Cloud Chamber 78
October 1997

I used to think fiction writing would become easier with practice. Alas, no. Am still knackered from the effort of producing what was meant to be a serious sf story based on some promising ramifications of 'the Eliza Effect' (see CC76), but which after a couple of days' frustrating brainstorming managed to turn itself inside out and become a new case for my Dagon Smythe, Psychic Investigator (the least known series hero in the world, now on his third outing), with the original notion appearing in a decidedly minor role ... overshadowed by the ravages of the sinister toenail thief Jack the Clipper, plus a new means of haruspication, a new use for cryonics, and further silliness. This is obviously far too daft for Interzone, but I feel it's my duty to Test The Limits and have duly sent it in.

Smythe's previous appearances were back in the 1980s, with a terrifying haunting by a disembodied penis; and in August this year, when he became entangled in the dark implications of ailurotrophemancy, or divination by means of cat-food. Trust me to publish a story in August 1997 which has an incidental mention of Princess Diana as an ever-ongoing media sensation.

Thog's Translation Masterclass. Eagle-eyed Vicki Rosenzweig sent this haunting anglicization of a Tsarist pop-fiction novel:

Grunya ... was just sitting down to dinner, supposing that I would not come. She received me tenderly but with a melancholy countenance. 'You knowest, Grunya that I have a superstitious fear of dreams?' 'What of that?' 'I dreamed last night that during dinner something unexpected occurred to you; put my mind at ease, my dear, by seeing if all is right in the kitchen. Dost you know that in a house lately, the cook, in place of sugar, sprinkled a tart with arsenic which had been placed in a cupboard for killing rats?' 'My God what strange youghts arise in thy noodle!' said Grunya, and went out of the room, whilst I in the mean time opened my budget and placed on a small table the jewelry, along with a couple of thousand rubles for a dress. As soon as she came back into the room, I waited her at the door, and, taking her by the hand, led her up to the table, saying 'Begone, dull care; I pray you begone from Grunya.' She looked at the things, then cast such a glace at me as almost melted me on the spot; threw herself into my arms, screamed out and fainted.

I carried her to a sofa, and called to the maid-servant, ran, bustled about, sprinkled her with water, and perfumes, and at last succeeded inbringing her to herself. 'Vanya,' said she, 'I know not how to thank you this heart which belongs to you, feels, but my tongue is too weak to express.'

(From Faddei Bulgarin's Ivan Vyzhigin, translator unknown; Philadelphia, 1832. All strictly [sic]; random use of 'y' for 'th' is a recurring and unexplained feature of the translation.)

Take Flight! All right, has anyone here actually read Flight, Vanna Bonta's 1995 novel of 'quantum fiction' (i.e., it would seem, 'sf but pretending for the sake of publicity to be something brand-new')? Usenet's rec.arts.sf.fandom newsgroup was recently convulsed by an invasion of Flight cultists – some of them evidently the same person posting under five or more net IDs – gushing about how this book transforms one's life, gives new visions of reality, offers exciting vistas of Evolved Sex, and is generally the greatest thing since sliced Dianetics. So Thog, morningstar in hand, went to investigate the sample of Flight's wonderfulness offered at the fan club's web site. This confronts Bonta's hero Mendle with an alarming psychiatrist (indeed, though Mendle apparently keeps all his clothes on, 'He could feel Dr. Kaufkiff's scrutiny all over him ...'). Now read on:

Mendle paused to surmount a ridge of annoyance that was densifying. He breathed deep again, stared at the rug. Finally he said, 'The girl.'

Dr. Kaufkiff was perching over his glasses again, this time in an unspoken question.

Mendle rubbed the inside of his palm with his thumb, alternating between each hand as he spoke.

You will have to imagine the web page's excruciating layout of all this, with every line centre-justified and no spaces between the paragraphs. Here's another magical moment, as the point of view goes ping-ponging across Kaufkiff's desk:

Dr. Kaufkiff confirmed delusion in the patient. 'Do you mean perhaps this woman who you once could see in your thoughts has actually become physical somewhere else?'

'I find it difficult to say anything is impossible, doctor,' Mendle said solemnly. 'A quantum physicist might agree.'

Possibly our author meant to write 'quantum mechanic'. One of Bonta fandom's sacred tenets seems to be that quantum theory – which, for goodness' sake, has been around since 1900, and which in the form of quantum electrodynamics is just about the most rigorously tested and empirically successful branch of modern physics – is not only brand-new, cutting-edge stuff but transcends mere empiricism in favour of a woozy New Age never-never land of feelgood mind/matter interaction.

But I feel quite guilty writing this, because I haven't actually read Flight (only that dismal extract) and still wonder if it does contain anything worthwhile. So: has anyone here seen it?

Language Lesson. Elizabeth Willey writes: '"I do not speak Gamilaraay", but fortunately there's an on-line dictionary. Unfortunately only G is available, but one can say quite a lot with just that ( galinggalii n. intestines of sheep; giguwi-y vi to sneeze; garaay n 1. sand 2. nits of louse; Nhama bandaarr gaawaan walaaygu: "They are taking the kangaroo to the camp"; Ngayabala yilalu gaarrumali: "I'll steal that myself later"; Gamil ngaya nginu buruma bumaay: "I did not hit your dog"; Gabugaan ngay bundaanhi: "My hat has fallen off"; Gabinya muthaygu galiyaawaan: "The boy is climbing for possums"....'

The Horror! The Horror! Spotted in the Co-Op: official The Lost World Scotch pancakes, being, er, extremely ordinary Scotch pancakes adorned with stencilled dinosaur outlines in what I hope is edible food colouring. If only I had the publicity budget to float my brilliant idea for repackaging chocolate mousse (or paté? faggots? cup-cakes?) as Official The Lost World Newly Formed Dinosaur Coprolites....

Read in Reading ... to convince myself that I have not developed a sordid and degrading Patrick O'Brian habit, I pasued to read Scott McCloud's remarkable Understanding Comics (1993) – a highly intelligent, self-referential discourse on comics written and drawn in the form of a 'graphic novel' – before allowing myself to return briefly to the Aubrey/Maturin saga, volumes 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and, currently, 14....

Mailing 57

Dop ... argh! It took me several blinks to see the significance of your Heinz can logo. Senility is setting in.

KVB ... I seem to have forgotten to make any comment on Douglas Hofstadter's Le Ton beau de Marot (1997). It's certainly very strange – a general meditation on the possibility and impossibility of 'true' translation between languages, whose examples include 88 wildly diverse renditions of a little French poem by Clément Marot (1496-1544) and which strays off in all sorts of fascinating directions: machine translation, AI, lipograms, rival translations of Stanislaw Lem's wordplay and Dante's terza rima, Poul Anderson's joke pop-science essay using only Anglo-Saxon roots ('Uncleftish Beholding' ... that is, 'Atomic Theory'), translations of games on to new boards (e.g. 'chesh', chess on a hex grid: how does the knight's move map across?), Villon's thieves'-cant poems and W.E.Henley's tour de force transposition of one into the kind of English historical slang also used in The Book of the Long Sun, Quenau's Exercises in Style, the bust-up between Nabokov and Edmund Wilson over translating Eugene Onegin, an assault on Penguin's edition of The Catcher in the Rye for sullying its quintessential Americanness with Englishery like 'gaol', 'maths' or 'kerb' (a section slightly marred by the fact that late in the day Salinger refused Hofstadter permission to quote his best example, leading to 26 lines of filler text about this fact in order to preserve the book's extraordinarily controlled typographic design), and much, much more. The whole thing is also a massive memorial to Hofstadter's wife Carol, who died young and with shocking unexpectedness in 1993. • Since I'm in quoting mood, here's a bit from that hard-to-find Poul Anderson essay. 'Some of the higher samesteads are splitly. That is, when a neitherbit strikes the kernel of one – as, for a showdeal, ymirstuff-235 – it bursts it into lesser kernels and free neitherbits; the latter can then split more ymirstuff-235. When this happens, weight shifts into work. It is not much of the whole, but nevertheless it is awesome. • With enough strength, lightweight unclefts can be made to togethermelt. In the Sun, through a row of strikings and lightrottings, four unclefts of waterstuff in this wise become one of sunstuff....' Of course there's a vital distinction between 'uncleftish' (atomic) and 'minglingish' (chemical) reactions.

Tony ... am naturally flattered beyond measure by your description of laughing at Silence while reading it a second time. Speaking of seconds, I'm happy to report that NESFA Press are reprinting it. Cue quotation.... ALEXANDER WOOLLCOTT, signing a book: 'A first edition. Ah, what could be rarer than a Woollcott first edition?' SOME OTHER ALGONQUIN PERSON: 'A Woollcott second edition.'

Cherith ... as you imply, Conference at Cold Comfort Farm is a sad let-down after the classic original. Rather more fun is 'Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm', egregiously used as the title piece of Stella Gibbons's 1940 collection of otherwise 'straight' stories. Aunt Ada Doom is on good form at Christmas dinner: 'Amos, carve the bird. Ay, would it were a vulture, 'twere more fitting! Reuben, fling these dogs the fare my bounty provides. Sausages ... pah! Mince-pies ... what a black-bitter mockery it all is! Every almond, every raisin, is wrung from the dry dying soil and paid for with sparse greasy notes grudged alike by bank and buyer. Come, Ezra, pass the ginger wine! Be gay, spawn! Laugh, stuff yourself, gorge and forget, you rat-heaps! Rot you all!' There's also a touching list of talismanic items – 'the Year's Luck' – stirred into the pudding by faithful Adam Lambsbreath: 'Him as gets the sticking-plaster'll break a limb; the menthol cone means as you'll be blind wi' headache; the bad coins means as you'll lose all yer money, and him as gets the coffin-nail will die afore the New Year. The [cracked, of course]mirror's seven years' bad luck for someone. Aie! In ye go, curse ye!'

Claire ... 'Sixteen is clearly not a quotable number'? Time to shove a CD-ROM into the slot and do a quick search: 'A little, single-roomed hut, sixteen feet by ten.' (Conan Doyle, 'The Adventure of Black Peter') 'He kissed her sixteen or seventeen times ...' (Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). 'I have tonight dispatched sixteen businesses ...' (All's Well That Ends Well). 'She had knitted sixteen of them ...' (Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables). 'Even twelve bullocks for all Israel, fourscore and sixteen rams ...' (Apocrypha). 'Sixteen hundred and fifty miles to traverse ...' (Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days). There is more, but I am mercifully confining myself to titles starting with A.... • Where can one buy the Reduced Shakespeare script? Please pretty please?

Steve ... My edition of Alicia in Terra Mirabili is Macmillan, © 1964. I don't have a copy of Winnie Ille Pu, but do own the shit-hot sequel Domus Anguli Puensis (1928) with a different translator, Brian Staples – 'Liber alter de Urso Puo de anglico sermone in Latinum conversus auctore BRIANO STAPLESIO'. It has a stately classical dignity, it does, when Porcellus cries 'Heffalumpus est!', or when Pu himself majestically hums: 'Quo plus / NINGIT – tiddely pum, / Eo plus cadit / NIVIS – tiddely pum, / Et frigorem / DIGITORUM – tiddely pum, / Ignorat / QUIVIS – tiddely pum.' And I particularly like the rendition of (going to) Eeyore's Gloomy Place as 'ad Locum Lugubrem Ioris'.... • That Alan Moore explanation for jet lag, with the sluggish soul trailing behind the body, was (first?) used as an extended conceit in William Golding's essay 'Body and Soul', collected in The Hot Gates (1965). Which reminds me that Moore's intro to Alan Moore's Twisted Times (1987) remarks, contritely, that unconscious plagiarism is an occupational hazard of being a high-output, deadline-ridden comix writer, and specifically mentions that two of the three main ideas in one of his Abelard Snazz tales (2000 AD Progs 189-90) proved to have been 'stolen wholesale' from an R.A.Lafferty story. So he excluded this from the Twisted Times collection, leaving me still mildly curious: what happened, what ideas, and which Lafferty?

Ian ... I've now mislaid the mailing in which Dop proposed the weighing puzzle that you and Elizabeth have nearly solved, but presumably it's 'spot the false coin, which may be under- or overweight, out of 12 coins with 3 weighings in a balance'. One of Piers Anthony's most irritating novel finales, in With a Tangled Skein (1985), lumbers the heroine with a barely disguised version of this one and spins out her analysis for pages.... T.H.O'Beirne's useful Puzzles and Paradoxes (1965) gives a detailed procedure in one page of small print, which I'll photocopy if anyone wants it! Your new problem, 'identify, in a single go on a weighing scale, which one of 12 sacks contains balls that are all 0.1g overweight' doesn't seem to offer enough data for a solution ... but if, as you don't specify, the weight of a normal ball is known, I suppose you'd take a different number of balls from each sack, weigh them together, deduct the expected total weight, and say (for example) 'Aha! 0.7g excess weight – sack number 7 must be the guilty one....'? If it's merely known that normal balls ('Bollocks!' cries Dop) weigh a whole number of grams, this method will cope with 10 sacks – taking zero, one, and so on to 9 balls – but ambiguity creeps in at 11, 12 or more. Or am I missing some further cleverness? • Thanks for the Walter Jon Williams tip – I'll look it up for Ansible! • I've lost track of how often I've read the words 'unfairly slagged off by Chris Gilmore in Interzone', or some close paraphrase....

Maureen ... good luck as the vast juggernaut of your TAFF campaign begins to roll! • Thanks for the Greenwell verse. This reminds me that my own little brother's Great Pop Things strip (New Musical Express etc) had its own remake of Disobedience:

'Jim Jim Morrison Morrison'
Nanny warned one day
'Do not go close to the edge
When you go out to play.'

So Jim Jim Morrison Morrison
Who hated grown-ups' laws
Pulled on his leather trousers
And went off to form THE DOORS.

Jim Jim Morrison Morrison
Called the Lizard King
Shocked and amazed his audience
By whipping out his thing....

And so on. Disobedient Jim Morrison is drawn as an increasingly bloated Christopher Robin, with Pooh on guitar, Kanga on drums, Eeyore on keyboard and Tigger as a groupie. All of which, like my idle comments to Steve a little earlier, further illustrates the Utter Inescapability of Pooh.

Andy ... in an long-ago Langford fanzine I once credited all the jokes to 'Messrs Bombast & Fustian Ltd, Gilders of Refinèd Gold, Lilies Painted While You Wait'.

Chris/Tanya ... I've finally remembered where I first heard of jirds, though with another spelling. 'You ever heard of an animal called the Iranian jerd? It can do 150 pelvic thrusts a second. [...] That's me in slo-mo. Put a Black and Decker drill on the end, I can make it through walls.' Yes, it's the Cat in Red Dwarf ('Justice'). Just bringing a little culture to this APA....

Elizabeth ... the SFE lists three Karen Joy Fowler collections, Artifical Things (1986), Peripheral Visions (1990 chap) and Letters from Home (1991, a three-author collection with stories by Pats Murphy and Cadigan).

Benedict ... I just heard from somebody who picked up damaged copies of the Encyclopedia of SF and Encyclopedia of Fantasy for £5 each at the 'Pulped Fiction' remainder shop in Smelly Alley, Reading (real name Union Street, but it's where the butchers and fishmongers hang out). I'd have bought a few more on general principles if only I'd known.

Everybody who was made to feel like a visiting Martian by the deep weirdness of Princess Di coverage: yes, me too. As an aid to sanity we left the TV off all that week, but the stuff still came seeping through by sheer cultural osmosis. I felt no urge to go into heavy mourning (as Paul Barnett apparently did), but it was hard to be entirely indifferent to the death of an attractive woman who, willy-nilly, had been imposed on all our mental landscapes. Chris Priest – no great admirer of the lady – couldn't stomach rcceiving any further e-mail newsletters from an old, non-fan acquaintance who was quick to gloat about Di and her 'wog playboy'. Chris Bell was determinedly callous about it all, and warned me: 'If Ansible has a black border this month, I may beat you over the head with a skillet. You have been warned.' She duly received a one-off, one-sided, black-bordered copy: 'In tribute to the greatest calamity ever to have afflicted the human race, Ansible 122 does not include any news items. (Overleaf: Royalist Eulogy from Chris Bell.)' And William Bains took it on himself to collect all the net's resulting conspiracy theories, the best of these being: 'The Queen Mother is a vampire criminal mastermind and had Diana assassinated when she refused to let the QM drink her blood (this explains the uncanny longevity of the QM).' and 'The Pope had Diana and Mother Teresa killed.' Other suggested instigators: MI6, the Queen, Charles, Camilla, Hillary Clinton (because, of course, Bill was having an affair with Diana), the arms industry, Madonna, the CIA ('there was a posting with that title, but the contents had been erased'), Alien Greys, Skynet (deploying the Terminator), and the still living JFK. 'We can also read pretty convincing arguments that Diana is not dead....' Oh dear.

Carol Ann ... I much enjoyed the Robin Hobb trilogy, but am still not certain whether it 'ended right'. The nature of the Final Solution to the Red Ship Raiders actually seems to make their raids and their Forging partway justifiable, as a very apt revenge for the last time this was done to them; and so it rather depressingly implies that the cycle of horrible unpleasantness will in due course continue. What goes around, comes around. Also, our likeable hero is allowed neither the joy of a full-blown Happy Ending nor the kind of golden handshake given to spent heroes like Frodo; I felt he deserved better than to be left kicking his heels in gloomy premature senescence. The Langford secret is out: at heart I am still an old softy....

Mark ... aside from the legendary reviews collected in In Search of Wonder (of which you must have a copy) I've seen little of Damon Knight's fanzine writing. The exception is 'A Brief Introduction to Logogenetics', which I'm sure first saw light in an sf fanzine but which got into the 'science fanzine' The Worm Runners' Digest and thence into a WRD collection called The Worm Re-Turns (1965). This shows how to crossbreed prose by alternating parts of speech from two texts – the example being The World of Null-Apples by A. Ray van Vogtbury: 'Gosseyn moved, but around the door. • "Swallow the pills." In the sky with great desperate coming-in, danger flowering unreal whistlings, Prescott quietly said, "From the women that saw it, helicopters will blizzard." The hotels, the private people, cities that rose to strange power. Warm, strangely, with easy pink picture faces, because the race of bound men would sound mysterious....' Knight also gets in a few Hubbard digs: 'Students who have not yet figured out that logogenetics is a gyp are called pre-clods.' • Are there many sciencezines, I wonder? The Journal of Irreproducible Results had its moments, but seems to have lost steam in its new incarnation as Annals of Improbable Research (the editors having somehow lost the right to the original JIR title). I'd love a run of our very own Ian Stewart's University of Coventry mathszine Manifold; an enjoyable selection appeared as Seven Years of Manifold: 1968-1980 (Shiva Publishing, 1981), with a cover diagram of the rotational physics of Why Is A Mouse When It Spins, a frontispiece showing The Mating Dance Of The Alexander Horned Spheres, and a contents list which proudly adds up all the articles' page numbers with the boast: 'BIG VALUE TOTAL!! 2294.'

Commonplace Book. Junk e-mail just received, with an offer we can't refuse: 'DO IT YOURSELF ACNE RECIPE.'