CLOUD CHAMBER SIX an artifact produced for the February 1981 mailing of FAPA by Dave Langford, 22 Northumberland Avenue, Reading, Berks. RG2 7PW, United Kingdom. Attached to it is the most recent (at the time of typing) issue of ANSIBLE: I'm having to allow time for snailmail to cross the water.
Me: Hello. I'm Dave Langford, British (indeed Welsh) fan: an elderly 27, height 6' 2 ½", weight more than I like to think about, hair dark, eyes pink with little red veins, habits irregular but numerous, glasses usually worn on nose and in either hand, answers to Dave, Dai (in Wales), 'PAY D.R.LANGFORD THE SUM OF etc' (in writing only) and 'Anyone want a drink?' But all this is behind me now: I was born again, as they say, when Bob Pavlat caught me on the Noreascon escalator and, with his evil visage contorted into a mirthless smile, breathed the chilling words "You've been invited into FAPA." (Thanks, Bob. Apologies to all those I didn't manage to meet while on the TAFF trip. A report will happen one day, and for a small fee I'll happily insert a passage describing how sumptuously I was wined and dined at your home...) It must be an invariable rule of waiting lists that you sign on at a time of little activity and arrive at the head of the line just when seventeen deadlines are all looming closer, worst of all the novel which is looming smaller each time you compare it with the planned schedule... and so on. Thus the beery outpourings of my soul are a little muted this time round; instead, I trust the well-born and discerning audience will condescend to endure the many inadequacies of this offensive person's contribution to a recent convention debate... wherein I had to argue the motion –
This house believes that SF impairs the senses and natural bodily functions.
"My case is that the writing of science fiction, though seemingly a harmless form of therapy for the less gifted members of society, produces incredibly dangerous waste products. These are sometimes known as books. The deadly emanations from such speculative, or speculactive, wastes cause all manner of hideous symptoms after an exposure of any length: shrivelling of the frontal lobes, corrugation of the cuticles, severe dysfunction of the bank balance, lycanthropy... The evidence is all around you. Victims are shunned by the community and periodically herded off to the modern equivalents of leper colonies, set up in such unhappy places as Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow... [Brighton, Boston, Denver...]
"Exposure to the more violently lethal sf wastes, eg. those containing the dread element perirhodanium, cause still more shocking symptoms, prominent among which is a severe proctalgia or pain in the rectal region. Long exposure leads to chronic gullibility and implosion of the logic centres, thus explaining why the hopeless wrecks present haven't yet walked out on me. (My god – that fellow at the door there was immune!)
"Worse still, sf wastes lead to appalling genetic damage, tainting future generations and spreading a murky stain down the timelines, rather like a BSFA meeting. This is proved by the fact that at this very convention, I've seen children obviously too young to have been directly exposed to sf contamination... yet here they are. It's pitiful. In extreme cases the genetic wreckage shows itself in outward physical deformity, such as pointed ears.
"My opponents will no doubt argue that the overall process is beneficial to the community – that sf wastes are merely an unfortunate by-product of the economically vital process of extracting royalties from publishers. This ignores the possibility of obtaining royalties from the sun and the waves (hadn't you heard that travel books sell better than sf?)... And remember – the highly scientifactive wastes produced in the sf process will endure for aeons like a Brian Burgess pork pie, causing untold hazard. (As H.P.Lovecraft so beautifully put it, That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons become a Burgess pie.) The waste material in question may be almost inert, like that of Isaac Asimov, yet with a half-life of many thousand editions; or it may be a source of violent and high-pitched activity with a decay period which is relatively short, like Harlan Ellison. Disposal is incredibly difficult, since for environmental reasons connected with the approaching extinction of profits, publishers are reluctant to dump sf wastes straight into the sea. For some time now, test borings have been taking place in public libraries with a view to disposing of large stocks of sf where the public will be unable to find it; librarians, however, whilst approving of the 'boring' aspect, are reluctant to accept such quantities of dangerously active material.
"The problem, say British critics, is made worse by US overproduction. Huge conglomerates like Del Rey are charged with a lack of environmental concern, the allegation being that when seeking literary gold they avoid depth or penetration, preferring a ruinous form of open-cast writing. Their immense breeder reactors spawn countless sequels from the most inadequate source material. And then with the aid of dummy companies like Rog Peyton [Andromeda Book Co, large sf importers], they dump their active waste products on us.
"Of course, some safety measures have been instituted. Speculactive wastes are generally labelled with suitably lurid symbols such as spaceships with lots of windows. Even bookshops like W.H.Smith, which normally have about as much concern for their customers as Sweeney Todd, are careful to segregate sf – often with heavy leaden screens – from the valuable material. Thanks to this precaution, the products of Barbara Cartland, Harold Robbins, Judith Krantz and the rest remain clean, untouched by human hand, as pure and sterile as a lunar landscape.
"But despite the efforts of the post office, these active wastes are still transported freely about the country. Fresh and lethal wastes are constantly being produced in the many huge royalty-generating installations which disfigure our countryside – in Oxford, Harrow, South Petherton, Ulverston... As part of the cover-up, the menace of sf wastes is hardly ever mentioned by the Press. Possible solutions, like the concept of massive sf reprocessing plants to recycle the pulped wastes into trees, are scoffed at. From the fouled and polluted literary environment there is emerging a race of subhumans; degenerate creatures who love Perry Rhodan and Battlestar Galactica; anthropoid throwbacks who at the drop of a space helmet will tell you that Heinlein's awful new book is great literature; atavistic morons who think fine writing means sentences like this from the man British critics call Alan Dead Foster – "Dimly they/it perceived the final annihilation of a minuscule agglutination of finite masses" – and who think imaginative science means concepts like Edmund Cooper's term for a very short interval of time: the megasecond. (I make it 11 days, 13 hours and 47 minutes...)
"The speculactive wastes of sf are responsible for all this, for the appalling squalor you see around you, for the rampant illogic to which your apathy forces you to listen. Vote for this motion, 'that sf impairs the senses and natural bodily functions', and let the truth be known. Perhaps then we can get sf out of the gutter and into the lead-lined vaults where it belongs."
[After the traditional, scurrilous ad hominem arguments the motion was passed.]
Mailing Comments: I haven't seen any mailings yet, but I'm sure it's all quite wonderful. Instead, a word on 'Hazel's Language Lessons' at the end of Ansible... Hazel is my wife and a retired linguist. #1 involved the Coptic for unemployment benefit; in #2 we learnt that in Amharic, tagabba means both 'to be married' and 'to be infectious'; #3 had the Japanese phrase uguisu no tani-uatari, meaning (a) a nightingale jumping back and forth over a narrow valley; (b) one man in bed with two women. Future contributions welcomed! 5-12-80