Cloud Chamber 103
March 2000

What happened to February? I seem to have been having a workaholic outbreak – much panic over a whopping pile of HSAR review copies, rebounding into another attack of software when PCW Today magazine (which, frankly, I had thought defunct) appeared with an unexpected rave review of an Ansible Information copy and conversion utility which I'd never seriously marketed. This led to frantic work bashing the thing into at least supposedly user-friendly shape, and much fruitless contemplation of the Horror That Is Microsoft. It turns out that there are useful things you could do in old-fashioned DOS programs – here my trusty Amstrad PCW disk copier for PCs – and can also do in 16-bit Windows programs (Windows 3.0, 3.1 and 3.11), but which are explicitly forbidden in Windows 95. This is known as progress. But wait! According to Microsoft documentation, you can in fact do it by another route in Win95, by merely calling insanely complex internal functions (long period of madness and research of tortuous data structures omitted here) which, when at last you get to the very bottom of the convoluted 'help' information, carry a tiny footnote to the effect that one small but vital link in the chain still requires Windows NT and as any fule kno cannot ever be achieved in Win95. Thanks a lot, Bill Gates.

• I had a C.S.Forester moment, or Patrick O'Brian moment, when showing visiting Canadian fan Colin Hinz the sights of Reading. After the ruins of the 12th-century abbey where 'Summer is icumen in' was first written down, the triumph of Victorian town planning which placed Reading Gaol ('Oscar Wilde Slept Here') right next to the abbey, the lowering spectacles of gasometers and Toys-R-Us, and the municipal-Gothic frontage of the museum (currently closed, but in happier days offering access to the Bayeux Tapestry As Reproduced By The Leek Women's Institute, with a pair of discreet Y-fronts added to the one flagrantly naked chap in the filthy Frog original) ... there is not an awful lot to see in Reading. So I took Colin to the local antiques centre, where he admired vintage carpenters' tools while I discovered some incredibly massive iron doorstops which proved to be French cannonballs from the Napoleonic wars. Coo er gosh. I'd probably have got away unscathed if the proprietor, who knows me as an adjunct of that discerning antique light-fitting buyer Hazel Langford, hadn't sneaked up and treacherously said, 'Three quid off to you, squire.' Got the thing very slowly home in my fanzine bag at cost of possibly semi-permanent lowering of one shoulder. It may be inspected by appointment. Both Hazel and Jane Carnall – who dropped in soon after – were frightfully impressed.

• Went to Picocon on 19 February and was pleased to see a few Acnoids there. Total organizational shambles is part of the Picocon Condition: this year's lack of any food on the premises at least meant that I got a decent lunch with Ian Watson at the Polish place down the road, but it was almost disappointing that the loudly rugby-infested bar didn't feature the rowdy past IC Rugby Club members in drag, as reported last year. Still, Picocon ran with machine-like efficiency compared to Microcon, whose announced GoH Kim Newman failed to reply to his invitation since he never received it. Ansible coverage rather implies that Kim refused; in fact, it seems, the hopeless GoH liaison chap put out this lie rather than confess his own failure to communicate. (Kim: 'As it happens, if pushed, I'd probably have gone.') Another Ansible footnote: the dates in the Twenty Years Ago item should be 1980 and 1982, rather than 1982 and 1984.

Commonplace Book

When I quoted extracts from the works of former Poet Laureate Alfred Austin to Yvonne Rousseau, she was reduced to 'borrowing Jasper Damerel's words to Venetia Lanyon (from Georgette Heyer's Venetia): "Why, oh why, did I never know you until now?"' I don't see why Acnestis should not also enjoy some Austin and experience that sense of being a placid body of water into which someone has flung a lump of literary potassium ...

His heart in holes as from the wash when socks come,
He must have been a most consummate coxcomb.

A tasteful lyric about mistimed appointments:

Go away Death!
You have come too soon
To sunshine and song I but just awaken,
And the dew on my heart is undried and unshaken;
Come back at noon.

A denunciation of France in the manner of Poe, the river alluded to being the Rhine:

'O thou nation, base besotted, whose ambition cannon shotted,
And huge mounds of corpses clotted with cold gore alone can sate!
May the God of Battles shiver every arrow in thy quiver,
And the nobly-flowing river thou dost covet drown thy hate.

Hazel's favourite is this disembarkation at uncivilized Naples, where feisty seafood abounds:

Then out they sprang, – first Miriam, Gilbert next,
Last Godfrid, – and the eager host pressed round;
Rude fishermen, hoarse women half unsexed,
And rude sea-urchins frisking o'er the ground.

Lastly, pray silence for this very blank verse denunciation, by a pure young lady, of the villainous pedlar who's trying to sell her sexy underwear and in particular a padded bra:

And do they wear that lubricating lie,
That fleshless falsehood! Palpitating maids
Puff themselves out with hollow buxomness,
To lead some breathless gaby at their heels
A scentless paper-chase!

Oh yes they do.

Mailing 84, January 2000

Paul K ... the SF Quiz of the Century was a wonderful time-waster, and no, I couldn't finish it (but e-mailed you my best effort). • Andy B ... every time I read the phrase Kevin Smith's New Jersey Trilogy I reach for my revolver; well, not really, but I do feel confused because for me the primary Kevin Smith is the one I co-edited a fanzine with, embarrassingly long ago. • Andrew S ... 'eating food in little coloured pills' was one of the sf clichés I thought had been so overused by the media that I deliberately left it out of that ill-starred New Scientist review feature on prediction in December. Not to worry! The subeditor helpfully put it in for me! • Pratchett Essayists ... Edward & Farah brought the stuff around today, 12 March (or most of it: J.Clute and someone else have yet to deliver), and I'm regarding it from a cautious distance. • Maureen ... Hazel and I have a bad habit of getting obsessed with crosswords, probably less defensible than Lit Quizzes since e.g. cracking the clue for 'oolakan', as I eventually did this morning, can't really be passed off as enhancing one's literary awareness in the way Paul's brain-hurting SF Quiz can. • Tanya ... as mentioned in private, it's apparently Wrong and Wicked for any of us to speculate about K.J. P*rk*er – however mole-beset or indeed mole-encrusted we may be – since such loose talk could bring about the end of the world as we know it. That is, I've been begged to shut up about it. • Ian ... have since enjoyed John M. Ford's The Scholars of Night, a nifty exercise in the Anthony Price vein, with added technological plausibility and an understated show-not-tell delivery that sent me hurrying back to read chunks of it again. • February ... ouch. The deadline looms. Must break off here. Sorry!