Cloud Chamber 115
March 2001

Vast house renovations loom for us, after the usual long delay in getting builders to turn up even for a mere survey and estimate. Many sash windows need restringing, unjamming and painting; the wasp-hole and pigeon-hole (don't ask) are to be blocked up again; outside drains rebuilt to slope the right way; gutters gutted; new brick path to replace the meandering thing in our front garden that turns into a stream at the least shower; and more, much more, all too much more. Let us draw a veil over the likely cost. I feel a mite guilty at the way all this is ruling out traditional hospitality to TAFF and GUFF winners around Eastercon, but no doubt fandom will contrive to cope.

Thog on Olympus. Pray silence for Percy Bysshe Shelley's subtle characterization of a witch in 'The Wandering Jew':

Inspired and wrapt in bickering flame,
The strange and wild enchantress stood; –
Words unpremeditated came,
In unintelligible flood,
From her black tumid lips – array'd
In livid, fiendish smiles of joy –
Lips, which now dropp'd with deadly dew,
And now, extending wide, display'd
Projecting teeth of mouldy blue.

(A Dentist Writes: 'Always brush twice after eating Stilton.')

Distractions. After insistent promises from Charlie Stross about how my life would be transformed into an eternity of bliss if only I installed Linux instead of Windows, I found myself with a spare Pentium 100. (Thanks to buying a job lot of hardware to construct an e-mail system for my mother.) Right you are, Charlie! The first Linux cover CD-ROM to come my way was a Corel installation which, no matter what I did, refused to drive the 1024x768 colour display as anything but 640x480 in four shades of grey. Bye-bye, Corel. Re-instal Windows 95. Next, Mandrake Linux began more promisingly, but after comprehensively trashing the Windows installation it seemed to feel its work was done, and hung up. Every time. Bye-bye, Mandrake. Re-instal Windows.... Third time is the charm. TurboLinux worked, rather better on a second installation: but good grief, despite being told for years that Linux was lean and mean and compact, I couldn't get the whole thing on the 1.2Gb hard disk, and had to pick and choose. (Meanwhile on the Memory Hole list, Billy Pettit brags of throwing away 9Gb drives as hopelessly obsolete. Waaaaah!) I am duly playing with Linux and feeling very, very stupid. It took a whole afternoon to learn how to read a DOS floppy by cunning use of the inituitively-obvious-to-our-Charlie Linux command mount -t umsdos /dev/fd0H1440 /mnt/floppy ... (Later: all right, it turns out that you can omit the "H1440" bit, but this was my first successful effort after much research and many trials.)

Sladekiana. As indicated in Ansible 164, the worst is over and Maps seems complete – with one more poem, 'The Four Cows' from Riverside Quarterly in 1967, since traced and rushed to me by kindly fan researchers, Ned Brooks in the USA and Damien Warman down under. My draft introduction has passed inspection by John Clute, Tom Disch, Charles Platt ('if John were alive to see this, he would be in little ecstasies of appreciation') and Chris Priest ... but remains unfinal owing to an Utterly Maddening development. I quoted the brief scene from Bob Shaw's Fire Pattern which features irritatingly flip paranormal researcher John Sladek – the punchline being that far from needling John, Bob had let him write all his own speeches. Am now bitterly regretting having asked Bob's family whether there was any objection to the quote, since his son Ian saw this as a good opportunity to demand a £300 permission fee. For 175 words! My fury knows no bounds. The issue remains unresolved. Gnash, gnash. • A footnote from Charles Platt: 'So often, the wrong person ends up writing the tribute or compiling the anthology of a dead writer's work. I remember, for instance, some well-intentioned moron suggesting that if Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree) had attended more Star Trek conventions, she might have found a greater will to live. Also I remember Locus rejecting my obit for Alfred Bester, because it wasn't upbeat enough. (Surely a landmark there.)'

Random Reading

Again, a scant few reviews for HugeSouthAmericanRiver, the most fun being Ian McDonald's Ares Express – back in the Martian magic realism territory of Desolation Road but with a grandiose storyline, indeed a Story which the heroine, like various characters in Little, Big, is aware she's living through. At the daftest moment she realizes: 'this was the Point of Worst Personal Threat when all the Feisty and Resourceful (But Cute With It) Heroine's efforts to attain her Dramatic Goal hang by a thread, and Something Big Happens that rolls it over into the End Game. Here narrative creatures like Coincidence, Chance and Serendipity were all the FR(BCWI) Heroine could trust to save her.' So she throws herself to certain death, and ... Meanwhile, gigantic trains with locomotives the size of ocean liners coexist with spells to summon 'Aid Beyond Comprehension in a Time of Direness', and there's a string of little homages not only to various other SF about Mars but also to The Book of the New Sun: a green man who knows the future, the heroine's internal 'secret sharer' (apparently her dead Siamese twin; Severian, Wolfe hinted, is a twin who never knowingly finds his sibling), angels, a flying cathedral, mirrors as the key to travel between realities, the use of children as furniture, a ruined town that reassembles itself, a time traveller who fades as he moves away from the location where his probability is highest.... • A couple of one-volume graphic novels. At last, the whole of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore's and Kevin O'Neill's gaslit Victorian romp with a superhero team comprising Mina from Dracula, Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Dr Jekyll, and the Invisible Man, plus a million more literary walk-ons, Cavorite as the initial McGuffin, and guest villains Moriarty and Fu-Manchu. Wonderfully silly. Even more crowded, indeed far too much so, was the dread Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC Comics' 1985 rationalization of its too many alternate universes and timelines. I was curious as to what all the fuss had been about, but decided after struggling through the collected edition that this was very much for serious addicts with minute knowledge of the entire DC multiverse. It left me cold. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Mailing 97, February 2001

Benedict: Arthuriana by me in Interzone? You must be remembering a story by someone else. • Bruce: Apologies for forgetting to say that the official on-line The Last Deadloss Visions (mentioned in that 1985 interview) was later removed at Chris Priest's request. • Maureen: It must be a conservation law. While you have become triumphantly book-clubless, Hazel succumbed again to the wiles of the Ancient History BC, who at present have an uncanny ability to target her wants list. • Steve: 'are we the only two sf/fantasy fans in Oxford?' OUSFG still exists, with local postgrad members like Tanaqui Weaver (see CC114): would you like to make contact? 13-3-01.