The Black Corridor

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"Black Corridor" redirects here. For the song "Black Corridor" by Hawkwind, see Space Ritual
The Black Corridor
Black corridor.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Michael Moorcock
Cover artist Leo and Diane Dillon
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Ace Books
Publication date
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 187 pp

The Black Corridor is a science fiction novel by Michael Moorcock, published in 1969, first by Ace Books in the USA, as part of their Ace Science Fiction Specials series, and later by Mayflower Books in the UK.

It is essentially a novel about the decay of society and the deep personal and social isolation this has caused, and tells of a man fleeing through interstellar space from Earth, where civilisation is collapsing into anarchy and wars. The author uses techniques ranging from straight narrative to entries in the spaceship's log, dream sequences and sixties-style computer printouts.

Plot summary[edit]

Ryan is a tough-minded British businessman appalled by the breakdown of society at the end of the 20th century. He feels that he is one of the few sane men in a world of paranoiacs.

With a small group of family and friends, he has stolen a spaceship and set out for Munich 15040 (Barnard's Star), a planet believed to be suitable for colonisation. Now he keeps watch alone, with his 13 companions sealed in cabinets designed to keep them in suspended animation for the many years of the journey. He makes a daily report on each one: it is always 'Condition Steady'.

Ryan is tormented by nightmares and memories of the violence on Earth; he starts to fear he is losing his grip on reality. The shipboard computer urges him to take a drug that eliminates all delusions and hallucinations; but he is strangely reluctant to use this drug.

Alternative interpretations of the ending[edit]

The book is deliberately ambiguous about certain events, and the ultimate fate of Ryan and his companions. Though Ryan's journey continues at the end of the book, it is a matter for debate as to what exactly has occurred. The ending can be taken a number of ways:

1. The people in the hibernation cabinets are all corpses, mostly killed by Ryan. Soon after takeoff their own paranoia surfaced and quarrels began. Ryan, as the alpha-male, was the last one standing, and continues his futile flight through darkness. The repetition of the prose-poem about the nature of space at the beginning and end of the novel can be taken to indicate that Ryan is, literally and figuratively, wandering around in circles: the starship is hopelessly off course and will never reach a safe port, and Ryan is doomed to swing perpetually between psychotic breakdowns and neurotic denial of what has happened.

2. There never was a spaceship. Ryan's friends and family, too terrified to leave the apartment have been sucked into Ryan's fantasy of escaping to another world. Eventually, they've turned on one another until ultimately Ryan killed them and stashed their bodies. This is supported by both the first and last chapters as well as subtle pointers throughout.

3. Ryan, alone for so long in space, endures a psychotic episode, yet manages to pull through to a state of relative sanity, and the ship continues on its voyage. This interpretation means that the story can be read as a pared-down study of loneliness and its effects – isolation, lust, guilt, depression, murderous and suicidal thoughts, etc.


Although the novel is credited to Michael Moorcock, it is based on an idea for a novel started but not finished by Moorcock's then-wife, Hilary Bailey, "a straight future disaster story – collapse of society stuff".[1] Moorcock took Bailey's scenes set on Earth and heavily rewrote them, adding all the scenes that occur on the Hope Dempsey.

All the scenes in the ship are mine. Many of the scenes back on Earth are Hilary's. That's why it was never presented as a regular collaboration. She didn't want it done that way. So I worked in acknowledgements in the dedication.

— Michael Moorock[1]

Typographical art[edit]

The novel contains sequences of typographical art, where, in the words of the author, "words create a pattern of other letters forming other words".[2] In various editions of the book, these sequences have not always been presented correctly. The first American edition (Ace, 1969) got the art right, although the book's opening passages were cut. The first UK edition (Mayflower, 1969) restored the opening passages but the typesetters messed up the typographical art, although they did get the art on their correct pages, something that subsequent American printings failed to do.

When John Davey edited the Tales of the Eternal Champion omnibuses for Orion (in the UK) and White Wolf (in the US) in the 1990s, every effort was made to ensure that the typographical art was perfect in the volume containing The Black Corridor (Sailing to Utopia).[3] These omnibuses (particularly the White Wolf edition) are regarded by Moorcock as being the "most accurate typographically".[4]

Critical response[edit]

Barry Malzberg reviewed the novel unfavorably on its release, saying "it is not good. It is really not at all good," but concluded "I remain convinced that someday Moorcock will write a substantial novel, fully worthy of his pretensions and our expectations."[5]

The Black Corridor was cited by Karl Edward Wagner as one of the thirteen best science-fiction horror novels.[6]


  1. ^ a b Moorcock, M: , 27 August 2004
  2. ^ Moorcock, M:, 8 September 2004
  3. ^ Davey, J: , 2 February 2007
  4. ^ Moorcock, M: , 1 February 2007
  5. ^ "Books," F&SF, May 1970, p.25-6
  6. ^ N. G. Christakos, "Three By Thirteen: The Karl Edward Wagner Lists" in Black Prometheus: A Critical Study of Karl Edward Wagner, ed. Benjamin Szumskyj, Gothic Press 2007.