26 December 2009 After a soothing Christmas and general thaw, what could be a more appropriate headline to find on Boxing Day but this? It would be very wrong to giggle.
24 December 2009 Too much stuff has been happening, too much snow has been getting in the way of it happening, and I'm afraid we've only just begun to notice the approach of Christmas. Here's a time-wasting e-card for you all....
17 December 2009 Rob Holdstock's funeral. A substantial crowd at the Unitarian chapel in Hampstead for a not at all religious celebration of what a wonderful person Rob was. Rob came and went, most appropriately, in a wicker coffin with holly round the sides. More about this moving, exhilarating, funny and heartbreaking afternoon will follow in a planned memorial supplement to the January Ansible. (Anyone who knew Rob is welcome to contribute a recollection or anecdote – contact form here.) Afterwards, there was a huge fall of snow.
16 December 2009 As of today, The Encyclopedia of SF (third edition, still in progress) now has over 2.5 million words of text.
15 December 2009 Monday the 14th was Moving Day for Hazel's father, and everything went well – except that I now ache a lot. Miraculously, the phone, computer and broadband connection were all up and running by Tuesday afternoon, with some help from the BT man who spent 45 minutes up a pole outside the house despite bitter cold. (For family members reading this: if you didn't get a change-of-address note, ask me.) Here is a small unsolicited plug for some extremely efficient chaps with a big red van:
12 December 2009 Battle systems ready! We're going over the top! Dies irae, dies illa ... well, not quite, but tomorrow Hazel and I begin the all too exciting process of getting her father installed in his new house. Expect no coherence for a little while. "And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon the Moving Day." My distraction was such that I entirely forgot my Interzone column deadline, but luckily the editor reminded me today and readers will not after all be spared. In other news, the Fans Across the World newsletter which used to be hosted at the Glasgow sf archive (when I ran the thing) now has a home at Bill Burns's eFanzines.com. Peter Watts wrote a very gentlemanly response to my review of him ten years ago. I firmly believe he's the victim and not the aggressor in this mess, and have sent a donation towards the all too likely legal fees.
2 December 2009 Filthy weather, but duty called – to London for a Rob Holdstock memorial gathering organized with terrifying efficiency by Malcolm Edwards. Having struggled through the downpour to a nice warm London-bound train, I thought the worst was over: but at Paddington they'd closed off the Underground. Something, possibly the wrong sort of rain, had tripped the smoke alarms down there. Go, they told everyone, to the Hammersmith & City Line at the far end of the station. A huge crowd went, to meet a huger crowd coming the other way through a row of six electronic turnstiles in a not terribly wide overpass. Five turnstiles were set to let people out of the H&CL; only one to let them in. I was mere feet from the dread portal when London Transport staff decided to simplify things by resetting this turnstile to match the other five. No Entry. Now the overpass was choking up at one end with further hordes redirected from the main Underground, and at the other with seemingly endless waves of commuters from the H&CL platforms. Pressure increased. The little knot of LT staff behind the barrier refused to answer questions, which as time went by grew loud and annoyed. If this turned nasty, I thought, at least I wouldn't have to write it up ("Obscure sci-fi journalist crushed in freak crowd accident."). This impasse continued for some while, with the occasional shouts getting angrier, until at last some slightly more sensible station functionary announced repeatedly that the Hammersmith & City Line was now officially closed from the Paddington side, and by slow degrees got everyone in the now quite dangerous-seeming overpass and access stairs moving the same way, towards the main concourse and the possibility of oxygen. After breaking free I plodded through steady rain to Edgware Road, where the tube was working as normal. Gasp. The Gathering was in the upstairs room of a St Martin's Lane pub once patronized by Rob Holdstock and friends. Despite the glum occasion it was good to meet many of the usual suspects from publishing parties, old Milfords and old London pub meetings, including the Charnocks, Judith Clute, Malcolm Edwards, Chris Evans, Jo Fletcher, David Garnett, Roy Kettle & Kathleen Mitchell, the Kilworths, Bobbie Lamming, Chris Priest, and David Wingrove & Susan Oudot. Sarah Biggs bravely made an appearance; so did one of Rob's brothers and a few non-sf friends. Many fine photos of Rob were on show, and likewise a certain publisher's current editions of his books, including the still amazingly impressive Mythago Wood. The funeral will be later this month.
1 December 2009 Much work finalizing and publishing this month's Ansible, plus the already-prepared Cloud Chamber and facsmile "Eye of Argon" – all overshadowed by the gloom of Rob Holdstock's death on 29 November. Meanwhile, Lilian Edwards pours scorn on the Digital Economy bill.
26 November 2009 Some good news: despite Langfordian insecurity about my fiction-writing skills, kindly anthology editors have smiled on the somewhat peculiar sf story I submitted ("Graffiti in the Library of Babel"). Still better news: after 20 months of trying and several interim disasters, we have now fixed a date for Hazel's aged father to move to Reading in mid-December. Excelsior! The TLS reviews the new Oxford Companion to English Literature, remarking that "There is palpable overcompensation for the previous neglect of science fiction." On valuing one's professional services. Someone else taking the name of Ansible in vain; unlike the Ancible fellow, this one didn't ask whether I minded. Nice logo, though.
19 November 2009 Back to the work routine after an excellent Novacon: Ansible bits, SFX column, endless bloody paperwork. Brother Jon brags that he's getting good reviews for his new musical show in Chicago, All the Fame of Lofty Deeds: "Hello everybody – thanks to the talented people at the House Theater (and some really great reviews – see above), me and Mark Guarino's incursion into the land of bright lights and greasepaint has got off to a fantastic start – if you are near the windy city come and check out this strange twisty thing we have made – it runs Thursdays to Sunday til Dec 20th (and possibly longer the way things are looking) at the Chopin Theater in fashionable Wicker Park...." For my own part, Charles de Lint gives Starcombing a nice write-up in the December F&SF (scroll down or search for "Langford"). And I won £25 on the Premium Bonds today!
14 November 2009 Here I am enjoying myself at Novacon. The only reasons for sharing this unstupendous information are that (a) I am trying wifi from a netbook for the first time ever, and having committed email am wondering whether it's possible to update this page too; (b) the hotel, the Park Inn in Nottingham, has a health and fitness club called Innaction. Sounds like my kind of exercise.
6 November 2009 Something I forgot to include in Ansible 268 was a response to the latest Frequently Asked Question, "Do you know about this new games magazine called The Ancible?" Yes: Kenny Robb, MD of its publishing company, enquired in September whether I had any problem with the name. Me: "I've been running my newsletter Ansible for thirty years (and one month) with the blessing of SF author Ursula Le Guin, who coined the word in a 1960s novel. No objection at all to your use of a different spelling, provided you promise never to object to my title!" Such are the agreed terms of the Ansible/Ancible treaty. What is the circulation of Ansible, as one person has Frequently Asked? When I checked at the end of October, there were exactly 3,600 people on the email list and the 1 October issue had been viewed by 3,377 website visitors. 208 people apparently read it via CIX, and an unknown number on Usenet rec.arts.sf.fandom and uk.people.sf.fans. I now print a mere 100 paper copies (distributed by mail and as freebies at the Reading Oxfam bookshop); more are run off by official or unofficial agents for distribution with the Brum Group newsletter (~100?), the Prophecy apa (~10), in Australia (???), as part of James Bacon's sf outreach program (~100 but only sometimes), etc etc. If I knew the circulation of Interzone, I could add in the people who read the "Ansible Link" digest column there. No point in counting the Facebook group (then 531 members) or LiveJournal syndication page (374), since people notified of a new issue by these routes will either proceed to the web page or recoil with a cry of "Bloody hell, is that thing still appearing?" But if I had the brazen nerve of a magazine publicity department I would total all the above figures, multiply by some arbitrary factor – known as the cosmological constant – on the assumption that every issue is read by an entire nuclear family including the dog, and publish the resulting fantasy as Ansible's official circulation. Advertise now! Except that we don't run ads. Although the Aged Father-in-Law has brilliantly scheduled his house move for the first day of Novacon (argh shriek gibber), I expect to be at the convention. Happy discovery at Sainsbury's: a spindle of CD-Recordables at one-third original price. This supermarket knows what some people get up to with CDs, as indicated by the sticker....
20 October 2009 It's been pretty stressful this last week or two. Hazel's aged father was awaiting a much-needed operation, with arrangements going wrong in all conceivable ways including urgent documents getting held up in the post. The op took place on Saturday and he's just been allowed home for a while – Hazel is looking after him in Wheatley while in Reading I wonder whether you can do pizzas in the toaster. Next, the parental house move.... A more personal upheaval was the writing of my first short story of 2009, which proved hugely recalcitrant. Too much nonfiction over too many years pollutes the precious creative fluids. (Cf. Cyril Connolly's Enemies of Promise. At Milford conferences John Murry – "Richard Cowper" – liked to quote, "Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.") I had thought that heavily symbolic art after the fashion of G.F. Watts or William Holman Hunt had died out long ago, but then I saw this allegory of the origins of the US Constitution. Oh blimey, the captions, the mouseover captions! Elsewhere the dread painting has been naughtily recaptioned and ichorously spoofed. Authors! Do your publisher's bright young publicity people sound like this? If so, shoot them while there is yet time.
13 October 2009 A Langford story reviewed (scroll down). Another classic Daily Mail headline (see 25 September below). Carrie vs Tolkien: a libel action bizarre enough for Albert Haddock. Naughtily retitled sf/fantasy.
2 October 2009 Life has been a bit crowded again, but I managed to finish Ansible 267 yesterday, and also to update the Random Reading and SFX 2009 Reviews pages. More signage.
25 September 2009 Into London yesterday for the Gollancz autumn party. The traditional wander down Charing Cross Road was, as is now traditional, depressing: there always seems to be another bookshop missing. This is also true of Bloomsbury. I hoped to revisit some remembered book dealers in the Museum Street/Coptic Street area but they'd all gone. The Atlantis Bookshop is a lonely survivor. Farewell literature, hello woo-woo. (Likewise in Charing Cross Road: I can understand the pressure of tourism favouring pubs, restaurants and fast-food outlets, but why the arcane Chinese herbal remedies? Is this what people visit London for?) As usual, the party was fun but inaudibility rapidly set in, not only for hearing-aid wearers. Though art shows and friendly acoustics are not at all incompatible, the October Gallery venue isn't much interested in the latter. Whenever anyone got within two feet of a wall, gallery staff would pop up with stern warnings not to touch the priceless artwork. Malcolm Edwards made a lengthy State of the Nation speech of which I couldn't hear a word; however, the sarky comments from Gollancz staff standing near me were sufficiently entertaining. Notables in the seething crowd included Steve Baxter, Alex Bell, Pat Cadigan, Jaine Fenn, Jo Fletcher, David Garnett ["It's the 40th anniversary of my first masterpiece this month (definitely an Unforgettable Year for Literature) and Gollancz are kindly celebrating the event ..."], Amanda Hemingway, Rob Holdstock, Steve Jones, Roz Kaveney, Ian McDonald, Chris Priest, Robert Rankin, Adam Roberts, Geoff Ryman, Simon Spanton, David Wingrove and several more frightfully important persons whom I'd remember if only the kindly catering folk hadn't refilled my glass quite so often. Good old Gollancz. The promotional book of the evening – or the imminent remainder, depending how you interpret the urge to shift a huge pile of freebies – was Charlaine Harris's Dead until Dark. BoingBoing claims to have pinpointed the perfect Daily Mail headline. Not as memorable, I felt, as the News of the World classic "Nudist Welfare Mans Model Wife Fell For The Chinese Hypnotist From The Co-op Bacon Factory". Checking that wording via Google, I was delighted to find it should have begun with the additional word "Legless", only there wasn't room. Here's the story, which also reminds us of the New York Post's "Headless Man Found in Topless Bar". I've resisted the urge to examine the new Dan Brown in hope of one of his trademark opening sentences ("World-famous freemason Ban Drown lurched, reeled, belched in sudden agony and pitilessly exploded."), but Adam Roberts has some pithy comments.
18 September 2009 The current New Scientist is a science fiction special (or as they prefer to say, a sci-fi special) and contains my review of Greg Egan's collection Oceanic, written to fit a slot that allowed twelve and a half words of in-depth analysis per story. Yesterday's RSS feed experiment provoked – and here molesworth bravely bit back the quip that sprang to his lips – some feedback. Would it be possible for the feed to offer the full content rather than just the first 100-odd characters of each entry? Yes, this alternative form of link now does the trick. No HTML tags, though, because the official RSS feed validator frowns on them.
17 September 2009 I doubt that anyone wants an RSS feed for these occasional diary entries (as below), but what the hell: here's one anyway. Still experimental, mind you. May contain nuts.
16 September 2009 Hazel's father still plans to move to Reading, and even put in an offer for a house without actually visiting it (all done via Hazel's reports and many emailed photos). He thought he'd better have a look before signing the contract, though, and so on Monday we all hung around for an hour and a quarter in blazing heat outside a locked house while – as it later emerged – our friendly estate agent had spent 15 minutes at entirely the wrong address before giving up. Several increasingly ratty mobile phone calls later, after every weed in the garden had been thoroughly studied and committed to memory, there was just time for a ten-minute inspection of the interior before the Aged P. rushed home again. Meanwhile, Hazel had been longing for a faster computer, and I wanted to replace the little machine whose hard drive had failed too often. Weekend: asked the excellent Jim Bisset of EQ Consultants for quotes. Monday lunchtime: quotes received. Late Monday afternoon: accepted. Tuesday, 8:30am and 9:40am: machines delivered. The next best thing to instant gratification. Minor obsessions, number 5,271,009: a long-standing niggle about the Ansible website was that many masthead cartoons in the on-line archive had been poorly reduced in size – jagged/faded lines, that sort of thing. Now they're all, or nearly all, redone with better tools; and the site map page provides links for every artist. This page's SF Quote of the Moment is randomly selected, by the way, from a list of about 120. Further suggestions welcome. Years after everyone else, the Telegraph has finally noticed Dan Brown's prose. As Tolkien put it long ago: "Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Thog knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day."
7 September 2009 Since the Google Book Settlement was much on my mind (see 17 July), I went on about the tiresomeness of its website in a column for SFX, written in early August. Imagine my excitement on discovering a few days ago that some of the greatest irritations – notably, the way you couldn't discover whether they'd illicitly digitized one of your books until the very end of the registration/claim process – had been fixed. Also, all the Langford titles of which it was mysteriously reported that they "May be digitized on or before May 5, 2009 without authorization" (hardly satisfactory information to receive in August) were now confirmed as having been pirated by the Googlebastards. Argh! Upcoming column already out of date! Fortunately our hero editor David Bradley was able to take on board some eleventh-hour corrections..... Since my last entry here I have of course published Ansible 266 – for which an urgent TAFF announcement arrived some days too late. Gary Farber remembers Abigail Frost.
26 August 2009 Here's confirmation that after 30 years of publication, Ansible (like its editor's hair) has succumbed to that dread phenomenon the Greying of Science Fiction Fandom. It's plugged on the "Superbyways" page of the greyer-than-grey The Oldie (September 2009). In the same issue's editorial, Richard Ingrams brags that his official ABC circulation figure is now 34,209 – which compares interestingly with the world-bestriding SFX at 31,327. Not-so-good news: the rotters at BeWrite Books have decided to put Earthdoom out of print. This could be your last chance to buy before terminal disaster and oblivion! (Yes, I'm talking with my esteemed co-author about what happens next.)
24 August 2009 It is time for a very large drink. I seem to have been wrestling for weeks with the massive bound proofs of Steven Erikson's Dust of Dreams, volume nine of the Malazan Book of the Interminable. The writing's fine, but there's such a huge lot of it, and the version I've only just finished is interestingly paginated: 1-552, then 607-652, then 593-606 in reverse order, then 553-592, and finally 653-889. Thank you so much, Bantam Press, for this added challenge.
20 August 2009 I'm still not sure why the British Computer society decided to interview me, but the result is now on line – complete with one of Hazel's Interzone photos. Roz Kaveney comments on recent updates to that now rather large archive of Abigail Frost's fanzine writings. Another film I won't be watching.
13 August 2009 Cheryl Morgan brought a blush to my cheek with a kindly mention in her Hugo speech. On receiving a review copy of Jim Butcher's fantasy Cursor's Fury, I naturally expected the companion volumes to be Icon's Passion and Menu's Wrath, the whole making up the "Windows on the West" trilogy in which plucky young Enduser must overcome terminal hazards to challenge the dread Defenestrator and his Azure Screen of Death. Alas, Cursor is merely some character's name. What a swiz. The BBC reports on the problem of translating a Mabinogion-based videogame ("Rhiannon: Curse of the Four Branches") into Welsh. I started imagining the necessary commands for an old-style text adventure: GO IRELAND. BRIDGE RIVER WITH OWN BODY. DISGUISE SELF AS SWINEHERD. GET INTO CAULDRON. TRANSFORM FLOWERS INTO GIRL. DO OWLS. Advanced stages would be fiendishly hard to guess, as in the frustrating Hitchhiker game: FEAST SEVEN YEARS WITH BRAN'S TALKING HEAD. REMOVE VIRGIN'S FEET FROM MATH'S LAP. STAND WITH ONE FOOT ON GOAT AND OTHER ON BATHTUB. And when you'd conquered a particularly difficult puzzle, the software would retort THOUGH THOU GETTEST THAT, THERE IS THAT THOU WILT NOT GET! before opening the way to another teaser. The Ansible convention reports page is now up to date. A certain sf title by D.G. Compton has been cited so often in Langford columns that, when kindly Brian Ameringen included a copy in his catalogue, I felt obliged to acquire it. Something to bear in mind for the next time you play sf charades:
7 August 2009 Once again I'm missing a Worldcon, Anticipation in Montréal, but please don't assume this plunges me into an abysmal dark night of the soul. Yes, it would be good to see various friends (you know who you are) and explore a new city, but so much of the convention itself would be wasted on me. Even with my latest hearing aid I have difficulty in following programme items, especially multi-person panels, and small conversations in quiet surroundings aren't easy amid the teeming hordes of Worldcon. Like many a bewildered newcomer, I tend to wander around feeling lonely. Less grandiose events are so much easier to cope with: Novacon? Corflu UK? And the upcoming Eastercon, while somewhat bigger, is so conveniently close to Reading that I could almost commute. The August Ansible appeared on Friday 31 July for no more sinister reason than that the copy shop closes over the weekend (yes, unbelievers, there is still a print edition) and I didn't want to wait for Monday. Some website changes: the Books Received page now includes Magazines Received, with links, and I've nearly finished indexing all the past convention coverage for the convenience of sf/fan historians. Current reading: Greg Egan's collection Oceanic, for a New Scientist review. Coincidence time: he wrote to Ansible about a tendency to link him with photos of an entirely different Greg Egan, and very soon after I found a supposed Greg Egan on Facebook who identified himself as the sf author but used the wrong photo. Complaints have been filed. See the newly added note on "our" Egan's home page. L. Ron Hubbard in the news again.
29 July 2009 Now this review, from Rick Kleffel at The Agony Column, is just what I needed to cheer me up amid the general sogginess of British July weather. Thanks, Rick.
21 July 2009 Forty years on, plus a day: I must admit I'd gone to bed by the time Tor posted my tiny contribution to their 20 July nostalgiafest of Moon landing memories.
17 July 2009 I've been exploring the Google Book Settlement site (see also here), which does not make it quick or easy to discover which of your books have been digitized without permission. Trying to check on short stories and essays -- "inserts" in Google jargon -- is even more laborious: you need to locate the anthology via a title search, specify the page range of your contribution (a tiresome requirement if it's an edition you've never seen), assert your rights ... and only then are you allowed the opportunity to discover whether the book has been Googleized. I tried this for my four Hartwell/Cramer Year's Best SF appearances and drew a blank each time; I don't think I have the heart to jump through the same hoops for each of the remaining 154 items here. (Google Person, rubbing hands together: "Yesss! Another win!") Men with huge forearms. That Oxfam bookshop event of 11 July: the local press has the last word.
10 July 2009 Another gap, since our place in North Wales -- where we've been for the last week -- is still an internet-free zone. No great excitement to report. Meals were eaten, pubs patronized, charity shops pillaged, and the rocky end of Harlech beach searched for a perfectly formed doorstop. I read Neal Asher's latest sf novel for SFX review, and we established contact with a long-lost cousin in the Porthmadog area (Hazel talked family trees a lot). Now home, picking up the pieces and being cheered by a small Wildside Press royalty check plus a much larger tax refund, an entity previously thought as elusive as Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Tomorrow, as recorded here, Brian Stableford and I will flaunt our egos at the local Oxfam bookshop!
30 June 2009 Although the weather gauge is stuck firmly at Too Bloody Hot, I've managed to deal with all my current deadline work and publish (a day early) the July Ansible. Another SFX column also went on line a day or two ago, as did some reviews. Now I'm planning to take a short break from the evil brain-eating Internet, so please don't expect quick replies to email. I don't think brother Jon's name has previously been dropped in a Guardian obituary. Steve Wells was his flatmate in Leeds in the early 1980s: "I illustrated his 'ranting' poetry book and produced his record, did the covers for his fanzine etc. Very nice man but never did the washing up." Meanwhile Wikipedia has added new terrors to death -- although that story greatly exaggerates the importance of a solitary loon with a grudge. Here's that nice Geoff Willmetts of SF Crowsnest reviewing Starcombing. I don't know where his statistic "85% material that was first seen in UK's 'SFX' magazine" comes from -- it's 71% of the contents list but, since SFX pieces have to be short, about 40% by word count . He explained: "I count chapters. Counting every word would mean transferring to a word processor or having the entire population of my town's fingers and toes to use as counting digits." I would gladly have deployed cutting-edge technology to count the words for him, and indeed I did, but to no avail. The past tense in this sign outside a Reading pub (The Horn) conveys an elegiac sadness....
18 June 2009 As a G.K. Chesterton fan I suppose I should regard The Passion of Father Brown (scroll down) as major blasphemy. More on science vs daft UK libel laws. Lego Escher: Ascending and Descending, Balcony, Belvedere, Relativity, Waterfall. Plutonium on open sale in London! (Well, up to a point ...)
17 June 2009 The Oxfam bookshop in central Reading has posters saying that the "highly regarded Science Fiction authors" Brian Stableford and I will be reading and talking there on 11 July (6pm-8pm), so it looks as though the event is going ahead. Admission by ticket, free from the shop -- which has also taken over from boring old Waterstone's as the official local outlet for (again free) paper copies of Ansible.
7 June 2009 In accordance with the recent debate on reviewing ethics, Adam Roberts finds himself unable to review Starcombing. But he fails so very nicely, and I'm grateful. Speaking of ethics, I was kindly invited to join the Science Fiction and Fantasy Ethics group site. "Ethics" here would seem to have the little-known meaning "positive reviews only". Good luck to them, but (no doubt because I am a miserable sod) I feel uncomfortable with that title. The Ethics Committee, the Moral Majority? My own reviews, I hope, manage to be reasonably ethical despite my failure to write them while wearing a bright red leotard with ETHICSMAN! blazoned across the chest. That would be so embarrassing. Yesterday on Facebook, irritated by a new spate of postings along the lines of "XXX took the 'Which Star Trek/Star Wars/Doctor Who/Jane Austen/etc etc character are you?' quiz and found he/she was ...", I claimed to have completed the "Which woodlouse are you?" test. Certain people took this seriously and asked where they could find it. This is what Facebook does to the brain. Reverting to the ethics of reviewing, there's a spinoff discussion at SF Signal. Ethical links: Jeff Vandermeer, Cheryl Morgan, Everything Is Nice, Asking the Wrong Questions.
2 June 2009 Even after hundreds of issues, there's still a certain high of excitement in finishing another Ansible and causing it to sweep the world like a very small swine-flu pandemic. But I always feel gloomy on the day after. Bear with me.
23 May 2009 Yesterday was Abigail Frost's funeral at the East London Crematorium. SF fans in attendance were Roz Kaveney (who spoke at the ceremony), Avedon Carol and Rob Hansen, Graham and Pat Charnock, Nick Lowe, and myself. Also, of course, family -- her Aunt Jill told us a lot about Abigail's life -- Old Labour comrades and a crafts journal editor who promises some published AJF articles for the memorial site. (Several people there had read and liked this, which was a relief.) I hadn't known or hadn't registered that Abigail's middle initial J stood for Jenny. And now it's time for <plokta.con> Release 4.0.
20 May 2009 One final note about the new books: I have been gloating uncontrollably over stacks of authors' copies of Starcombing and The Limbo Files, both looking very spiffy, especially the hardbacks of the former. Then I had to stop gloating and start mailing out copies to Adam Roberts (Starcombing introduction) and others of the usual suspects.... Andrew Porter forwarded a message titled "Zombie Banks", which proved to be something to do with international financial horrors. My first thought, though, was of Zombie M. Banks -- author of the Zombie Culture novels in which vast undead spacecraft (General Shambling Vehicles) lurch across the galaxy, filling the ether with slurred and insatiable transmissions of MINNNDS ... MINNNDS ... MINNNDS ... Going to one of Martin Hoare's favourite real-ale pubs can be very like this.
14 May 2009 Maybe I didn't read Terry Pratchett's A Hat Full of Sky closely enough first time around. As students of Langfordiana may recall, my "Blit" story sequence deals with mind-destroying fractal images and has been alluded to in fiction by Greg Egan, Ken MacLeod and Charles Stross. Now in A Hat Full of Sky I notice that the final written ravings of a wizard whose mind is being destroyed include -- just three words from the incoherent end -- "blit!!!!!"
13 May 2009 Roz Kaveney tells me (and has since told the world via LiveJournal) that Abigail Frost's funeral will be at the East London Crematorium at noon on Friday 22 May. At last I have steeled myself to book a room for <plokta.con> at Sunningdale Park, Berks, and hope to see some of you there.
12 May 2009 Thanks to Yvonne Rousseau for pointing out that the Amazon (US and UK) links to my new collection Starcombing are now working. If only HTML offered <SUBLIM> tags within which I could subtly enclose the message "Buy it buy it buy it!"
2 May 2009 Yesterday, Ansible 262 was published. Today I'm sad to learn from Roz Kaveney that Abigail Frost has died at the age of 57. She was largely responsible for this silly special issue (warning: contains many contemporary fan in-jokes) in 1994. Later: I put together an Abigail memorial links page since Roz was so keen on the idea. Later still: this has since been updated several times with additional material and fanzine cover scans.
30 April 2009 I am the end of an era. The two collections I've been going on about recently are ... The Last Cosmos Books.
29 April 2009 Apologies to anyone who was expecting to see me knocking back free drinks at the Arthur C. Clarke Award presentation tonight. The cold has not entirely gone away, and I've been getting too many swine 'flu jokes in recent days.... Meanwhile at Cosmos Books, we finalized a cover design (by Juha T. Lindroos) for Starcombing -- not long to be denied you.
27 April 2009 I've been busy again, but now I can relax with (as it turns out) a cold. My first nonfiction collection of 2009 (Starcombing is still in the pipeline) is now available from both Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Roll roll, roll up, all you connoisseurs of musty old Langford columns, and buy The Limbo Files! Warning: may contain ingredients. Some links: Cassini photos of Saturn's rings and moons. The Art of Penguin Science Fiction. Feed the Head. Ballard inspires. Swine flu perspective.
13 April 2009 What did I do during the Easter Bank Holiday? Celebrated my birthday with pies for lunch at a favourite pub which happens to be next door to a barber's. Sent the new Langford collection Starcombing to Sean Wallace at Cosmos Books: 85 newly collected nonfiction pieces with an ... interesting ... introduction by Adam Roberts; more of this when it's available. Treated myself to a shoe-stretching device (because I find it increasingly difficult to buy off-the-peg shoes that actually fit) and was fascinated by the accompanying kit of plastic wens, bunions and buboes to customize the thing for one's very own vile deformity. Had my smallest ever Premium Bond win (£25). Attended bits of the Bradford Eastercon fan programme through the miracles of internet video streaming and found that -- exactly as though I'd been there in person -- I couldn't hear more than occasional scattered phrases through the general uproar. Tried to describe Ansible for the Clarkesworld Save the Semiprozine Hugo site; was tempted to quote one recent appreciator's phrase "infantile shitsheet" but decided not to stir him up again. Did tricky crosswords, went walking in the rain, delivered another Interzone column with the now-obligatory photo, started reading an allegedly comic fantasy for SFX review.... What dissipated holiday fun.
9 April 2009 Extensive tests at the Audiology Dept, Royal Berks Hospital. Maybe a new hearing aid, or aids, to follow. Maybe an improvement....
7 April 2009 Our visitors -- Bill and Mary Burns, in the UK to be fan guests of honour at Eastercon -- have come and gone, and there has been much catching-up with work neglected while having fun in pubs. That book review was duly delivered to SFX, with a vast sigh of relief. Wildlife studies: there are now at least five black swans among the huge white flock on the Kennet & Avon Canal just down the road. Meanwhile, in our own back garden, we have observed the Suicide Dove! A couple of very inept collared doves are nest-building in the pear tree, or rather, carrying twigs up to a singularly unsuitable branch and watching in bafflement as they fall off again. Then one dove discovered treasure-trove by the shed: Hazel's box of recently gathered weeds and twigs. Leaning against the shed, unfortunately, is an old mirror ... leading to a cycle of (a) inspect twigs; (b) notice alien dove in mirror; (c) study rival intently from various angles; (d) attack and bounce off; (e) fly to shed roof to recover from vicious unprovoked blow; (f) return to twigs and repeat. I should have taken a video, I suppose, but instead we moved the box. No use: the Unforgivable Territorial Interloper now had priority over mere nest-building, and to prevent concussion Hazel had to put a sack over the mirror. Gosh, here's a Langford namecheck in Dr Dobb's Journal.
6 April 2009 Happy new UK tax year!
3 April 2009 Pause for breath. Ansible 261 duly came out on 1 April, with only a trace of foolery, and then the late London news started to arrive. The sf lecture at the Royal Institution on 7 April could be added to the links page, but there was no URL for this alarming information sent by Erik Arthur of the legendary genre bookshop Fantasy Centre: "Be the first to know that Ted and Erik have decided that once our lease expires in June, we shall not renew it and Fantasy Centre will close down after nearly forty years of trading." (2 April) Oh dear. It's the end of an era, it really is. I'm supposed to be writing a massive book review -- that is, a slim review of a massive book which I'm only halfway through -- so may be a bit slow replying to email over the next few days.
26 March 2009 A few on-line oddments that didn't make it to the Ansible links page but which I nevertheless liked: A Horror Retrospective: John Brosnan (1947-2005) xkcd on Anathem, imposture and fetishes Traditional joke structure revisited [last item of post] The Holy (Terrorist) Hand Grenade of Antioch Lovecraftian School Board Member Wants Madness Added To Curriculum.
22 March 2009 I hope no one will be too horrified by my latest tweak to the Ansible site. For some time I've been thinking that the links page (dense with information and frequently updated) would be a much better "front page" than the traditional one here. When I floated this idea in Ansible nearly a year ago, no one objected -- actually, no one took the slightest notice -- so at last I have plucked up courage and done the deed. What do you think?
20 March 2009 It's that Hugo shortlist time of the year. Looks like a good ballot. Thanks to all who enjoyed my efforts enough to place me among the Fan Writer finalists again. No, I'm not bothered that Ansible has at last slipped off the Semiprozine list -- fiddling it into that category started as hardly more than a joke (though with the serious intent of removing it from competition in Best Fanzine) and led to major bogglement when in 2005 it actually won. The editor of Interzone is probably still sticking pins into a small wax image of D. Langford. I wish I could make it to Anticipation in Montréal to lose with appropriate grace, but it doesn't seem feasible. You don't want to hear what the last several months of UK bank rate cuts have done to my modest savings income. Neither, to be frank, do I.
17 March 2009 The Aged P. was let out of hospital yesterday afternoon, and Hazel (after a weekend return to Reading) is again looking after him in Wheatley. I finished, more or less, the Starcombing index and layout. While I was still brutally oppressing the poor widows and orphans, there came a pleasant surprise when an sf author of some note -- who actually reads this page -- offered to contribute an introduction. Gosh! Is my hearing getting worse, I wonder, or was last night's Reading SF Group meeting in an acoustically impossible pub? The bloody awful music seemed carefully tuned to hearing-aid-jamming frequencies.... Home Alone, part 5,271,009: attack of the killer teapot! The handle suddenly broke off while I was pouring, barefoot in a dressing-gown: just managed to leap back from the scalding flood. Whatever next? Oh yes, the VAT return.
12 March 2009 Another gap. My father-in-law has been worryingly ill: Hazel went to stay with and look after him, and soon had to arrange a transfer by ambulance into hospital. The problem proved to be pneumonia. Now, at last, thanks to a heavy and continuing input of antibiotics, he seems to be on the mend. To take my mind off all this while alone in the house (how does this microwave thing work, exactly?), I've been obsessively indexing a fat new collection of my SF essays, reviews and columns, tentatively titled Starcombing and -- I hope -- to be published as usual by Cosmos Books. Look on my works, ye mighty, because I need the royalties. My mother, though in excellent health, always gets a bit upset by official-looking letters addressed to my father (who died in 2001). The latest to cause maternal alarm is headed, in bold type, "Are you considering your exit strategies ...?"
3 March 2009 After getting a decent night's sleep at last, I pulled myself together and finished Ansible 260 yesterday --with a little supplement about the rehousing/relinking of that deleted Glasgow archive (see 27 February below). It's Square Root Day! With Pi Day to follow, but only for Americans. Martin Hoare wins the Silver Onion of Reading.
28 February 2009 In brief: bad night, feeling shitty, not coming to Picocon after all. I don't suppose anyone was banking on it.
27 February 2009 It had to happen some day. The plug has been pulled on the UK SF Fandom Archive at Glasgow University, set up by Naveed Khan in the early 1990s and for many years the host of Ansible (long since moved), Bridget Wilkinson's Fans Across the World News (now apparently homeless), Rob Hansen's history of UK fandom (Then, which Rob is letting me host here at ansible.co.uk for the time being), the 1993 SF Encyclopedia and 1997 Fantasy Encyclopedia addenda (which I have hastily reinstated here and here), and various further oddments including The Eye of Argon (long mirrored here at ansible.co.uk). When time permits I'll see what else seems worth saving from the wreckage. Picocon tomorrow is still a possibility for me ... if the weather doesn't turn nasty.
26 February 2009 A couple of updates. First: the traditional Langford email address, ansible [at] cix co uk, has been around for 16 years but may not continue indefinitely. No rush, but could correspondents please start using drl [at] ansible co uk? Yes, I've updated the contact page. Second: after mighty wrestling with the Irish PLR paperwork (see 20 February below), I had a friendly email from their office wondering why I hadn't simply signed the form allowing my book details to be effortlessly transferred from the UK PLR system? Because, in their infinite wisdom, the UK PLR lot sent this form to everyone who received a paper statement this year but saved electrons by not telling those of us who read our statements on line. Here's the relevant UK PLR page, with a downloadable form which I hope will save some of my visitors a lot of work. Too late for me. Grumble, grumble. It's been a long reclusive winter: I'm tempted to visit London for Picocon this Saturday, if only to swill cheap beer and bask in the golden voice of Pat Cadigan saying "You dog." We shall see.
24 February 2009 This review by Adam Roberts made me laugh. After which I looked at his 2008 archive and found this one. Gosh!
20 February 2009 So far it's been a hard-working but not apparently very productive month. Many headaches. Eye test booked, with much fear and trembling at the likely costs. No change detected; new glasses not needed; general sighs of relief.... Maura McHugh points out that Ireland has introduced a PLR scheme (although they call it Public Lending Remuneration rather than any effete nonsense about authors having Rights), and that British and other EU authors are also eligible. Good for Ireland! Herewith links to the information leaflet and application forms -- the latter being an interactive PDF which, on my system at least, allows only one title to be entered in the all-important "Section F -- Book Details" page. It's bright and sunny today, but earlier in the month, while I was finishing Ansible 259, the view from my office window looked like this.
12 February 2009 Sam Jordison at the Guardian continues his long trawl through the Hugo-winning novels -- this time, The Man in the High Castle. When I put on my pedant's hat to add an explanatory comment about why the grasshopper lies heavy, the reaction was slightly boggling (scroll down from above link). Me, like royalty? Gorblimey.
29 January 2009 The Department of Bizarre Coincidences struck again yesterday. With the aid of home-made software I added permalinks to what was intended to be the complete run of Ansible back issues, so that every story has its own URL and can be directly linked to. What I didn't immediately realize was that this broke the "As Others See Us" random-dip script. Naturally yesterday was also the day chosen by the Guardian to link to Ansible and this very script, which was embarrassingly serving up relevant extracts from only three or four issues that somehow escaped the great permalink reform. Now fixed, but oh dear! Still, Murphy's Law cuts both ways: if I hadn't missed those few documents, the script would have stuck at "Loading" and never shown anything at all....
24 January 2009 After the US presidential inauguration, I tried some of the beer that Martin Hoare gave us for Christmas and was able to write on Facebook: "Bush was drunk today. I have absolute proof ..." (The Bush brand of Belgian beer is very strong and very nice. Down the hatch, and into the sewers of history!) Meanwhile, my little brother is a megastar in that fearful local rag the South Wales Argus! "They got a lot of things wrong," grumbled our mother, who nevertheless believes everything she reads in the infinitely more ghastly Daily Express.
19 January 2009 Charlie Stross has mentioned Earthdoom in his on-line diary comments, leading to a couple of how-to-buy-it enquiries. My page on this novel has links to the 2003 BeWrite editions, paperback and ebook. In the post: the March issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction with my "Curiosities" piece on Colin Kapp's Transfinite Man (aka The Dark Mind).
18 January 2009 What have I been doing for the last two weeks? Er um well. There must have been something.... A book review or two, a column for SFX. Some time wasted, in a fun sort of way, in fulfilling a New Year Resolution to complete the difficult "Track 8: Hard" of Bloons 3 and then swear off this terrible thing forever. More time wasted, probably, scanning stuff for an archive of my old fanzine Twll-Ddu. This is avowedly incomplete owing to a high incidence of embarrassment and possible libel (those were the days), but almost all the artwork is now on line. Meanwhile, there was also a certain amount of fiddling with software. Another New-Year-resolution project which I hope won't be a further waste of time was to get the hang of creating Windows .CHM help files, since the traditional .HLP format used for all past Ansible Information Windows software is no longer supported in Vista. After a few days of obsessive effort, I smugly report success. Look on my works, ye mighty ...
3 January 2009 "Ansible 258 -- An Apology. We are very sorry about Ansible 258." No, no, that's an old Private Eye gag. I thought I'd finished sending out all paper and electronic copies of Ansible by mid-evening yesterday, but the email version got stuck on the list server overnight and I didn't prise it loose until this morning. The Plain People of Fandom: Who cares? Myself: You'd be surprised what some people complain about.
2 January 2009 Once again, the hand of fate intervenes in the production of Ansible. I took the masters of this month's issue to Reading town centre, intending to get copies run off at the usual small print shop -- which was closed for the holidays. Time to investigate our recently opened branch of Kinko's, where the chap behind the counter took a worryingly long time to calculate that my modest order would cost more than three times as much as usual. Blimey! Grumpily I went home to coax copies out of my poor overworked laser printer instead; and found email from Gordon Van Gelder confirming it was OK to publish his shock F&SF news, hitherto revealed only in confidence. So I tore up the master sheets and started re-editing....