Cloud Chamber 113
January 2001

My father died in the small hours on Saturday 6 January. As noted in Ansible, this was more or less expected, but knowing it was coming didn't seem to help. Goodness knows what I wrote in the Interzone column and routine book reviews that somehow got completed while waiting for the end.

Editing Maps: The Uncollected Stories of John Sladek continues to be a time-consuming project. At one point, not wanting to spend £550 on 'The Lost Nose' (see Ansible 162) and having been firmly told it's too fragile to photocopy, I madly bought a digital camera and recorded the whole thing in 81 shots, over 20Mb of images for text transcription. Recreating some of the graphics in CorelDraw was a suitably obsessive affair; no Sladek collection would be complete without a weird and pointless diagram. Then there were his four stories for Titbits, which he remembered as '1969-1972?' I spent a day at the British Newspaper Library in Colindale, paging through ten huge great bound volumes of that wretched weekly, to learn that our man had misrecalled the dates. Sources now tell me that the heyday of short sf in Titbits was 1967-8, so I have another merry afternoon ahead. And what of 'It Takes Your Breath Away', an allegedly 1974 short printed only in London theatre programmes, 'possibly for the Haymarket'? The Theatre Museum has scoured its 1974 Haymarket archive in vain....

Letter Column. Charles Platt on my Florida trip report: 'I'm sad that you missed some of the really important attractions during your visit. The Police Museum includes a genuine prison cell (in which you can be photographed) and a genuine electric chair (ditto), plus some really stirring info posters about the horrors of drugs. The Salvador Dali Museum has a collection second only to the Dali museum in Spain. And Gator Jungle is the most repulsive of all the animal parks, as the lakes have been overgrown completely with foul-smelling algae, from which the alligators emerge literally dripping slime. A friend of mine was so nauseated by the stench of decay, she had to leave, and took half an hour to recover. • Alas the Lee Harvey Oswald museum, featuring the actual car in which Kennedy was assassinated, has moved to a different state. When I visited it many years ago, I sent a postcard to J.G. Ballard, who was suitably impressed.'

Random Reading

Judith Skelton Grant, Robertson Davies: Man of Myth, a fat 1994 biography, sensible rather than overly adulatory. Interesting that so many fragments of Davies's own early life in village Canada were built into What's Bred in the Bone, though skilfully rearranged, fictionalized and charged with magic: the social stratification on religious grounds, the unhappy dwarf, inbred 'looners' hidden in attics, the loathed childhood enemas, the deep fascination when magic shows came to town, and much more. • Rex Stout, a heap of Nero Wolfe mysteries: inoffensive, familiar, a useful fallback when the brain won't go into gear. In The Silent Speaker (1947) I wondered if Stout was making a rare allusion to other crime fiction with his aside about 'the Chesterton-Best case, the guy that burgled his own house and shot a week-end guest in the belly.' This recalls not a Chesterton story but John Dickson Carr's 'The Incautious Burglar' (published 1940 as 'A Guest in the House'), which revolves around the mystery of why a host should seemingly burgle his own house and is solved by Carr's detective Dr Fell, whose appearance and speech were closely based on G.K. Chesterton's. Too tenuous, perhaps. • Brian Stewart, The Rupert Bear Dossier, glossy, heavily illustrated nostalgia trip about the bear 'eight years older than Mickey Mouse, six years older than Winnie the Pooh and forty years older than Paddington.' I remember the Rupert stories from parental copies of the Express when I was little, doled out at the rate of two panels a day. This rapid overview reminds me that the series quite often featured fantasy and sf devices and (checks hastily) has its own entry in the Fantasy Encyclopedia.

Mailing 95, December 2000

Maureen: the prospect of the 100th Acnestis mailing in May, and a party delayed until June, is infinitely less terrifying than the realization that Hazel's and my 25th wedding anniversary falls on 12 June. Boring old fartdom has inescapably set in. Indeed, when I took Hazel to London on 4 January (so she could catch the last days of the Museum of London's Roman Londinium exhibit and the BM's 'Gladiators and Caesars'), a young lad on the Tube offered his seat to me. Not to Hazel, you understand, just to her decrepit grey-haired companion. • David C: I first came across The Onion in a Chicago bar to which my brother led me in 1998. Perhaps if I read it every week it would seem as formulaic as the never-changing satire templates in Private Eye, but I loved it for being fresh, funny and exhilaratingly rude. Pointers to good Onion bits keep turning up in e-mail and rec.arts.sf.fandom, but I still have a deep, phone-bill-based aversion to reading anything regularly on line. • Lizbeth: Arrows of Eros started as a wild idea for a 'Sex in Space' anthology at a UK Milford. No doubt some contributors dug through the drawer of unsold stories and sent in the first thing they could find that had 'the merest hint of sex/uality'. I remember asking Alex Stewart in advance if it would be OK to write something that barely mentioned sex at all but was sort of about voyeurism; I thought of it as my Chris Priest story, since I'd been fascinated by his resonant handling of the theme in 'The Watched' (to which my effort bears no visible resemblance), and I even gave it a Priestly sort of title, 'The Motivation'. • Austin: 'Crom!' is a memorable and useful exclamation (as opposed to say, Kim Kinnison's 'By Klono's TUNGSTEN TEETH and CURVING CARBALLOY CLAWS!'). I remember my delight in discovering there's a US-brand decongestant called Nasalcrom, and imagining Conan standing over a newly slain behemoth whose rank fur has a stench bringing tears to the eyes and nostrils. 'By Nasalcrom!' he swears.• Ian: thanks for the utterly splendid extract from the Indian book on Oracle 6.0. If Hurree Chunder Mookerjee from Kim were to write a technical manual, this is undoubtedly how it would read.... • Clive Barker sounds as though he's being pretty consistent in Imajica: all your complaints about vast length and padding and not enough happening are closely reminiscent of my Everville review some years ago. • AMB: no doubt everyone will be piling in to say that Niven's 'Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex' was first published in 1969, not 1971, and isn't a short story but a comic speculative essay on the implications of Superman's sex life. For some reason Niven didn't admit to its original men's-magazine publication on the copyright page of the 1971 collection All the Myriad Ways, and the SF Encyclopedia picked up 1971 from there; it's necessary to consult a proper Niven bibliography. But Thog thanks you for the namecheck in that lecture on fandom! • Tanya: 'I reckon the idea of an Acnestis CD-ROM is excellent.' Chortle, chortle. • Finished 10 Jan 2001.