Cloud Chamber 111
November 2000

This is a hasty issue, since I'm off to Florida on 7 November if our crumbling rail service manages to get me to Gatwick. I began this at 6pm on the day the clocks went back: total darkness outside, rain lashing the windows so hard as to alarm even deaf twits, while from time to time there came (thanks to God knows what insane workaholism or overtime deal) the music of an ice-cream van failing to drum up trade out there.

• Some people collect 'odd' book titles the way Thog collects great prose. I was surprised last year to make it into such a list of strange and droll titles in The Editor, which picked what it considered to be the funniest items from the SF Age 'best of 1998' poll. My SF Age story title, lifted from a line of verse by Poe, still doesn't seem terribly hilarious: 'Out of Space, Out of Time'.... A new game suggested by a publisher's ad is to spot books which sound vaguely interesting until let down by their subtitles – inspiration coming from Greenwood's The Art of the Feud, subtitled Reconceptualizing International Relations.

Random Reading

HugeSouthAmericanRiver ... Wil McCarthy, The Collapsium, a decidedly odd but rather enjoyable mix of mannered, decadent comedy and far-out physics. I liked and was even prepared to believe in wellstone (a smart-matter semiconductor programmable to simulate any element) and the properties of collapsium (a crystal lattice of teensy black holes), but balked a bit at the handwaving about phased quantum 'vibrations' that somehow stop collapsium from, well, collapsing. Then I dug out the same author's Bloom, the one where Earth has been devoured by nanotechnology and human refugees scrape out a living on distant moons and asteroids. It read OK, but the ending seemed predictable – as noted in all the reviews. • James Lovegrove, The Foreigners, an interesting sf police procedural featuring a series of apparent suicide pacts between humans and the eponymous alien benefactors. About halfway through, though I'm usually baffled by fictional crime puzzles, I surprised myself by deducing what was really going on after one of the Foreigners actually told the investigator the crucial fact that explains (nearly) all. Thanks to that good old sf trope of Inscrutably Limited Vocabulary, our hero fails to understand.

Also ... Diana Wynne Jones, The Year of the Griffin, a funny and very readable sequel to The Dark Lord of Derkholm, but not as strong a story. A weirdly mixed group of students in the ineptly run wizards' university (yes, millions of people are going to imagine influence from H*rry P*tter) is beset by mishaps and what ought to be deadly threats, including a team of trained assassins, but muddles amusingly through without any real sense of danger. • Henry Treece, The Magic Wood – a short and quite well known poem ('The wood is full of shining eyes, The wood is full of creeping feet, The wood is full of tiny cries: You must not go to the wood at night!') in a spiffy edition with each verse illustrated by at least one double-page painting by Barry Moser. John Clute produced this from the Magic Shelves of Camden Town one day and waved it at me as an example of how illustrators can add something that goes beyond the actual text. Moser certainly did, and I rushed away to to track down my very own copy. • George Turner, The Unrelenting Gaze (really SF Commentary 76: 30th Anniversary Edition ed. Bruce Gillespie), a splendidly produced monster fanzine of gripping, exhilarating, sometimes maddening critical and autobiographical pieces. I wanted to write to George Turner, but it's too late.... Nice one, Bruce! • Amir D. Aczel, Fermat's Last Theorem, a little pop-maths book pitched at the right level for me, giving some idea of how the cracking of 'FLT' required tools and concepts from across the whole of mathematics, but contriving not to bog down in the complexities of Mordell's Conjecture and all the rest.

Reread ... Keith Roberts, Pavane, 'Weihnachtsabend', various other dippings. Roy Fuller, Owls & Artificers, first vol of his Oxford Prof of Poetry lectures. Walt Willis, most of Warhoon 28, swotting up – very enjoyably indeed – for this coming 'Special Fanhistoricon Speaker' appearance in the USA.

Mailing 93, October 2000

Chris H: John Clute's master plan for the third edition of the SFE involves retaining Peter Nicholls on the masthead as 'Editor Emeritus'. Peter doesn't want to play an active part this time around but of course still deserves credit for mighty past efforts. • Steve: the wasp saga went on and on. Silly Langfords, thinking they'd blocked the hole with aluminium foil! It took the swarm days to eat through it, but eat it they did. Squirting derris into the hole wasn't an option: it was too far from the ground. My best doomsday engine was the Dyson vacuum cleaner, this time fitted with a DIY extension made from a long plastic pipe, which I clamped with bits from old lab stands to the top of the stepladder. Then we left the machine running for hours. There were a few cubic inches of airspace that every wasp had to pass through, coming or going: with the right positioning we could bag close on 100% of the traffic. They kept breeding and we kept bringing the numbers down again, until at last the nest emitted some new queens (many later slain by mine own hand in our kitchen) and went quiet. • HugeSouthAmericanRiver vetoed my suggested review of The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear on the basis that translations from German never sell over here. I forget how The Neverending Story did.... • Penny: kindly comments on An Account and Dragonhiker much appreciated! An expanded edition of the latter (to include later pastiches) is currently on offer to Big Engine and will almost certainly appear as a Cosmos/Wildside print-on-demand book if Ben Jeapes doesn't take it on. • Andrew S: obituaries are a bummer, aren't they? I wrote at length about Keith Roberts for (good on their sf editor for requesting this), begged reminiscences from the usual suspects for Ansible, drew on these for an SFX column, and had to come up with a further paragraph for Interzone. Oh dear, those Ansible pieces. As one writer (guess who) added: 'Keith was a bit of a shit – but Ghu knows he has suffered enough in the last years. It takes very little effort to be nice to the newly dead. Even Brunner.' This was not a consideration that swayed Messrs Aldiss and Moorcock, whose full texts put in the boot with dismaying vigour. • Michael: speaking of Alice references in Vurt reminds me that I once unwarily told another Michael (Andre-Driussi) about my urge to compile an immense list of all the Carrollian allusions in Little, Big. Ever since then, he's been pressing me to get on and do it. • Chris A: even the boring old Independent on Sunday magazine has twigged that The Amber Spyglass is a Serious Publishing Event – they ran an extract from it on 29 October. • Cherith: parcels needing signatures are the bane of the reviewer's life. Every publisher uses a different PO or courier service (special boos to Citylink, whose chain-smoking Reading drivers deliver stinking, kippered packages), so it's never safe to go out during office hours.... • Me: Florida, here I come!