Cloud Chamber 9
December 1981


at last, a brief break in habitual apathy from Dave Langford, 22 Northumberland Avenue, Reading, Berks, RG2 7PW.

Er Well Um: I could cover endless pages with mumbled excuses for my not very impressive record of contributions to this APA so far – although the practised techniques of my Civil Service days don't seem so convincing when they come from this one-man business. "The computer was down so I don't have any results." (Have to get a word-processor one day and make that excuse live again.) "The enormous snowfalls kept me from getting to work." (Unfortunately they now keep me from getting away from work.) "The typists haven't finished correcting the 476 misprints in my 477-word report." (Have to get a typist, too.) "Oh sorry sir, but I was depressed and momentarily unconvinced of the worthwhile nature of this project after being bought large vodkas by men in fur hats at lunchtime ..."

Although that last one mightn't have worked too well on the Ministry of Defence, it's not far off the truth about my nonappearance last mailing. Sinister people with names like Greg Pickersgill and Rob Hansen and Steve Green whispered words of gloom in pubs and generally gave the impression that not only they but everyone else was dropping out. Being busy at that time and a lazy sod at any time, I was almost glad to believe it.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, my current big excuse ran out last week. Once upon a time there was this plan for The Omni Book of the Future, a slightly repellent publication whose trial issue some of you may have seen at Novacon – Omni and the British firm Eaglemoss Ltd were getting together to recycle mounds of old Omni articles and fiction in the guise of a dynamic new weekly partwork which gradually built up into a colossal work of reference for your descendants unto all eternity ... that sort of thing. I was roped in for the exciting task of reading all the fiction ever published by Omni to decide whether there were one or two stories not suitable for reprinting ("You must bear in mind that we're aiming at social classes C1 and C2," they told me. "None of your intelligentsia."). Later, after my release from the intensive care unit, I handed over a postage stamp on which were written the names of the stories suitable for reprinting.

"But you haven't listed the Asimov one."

"No, it's a rotten lousy story."

"Yes, but we can't leave out the Asimov story...."

After a while I found I'd receded into the background as far as BotF was concerned: when they decided that after all it might be an idea to hire a deputy editor who knew something about sf, they didn't ask me. The great Peter Nicholls is now ministering to the literary needs of "social classes C1 and C2"; the fact that my picture appeared in the trial issue is the result of what in the publishing trade is known as a cock-up.

However, ill winds etc. Peter Nicholls had a contract to finish a vast work called The Science in Science Fiction. By January. Huge penalty clauses for late delivery. This obligation not being very compatible with full-time work on BotF, it came about that D. Langford and B. Stableford are each writing about a third of P. Nicholls's great new book. Ho ho. If I hadn't sent in the first 15,000 word chunk last week, I'd surely have a 'sensible and plausible excuse' (in the words of the notorious Simon Bostock).

The next cosmic event on my calendar and everyone else's was the thrilling weather of the last week. On the day of the first and all-enveloping snowfall I was feeling increasingly schizophrenic: a white world outside, while inside I studied my August 1980 notebook with a view to writing some more TAFF report – specifically, a few words about the steaming-hot Sunday of that year's worldcon in Boston. By the time I'd written my way to the end of that Sunday – or rather, the beginning of Monday, telephoning Hugo results back to England in a warm and muggy dawn – it was midnight in Reading and the whole Berkshire countryside was creaking with frost. When everyone complains how unconvincing are the descriptions of Boston weather in that instalment, I'll have my excuse ready for a fast draw. "Well, you see, the freezing fog kept seeping under the door and into the typewriter." (And now you can blame the thaw if this fanzine seems all wet.)

A pause for the usual plug. I was writing a TAFF report because the TAFF fund shot me over to Boston for that convention; the time for another Britfan to make another such trip is approaching; see the enclosed form, and use it if you can. Also enclosed is the current Ansible as a Christmas bonus. You lucky people.

Onward, to some comments on the second mailing – taken in whatever order the stuff has managed to shuffle itself into.

The Official Organ of Simon Bostock: I agree that the only way to convince fans of the viability of a British apa is to create the bloody thing. Theoretical argument is pointless. I see that in the current Matrix, Keith Walker (and even you, Simon) is denouncing Simon Ounsley's attempts to account for the observed fact that apas have tended not to do very well in this country. Surely someone with all Keith's expertise could keep an apa going as the final, crushing refutation of the doomsayers? Well, actually, no: in the same letter he admits that OMPA is dead. This is not to say that APA-SF&F can't do better, of course ... h'm, that is a lousy name for the thing at that. Britapa is OK by me, but some American (probably Harry Andruschak) told me once that the number of apas wittily called Crapa was so vast as to stagger the imagination.

About page sizes in the Rules: I'd naturally prefer the specifications of Rule 3 to read 'quarto or larger' rather than 'A4'. I rather like this quarto paper – and if a pedant insists that each quarto side is worth only 0.83 page credits, then let him or her note that the number of words per page would be about the same if I used A4 paper and pica type as in the much-despised stuff sent with the first mailing. So there.

I like "The CM has no responsibility whatsoever." Reminiscent of that legendary sign in a small-town chemist's: WE DISPENSE WITH ACCURACY.

The Egg Chamber / Sean Masterson: Ah, so Project Starcast is still going? I've heard nothing of it for many, many months, and was wondering what had happened. (Although I recently had a flyer for something called 'SF Wonderworld' which purports to come from one of the two former organizers of Starcast: the writer fails to give his name but is presumably David Hewitt, the 'professional conference organizer' whose vast experience was one of Starcast's big selling points. He left in August 1981 owing to 'many differences of opinion between myself and the other organizer'.) I was unimpressed (like you, Sean) by the first progress report Castoff 1, which apart from being ill-produced and overpriced said nothing whatever about the convention. I was also unimpressed by organizer Brian Clarke's grandiose article in Ad Astra 14, which contrived to give the impression that reduced-room rates and rail fares were a Starcast innovation rather than standard features of Eastercons and many smaller sf conventions. But overall I don't really know enough about Starcast either to praise, or condemn it – and whose fault is this? No, Sean, I don't accept your argument that I should support Starcast simply because it's an sf event and because lack of support might make it fail. It's the responsibility of Starcast's organizers to convince fans (who like me have to pick and choose amid scores of cons through sheer lack of money) that the event will be wonderful enough to compensate for the high registration fees and the inconvenience of commuting between hotels and the Harrogate exhibition centre. Look at the Birmingham SF Film Soc's 'Filmcon' – which collapsed partly because the fees were too high, partly because the publicity was minimal, partly because there are so many conventions these days that each new one has more of a struggle to establish itself. Starcast has all these problems and more ... including the minor one that it 's so soon after the Milford conference In 1982 that I'll be too skint and knackered to consider going....

Kahlua Kapers / Geoff Boswell: Bloody hell, what have we here? 'Old smoothy', this person calls me. Is my hairline receding like the distant galaxies, or the still remoter hairlines of R. Jackson and K. Smith? No. Has my antique amber-powered shaver failed to leave my chin in its usual sandpapery state? No, no. 'Old smoothy'? Look here, Geoff, just because I'm 28 and tottering on the brink of a pauper' s grave is no reason for you young punks to get uppity....

Lon Chaney / Martyn Taylor: What a good idea, this notion that just once in a while we talk about sf. In fact I could use some help. For reasons indicated towards the bottom of my first page, I recently flipped through Lucifer's Hammer in the belief that this contained one of the better researched meteor-type disasters. OK. Inevitably this features a discussion between scientists who make complex calculations in less time than most scientists of my acquaintance could work the calculator's on/off switch. On page 96 of the British paperback the impact energy of the comet (the Hammer) is worked out as 2.7 x 1028 ergs. When I'd translated this into the joules actually used by scientists, that seemed all right. Next they translate it into my favourite units, megatons. One megaton is about 1015 calories or 14.2 x 1015 joules (or 14.2 x 1022 ergs), so the authors' rough figure of 640,000 megatons is also OK by me. Next comes the question of how much seawater this could boil if the Hammer struck in an ocean ... to make the figures easy I thought about 100 calories to bring each gram of water to boiling point, about 540 more to boil it, making the extremely convenient number 640 calories per gram. A cubic kilometre is 1015 cc, i.e. 1015 grams of water; to boil it you need 640 x 1015 calories; the available energy is 640,000 megatons or 640,000 x 1015 calories, making it not very difficult to see that 1,000 cubic kilometres of water can be vaporized. (This figure can be shifted a little upward to allow for the water being warmer than the 0°C implicitly assumed above, and a little more downward again thanks to mechanical losses – the energy that goes into the splash or is transmitted straight to the seabed.) Now, since Jerry Pournelle has at least one more PhD than myself. it naturally worries me that he and Larry Niven calculate the amount of water vaporized at sixty million cubic kilometres. (It is spelt out, like that, in words, twice.) Will some kindly fan tell me where I have gone wrong, as I undoubtably must have?

Er, sorry about that, Martyn. And thanks for putting in a good word for TAFF.

Smack 2 / Linda Pickersgill: I'm an Angela Carter fan too ... to the extent that I cringed five separate cringes as five out of six Carter titles were misprinted. or misquoted. Never mind, Linda, you got Fireworks right. The Penguin reissue of Heroes and Villains isn't the first British publication (Heinemann hardback 1969, Pan/Picador paperback 1972), but I agree it's odd that they chose that one rather than the extremely triffic The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman. The latter was the one I toted along to that BSFA meeting for Angela Carter's signature – how neoish, you say, but though doubtless an old smoothy I am young at heart. So is Brian Stableford, who turned up with a gigantic rucksack containing Carter's complete works; her eyes crossed, her signing hand trembled, and at intervals through the ensuing half-hour she'd make weak protests such as "Surely I've signed this one already?" ("No, no," I thought I heard Brian say, "that was the American edition.")

Random additions: You're not going to get much out of me about films. Although I may not act all that deaf when drunkenly conversing at close range, I've never managed to hear all the vital dialogue in any film. The concentration required to pick up (say) three-quarters of it usually gives me a headache – and until I read the book I had no idea what those bloody mice in Hitch-Hiker were saying in their squeaky voices. Speaking of media stuff leads by an unconvincing progression to Silicon's 'Fannish Fortunes' thingy – I put the questionnaire results in an Ansible and the relevant sheet is enclosed for anyone who missed it. (Yes, Linda, I know you've seen it and you don't approve of such inclusions, but suppose you just tear it out quietly and burn it, eh?)

Psychodeleria / Pete Windsor: Gee, Pete, thanks for the delicate compliments. In my innocence I thought that – since I genuinely hadn't time to produce an apazine – the FEAPA remnants would be better than no contribution at all. In my innocence I thought that the opinions of those fans who refused to support FEAPA might provide a bit of a talking-point ... and I notice, Pete, that after calling it all 'tired, boring old shit' you are subsequently stimulated into answering several points it made against apas. Your witty line 'Maybe now he's had a book published he just doesn't try in his fanac' has the same level of intelligence and subtlety as the famous epigram 'Yah boo sucks to you and no returns' – but at least it's stimulated me into a response, eh wot?

I agree that Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is a jolly good book and should be read by practically everybody – though once in a while the word- and acronym-play gets a little too contrived. The nice thing about Hofstadter's book is the way in which – like Martin Gardner only more so – he cons you into thinking you understand almost everything about concepts which are in fact mindbogglingly complex. I'm fond of one book which works the other way by hurling you in at the deep end of mathematics and making you realize how little you know about even simple things such as counting – Mathematics Made Difficult by Carl Linderholm. Another boggling one which you (Pete) will probably know about is J.H. Conway's On Numbers and Games, which seriously tries to define number theory in terms of games instead of the other way about. One of the games is none other than the celebrated 'Finchley Central'. The book's fascinating, hilarious and – quite a lot, for me – overwhelming. Get it and hear your brain explode.

Codballs / Chuck Connor: Do not scorn the humble duplicator, Chuck. Perhaps you are a capitalist with perks such as access to a free xerox machine; perhaps you are a capitalist to whom such matters as paying for xeroxing are nothing. Me, I have to walk a mile to the university to use their copiers at 3p a sheet, or half a mile for a decent-quality one at 9p a sheet. Neither will copy on both sides of the paper. My duplicator is many times cheaper and, if carefully used, doesn't produce too many of the smudges and patches of show-through complained of in Codballs. Nor does it generate funny pale patches, blots and smears caused by dirty glass on the machine, little lines round the edges of stuck-on bits, whiting-out of large black areas (in electrostencils), and other delights so lovingly featured in Codballs.

The End: Christmas approaches and my brain is falling apart. Last week I failed to turn up at a lunch which may yet cost me eight quid; the excuse "I was writing a fanzine article" was judged unconvincing. On the weekend those fannish drunkards Martin Hoare and Katy McAulay got married, and the hangover has not yet gone away. See you next time. The following stuff is old and credit-free....