Column 4, September 1988

VOLUTES, FLUTING AND ACANTHUS LEAVES

The Encyclopaedia Britannica tells me there are five varieties of column: Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite. (See, all knowledge can still be found in fanzines.) Personally I write a sixth sort, variously known to architects as the Irregular, the Contrived or the Bitty....

In this merry vein I began drafting a fanzine piece which was to be full of such lyric wit and invention that your puny minds could not contain the wonder of it. Unfortunately a column deadline was growling at me from elsewhere, so I cannibalized the above opening paragraph to introduce a long boring dissertation on assembler code for Apricot File magazine, and thus sacrificed fannish commitment to corrupt personal gain. I felt bad about it all the way to the bank.

While looking for new inspiration I had to go and let a starling out of a cupboard. They nest under the eaves, you see, and from time to time the more questing intellects of the species have a conceptual breakthrough into this loft cupboard, where they flap around piteously and in the end crawl under the floor joists. (Hazel does not wish me to dwell on the tiny skulls and bones which come to light when I shift the floorboards up there.) Enticed out by open doors and windows, the average starling pauses to shed several small vermin on the carpet and then flies up and down the room 38.046 times crapping on my boxes of remainders before making its escape.

These heaped Langford remainders provided the needed inspiration. (Lady visitor gushing over book-lined office of famous publisher: "Oh Mr Chatto, do you keep a copy of every title you publish?" Heavy reply: "Madam, in many cases, thousands.") Never before had I made a full public confession about my cod UFO book, totally unconvincing, unsuccessful and unremunerative, yet now with a permanent place in nut literature. (Also in several cubic feet of the spare room.) It was an absolute natural for a column. When I'd finished, conscience clear at last, I was struck with the noble thought that a really wide circulation for the piece would purge my conscience even further, to a state of unearthly spotlessness rarely found outside a detergent ad. Pocketing the cheque from New Scientist, I mused with false sorrow on the gap I was leaving in Pulp....

"I weep for you, the Walrus said; I deeply sympathize." That brought me via a series of pubs to Lewis Carroll, and his little-known poem "Poeta Fit, Non Nascitur", which had funny things to say about writing and which I'd long meant to quote with much knockabout exegesis:

"Then fourthly, there are epithets,
That suit with any word --
As well as Harvey's Reading Sauce
With fish, or flesh, or bird --
Of these, 'wild', 'lonely', 'weary', 'strange',
Are much to be preferred."

"And will it do, O will it do
To take them in a lump --
As, 'the wild man went his weary way
To a strange and lonely pump'?"

Ever so much more of Carroll's satire on amateur poets turned out to be fiendishly applicable to modern-day fantasy grot, and the piece was huge fun to write. At last ... yet wasn't the tone a little didactic, a little earnestly literary, a little too pointedly aimed at the aspiring author, to sit snugly in Pulp? With a hollow groan I sent it to Liz Holliday for the BoSFA's Focus, and started biting my nails anew.

Nail-biting recalled recent agonies with the proofs of The Dragonhiker's Guide to Battlefield Covenant at Dune's Edge: Odyssey Two, Rog Peyton's first foray into the world of small-press bankruptcy and distinguished largely by the absence of my overexposed talk with the same title. After years of sneering at luxuriously priced special editions with hand-tooled goatskin slipcases, acid-free mink endpapers and one of the author's own bogeys personally tipped in on the copyright page, I was about to plumb the depths of hypocrisy. Rog was even talking about a second volume of parodies ... how about a cyberpunk fantasy epic ... "The sky above the Dark Tower was the colour of a crystal ball, tuned to a dead etheric plane" ... no, no, no. I retreated to the toilet and on the way found the complete H.G.Wells short stories, one of which I'd actually earmarked for pastiche.

Two hours of plagiarism later the first draft was complete, a spoof using Wells as a vehicle for snide commentary about (as it turned out) Worldcons, and what should I remember but my forgotten offer to contribute to Lilian Edwards's and Christina Lake's special Worldcon/TAFF fanzine? Posting off the Wellsiana to an address which wasn't Pulp's, I almost hoped for a capricious rejection slip.

Rejection slips! Right at the back of the lumber-room which is my brain were dusty plans for a squib consisting of two dozen covering letters from would-be professional authors, all earnestly meant and all guaranteed to ensure that the most desperate publisher's editor, even John Jarrold, would scrawl a rejection without so much as glancing at the MS. "Dear Sir or Maddam; You wont DARE publish tihs but -- " I'd actually written myself into that contemptibly blissful state of laughing at my own gags, when the phone rang to remind me that entropy had marched on its stomach and a fresh copydate was looming several days in the past. It was with a sense of real guilt that I plugged in the cable link and started transferring my text to three-inch disk for the Amstrad rag 8000 Plus....

All of which led me to wonder about the definition of fanwriting. Superficially, it looks as though several chunks of intended Pulp material have been diverted straight to pro markets without major changes. This is fanwriting? A similar shadow is cast back on all the other fanzine pieces which after a filing-off of serial numbers I've flogged to people fool enough to pay. For all these years, have I been industriously not writing fanwriting at all?

Like most such rhetoric, the dramatic question is pretty spurious. Though the redirected articles were of course those on which the strange device FANZINE wasn't irrevocably tattooed, a mere "once over lightly" polishing makes huge cumulative differences. Both versions of the piece might be relaxed and informal, but you begin to distinguish several colours of informality. Subtly the tone alters with the perception of a non-fan audience, resulting in the "same" article but an altered voice. Try going through a perfectly straight convention report devoid of insider jokes, and putting inverted commas around each occurrence of "con", "GoH", "fanroom" ... at once the tone becomes distanced and almost sarcastic. When gung-ho fans who talk about fandom outside fandom sound oddly unenthused, the inverted commas -- which can be invisible -- are often to blame. There's also the highly Borgesian insight that a literally unchanged article (as the "rejection slips" one very nearly was) changes flavour with the mere imagined transference from bum-soft tinted duplicator paper to glossy typesetting plus 15% VAT.

Of course many things I've written couldn't be reoriented at all, or would have to go into solution (as a long series of atomic/autobiographical snippets from Twll-Ddu dissolved into and coloured my novel The Leaky Establishment). I don't fancy the task of converting the more hermetic of fandom's perennial forms, like a gossipy convention report, or a debate on fanzine criticism, or a column about not writing a column for Pulp.

Still, the only safe definition of "real" fanzine writing is writing which appears in fanzines. Or just possibly, writing about which you feel guilty when it doesn't.


Column 5, December 1988
... was revised for The Silence of the Langford as "Follies of '88"

Column 6, March 1989
... was revised for The Silence of the Langford as "Endless Loops"


Column 7, May 1989

FACE THE SPINAL FRONTIER

If anyone was too worried by the evident insanity of my last column here, they'll be cheered to learn that throughout March I swapped mental gibbers for physical groans. Not only my prose has lately been limping. At pub meetings I've adopted the nobly upright and unconvincing posture of one with at least six inches in the grave. "It's the alcohol, it's finally wrecked your kidneys and destroyed your spinal nerves," friends suggested with characteristic tact.

"No, it's this virus," Martin Hoare failed to clarify. "I had it too, it makes your kidneys and things swell up and you feel as though you've been savagely beaten in the small of the back with a baseball bat." In the small hours I lay awake wondering how often, while developing his simile, Martin had been beaten with a baseball bat.

Keith Oborn sniffed and said, "Rubbish, it's a slipped disc, your future will be full of pain and suffering just like mine and Dermot Dobson's, this is the curse of being tall and you have got off lightly for too long, har har."

"Spinal cancer," suggested ever-optimistic Chris Priest.

In the end the doctor ticked me off for spending too many months slumped before keyboards in a medically unsound posture, and told me that a few simple yet excruciatingly painful exercises would soon have me playing the piano again, always assuming I played it with my feet. Just now I'm getting from place to place at quite a cheerful hobble, troubled only by gloomy forebodings of a Critical Wave headline saying, "Langford Legless For Entire Month!"

IN COMMITTEE

"Ham," said British Rail's Chief Researcher, morosely. "Ham and cheese. Cheese. Cheese and onion. Egg. Bacon. Roast beef. Salt beef. Roast pork. Roast chicken. Salami. Tuna fish."

"Jesus Christ," the Catering Manager complained. "Langford likes all those sorts of sandwich?"

The Researcher nodded. "Toasted, even."

The Manager frowned. "This looks bad. If he's so bloody omnivorous, how can we hope to carry out the Prime Directive of BR Travellers' Fare, which as you well know is to make sure Langford never enjoys food on stations or trains?"

"Well, I'm just running this one into the buffers to see if it bounces, but take a look at Appendix C, listing the stuff he doesn't like."

"H'mm. Salad, eh? Might be a very sexy concept there -- we could put salad in absolutely everything and ..."

"Excuse me," interjected the Assistant Researcher, "but Langford has been seen resignedly dismantling sandwiches and extracting lumps of our best indigestible tomato on the point of a small pen-knife."

The Manager said, "Never mind. Put salad in them all anyway; that can be our first line of discouragement. But also we need a whole new emphasis on... on gooey materials which he can't take out or scrape off."

"Glutinous horseradish on the beef," breathed the Assistant.

"Horrible brown indelible pickle on the chicken," cried the Researcher.

"Puke-making mayonnaise on absolutely bloody everything!" shrieked the Catering Manager in triumph.

The Committee regarded the concept with awe. They knew they sat in the presence of genius.

"Brilliant," the Researcher said at last. "Even if Langford is forced to eat it out of sheer starvation, it'll be bad for him. All that rancid cholesterol."

The Assistant chimed in again: "It's a whole dynamic new angle. The slime concept, the grease attack! If he eats one of our mayonnaise killer specials he'll end up stuck in this uncomfortable seat -- "

(A frown from the Manager reminded him that Seat Discomfort Implementation was the responsibility of a separate committee.)

" -- with oily mayonnaisey fingers that he'll have to wipe on his trousers, or better still his handkerchief, which means we'll get him every time he cleans his glasses for the rest of the day!"

"I think we have reached a decision," said the Catering Manager gravely.

"We could extend the principle further," mused the Researcher. "Compulsory unwanted condiments on other food. For example, all our tea and coffee could be pre-oversugared, and every serving of chips impregnated with tomato sauce, HP sauce and vinegar."

But the Manager was shaking his head in that wise, tolerant, insufferable way he had. "You forget the Prime Directive. There is no point in these elaborations, meritorious though they might seem, since BR tea, coffee and chips are wisely never consumed by our target, Langford...."

OLD UNHAPPY FAR-OFF THINGS

Once upon a time in 1987 there was a terrible nasty organization which rampaged without tact through the Worldcon, got up myriad fans' noses, and generally evoked alarm, despondency and spiked steel bracelets. But fandom said rude things, symbolic gestures were made, the spectre of L.Ron retreated snarling, and nobody worries any more about the shadow of Scientology.

Thus the myth, if you believe what you don't read in fanzines.

It goes on, though, in a quiet way, and because it's last year's cause hardly anyone comments for fear of being thought dull and boring. Locus and Matrix routinely report appointments to the "Writers of the Future" judging panel as straight news, without editorial comment. Mike Glyer in File 770 routinely conveys that anyone who feels uneasy about Hubbard-sponsored SF is just a religious bigot.

My own fairly simple formulation of the dilemma went: (a) Hubbard's name is inextricably linked with Scientology and Dianetics; (b) the Writers of the Future competitions and anthologies are irrevocably blazoned with Hubbard's name; (c) thus -- without any need to invoke sinister hidden connections -- if you help promote WotF you indirectly help promote Scientology.

Is this a bad thing? I rather think so, and have covered a lot of ground en route to the opinion. A lengthy reading list is omitted here, but for a start you should consult Russell Miller's biography Bare-Faced Messiah (which draws on public records to show Hubbard as a charlatan, paranoid, misogynist, etc.) and by way of balance Hubbard's own Dianetics, the basic book of Scientology, which to me seems self-evidently the product of a charlatan, paranoid, misogynist....

Much fuzzy thinking surrounds the issue. Tony Chester went on a WotF course and, with the air of dealing an absolutely fatal blow to a straw man much smaller than himself, told me that not once did anyone try to convert him to Scientology. Oh dear, that wasn't the point.

Mike Glyer makes the equally ill-aimed point that he's met several Scientologists and they were all OK guys, so what's to worry? Well, when the higher echelons of the church were running criminal operations aimed at falsifying US public records to remove damning information about Hubbard, the guys in the street were probably just as nice. When high-ups were busy framing Paulette Cooper (author of an early Scientology exposé) for various crimes and even trying to drive her to suicide, the rank and file might conceivably not have been told. Centuries ago, a thinker of Mike's calibre could have looked at the pleasant Catholic family next door and by the same irrefutable logic deduced the utter nonexistence of the Spanish Inquisition.

The same issue of File 770 (no.77) makes a great thing about religious toleration and scoffs at naive fans who "equated ... Scientology with the reputed greed of its founder." Unfortunately the historical record shows that Hubbard created the organization as well as its precepts, and made it in his money-grubbing image.

"It is corrupt because it is based on lies and deceit and had as its real objective money and power for Mr Hubbard, his wife, and those close to him at the top. It is sinister because it indulges in infamous practices both to its adherents who do not toe the line unquestioningly and to those outside who criticize or oppose it...."

Thus a High Court judge in 1984, uttering one of many, many similar legal decisions about Scientology -- which don't bother Mike Glyer because he apparently believes that religious toleration means tolerating anything that happens to call itself religion.

Toleration is certainly not one of the great virtues of this sleazy "church". Mere days after Miller (an independent journalist) began to research L.Ron's life, "frightener" letters started arriving from their lawyers. His publishers in New York and London were informed by the same lawyers that he was a notorious liar. Teams of private detectives were discovered working to find evidence that Miller was secretly an agent of the CIA. Anonymous letters accused him of murder. Acting no doubt in a spirit of free speech, the Church of Scientology made strenuous legal efforts to prevent the book from being published; another British judge ruled that "this application is both mischievous and misconceived and must be dismissed."

I'm not running a crusade here, dear fellow-professionals. By all means sign up with WotF if you consider Scientology innocuous (though I suggest you do a little research first) or don't accept my reasoning about indirect promotion. Lots of people, especially Algis Budrys, will explain to you that there's no connection and could never, ever be one.

However, according to the January 1989 Locus, Bridge Publications has "scored a major coup" by filling one of the big US book chains with dump bins containing, in one half, Hubbard SF material (including WotF anthologies?), and on the other and totally unconnected side, books about Dianetics.

And when Charles Platt dared to review Bare-Faced Messiah favourably in a US newspaper, the Church of Scientology responded with angry complaints and vast dossiers asserting that Hubbard was a good lad really, as "proved" by his completely independent sponsorship of WotF, supported by totally unconnected famous authors X and Y and Z.... Your name too could appear on that list, if you try.

Vince Clarke articulated the views of many Brits when he remarked that there's no need to get bothered about all this, since no one with a grain of sense would touch anything bearing Hubbard's name with a ten-foot pole. See Locus, Matrix, etc. for alarmingly long lists of professionals who by this rule must, to put it tactfully, be using eleven- or twelve-foot poles. (I reserve my sympathy for the actual aspiring "writers of the future" who one day will grow up and learn more about the Hubbard name under which their first sale appeared.)

Chris Priest, my favourite curmudgeon, has also observed that there's no need to bother, but professes a different, fatalistic and maliciously gleeful reason. His suggestion is roughly that the SF community, or at least that aspect of it revealed to us through hype and award log-rolling and "major" newsletters whose idea of a big headline is BORING OLD AUTHOR GETS BIGGER ADVANCE THAN LAST TIME, has long been ripe for something like Scientology to happen to it, and deserves all it gets.

I must stop before I become religiously intolerant. You may go now.


Column 8, September 1989

STOPS & STARTS

"What I'd like to see from you," said the editor of my favourite computer magazine, "is a serious piece about the nuts and bolts of writing on word processors, done in a sort of Outraged of Tunbridge Wells style. None of this rubbish about beer and pubs."

Clearly I had been rumbled. In a time of desperate overwork which also saw my enforced absence from Pulp, I'd met one of this editor's more urgently shrieked deadlines by doing a hasty rewrite of an old fanzine article. This being all about callowly sitting in Welsh pubs playing forfeit games and getting unspeakably smashed, I had managed to establish the needed relevance to computers by pointing out that the game (Fizz-Buzz) was of its very essence mathematical.

The editor's insightful response was, "Oh God, do we pay you for this? I wouldn't read it and I have to."

I pusillanimously promised a pugnacious polemic, promptly produced, promulgating proper punctuation practice... and can now reveal that although the new article named no names, most of the research was done by skimming through things sent me by fans. Yes, all knowledge about weird punctuation can be found in fanzines.

Here for example is Small Mammal, ace monthly newsletter from Martin Easterbrook and Margaret Austin. For years this editorial duo has held that parenthesis marks are shy and easily oppressed creatures, liable to perish if subjected to overcrowding. Thus we get Detached Brackets, given breathing room ( like this ) by humanely positioned spaces. Oh, ugh.

This fanzine's love of the space programme is further demonstrated by its insertion of extra spaces before question and exclamation marks, thus ! Also before semicolons, and once in a while before a comma. Since the Mammal typewriter apparently drops the occasional random space into a line anyway, that last point might not actually be a certain guide to house style.

Applying these same powerful techniques of analysis to The Caprician would soon suggest its dual editorship, even without other clues like the subtle allusions to dual editors. In Christina Lake's bits, there are no interesting eccentricities of punctuation (boo, hiss). Turn the page to Lilian Edwards, and we enter a world reminiscent of Mammal's, with illicit extra spaces appearing before colons, semicolons, question and exclamation marks. One of the snags of practising this little idiosyncrasy on a word processor is that your end-of-sentence punctuation can wrap to a fresh line and mope there in glum solitude, which looks very silly. See Caprician 4, pages 12, 14 and 32, and carry on to deduce that Lilian typed the entire letter column.

The dangers of over-analysis are possibly shown by moving to Critical Wave and making the alarmed discovery that Steve Green and Martin Tudor favour unnecessary spaces before the same four punctuation marks chosen for this treatment by Lilian. If it weren't that CW uses a double hyphen for a dash while Ms Edwards prefers a single one, you might suspect that Steve and Martin either (a) employ Lilian to type the whole thing, or (b) are mere hoax fans manipulated by Lilian's vast behind-the-scenes intellect. Could they all have been instructed by the same unfrocked English teacher?

The Caprician, incidentally, represents dashes variously by one hyphen (Christina and Lilian), by two (their transcription of Mike Glicksohn) and by three (ditto of ditto).

In artistic contrast to this strange cult of superfluous space, I meant to raise two graceful fingers at those fanzines which parsimoniously omit the customary spaces after commas and even, sometimes, full stops. This seems especially perverse when after saving a miserable few characters by such eye-hurting habits, the typist goes on to leave vast echoing gaps between all the actual lines of text. Unfortunately I've lost my specimens of this fascinating mutant form. Tommy Ferguson (could it have been?) can breathe again.

Being a semi-prozine, Doug Fratz's Thrust takes great care with punctuation... especially hyphens, so essential when trying to make an even job of three right-justified columns. Where would you put a hyphen in "semi-prozines"? If Thrust 34 is a guide to hyphenation practice, the answer is: between the I and the N. The same issue offers "pseu-doscience", "exis-tence" and "Newto-nian" All right, I'm being picky, but if you have to break a word it seems wise to use the built-in fracture lines, as in "Newton-ian".

For further exciting hyphenation, see Critical Wave's "specifica-lly", "commissi-ons", "begi-nning", "hea-ring", "bestse-ller", "perfor-med", "eloquen-tly"....

When that acclaimed nice guy Ian Sorensen gets a chance to work his will on English syntax, there seems no atrocity that he won't commit with a cruel and thin-lipped smile. His disadvantaged sentences cry in vain for an Oxfam airdrop of commas and semicolons. One of his ploys is the unexploded rhetorical question, which leaves readers in a state of semantic coitus interruptus by not actually ending with a question mark. For example, can this be right. (Stop press! After basing the above on memories of a Speculation flyer whose prose content was truly diabolical, I note that his latest Conrunner shows Ian can do better when he has time.)

And Pulp itself has not always been wholly innocent of misplaced apostrophes: it's its co-editor John Harvey who in fits of blitzed wits omits to distinguish its "its" from its "it's". Repeat this ten times quickly without taking breath.

These niggling flaws, I hear you complain, don't stop the writer's meaning from leaking through. Fanzines, I hear you whine, do not need to work to the punctuation standards of the Oxford University Press. What's a mite disheartening is that fanzine writers have presumably spent a lifetime gobbling up books which offer innumerable examples of where those little marks go and on which side of them you put the space. On a simple basis of monkey-see-monkey-do ... well, should we assume that fans who reject near-universal conventions must be aware of what they're up to? I call on the Society For Putting Spaces In Unlikely Places to make its motives known. The people should be told.

"What I'd like to see from you," I am regularly informed by my favourite Armenian editor, "is a column of fanzine reviews. It would kill two birds with one stone," she adds mysteriously. Conceivably this means that if Pulp's reviews, editorial matter and regular contributions were condensed into a single quarto side by D.Langford, it would allow the beloved letter column to be expanded to 25 pages....

This has been a further exercise in not writing fanzine reviews.

QUOTATIONS FOR OUR TIME

Kenneth Tynan: "You know in advance that, for all the effect it will have, you might as well fill your column with a relief map of Death Valley."

Overheard in the Wellington: "Wouldn't it be great if there were a fanzine that combined the best things from London and Leeds productions? They could call it Plip."

Ian Sorensen, Conrunner 11: "Eastcon is currently the prime target for the knockers.... This just isn't good enough. The Eastercon is going to be held in Birmingham no matter what they say." [The committee had just been forced to switch to a hotel in Liverpool.]

Of Maureen Porter's BSFA staff newsletter Sounding Board: "I remember Alan Dorey promised exactly the same thing when he was Chairman, but we never found out whether he was going to call it Soft Pedal or Mute."

Hazel, having wandered in, looked over my shoulder and been shown the dreary tirade on punctuation: "Is this anything interesting or important?" (Exit Langford, crushed.)

Edward Agate, 1940: "But during the last thirty years, whenever I -- this poor remnant of humanity, this fluttering scarecrow draped on a couple of peasticks -- have opened a wry mouth to make a literary pronouncement, my intended listeners have turned away to dust the mantelpiece.

"THE MANTELPIECE!!!

"Oh, mice in Africa!"


Column 9, March 1990

As anyone will know who's incautiously strayed within earshot of me since about last February, I spent November 1989 on the west coast of America -- being a guest at Orycon 11 (Portland, Oregon) and freeloading on all the fans we know in Seattle. All this has left me sufficiently shagged out to say no more than the brief paragraph which The Intermediate Reptile somehow lost from the tiny report I sent them on disk -- you read it here first:

"I can gladly report that Oregon and Washington State 'microbreweries' have made all my past sneers at US beer obsolete; that Powell's in Portland may be the best bookshop in 3000 miles; that the quintessential local souvenir is a sliced geode carrying a myrtlewood slug atop a plinth of Mt St Helens ash (both slugs and R.L.Fanthorpe are cult figures here -- there was a lengthy reading from the works of the latter); and that the committee thought Orycon a huge success. They might be biased but so, euphorically, am I."

After last issue's stupefyingly tedious remarks on punctuation, those little dots and squiggles were still on my mind when I was tipped off that the Orycon opening ceremony was to be a spoof degree presentation. So indeed it came about: Michael Bishop, the other guest, was given the third degree (Committee person: "Have you quit beating your cat?" Mike, without hesitation: "I have two cats.") and I was presented with all those from 32 to 212 inclusive. Strange people, Portland fans. Luckily I was ready with a brief acceptance speech, being "Some Informal Remarks toward the Punctuational Calculus, Part II: the Frivolous Version". They suffered it very patiently, and so, I hope, will you:

Thank you very much for this degree. It's a much nicer colour than my old one from Oxford, and in future I shall use no other. I'm honoured to be so acknowledged by Orycon State University, for my research work in punctuation ... one of the few areas where Britain still leads the world. (The other one is books about the Queen.)

Of course it was an American research team which first managed to completely and utterly split the infinitive, and your big-budget facilities like the Del Rey laboratories have succeeded in producing and publishing the tiniest subliterary particles. How thrilled we all were when the New York Review of Science Fiction used critical path analysis to show that the structure of Dhalgren is a double helix -- a breakthrough which promises that one day we'll crack the semiotic code and discover what it's about. American achievements all: but Britain still proudly maintains the largest breeding group of semicolons in captivity.

It's thanks to our punctuation research that the British Isles have produced fanzines with names like Hyphen, Slant, Dot, and Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch -- which is Welsh for asterisk.

I must take this opportunity to dispel the ugly rumours about my own research work, in particular that brutal experiments have been conducted on live question marks and that unqualified staff are allowed to perform irrigation of colons. We carry out vivisection only on volunteer punctuation marks, all of which are first completely anaesthetized by immersing them in copies of Analog. This induces a profound stupor, or as we call it in the trade, a comma.

Our latest achievement is the world's first transpunctuational surgery, carried out on a schizophrenic double-quote mark which turned out to be a pair of linked Siamese apostrophes -- now living happy separate lives in different sentences.

Another exciting project is our attempt to synthesize a completely new symbol which will look blurred but vaguely convincing no matter where it appears, and can thus be inserted whenever you're not sure what the right punctuation is. We have an advance order for four billion of these, from Harry Harrison.

To conclude my words of thanks, I'd like to give you a live demonstration of how Britons use what you call a period and we call a full stop.


Column 10, July 1990

... was a reprint of my "Cuisine Unauthentique" piece

Column 11, January 1991

... was revised for The Silence of the Langford as "Hack's Quest"
-- a column which has appeared in several other places:

[I confess it. Once again Langford has strayed from the narrow fannish path. Despite starting it for Pulp, I almost instantly had to adapt this piece to fill an aching void in one of my computer magazine columns.... But I have to recycle or precycle it here because -- well, look at the alternatives:

(a) Rely on John Harvey's promise of life-giving envelopes packed with inspiring ideas (score to date: Harvey 0, Apathy 1).

(b) Speculate on America's 176 different terms for "dust balls under the bed", claimed by Bill Bryson in his Mother Tongue: The English Language.

(c) Attempt to pad out my delight at the mathematical permutation example in John Allen Paulos's Innumeracy, which without the ghost of a smile leads logically up to the sentence: "To answer this, assume that Reagan and Thatcher are placed in a large burlap bag." This prophecy has now been fulfilled. Glory, glory.]