The Final Programme

Michael Moorcock
The Final Programme Cover

Michael Moorcock - The Final Programme (1969)


Jerry Cornelius is quite possibly the weirdest incarnation of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion. Jerry is an achingly cool secret agent assassin pansexual music snob who dies and comes back to life frequently. He's armed with supercool weapons like the needlegun and the vibragun, and he throws parties so cool that everyone from Elric to Charlie Parker to Hawkwind attends, (though no one leaves). While all incarnations of the Eternal Champion strive to restore the balance between the forces of order and chaos, Jerry is purely a force of chaos who is never happier than when tearing down empires, regimes and civilisations, or just generally running amok. All this is weird enough, but it doesn't cover the way in which the stories are told. Moorcock wrote the original four Cornelius novels at the height of the 60s counterculture and SF's bold and experimental New Wave, leading him to write a series firmly engaged with its turbulent time and enlivened by the avant-garde techniques of William Burroughs. Aside from the first book in the quartet, the Cornelius stories are told out of chronological order and interspersed with cut-up text from headlines, adverts and newspaper articles to emulate a true sense of chaos. But for all that, Moorcock's pulp instincts and his feel for a good story hold the whole thing together, creating one of those rare pieces of art that manages to be both boldly experimental and immediately engaging. Indeed, these four books may be the great man's crowning achievement.

'The Final Programme', the first Cornelius novel, is relatively straightforward. 'Relatively' being the operative word. When we are first introduced to Jerry Cornelius, he is scheming with a bunch of dubious characters to storm his father's house by sea where his brother, Frank, has holed up so he can steal back his sister and lover, Catherine, from him. This should appear familiar to fans of Moorcock's work, as it's basically the same plot as the first Elric novel. But it is far from simply being a retread. Whereas Elric has always been about moral ambiguity - Elric realises that a lot of the stuff he does simply isn't very pleasant, and boy does he angst about it - Jerry Cornelius is gleefully amoral. Even when he accidentally shoots and kills Catherine, as Elric does to his sister in 'The Dreaming City', he seems more sulky because he's lost this particular game rather than devastated by the death of his true love.

Jerry's associates are lead by Mrs. Brunner, the ying to Jerry's yang, a Thatcher expy who represents order at its most fascistic and stiffing. She is hoping to use the technology designed by Cornelius' father to create a computer capable of running the ultimate programme that would be able to predict the fate of the earth and everyone in it to the smallest detail. On the promise of revenge, Jerry tags along with Miss Brunner to track down Frank through secret Nazi caves in Lapland to find a secret document left by Major Newman, an astronaut who allegedly gained some profound insight on a mission that went wrong. This of course Moorcock fans will recognise as a retelling of the Elric story 'While The Gods Laugh'.

Like Elric and his sword Stormbringer, Jerry and Miss Brunner are suggested to be two halves of one whole. In much the same way as Elric draws energy from Stormbringer eating souls, Jerry is a kind of energy vampire who feeds off the life energy of those around him. But Jerry shows himself to be a very different kind of (anti-)hero to Elric. For much of the book he just coasts along; even the promise of revenge against Frank hardly seems to get his blood flowing, and he barely tries to stop Miss Brunner from completing her evil plan. In addition, unlike Elric, Jerry Cornelius likes sex. A lot. In addition to his incestuous relationship with Catherine, Jerry will and does sleep with anything that moves, male or female, allowing himself to be seduced as much as seducing.

In the end, Miss Brunner runs her final programme and has sex with Jerry, and the merge into the hermaphroditic being Cornelius Brunner, forming a kind of dark messiah that brings about the apocalypse by leading the whole of the human race into the sea to drown. Perhaps as chaos and order have been united in the perfect balance, there is nothing left for this universe. (This is the first book in a series).