Cloud Chamber 122
October 2001

I finalized Cloud Chamber 121 on 9 September and so didn't say anything about the 11th. And now it seems that everything that could possibly be said has been published hundreds of times over. Resolutely not thinking about any of this seemed the best way to keep plugging away at droll questions for that Discworld quizbook (see paperback cover proof), whose Gollancz deadline has to be met however unamusing the world becomes. What a bloody awful time this is.

Staying focused on Discworld in this way, or Focused in the Vernor Vinge sense, had an alarming side effect when I tried to relax over a crossword. It was one of those with a lot of unclued words having a common theme which in this case left me baffled. Even when non-traveller Hazel pointed out that the missing words were obviously the names of foreign airlines – 'There's El Al, there's Alitalia' – I found myself in a mysterious state of amnesia about this whole category of existence, and it took prolonged brute-force concentration on my own past air trips to haul out such names as FinnAir(which wasn't in the puzzle) and Qantas (which was). A warning, maybe, about trying too hard not to think about aviation.

As for the cold shoulder from British publishers about sf collections even when they contain a Hugo-winning story to flaunt on the cover, Gwyneth Jones finds it all too familiar: 'Re short stories, me too. I've never had a collection published in the UK, or with any mainstream publisher. They are too wise to be ensnared by my wiles. "But, but, I won two World Fantasy Awards for this book!" cuts no ice at all.'

Postcards. D.M. Sherwood writes: 'Prepare for Blasphemy! I've finally, after a bleeding lot of trouble, got hold of Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature – my verdict, mediocre. It's 80% plot summary for Christ's sake, as if I'd wanted a glorified Cliff's Notes, and not particularly perceptive plot summary at that – oh, there's a clever point here and there. The picture of Terry looks half cut, terrible smirk.' But hang on a minute, here he is again: 'Hold the presses – major retraction – book I rubbished last p/card was nor TP Guilty of Literature but a cheap rip-off factoid book also by this guy Butler which the library has fobbed me off with....' A bit hard on this guy Butler, who was presumably stuck with the laid-down Pocket Essentials format.

Random Reading

Timothy: The drawings and cartoons of Timothy Birdsall (1964), a long-coveted volume seen once before at too high a price in Hay-on-Wye. Very funny and talented cartoonist who drew some much-reprinted classics of whimsy and satire and should have achieved far more but died aged 27. • Martin Gardner, The Annotated Alice, (2000 update of 1960 book), an old favourite reissued with a mass of new material. • Terry Pratchett & Paul Kidby, The Last Hero: A Discworld Fable (2001), 40,000-word story with some nifty sense-of-wonder touches and about 70 paintings by Kidby. Definitely the coffee table book for Christmas this year. • Oh, and a stack of further Discworld novels in reverse order of publication, from Thief of Time back to (so far) Men at Arms. My brain hurts. • Ngaio Marsh, Death on the Air and Other Stories (2000 update of 1995 author-centenary reissue of 1989 collection, apparently), determinedly padded posthumous book by a crime author who wrote very few shorts, only three of them about her trademark detective Alleyn. These are therefore eked out with newspaper articles, a TV script, a very early and winsome tale about belief in Father Christmas, etc. Some good bits.

Mailing 104, September 2001

Andy, Steve: I'm not wildly happy about the Harry Potter Hugo, but Andy in particular (with remarks about Terry Pratchett being 'honorary sf') seems to share the widespread US fan notion that the Hugo is for science fiction only. As far as I can trace back the rules in the WSFS constitution, the eligibility has always been for 'science fiction or fantasy'. And it's hardly the first time – Robert Bloch won a Hugo in 1959 for his supernatural fantasy 'The Hell-Bound Train', and Fritz Leiber won in 1971 with the outright sword-and-sorcery of 'Ill Met in Lankhmar'. As for expressed horror that the Hugo went to a book written for children, the same could be said of the 1960 novel Hugo winner, Starship Troopers. (Written as part of Heinlein's sf juvenile series for Scribner's, understandably bounced by them, and published elsewhere). When I think about the cans of worms that await opening, I can see why the World SF Society has been reluctant to draw difficult lines between sf and fantasy, or children's and adult fiction, and has tacitly relied on the voters to judge sensibly. Yes, it's embarrassing to see the apple-cart kicked over like this by Rowling's enormous popularity, especially when a good solid sf novel by Ken MacLeod (if not his best) suffered as a result. But here we are. Just to twist the knife a little, books that didn't make it into the shortlisted top five for Best Novel included Tim Powers's Declare, Gene Wolfe's In Green's Jungles and Ursula Le Guin's The Telling at =6; Greg Benford's Eater and Terry Pratchett's The Truth at =9; and Mary Gentle's Ash in 11th place. The Amber Spyglass came 14th. • Chris H, Tanya, others: It certainly is unfair that cheapskates like me who waited for the paperback Seeing Things should be rewarded with a CD-ROM. Unfortunately for those of us whose thoughts turn to wicked bootleggery, making a copy of the whole thing seems beyond the capacity of my cheapo CD writer and/or media. Speaking wholly hypothetically, it is possible to copy the 538Mb of QuickTime video clips which fill most of the CD, a technical issue which I'll happily discuss in a purely hypothetical fashion with anyone here who bought the hardback.... • Tanya: you may regret not having a television, but I couldn't bear to watch ours after the first half hour of scenes that were already being endlessly, numbingly repeated on the 11th. • Dop: Gary Farber pounced on the Enterprise/Archer story as inaccurate (he, for complex reasons, is 'Name and Address Supplied' in Ansible 171): 'It's easily checkable on about eight billion websites. Dunno where Mark Plummer got his misinformation from (prolly a Brit newspaper that doesn't have a clue, I suspect) ...' However, another correspondent is quite sure that Gary got this wrong: details to follow. • Ian: the idea of Steve Baxter's Origin being a colossal homage to Dan Dare is suitably startling. No, I've never come across Frank Hampson's 'The Red Moon Mystery'. Maybe, I thought, the next Acnestid to tackle Origin should watch for buried acknowledgements: a minor walk-on called Hampson, a primitive named Hampthog, or whatever.... Being desperate for Ansible filler material, I duly put the question to Mr Baxter Himself: see reply in A171. • The Departed: I am flattered that two of us who recently Sublimed or Transcended, escaping from the drab chrysalis of Acnestis into wider horizons of unsustainable metaphor, have expressed an urgent need to keep seeing Cloud Chamber. How many other contributors, I wonder, continue to be in demand in Croydon? (5 Oct 01)