twitters, there was a great explanation of alignments and how best to think of them. It boiled down to "a character of this alignment sees a child running with scissors, so this is what he is likely to do or think"

For example from the fakeTSR twitter:
"The True Neutral character is glad that isn't their baby running with drow-forged scissors +3 over there."
"A chaotic good character might also run with scissors. However, the CG character would not let a baby run with scissors"
"Contrast with the chaotic evil character, who actually gives the baby the drow-forged scissors +3 & encourages it to run."

This is how i always feel about these thought experiments, it all boils down to the alignment. ;)
posted by usagizero at 8:08 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is how i always feel about these thought experiments, it all boils down to the alignment. ;)

Moorcock doesn't use Good/Evil as such but the Law/Balance/Chaos axis is probably THE most important theme in his fantasy. Everything comes down to the war between Law and Chaos, and too much of either one leads to either utter madness or utter stasis. Part of the reason D&D alignment is so weird is because they grafted Moorcock's system on to Good/Evil.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:11 PM on October 17, 2011


I watched Empire of the Sun yesterday. I completely missed most of the acts of moral-conundrums-cum-assholery the first time around. It was really well done.

Did we ever get a resolution whether "white liberals hate white people"? The 2nd link of the FPP. I read this on Postroad's blog ages ago, but he doesn't have a comment section, and there's a truckload of [sullen] "I think it may be somewhere towards the back" snark in the linked Metafilter thread.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:27 PM on October 17, 2011


On preview. That honestly wasn't pun intended.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:30 PM on October 17, 2011


Moorcock doesn't use Good/Evil as such but the Law/Balance/Chaos axis is probably THE most important theme in his fantasy. Everything comes down to the war between Law and Chaos, and too much of either one leads to either utter madness or utter stasis.

it's been too many years since i've read those, high school i think, but i seem to remember that. it's always been interesting to me that law and chaos are easier to see and notice, while good and evil can be very much muddied by the viewer and their views.

I don't know if they still have it, but i remember DC had the lords of chaos and the lords of order, and seemed to be very influenced by Moorcock, with the LoO being grey and stuck in their ways, unwilling to change at all.
posted by usagizero at 8:46 PM on October 17, 2011


All of these moral conundrums would seem to be mere quibbling to the protagonist of The Jewel in the Skull, who is only concerned with preventing the jewel in his skull from coming alive and eating into his brain.
posted by ovvl at 8:59 PM on October 17, 2011


These Breakfast in the Ruins chapters would make great AskMe questions.

I'm a passenger on a plane which is about to crash. Special snowflake details inside.

The plane is not a jet and so I have a chance to parachute to safety. With the other passengers, I stand in line and take one of the parachutes which the crew hands to me. There is one problem. The people ahead of me are already jumping out. But I have a four-month-old baby with me and it is too large to button into my clothing. Yet I must have both hands free in order to (a) pull the emergency ripcord in the event of the parachute failing to open, (b) guide the chute to safety if I see danger below. How is babby saved?

posted by roger ackroyd at 9:05 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't know if they still have it, but i remember DC had the lords of chaos and the lords of order, and seemed to be very influenced by Moorcock, with the LoO being grey and stuck in their ways, unwilling to change at all.

They showed up in Sandman, which is technically DC, but Neil is such a big fan that the tile of this post comes from the essay that got me into Moorcock.

All of these moral conundrums would seem to be mere quibbling to the protagonist of The Jewel in the Skull, who is only concerned with preventing the jewel in his skull from coming alive and eating into his brain.

My favorite moral conundrum posed by Moorcock is what if you needed to become Jesus?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:07 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The origins of the Chaos symbol.
posted by Artw at 9:17 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of partial to the version Duncan Fegredo came up with for Kid Eternity. DC Comics has had Lords of Order and Chaos for a while, BTW, though the Morrison KE is the first time they've had that sybol associated with them that I know of.
posted by Artw at 9:31 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great post. Interesting article about how damage to a part of the prefrontal cortex can make cold calculations like the trolley problem easier for the sufferer.
posted by Pope Xanax IV at 9:31 PM on October 17, 2011


Great post. Interesting article about how damage to a part of the prefrontal cortex can make cold calculations like the trolley problem easier for the sufferer.

I think it was Paul Di Flippo who wrote a story about a Phineas Gage Society, where the world's richest people made sure this happened intentionally
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:33 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Artw, thank you for that--I had no idea Stormbringer had been adapted twice. I knew about P. Craig Russell's collaboration with Roy Thomas on Elric of Melniboné and his later solo adaptation of Stormbringer, but the Jim Cawthorn book is news to me.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:34 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The plane is not a jet and so I have a chance to parachute to safety. With the other passengers, I stand in line and take one of the parachutes which the crew hands to me. There is one problem. The people ahead of me are already jumping out. But I have a four-month-old baby with me and it is too large to button into my clothing. Yet I must have both hands free in order to (a) pull the emergency ripcord in the event of the parachute failing to open, (b) guide the chute to safety if I see danger below. How is babby saved?

The baby has to go. I might even hoof it and let out a Major Kong type scream.

Anyone remember an episode of M*A*S*H where Hawkeye was on a bus when a woman strangled a noisy chicken, to save everyone's lives during some sort of search by the military? *memory hazy* But it turns out he tried to block out the memory after the war and she actually strangled her own child to save fellow passengers' lives. Or maybe just her own.

That's some heavy duty sh1t right there.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:35 PM on October 17, 2011


A guy crying about a chicken and a baby? I thought this was a comedy show.
posted by Artw at 9:39 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


How is the baby saved?

Well, this is in the context of a science fiction novel. I eat the baby whole, storing it safely in my brood pouch until we land. To think, I only wanted that seahorse DNA for the gills!
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:40 PM on October 17, 2011


That's exactly how the last episode of M*A*S*H* went. The thing is, Hawkeye was one of the people pressuring the woman to quiet her child, but he repressed it, thinking he was yelling at her to keep her chicken quiet. The moment where he realizes what actually happened is one of the most powerful, painful things I've seen on TV.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:41 PM on October 17, 2011


I think there's a serious problem with the usual interpretations of people's responses to the 'fat man' and related variants of the trolley problem. The problem tries to postulate a scenario where the subject knows that shoving the fat man on the tracks would save more lives. I think that's preposterous, and that it's very much relevant that it's preposterous; it would be immoral to trust one's intuition if that intuition says that shoving the fat man on the tracks would do any good.

The right thing to do is to think again, let the trolley crush the others while you hesitate, and then come to the reasonable conclusion that you couldn't have done anything.
posted by Anything at 11:08 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Or at the very least to the conclusion that you could not have calculated in that time that the fat man would have stopped the trolley.
posted by Anything at 11:16 PM on October 17, 2011


Still, one less fat guy == more food for me. Go for it.
posted by Grangousier at 12:31 AM on October 18, 2011


By the way:
  1. When anyone says "let's try a thought experiment", what I tend to hear is "I'm going to make up a story now, and we're all going to pretend it's real, is that OK with you?" While a made-up story is effectively what a hypothesis is, hypotheses are usually subject to at least some empirical testing. I'm generally rather wary of the ability of these particular made-up stories to prove anything, unless they inevitably lead to a conclusion that is counter to the expectations and preconceptions of the teller, which they vary rarely do, for some reason. Yes, this goes for Einstein, too, the mad-haired rascal.

  2. I read loads of Moorcock books well over thirty years ago (at least fifty within six months, and none of them, strangely, were about Elric of Melnibone, which has to be some sort of record). My favourite is The Dancers at the End of Time. Am I the only person with this preference, or does everyone else come down either on his sword-and-sorcery or Ballardian let's-shock-the-grown-ups sides? I like his spy novels, too, come to think of it. Underrated as a comic novelist, IMHO.
posted by Grangousier at 12:47 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Attempt to save the baby by buttoning it in your clothes anyway. Perhaps you can find something to wrap them in there more securely. If teh baby dies you can be at peace knowing you tried to save it. Was that so hard?
posted by bleep at 12:56 AM on October 18, 2011


Also, sending someone to their death who doesn't want to die is murder. Even if it's to save 100 other people. That person has to make that decision for themselves. "But what about those 100 people? Don't they want to live?" Yes, but they were in the wrong place at the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps the guilt of knowing someone was killed so they could live would be too much to handle. What if the 100 people were in the predicament because someone decided to put them in that situation? Still wrong. The sacrificer has to make the choice himself. If he says "You have to push me!" that's fine.
posted by bleep at 1:06 AM on October 18, 2011


Speaking as a fat guy, I have learned to avoid going anywhere NEAR a trolley, just in case. Shit, I get nervous just watching Mr. Rogers when he sends Trolley off to the The Neighborhood of Make Believe. I'm afraid that spoiled little fuck Saturday the 14th is going to do something bad to Robert Troll when Trolley comes by the castle. CAREFUL, BOB! HE HATES FATTIES!

I like it when Mr. Rogers uses the models in the kitchen instead. Everyone is much safer.

Oh, right. Michael Moorcock. Just finished the original Dancers at The End of Time, and yeah, Grangousier, as I've gotten older, I find I like the Jerry Cornelius & Dancers stuff much better than the Elric stuff. I got a big kick out of Jherek Carnelian popping up in Moorcock's recent Doctor Who novelization. I'm trying to track down the Oswald Bonstable books right now.
posted by KingEdRa at 1:28 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Check out the Jerry Cornelius film, The Final Programme.

By the way, what did Jerry O'Connel's character do on Sliders? Yeah...
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:43 AM on October 18, 2011


As an adolescent reading Breakfast in the Ruins for the sexy, mostly, I was tremendously puzzled by the questions. Fast forward some years and, talking to Moorcock, I asked him "What are those questions in Breakfast in the Ruins all about?" "I couldn't begin to explain," he paraphrased, "We'd be here all day."
posted by octobersurprise at 6:54 AM on October 18, 2011


Lovecraft In Brooklyn: "My favorite moral conundrum posed by Moorcock is what if you needed to become Jesus?"

I loved Behold the Man. One of the few times I thought the expanded version of a story beats the original.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:57 AM on October 18, 2011


Ok this thread has all but convinced me to move Moorcook to the head of my to-read queue.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:51 AM on October 18, 2011


if you must allow one person to fall in their death trajectory to save one hundred people, and a question is of personal decision-making regarding murder, then perhaps one answer is that perhaps two people must die in order to save those hundred, though the second death is not at all assured
posted by past at 10:00 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


>My favourite is The Dancers at the End of Time. Am I the only person with this preference…<

Ooh, I was just going to write something similar. I thought I was a big fan of Moorcock’s when I was a kid, but it centered around the Dancers at the End of Time books. I read a fair amount of his stuff back then, but never read any of the Elric stuff. At some point I realized that those books were what he was famous for and felt a little embarrassed.

I read An Alien Heat last year for the first time in 30 years and enjoyed it all over again. Now I have to get the rest of them again. I still don’t really know what the Elric books are about.
posted by bongo_x at 10:48 PM on October 18, 2011


The Elric books are about being twelve.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:21 AM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have never read any Michael Moorcock and have always wanted to. Thanks!
posted by mrgrimm at 11:07 AM on October 19, 2011


Yet I must have both hands free in order to (a) pull the emergency ripcord in the event of the parachute failing to open, (b) guide the chute to safety if I see danger below. How is babby saved?

GRIP THE BABY IN UR TEETH
posted by Greg Nog at 12:29 PM on October 19, 2011


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