Cloud Chamber 118
June 2001

Life is less than 100% fun at present. Following in Maureen's and Paul's heroic footsteps, we're having vast house renovations done – as mentioned in March but maddeningly delayed. The house is shrouded in scaffolding, and eager artisans appear at the windows of every room to which I retreat in hope of reading, writing, or enjoying a quiet bowel movement. Meanwhile, the sore finger I whinged about in rec.arts.sf.fandom has been diagnosed as a case of RSI, and I'm now struggling to cope with left-handed mouse use (with the help of mouse software that lets you do that tiresome Windows double-click with one touch of the middle button) and new typing habits that take the offending digit out of the loop (happily I've never been a ten-finger touch typist). As Maureen said wonderingly, 'You know, you have to be the only person I know with his own personal fickle finger of fate. Which is no comfort to you, of course, but I marvel at the remarkable attributes of my friends.'

A minor part of the mighty house repairs will of course be the bunging up of the famous wasp-hole which caused such alarm last year. This year it seems quiescent, but I've just noticed that bees are coming and going through a gap under the sill of the French windows....

Alison Scott explains last issue's alarming quotation from her:

'My little Clarke Awards squib from rec.arts.sf.fandom startled Maureen as well as you. It dripped incautiously and quickly from my pen in response to someone (I now forget who) saying, approximately "It's a very strong year for the Clarkes. The judging meeting should be interesting." • It was speculation based on three vague notions. The first was my observation that in the past, the award has often gone to books other than the obvious candidates; compromises are an obvious suspicion. The second was two conversations I had with judges in a previous year (neither of whom were judging this year); one claiming that their preferred choice had only failed to win because of the political partisanship of other judges, and the other expressing deep frustration at the intransigence of the first judge. The third was the memory of a long article I read in some broadsheet a couple of years ago by a miserable ex-Booker judge, describing their judging experience as a fight between two clearly outstanding books, each supported by half the judges, with the award eventually given to a book that was nobody's first choice. • The one judge, of course, who I know well and talk to regularly, is Caroline Mullan. You will not be surprised to hear that she was completely discreet on all matters to do with the judging, apart from saying that the judging meeting (during which we added Meriol to our Orcish Horde) was a perfectly pleasant few hours.'

Commonplace Book. From the cutting edge of New Worlds in the famously swinging Sixties: 'What science fiction doesn't offer (or if it does, in Angstrom-sized doses) is Spillane-like violence, Greene-like maudlin religion, sex/strip-tease/animated foundation garment sagas – fill this one in yourself – and Waugh/Delaney-like homosexuality. It seems to be socially smart to have practitioners of the latter perversion littering modern novels. [...] Science fiction ignores these "facts of life" to its everlasting credit. Writers and editors would be a poor lot indeed if they resorted to, and condoned the use of, themes from the gutter. There is surely much in man that is worth writing about. In science fiction, man has stature, a maturity of sorts. He doesn't have to spend most of the story crawling his way out of a mire of vice.' (Don Malcolm, Guest Editorial, New Worlds #128, March 1963). Oh my. The Moorcock takeover of New Worlds followed a year later, and the controversial serialization of Bug Jack Barron began in 1967. At what stage, I wonder, did Don Malcolm cancel his subscription?

Random Reading

Omitting HugeSouthAmericanRiver review books and a heap of rereading for mere comfort ... Gene Wolfe, The Book of the Short Sun (1999-2001), reread in toto because I'd written about the first two volumes and felt I ought to tackle the third in context. Very tricky, very rewarding. • Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl (2001), entertaining rubbish but – despite all the comparisons and instant bestsellerdom – not a patch on Harry Potter. Owes a lot to Roald Dahl, I think. • Graham Chapman, A Liar's Autobiography (1980), funny and terrifyingly frank after some early, slightly tiresome efforts to establish mere manic unreliability. 'Instead of destroying repellent hotel rooms, he had decided on a more constructive approach. Every visitor should smuggle in a suitcase full of building materials, so that he could build some annoyingly permanent memento, like a brick dog kennel, in the middle of the room.' This would pass unnoticed in the Hanover International. • Edgar Wallace, The Law of the Four Just Men (1921), acquired for the sake of, er, research. Ansible's mentions of David Pringle tracking down 'Saint' ghostwriters brought e-mail from a fan who recalled (admittedly from 40 years back) 'a story written identically by both Leslie Charteris and Edgar Wallace (one of his Four Just Men stories). It couldn't have been unconscious plagiarism – only the names of the main characters had been changed! It was about how the Saint/a Just Man killed a person who was going to destroy all the [bees?] in the world.' Ah, fickle memory. In Charteris's 'The Man Who Liked Ants' the Saint shoots the mad scientist who's about to overrun the world with giant ants, and in Wallace's 'The Man Who Hated Earthworms' a Just Man deals similarly with the title's planner of worm genocide, but the stories are otherwise distinct. However, I loved the subtle characterization of the latter mad scientist, whose worm obsession is of course rooted in childhood trauma: 'we had a nurse called Martha, a beastly woman, a wicked woman, who dropped one down my neck. Imagine the horror of it!' Hence his tendency in later life to declaim, 'In a million years' time man may dwindle to the size of an ant and the earthworm, by its super-intelligence, its cunning and its ferocity, may be pre-eminent in the world!' • Thomas M. Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World (1998), entertaining and provocative though rather patchy discussion of sf in the context of US culture. Every pundit has a favourite Original Progenitor of science fiction, and Disch fixes on Edgar Allan Poe partly because, besides being a pioneer of magazine sf as opposed to mere novels, Poe wrote much fiction that was downright embarrassing. According to Disch, whose contribution to that 1975 ICA sf lecture series was titled 'The Embarrassments of Science Fiction', this is a key quality of the genre....

Mailing 100, May 2001

Further congratulations all round on achieving a full house for the centenary.... • Maureen: my copy of The Alder Tree by 'Ann Halam' is at your disposal (loan only). About LocoScript, I fear I may be the last programmer with the needed background information to translate the wretched files. My software of a few years ago was intended to be final: a Windows 95+ application that takes documents produced by any Amstrad PCW version of Locoscript (1, 2, 3 or 4) and converts them en masse to generic Rich Text Format or HTML. Ansible Information still makes the occasional few quid by selling this or using it to move stuff ... although when Big Engine reported that one of its authors had an entire novel written in Loco and stranded on 3" disks, I felt I had to offer a freebie! • Chris H: apologies, as already conveyed in e-mail, for my undignified exit during the Paragon awards thingy. Being subjected without warning to musical outbreaks is a bit of a pain in the hearing aid for me. • Tanya: can I justify 'Severian, Wolfe hinted, is a twin who never knowingly finds his sibling'? Although not really a master of Deep Clutean Analysis, I felt Wolfe dropped a hint with the unnecessary-seeming information that Severian and Severa are names often given to boy and girl twins (underlined by introducing a boy and girl 'coincidentally' so called, in The Sword of the Lictor). Severian says that if he has a sister, she's a witch – since male infants born to 'clients' may be adopted by the torturers' guild but females are sent to the witches. This led John Clute to speculate that if the implied twin sister appears, it's 'on the road to Thrax', i.e. Merryn in the stone town, the only witch of about the right age in the tetralogy. But as John agrees, there's no confirmation, no resonance in their meeting. My own equally speculative candidate was the bottled foetus or 'mandragora' which Severian encounters towards the end of The Citadel of the Autarch, and for which he at once feels a gut-level affinity: 'in some inexplicable sense I felt the pale fluid in which the mandragora was immersed had become my own blood-tinged urine.' It keeps silently asking him, or he imagines it asks him, to smash the bottle: 'Won't you die?' 'I have never lived. I will cease thinking. Break the glass.' Its penultimate 'speech' ends: 'I was deformed, and died before birth, and have been kept here since in white brandy. Break the glass.' Its final line seems merely informative, calling attention to a visitor at the door, but addresses Severian as Brother. I wonder.... (Meanwhile, there's this scene in Appleseed where a tormented AI which has been severed from its twin 'other half' repeatedly ends its speeches with 'Kill me.' In my notes I wrote: 'Break the glass.') But wait – Merryn, whom Severian seems to meet for the first time as a grown man in The Claw of the Conciliator, pops up ten books later in Return to the Whorl, in the company of young apprentice Severian! Immediately after the narrator has 'resolved not to trust her' she says of Severian, 'He's my brother.' A statement immediately transposed into possible metaphor: 'We're brothers and sisters, the witches and the torturers.' Is Wolfe just teasing again? • Andy S: good sensible stuff on The Enchanted Duplicator, not my favourite piece of Walt Willis's or Bob Shaw's fanwriting yet curiously enduring. An interesting and hard-to-credit footnote is provided by Harry Warner on page 26 of the great Willis anthology Warhoon 28: 'Everyone who read it assumed that it was a parody on Pilgrim's Progress. But neither of its authors, Willis and Bob Shaw, had read Bunyan's allegory when they wrote The Enchanted Duplicator.' I suppose The Pilgrim's Progress has been so often imitated and parodied that one can have a general idea of its style and approach without actually reading it. (One tiny nitpick before 'Underworlds' conference use of your notes: Bunyan's hero is called Christian, not Pilgrim.) • Tony: lucky man, having a chance to say 'azulejaria'. What are the odds against being able to squeeze both John's predefined words into one sentence? 'Waiter, there's an azulejaria in my mappemonde!' • Austin: John M. Ford is a splendidly versatile and subtle writer who deserves more recognition. His 2000 'Christmas card' was a chapbook titled 20 Questers: A Cycle of Sonnets from a theme by Auden – in fact a pastiche of or homage to W.H. Auden's The Quest. Not many writers would dare take on Auden like that; JMF did it with panache and considerable success. • Benedict: A few radio and tv people have have toyed with the idea of adapting The Leaky Establishment, but nothing ever comes of it, alas. Meanwhile it's still Big Engine's only available title, although the 'Feb 2001' selection (Molly Brown's Bad Timing, and yes, she and Ben Jeapes have heard the obvious joke 5,271,009 times already) is promised this month. The problem lies with the Lightning Source print-on-demand outfit, which keeps cocking up the binding/trimming.

From the Net

Ben Jeapes forwarded this penetrating review contributed by A Reader from Waldorf, MD:

'I think the book Alice in Wonderland is a very good book. While it can be confusing at times, it makes you wonder. For example, when they were talking to the turtle, it didn't make very much sense. Also, the trial over the pastries, it was very idiotic, and if that trial happened today it would get thrown out. Lastly, at the hare and mad hatter's on going tea party, it was very senseless. The author's use of language was very unlike our language today. For example, when she said so many times the words, "shot up", it sounds English or something. The book has this tone a lot throughout it. Maybe the author has English back round. But it was in very easy to understand language, accept for the times people were talking non-sense. The main character is Alice. At sometimes she can seem clueless, and go on rambling like while talking with the turtle. She even pointed it out her-self. A lot of her decisions during the book make no sense. Like to just walk off with that little pig at the Duchess' house. And why would she follow the rabbit to an unknown land to begin with. There was many times where she confused me sometimes. Like when she talked with the caterpillar and said she wasn't the person she started as at the beginning of the day. One thing of the book I did not understand was the theme. In fact I did not see a theme. The only thing close to a theme was a girl trapped in an unusual world, with no way out. One other thing I didn't see in the book was a plot. The entire book was was a girl going with the flow and seeing where the adventure took her. The cat that kept disappearing and appearing even asked her why did she need directions to somewhere, if she didn't know where she was going. In my opinion this book had no effectiveness. It also had no meaning. It had no moral, and nothing to learn from it. So I think the book was very pointless, and just something to read for fun.'

Kenji Siratori of Japan sent a sample from his 'Aidos: A hyper modern deformation of a conventional cyberpunk story for visible-humans.' I'm sure he'd love me to pass it on, if I include his bio ('Kenji Siratori was born in Japan in 1975. At present he is acting as the hypermodern-writer centering around digital environment.') and where to find the full e-book ... Now read on:

'I CAUGHT INTERNAL ORGAN XX that does in disguise of the suicide! To TV_screen....of the cold-blooded disease=game that does fuck intensively a vital melody shoot the foolish gravity that I was murdered in the icon form reproduction level of cadaver feti~/the....artificial sun of the love, pure white asphalt of ToKAGE that split!!!!! The soul_gram of ToKAGE that machinary_vital=syndrome........communicates to the masses of flesh that split. It fertilized. I walk /induce the guilty nick of cadaver=feti~ only....I get deranged.... boy_ROID of nude that script=thinking contaminates to the murderous plug of the machine=angel=of=speed is recovered. The medium of medium!? The emotional rep... of mass of flesh=XXX of the suspension_done-program....solitude of double in disguise....cold-blooded disease animals is infected with the channel of ToKAGE. A vital party that does in disguise to the reality that was done the hunting of soul_gram....'

(Enough! 11-6-01)