29 December 2015 Today a mystery parcel arrived, containing a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a box of Neapolitan chocs, both of the finest Marks & Spencer vintage. No indication of sender. Lots of thanks to whoever it was! [Later identified as my cousin Roger.] Further reading: Gilbert Adair's And Then There Was No One (2009), third of his "Evadne Mount" mysteries in the manner of Agatha Christie, or at least of her titles: the first two were The Act of Roger Murgatroyd and A Mysterious Affair of Style, both apparently more or less straight pastiche with crimes tackled by detective novelist Evadne Mount, who seems not a million miles distant from Christie's own fictional crime writer Ariadne Oliver. This third book gets all po-mo – which is indeed Adair's trademark – with Adair himself meeting Mount at a Sherlock Holmes festival in Meiringen, Switzerland (main tourist attraction the Reichenbach Falls). The event provides the opportunity for an inset Holmes pastiche, "The Giant Rat of Sumatra", before the inevitable murder. Literary gags and red herrings fly thick and fast; the story eventually heads determinedly up its own po-mo orifice. Quite fun actually.
25 December 2015 Merry Christmas (or seasonal festivity of your choice) to all. I hope 2016 will be less gruelling for me and Hazel than 2015. It's a long time since I posted any notes on books read. Anything relevant to the SF Encyclopedia tends to be stripped down to a bibliographic note, theme-entry example or correction of a John Clute misreading; although SFE house style is ruthlessly terse I've now written 477,000 words of the damned thing (passing Peter Nicholls's word count earlier this year despite his huge head start from many many entries in the 1979 and 1993 editions; I doubt I'll ever attain the two and a quarter million words by that man Clute). So, books. This fraught year has seen an awful lot of ebook comfort reading including a Kipling short-story binge, a dollop of Dickens, and – more embarrassingly – a survey of pretty well the entire canon of R. Austin Freeman's Dr Thorndyke medico-legal mysteries. (Spoiler warning: the ingenious vector for administration of arsenic in Freeman's 1928 As a Thief in the Night was picked up or perhaps independently invented by Terry Pratchett for Feet of Clay.) Some new discoveries: After Alice (2015) by Gregory Maguire of Wicked fame is yet another follow-up to Lewis Carroll, in which Alice's barely mentioned friend Ada follows her into Wonderland / Looking-Glass territory and has differently frustrating adventures leading to a revisionist finale. I liked the delayed-drop revelation of Ada's personal Jabberwock, but overall the story – though worthily written and even dealing in racial issues – seemed essentially unnecessary. Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imagined History of Algebra (2006) by John Derbyshire started with the handicap of not being by Ian Stewart or the late Martin Gardner – my favourite pop-maths writers – but won me over by telling a difficult story well, debunking dodgier bits of mathematical folklore (like Galois staying up all night inventing group theory before his fatal duel), and being agreeably lively throughout. Contrasting the Berlin and Göttingen styles of nineteenth-century German maths: "Weierstrass, of the Berlin school, could not blow his nose without offering a meticulous eight-page proof of the event's necessity. Riemann, on the other hand, threw out astonishing visions of functions roaming wildly over the complex plane, of curved spaces, and of self-intersecting surfaces, pausing occasionally to drop in a hurried proof when protocol demanded it." Coriolanus, the Chariot! (1978) by Alan G. Yates was a Novacon purchase from Brian Ameringen's Porcupine Books (whose final dealers' room appearance will apparently be at Novacon in 2016). The premise of far-future theatrical "plactors" who shapeshift into perfect representations of their roles seemed vaguely interesting, but rapidly moved into unpleasant territory. Once treated with the "ambiology" potion that permits shapeshifting, one can not only learn to do it oneself but may be remotely transformed by others who have sufficient will-power or whatever. The protagonist's first audition involves him being reshaped into a woman solely in order to be brutally raped. By and by he plays a nasty tyrant and throws himself into the part by committing an equally brutal rape. Offstage, with his will-power now boosted by such ordeals, he humiliates a unsympathetic instructor by causing him to grow such gigantic, muscular (yes) breasts that they burst through the fabric of this unfortunate's jerkin. Eventually, through further triumph of the will, our man breaks into the inner ring of dramaturges or "playtors" who run this nonsensically sadistic show, and it is indicated that he is no longer (if he ever was) a nice guy. All rather distasteful. A Sense of Reality (1963) by Graham Greene: a slim collection of four stories billed as more or less fantastic. The first and longest, "Under the Garden", looks back to a childhood memory of a secret place in the indicated location, inhabited by a vaguely Peake-ish or perhaps Ubu-ish grotesque; "A Meeting with Morin", whose narrator encounters the titular author of a once personally influential book, rather lost me in a Catholic haze of niceties of belief and unbelief; "Dream of a Strange Land" seems more irony than fantasy; "Discovery in the Woods" follows four apparently normal children a-blackberrying into a sad revelation that this is a post-holocaust landscape. An odd lot. The Annihilation Score (2015) by Charles Stross: in this latest Laundry tale of covert occult ops, our usual viewpoint character Bob is displaced by his partner Mo – her narrative voice being much the same – as the world continues to slide downhill to the Cthulhoid apocalypse coded CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. The latest twist is that side effects of the increasing thaumaturgic noise level are generating assorted superhero figures who need to be bureaucratically contained. There is yet another finale in which a Dread Portal to Very Bad Things (this time around it's the King in Yellow) is unwisely opened in a more public place than ever before. Lively enough, but disbelief is frequently rather hard to keep suspended.
1 December 2015 Unlike this post, the December issue of Ansible was actually on time.
27 November 2015 The process of computer disaster recovery has been long and tortuous. Let's see whether I can update this page by the usual route....
19 November 2015 Two small items of good news are that I got safely home from Novacon and that the latest SF Encyclopedia site update took us past the once unthinkable milestone of five million words. Unfortunately the bad news happened in between: total failure of my main working computer and, until I've done a great deal of software reinstallation on the coming replacement, loss of access to my email archive and other tools of the trade. The usual email address is still working during the interregnum, but via a nasty web interface that makes it hard to keep track. Expect delays. I'll catch up eventually.
10 November 2015 Fun With Desktop Publishing, part 5,271,009. Like a good little small-press publisher I've been working on the latest instalment of Rob Hansen's expansion of his history of British fandom, covering the 1950s. No trouble with the Early 1950s and Mid-1950s chapters, but venturing too far into the Late 1950s invariably caused WordPerfect 12 to crash. I spent most of today researching this, gradually narrowing down the problem area (or one of the problem areas) to a single paragraph about the 1957 London Worldcon. Instant hangup whenever the text cursor entered this forbidden zone. Aha, I thought, the document is corrupt – I'll re-import the paragraph from clean HTML. The same thing happened. And again when I pasted it in directly as plain text. And even when I RETYPED IT FROM SCRATCH.... Apparently something to do with the particular combination of sf author/fan names which WordPerfect auto proofreading was trying to highlight as unrecognized words. Turned off auto proofreading and sanity was restored. I don't know when this enlarged edition of Rob Hansen's Then will become available. He still has the 1960s and 1970s sections to revise, but these probably need less work than the earlier parts (1930s-1950s) where research has unearthed so much more in the way of Astral Knowledge and True Facts.
30 October 2015 An early release for Ansible 340, which is officially the November issue. Pay no attention to the October behind the curtain.
16 October 2015 Writer on the Borderland, an October blog celebration of William Hope Hodgson and his heritage, took a strange turn today with a post plugging my tales of Dagon Smythe – that dauntless psychic investigator distantly inspired by Carnacki the Ghost-Finder. Time to turn on the Electric Pentacle and cower within as a terrible vengeful grunting begins to reverberate from the nameless Outer Spheres.... Also today, Martin Hoare took me down to Newport in his Great Big Red Van. By cunning texting en route I arranged for cousin Mark in South Wales to drop by – about 30 seconds after the van arrived – and help load it with all the remaining stuff from my mother's house that needed to come back to Reading. Two hours out, half an hour loading, two hours back again. Hazel was boggled by the swiftness of it all. I owe Martin many drinks, as usual. Next Wednesday, the professionals clear the rest of the furniture, with Hazel and I on guard to make sure they don't take brother Jon's piano. No idea what's supposed to happen to this in the long run: Jon doesn't want to part with it but the cost of shipping to Chicago doesn't bear thinking about. I hope this doesn't mean that Mark has to store it for the rest of his life ... his home in Pontypool is already bulging with Jon's other treasures from the Newport house. Anyway, this feels like progress. Or it would if the house buyer hadn't just dropped out and left the estate agents to start all over again.
2 October 2015 Here's Ansible 339 (October 2015). The Vince Clarke fanwriting collection mentioned earlier is now available from the TAFF free ebooks page.
8 September 2015 Another ebook project: the collected fan writings of Vince Clarke. What have I missed that's important?
1 September 2015 Oh no, not again: Ansible 338 for September 2015.
17 August 2015 The late Joe Mayhew's cartoon for Ansible 147 (October 1999) seems curiously topical in these puppy-infested times.
15 August 2015 A worthy cause: "The EUVAT VATMOSS Campaign. Fundraising to attend a VITAL meeting". See the VATMOSS page at Ansible Editions for all too many background links. Including this: "Everything wrong with VATMOSS in one image".
31 July 2015 August comes earlier every year: here's Ansible 337, the August issue. Our printers close over the weekend, and I'd rather be a day early than wait until Monday 3 August.
14 July 2015 Another ebook (sorry, no POD edition this time) compiling mouldy old stuff from the Langford files – Don't Try This at Home: Selected Convention Reports. The cover photo shows nocturnal balloon activities at Loncon 3, the 2014 Worldcon. (This will never become any clearer.)
13 July 2015 Amazing Stories has reviewed my Crosstalk interview collection.
6 July 2015 Never expected to appear with brother Jon on a listicle of "44 real-life pop-culture siblings you (probably) didnt know were related": see 23-24. Thanks to Richard Bleiler for the link. Today, soon after passing 4.9 million words earlier this month, the SF Encyclopedia now has over 16,000 entries.
1 July 2015 What could make the current debilitating British heatwave seem even worse? Of course: Ansible 336.
23 June 2015 What, another Langford book? I'm afraid so. Crosstalk: Interviews Conducted by David Langford started as a quick-and-dirty addition to this free ebooks page; but people on Facebook called quite insistently for a printed version, so I overhauled the text to Ansible Editions standards for a POD paperback (with a modestly priced ebook alternative). Now I need to concoct a replacement for the freebies page – perhaps a collection of my convention reports from fanzines of long ago. Or would that be too embarrassing?
16 June 2015 It is very nearly the end of an era. After strenuous and still not entirely complete efforts to clear out the contents, the Ancestral Langford Home in Newport (Gwent) is on the market.
1 June 2015 Today is the first of flaming Ansible 335!
27 May 2015 The latest addition to that Free Ebooks Page is THEN, Rob Hansen's history of UK SF fandom from the 1930s to the 1980s. A monumental work of research – especially in the earlier decades – running to nearly 177,000 words.
20 May 2015 I have a tiny bit in the io9 symposium (well, more of a listicle) "10 Utterly Brilliant Novels That Have One Fatal Flaw", posted on 7 May without my noticing until now. I see I've had some past mentions there, including "10 Paranoid Science Fiction Stories That Could Help You Survive" and (a nice plug for Ansible Editions) "There is no snarking about books like Algis Budrys snarking about books".
18 May 2015 As light relief from preparing various Langford ebooks for sale, I made up some fannish freebies by various hands for a Free Ebooks Page now added to the TransAtlantic Fan Fund site. The Langford report of my 1980 TAFF trip is included: over 37,000 words of babble first published in booklet form in 1985.
8 May 2015 Another Ansible Editions ebook from the Langford backlist: an expanded version of my hefty 2004 collection Different Kinds of Darkness.
1 May 2015 Published at the end of an exhausting week: Ansible 334, reminding me that the works of the late great Thomas M. Disch (referenced therein) include both 334 and The Puppies of Terra.
18 April 2015 Busy, busy, busy. Concerning the current Hugo Puppy unpleasantness, there's a box of links on the Ansible site – including a long sequence of pointers to Mike Glyer's comprehensive coverage at File 770 (Mike has a stronger stomach than I).
2 April 2015 As noted by guest cartoonist Steve Stiles, April's Ansible 333 marks the dread Number of the Domestic House Pet. This month's Ansible Editions ebook release from my long-suffering backlist is The Silence of the Langford:
23 March 2015 Adventures in Newport house clearance: Hazel has been packing vast quantities of glass, china and bric-a-brac for the charity shops. Pausing to pour herself some orange juice in a randomly chosen glass, she discovered by practical experiment that a long-lost Langford family heirloom had come to light. The dribble glass! We'd found the box it came in, but the thing itself looks entirely innocuous: a cut-glass design ("Made in France") concealing invisibly tiny slits that go right through. Now carefully labelled. Meanwhile, it seems there is no artefact from the cobwebbed depths of the garage that's too rusty or indescribably filthy to be eagerly claimed via Freecycle.
12 March 2015 Goodbye, Terry. Chris Priest wrote the Guardian piece; I don't feel like writing anything but must very soon deliver a column marking 20 years of SFX magazine. I'd forgotten that I reviewed the paperback Soul Music in the first issue. So many more books since then, but still not enough ... Later: a compendium of links in the SF Encyclopedia memorial post.
3 March 2015 It seemed silly to keep adding links to the VATMOSS horror editorial at the bottom of Ansible 329, so I've now given this thing a page of its own.
2 March 2015 Just as in February (where does the time go?), a new Ansible and a new ebook: Ansible 332 and The Complete Critical Assembly.
2 February 2015 New today: not only Ansible 331 but the first ever ebook release of my 2003 parody/pastiche collection He Do the Time Police in Different Voices.
5 January 2015 A little delayed by New Year excesses: Ansible 330.
1 January 2015 Happy New Year to all. Here's how Ansible Editions is coping with the new and horrendous VATMOSS regime. (Short answer: not very well.)