Cloud Chamber 8
September 1981


a FLAPzine from Dave Langford, 22 Northumberland Avenue, Reading, Berks, RG2 7PW, UK. October mailing. Maybe.

There's a strange sense of doom and fate about signing up with a foreign apa (yes, yes, I know, but if you could think of yourselves as foreigners for just one moment it'll make me feel so much more at home). This is all to do with the law of conservation of Britfans, whose inexorable working ensures that Just as I fall absently-mindedly off the top of the waiting list into FAPA, Peter Roberts works a cunning masterstroke of apathy and gets thrown out; just as I succumb to the blandishments of Dave&Jackie for FLAP, our very own self-effacing Joe Nicholas makes a hasty exit by the back door. The natural corollary is that next time some British person gets invited in, the Nameless Enforcers will be creeping into my home, there to remove (by surgery) my enthusiasm for apa doings – thus ensuring the law of Britfan Conservation will not be mocked. Such are the risks one runs. "It's all your fault, Locke," I shall probably scream as the trepanning saws go to work amid a miasma of fear, rage, bloodlust...

But, speaking of Joseph, I gather I've also inherited a bloody great responsibility. "Take two stiff drinks," Mr Locke advised sternly, "and be prepared to answer the question (from someone in FLAP, at some point): 'What is this twit really like in person?'" Oh god, I thought, "I have no idea when the question will pop up," continued the sharer of my initials and disability. He paused long enough to start a new paragraph, and then a thought seemed to strike him. "Say, Dave, what is this twit really like in person?"

Funny you should ask.

I think I can modestly mention that I'm something of an authority on Joe, having followed his career with considerable interest since 1976 or so – the date on a treasured postcard from him somewhere up in the archives, which says, approximately, "Dear Mr Langford, I am very interested in obtaining copies of your sci-fi journal Twll-Ddu, and I should be very grateful if you could send me the details of subscription rates. My favourite authors are Asimov, Heinlein and Joan Vinge..." Well, maybe I haven't remembered it with 100% accuracy after all. It was one of the few sources I didn't consult when dashing off a hasty yet frighteningly authoritative piece about Joe for the Advention programme book (Adelaide, June '81), a few bits of which follow (Eric Lindsay will now please shut his eyes and pretend he hasn't read this before – go and process a few words instead, Eric...): –

...The origin of Joseph is lost in the mists of 1974. In that year the soon-to-fold prozine SF MONTHLY made mention of the British SF Association, and all hell broke loose: new fans were bursting from the woodwork, parachuting from the clouds, coming in low out of the rising sun in helicopter gunships, their sheer numbers overwhelming the pitiful bastions of the BSFA... And when SF MONTHLY, the BSFA, and all but one of those numberless neofans had crashed into oblivion, there remained amid the rubble a New Force in UK fandom. Yes: Joseph!

He attended the first Seacon (1975), keeping a low profile and testing his strength. Soon his celebrated crepe scarf, flowing hair and glass of Cinzano were among our favourite bad sights at conventions. Behind this security cover lurked a surrogate Mike Glicksohn: loc after loc poured from his dreadfully fluent typewriter, engulfing startled fanzine editors not only in wads of verbiage but in new, alien products of Joe's null-A trained mindnovelties like swarming semicolons, half-page sentences, ten-line subordinate clauses... Further and further his empire spread, into the coveted realms of con reports and fanzine reviews: the latter analyzed their subject matter into tiny fragments of glowing ash which could be seen floating to the ground for many days after. Asked to define his reviewing policy, Joe would scream "Kill the fuckers!" in a rather profound and analytical way.

He mellowed by and by, resolving to abandon savage fanzine reviewing: instead he was engulfed in the born-again BSFA and set to work raising the subterranean critical standards of its magazines VECTOR and PAPERBACK PARLOUR (retitled PAPERBACK INFERNO under Joe's dynamic guidance). Book after book from alleged Great Names of SF was tested against the all-potent Critical Standard, and might later be seen floating to the ground in tiny fragments of glowing ash. To his previous verbal armoury Joe had by this time added the two-page paragraph and the transfinite parenthesis; his mental muscles wrenched apart telephone directoriesor even copies of THE NUMBER OF THE BEASTwith ease...

And so on. Joe's ideals are really pretty good ideals, but their loud and continuous expression tends to obscure the actual content. His style used to be so very much 'over the top' (as FLAPpers may perchance have noticed) that it couldn't be distinguished from the occasional piece which Joe would later explain to have been deliberately and humorously over the top... However, in person he's always been a good lad and excellent company in the traditional business of reorganizing the world of SF/fandom/whatever over a few too many beers. The paper personality is another thing, and has now been scrapped owing to various Revelations imparted to him on his GUFF trip to Australia... well, that's what he says, and if there's room (ie. if the first estimate of the postal bill fails to make me scream out loud) I'll include a bit of Ansible wherein he gets positively euphoric about Aussie fans and their curious habitat. Think of that. A reformed Joseph? The fannish world will never be the same.

As for me, I suppose I should offer a few introductory words: 6' 2½", Welsh, 28, unwholesome, drunk, married (Hazel), fan since early 70s, now a slowly subsiding freelance wr*t*r, formerly atom-pusher at Atomic Weapons Research Thingy down the road, producer of a few fanzines including personalzine Twll-Ddu (19 issues), serconzine Drilkjis (5, all with Kev Smith), newszine Ansible (20), variously distributed apazine Cloud Chamber (7, no, 8), and miscellaneous others to a grand total of 73... But come to think of it, the voice of UK fandom had some things to say about me at the small Silicon last month. For reasons too lunatic to mention, they'd run a compulsory questionnaire (it was compulsory in that you didn't get your free drink from the convention until you'd filled it in: few had the will-power to resist). Let's flip through the results and see where I'm mentioned. Second favourite UK fan (with Messrs Pickersgill, Kettle & Barker); favourite fanzine TD (also Best Produced, gosh); most literate fan; best UK (current) fanwriter; =3rd funniest fan; 5th drunkest and =4th in "which fan falls over most?"; tallest fan & deafest fan despite my own vote for D.Locke... The whole thing offers a beautiful little parable of Hugo voting. I got voted tallest fan, you will notice – yet all but one of the runners-up happens to be taller than me (and unthinkably gigantic Andrew Brown from Australia only placed 5th). In between came a tribute to a British author/fan of legendary prowess in certain areas: 4th tallest, said the poll, is "Rob Holdstock lying down". Joseph, meanwhile, came top as best dressed fan and writer of the most boring locs.

I've just sneaked away to make some calculations – hope you weren't bored in my absence. At a fairly crippling cost I think I can stuff in the front, offset page of each of the last two Ansibles (the rest of each issue is usually one more sheet with COAs, late news and miscellaneous nattering – with flyers, TAFF newsletters etc. sandwiched in between), plus a copy of the TAFF ballot I've only just produced – you could be among the first, lucky American people to see this priceless document. The paper is a funny size, yes. This is the proudly independent British spirit. Forgive me, mighty OE(s). Mailing comments, er, well...