Cloud Chamber 124
December 2001

Another Bloody Diary

20 Nov. Acnestis 106 arrives, and almost immediately my vague plan to run a diary sequence feels overshadowed by the mighty 111-day Chris Priest record of 'Dead Time'! Still, my own intent is more modest: just an experiment in keeping track of what I manage to write over a few weeks that should in theory be quiet and undemanding. • Today, nothing at all: we visit Hazel's parents and subsequently have bookshopping accidents in Blackwell's, Oxford. My lapse is The Book of Numbers (1996) by John H. Conway and Richard K. Guy, 'popular' maths which as usual for these chaps climbs rapidly beyond the gentle foothills of Martin Gardner.

21 Nov. A review assignment from SFX: Mike Ashley's Starlight Man: The Extraordinary Life of Algernon Blackwood. • Mike Moorcock is guest-editing at an sf fiction website called Fantastic Metropolis, one of the millions of such sites I've never visited, and asks for a freebie John Sladek story from the Maps collection in exchange for promotion of same. I don't control rights, but suggest a deal whereby he can use John's 'Stop Evolution In Its Tracks!' with a modest payment to the estate, i.e. Sandy Sladek. • Eileen Gunn's sf website The Infinite Matrix is returning from the dead thanks to a financial backer, and she fancies a kind of Ansible-in-progress column of previewed bits, to be titled 'The Runcible Ansible'. I'm not certain that this will work but send an experimental 500+ words anyway. Eileen approves. • I've been trying all year to slide out of being a columnist for PCW Today, the last surviving computer magazine devoted to the wretched old Amstrad PCW series. Now I learn in e-mail that the slothful editor, whose 'bimonthly' mag appears at most twice a year, is claiming nondelivery of the vital Langford column as his current excuse. So, in a prolonged fit of pique, I write him a page of cobwebbed computer anecdotes and recent horror stories – duly bunged off with an indication that this is the last column. • Start reading Starlight Man, reverting when tired to Donald Kingsbury's Geta (aka Courtship Rite), which for no very logical reason I'm rereading in the wake of his new-this-month novel Psychohistorical Crisis.

22 Nov. Continue with Starlight Man and Geta. • Ansible Information, the almost forgotten software company, receives an order for – oh dear – the venerable 'APE' emulator that runs your old Apricot software on your nice new PC. Apricot computers died out so long ago that it seems incredible that anyone could want this now. Wonder if it still works? Package duly copied and posted, with the last extant manual. • Surprise e-mail from the editor of the London-based magazine Prospect, who has been shown my story 'Different Kinds of Darkness' and would like to reprint it. However, in a tiny but disquieting echo of the editorial attitude that so troubled Chris Priest last mailing, he indicates that the title will have to go (too long for page layout, allegedly) and that he has several 'suggestions' for reworking the text. One editorial process is enough, thanks, and that happened in 1999 when Gordon Van Gelder contributed a single small but welcome idea.

23 Nov. Consternation! Eileen Gunn wants another Infinite Matrix piece in the next few days, before her imminent visit to Moscow. She's already used the whole 500+ words that was to be two small weekly segments. Fortunately this is not a hideous Langford error but Eileen being forgetful: after discussion, half the text vanishes from the site, to return next week. • Finish Starlight Man and Geta. • Hero literary agent reports that Gollancz has at last paid the advance due on delivery of The Wyrdest Link (delivered 23 October), and also some June royalties due, allowing for the maximum procrastination permitted by contract, on 31 October. Gollancz is the publisher tactfully not named at the beginning of Ansible 173. • Reread Algernon Blackwood's occult-detective collection John Silence (1908) to jog my personal memory of his work. The evocative sense of place seems more effective than recalled from days when a teenaged Langford skimmed the scene-setting bits, impatient for Horrible Revelations.

24 Nov. Draft Starlight Man review. This biography was a labour of love over 23 years for Mike Ashley, and is full of nice little surprises about Algernon Blackwood's life, travels, and unexpected friends and occupations. Knowing only the short stories, I hadn't been aware that Blackwood collaborated with Sir Edward Elgar on a 1915 musical play called The Starlight Express, whose title (only) was famously swiped by Andrew Lloyd-Webber in 1984. However, I kept tripping over awkward sentences that might well appear in newspapers but oughtn't to be in a real book: e.g. 'Although never wealthy, these activities brought in more money than usual.' This is the kind of niggle which could be included in a review of reasonable length but would loom disproportionately large in the cramped space allowed by SFX (or HugeSouthAmericanRiver), and in the end it's tactfully or cravenly omitted. • Revamp Ansible Information web pages to lose all embarrassing mentions of APE and an even more venerable Amstrad PCW software package which I never ever want to look at again.

25 Nov. Answer immense set of interview questions for yet another on-line magazine, Alternate Species. Lots of rip-roaring cut and thrust: 'Q. What advice would you give to internet publishers like Alternate Species? A. [Pass.]' Actually I answer almost all the questions and am promised 'a whole packet of sherbet-filled flying saucers' as my reward. • Revise Starlight Man review and send to SFX. • Prepare some more Runcibles for Infinite Matrix; it looks a bit thin, but perhaps someone will send a few new Thog submissions to replace material recycled from the archives. Within hours, Franz Rottensteiner does just this. Hadn't heard from him in ages.

26 Nov. Tidy up second 'Runcible' batch and send to Eileen. Decant some of this material into the current Ansible document and re-edit. • What next? The regular SFX column is probably due in early December (my recent deadlines were 19 Sep, 16 Oct, 10 Nov, and then the list ran out – no reply as yet to entreaties for further dates). Fortunately there are vague links between two recently read books, Ian Stewart's Flatterland: Like Flatland, Only More So and Donald Kingsbury's Psychohistorical Crisis. The former is a distant sequel to E.A. Abbott's 1888 Flatland, using the story frame of a 2D being learning about higher spaces to explore more exotic maths than was available to Abbott. The latter is an unauthorized sequel to Asimov's original Foundation trilogy (though not the later additions), which I'd found interesting enough to review for Vector: Kingsbury, himself a mathematician, tries hard to justify the predictive maths of 'psychohistory' as a working proposition before proceeding to argue with Asimov's handling of it. Somehow, with the aid of several other books about Flatland from my collection, a draft column takes shape. • Remember Steve Baxter dunning me to donate a story to a benefit anthology meant to support the threatened Asian elephant. Since my fictional output is pitifully small – just two very short stories since 'Different Kinds of Darkness', both still awaiting publication – I've pleaded to submit an obscure reprint seen only in a US hardback anthology. Fingers crossed that this will do.... • Late in the afternoon, I self-referentially start typing this Cloud Chamber. • Read Gwyneth Jones's 'Ann Halam' ghost story King Death's Garden (1986), which definitely lives up to all the glowing commendations.

27 Nov. The shadow of Flatland continues with the arrival of an ill-wrapped packet of now two-dimensional and sherbet-emptied flying saucers. • In e-mail, Steve Baxter thinks my suggested reprint piece is great except for not featuring elephants; he forgot to mention this vital criterion when asking for a contribution in October. Argh! Well, that lets me out. • Feeling uninspired and glum. Plug some oddments into Ansible 173 and this CC. That sentence feels vaguely recursive.

28 Nov. Red letter day: the Gollancz money is here at last. After further fiddling around with routine correspondence, invoices, e-mail and the like, I rush into Reading town centre to pay in the cheque and have a wild spending spree. It is traditional on these occasions to buy a new pair of shoes, but I can't find any that fit. Search bookshops for Kyril Bonfiglioli's posthumous collection The Mortdecai ABC (Chris Priest recommendation) and Chris Wooding's The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray (Steve Jeffery recommendation). Although we have two huge branches of Waterstone's – including one splendidly converted from a disused chapel – a Blackwell's, and a specialist sf/fantasy outlet owned by Blackwell's, neither book can be found. End up not buying anything at all. Bah, humbug.

29 Nov. The new Greg Egan, Schild's Ladder, arrives in proof and looks ever so cosmic; suggest to HugeSouthAmericanRiver that they need a review. • Unexpectedly, Prospect magazine sends proof pages of 'Different Kinds of Darkness' despite my lack of encouragement. 'Here is a slightly amended version of your story – it ran a little bit over four pages so we have made a few minor cuts. / I think the new heading [it has been retitled 'The Shudder Club'] and the slightly amended text works better in a magazine context, where people are not already pre-disposed to want to read SF short stories.' All this guff about reworking for a non-sf audience transparently means 'it has to fit our four-page slot with the title on a single line.' Since the suggested fee has now been increased, the temptation is to take the money and run, but first I need to ask whether the removal of all italics is a house-style thing or just ineptitude with the scanner. • John Julius Norwich sends his 2001 Christmas Cracker commonplace-book selection, in which G.K. Chesterton is eerily prophetic about my feelings on the Reading SF Group's Xmas dinner venue:

Of all modern phenomena, the most monstrous and ominous, the most manifestly rotting with disease, the most grimly prophetic of destruction, the most clearly and unmistakably inspired by evil spirits, the most instantly and awfully overshadowed by the wrath of heaven, the most near to madness and moral chaos, the most vivid with devilry and despair, is the practice of having to listen to loud music while eating in a restaurant.

New e-mail from Prospect: losing the italics was an error. Can I put them back in again? Oh, all right ... adding other corrections as I go. Q: Langford, is this not Prostitution of your Art? A: Look, mate, Prospect is offering more than twice what F&SF could afford for the first rights. • The HSAR man sounds dubious about the Egan but agrees to a review because Gollancz are giving the book a bit of a push. Can I also do Harry Turtledove's American Empire: Blood and Iron? Had carefully not mentioned receiving this, since it looked like part of his alternative World War I sequence 'The Great War', and I couldn't face catching up on the backlog. On closer inspection, it is a 1920s continuation of that timeline, but with a synopsis of past books. Oh, all right.... • Unusually many e-mail subscriptions to Ansible in recent months; checking the list server reveals that the number of subscribers has just passed 2,500.

30 Nov. New Scientist arrives, with review of Ursula Le Guin's The Telling written earlier in the month. I've been bitter about NS since the butchery inflicted on a Langford review feature in 1999. This time things worked better, with feedback from a sub who admittedly complained that the piece was a bit short (this, cretin, is because I was given a 200-word limit and stuck to it) and introduced two factual errors in the name of 'house style', but who made the corrections I asked for. All is well. Part of the 1999 agony was receiving the buggered-up copy, desperately rewriting at an hour's notice to restore some shreds of accuracy and sense, and learning weeks later from the published magazine that these efforts had been ignored. • Start reading Schild's Ladder, which Eganishly begins with an exposition of quantum gravity theory. E-mail from New Scientist in response to my note of thanks: would I care to review the new Greg Egan ...? • Meanwhile, a classically tiresome Ansible Information customer wants our PCW to PC conversion software now, now, NOW! Can he drive to Reading and bother me in person? No, I tell him firmly, and offer to e-mail the bloody software immediately on receipt of a payment which he could reasonably get to me by tomorrow, via Special Delivery if he cares to spend the money. But this is not good enough! The heavens will fall and the world come to an end if the product isn't in his hands instantly! (My erstwhile business partner Chris P. will by now be nodding his head in weary recognition.) Ansible Info traditionally despatches by return of post; I don't know how customers like this manage not to physically explode during the standard 28-day mail-order delivery period.

1 Dec. Finish Schild's Ladder but may need to read bits of it again. Finish Ansible 173 and impulsively travel to London as though this were a first Thursday, getting Ansible copied at the usual shop en route to the annual Ameringen/Mullan/Robinson party in Ilford. Good fun, and I even manage to pick up the last copy of The Mortdecai ABC in stock at Murder One.

2 Dec. Mail out Ansible 173 with a correction slip: worries about the departure of the Florence Nightingale's friendly landlord Kevin have been smoothed over, and the upstairs room booked for London fan gatherings on 20 December and first Thursdays throughout 2002. • Sunday idleness reigns.

3 Dec. Revise and send off the column for SFX 88. As usual, allowing the thing to settle for several days has generated ideas for improvements and internal links. I wonder if I'll make it to issue 100? • Draft HSAR review of Schild's Ladder. The title refers to a mathematical notion I'd never heard of before, used by Egan as a metaphor for the preservation of the complex vector of human identity through physical transformations which here are even more drastic than in Diaspora. • Despatch the digital Ansible 173 to the CIX sf conference and the usual newsgroups, web site, and e-mail list. • Oh God, a VAT return is due in December. Grimly I type three months' worth of invoice information into the traditional spreadsheet, and ... gulp. Let us draw a veil. • Remember to send off the Egan review. Now, e-mail from Ken MacLeod: where's my review of his Dark Light, as sent to HSAR in October? Where indeed. Often, commissioned and paid-for reviews just mysteriously vanish from the HSAR database.

4 Dec. What really I want to do is to carry on reading The Mortdecai ABC, Margaret Bonfiglioli's fat collection of bits by and about Kyril Bonfiglioli (art dealer, black-comedy thriller writer and one-time editor of Science Fantasy): enormous fun and compulsively quotable. However, 503 pages of Harry Turtledove are looming ominously. Fend off the evil hour by writing more CC mailing comments and pruning unwanted e-mail from the last few archived years. Some time later, the stern, accusing voice of conscience says something about displacement activity. I settle myself firmly in the reading chair, reach for Blood and Iron, and am suddenly held by the snakelike gaze of a passing crossword puzzle. Time leaks away. Let's check the e-mail: gosh, it's Malcolm Edwards, complaining that HugeSouthAmericanRiver scandalously hasn't put up a review of John Sladek's The Complete Roderick. Since I sent in this review on 19 October, I'm equally irritated. But not at all surprised. Further prods administered to HSAR editor. • An e-mail message says Ben Jeapes now plans to launch a new UK sf magazine with the sender as editor. Coo er gosh. Am torn between applause for bold venture and worry that this will have a draining effect on Big Engine, where the delayed John Sladek collection (even though 'brought forward' as next to be typeset, presumably after Chris Amies's novel) seems likely to appear some six months after the scheduled date and all my carefully timed publicity efforts. By Easter, Ben hopes.

5 Dec. Ansible Information stirs again, with an order for software so antique that the distribution version is marooned on an abandoned 386 in the spare room. • Determined assault on Harry Turtledove, who gives a brief back-story for seventeen characters or groups or families in the introduction to Blood and Iron, and then methodically (re)introduces them all in a long string of setup scenes continuing until the last chap gets his mention on pages 71-74. Now read on.... • Decide brother Jon should have a copy of the dread Langford-Barnett collaboration Guts for Christmas, and arrange for to send him a copy in Chicago. (Still haven't had the trade paperback myself – saw my first copies on Rog Peyton's table at Novacon – bloody publishers!) Much giggling at the discovery that Guts has a five-star Amazon rating based on a single somewhat tongue-in-cheek review from a fan.

6 Dec. Good news: a remittance advice from SFX, and the miracles of high technology allow me to confirm at once that the money's reached my bank account. Bad news: this payment of my October invoice highlights the fact that August's is still stuck in the works. (I even know why: it's for SFX 84 contributions including a hasty Poul Anderson obit which in fact they slipped into issue 83. A single invoice for work in MORE THAN ONE ISSUE is guaranteed to reduce Future's highly trained accounts department to drooling incomprehension.) Weary explanatory e-mails follow. • Renewed onslaught on Harry Turtledove. Slowly his dark forces begin to fall back in disarray, but at the end of the day some 160pp of stragglers still need to be mopped up.... • Some Christmas shopping: The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan and (first copy to be sighted in Reading after instant sell-out months ago) American Gods.

7 Dec. Update my on-line Books Received page with four paperbacks from Firebird, the new Penguin Putnam YA imprint (including Lloyd Alexander's 1981 Westmark, which I didn't have) and three Tor proofs – including yet another Avram Davidson collection, The Other Nineteenth Century, only one of whose 23 stories has a familiar title. • To cut a long novel short, by 3pm I've finished the Turtledove, written and revised the review, e-mailed it with the all-important invoice, and breathed deep sighs of relief. Oh, and the missing Sladek and MacLeod reviews are on view at HSAR at last. • Re-edit items from Ansible 173 and The Infinite Matrix into most of an 'Ansible Link' column for Interzone 176, due in on 10 Dec. Just 20-30 more words of news needed now.... • Oops. I'd forgotten suggesting to Bob Rickard of Fortean Times that Ansible 172's stuff about an Asimov/Foundation/al-Qaeda link (and subsequent responses) might make a column. Now, belatedly, he says 'go ahead.' Instead, I plunge into American Gods, which slips down far more smoothly than H. Turtledove.

8 Dec. Saturday. Since Hazel is always subversively suggesting I should take the odd weekend off, I dutifully finish American Gods. Very slick, very Gaiman; good stuff. • Late in the afternoon, though, I sneak up to the office and draft the requested 800-word silliness for Fortean Times. Bad David.

9 Dec. Tinkering with the three current incarnations of Ansible leads to a half-finished Infinite Matrix instalment, a complete IZ176 column – duly despatched – and a fair start on Ansible 174. Much more news is needed for the latter, though. • Indulge myself for a while with the Tynan diaries.

10 Dec. Another software order and more Ansible tweaking; but I'll stop listing these ever-recurring items now, like Severian deciding not to include further accounts of his work as a jobbing executioner in The Book of the New Sun. You may assume that, as Severian puts it, I continue to practise the mystery of my craft. • Revise Fortean Times nonsense and e-mail it to Bob Rickard. • Official letter from New Scientist commissioning the Egan review, so I'd better draft it now. [The curtain is briefly lowered to indicate some lapse of time.] Eek. It's drafted, it's mid-afternoon, and I've had no lunch....

11 Dec. More intimidating than the fattest review copy, my chequebook projects active waves of repulsion to prevent the awful thing I have to do. Iron nerve prevails, and after long struggle the VAT payment is ready to go. There could still be a three-volume fantasy epic of heroic procrastination in taking the doom-laden envelope (reeking, of course, of wrongness) to the postbox. • Unless surprises are on their way, I've now dealt with all my deadline work for 2001. What's the year's score? Three books published: the reissued The Leaky Establishment and The Complete Critical Assembly, and the long-delayed Guts: A Comedy of Manners, written with Paul Barnett. Two nonfiction books and one anthology (John Sladek) completed and delivered. SFX: 13 columns, 4 reviews, 7 assorted extra features. Interzone: 12 columns. Waterstone's sf website (now dead): 8 columns. HSAR: 34 reviews, 1 interview. The Infinite Matrix: 6 instalments. Other: 2 columns for Fortean Times, 1 for PCW Today, 1 'Curiosities' squib for F&SF, 2 reviews for New Scientist, 1 on-line essay for AOL. Obituary in The Guardian; another in The Independent. Two book introductions. Two short stories sold, Weird Tales and The Thackeray T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases. A scatter of stories reissued, some in translation. On the non-paying front: 12 issues of Ansible and 12 of Cloud Chamber, plus 4 reviews, 3 articles, 2 interviews and 1 review feature for fanzines and small press mags such as Foundation, The New York Review of SF, SF Five-Yearly, The Skeptic, Steam Engine Time, and Vector. Some software sales: 78 packages, 16 of them the famous SF Encyclopedia viewer. • Embarrassingly absent: progress on a new novel or enough short stories (there's no backlog of unsold ones) for sf credibility. I'm getting worried about this, and about the panic reliably induced by thoughts of actually signing a contract and committing myself to write another novel. • Enough! I'd better stop now and print this, before Christmas engulfs us.

Mailing 105, October 2001

Ian S. Tiny, fiddling correction re Jack Vance's The Blue World: the alien sea-beasties are called kragens, suggesting rather than equating to krakens. • Paul K. A footnote on Judith Merril's famous or infamous anthology England Swings SF (1968) is that, Englishness not being much of a selling point over here, it was reissued by Panther as The Space-Time Journal (1974). But hang on, what's this: 'Selected from the collection England Swings SF'? Checking the Locus Index, I find the British edition is missing seven stories: Disch's 'The Squirrel Cage', Platt's 'The Total Experience Kick', Bayley's 'All the King's Men', Zoline's 'The Heat Death of the Universe', Moorcock's 'The Mountain', and Ballard's 'The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race' and 'Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy'. The things publishers do.... Despite your (Paul's) 'Though she did not grace the book with an introduction', the original US book is indeed listed as having a Merril introduction. Perhaps that remark was based on Panther's selection? I see that both editions contain the first published sf story of one C***s P****t. • Dop. Agreed re the interesting strangeness of Alan Moore's Promethea. I look forward to the paperback of issues 7-12. To complete the current set of Moore/America's Best pb graphic novels I acquired the first Tom Strong collection, which is sort of interesting but spends much time pastiching earlier comics-narrative styles rather below Moore's own level of sophistication. Superhero Tom Strong has lived through the whole 20th century and is apt to suffer flashbacks to past adventures in every period of comics history, not to mention occasionally moralizing like Batman at his most sententious. • Maureen. In the grand spirit of bolting stable doors, I've installed a small safe to protect the replacement laptop, digital camera and other portable oddments. Fingers nervously crossed.... Fascinated by the essay on Rodinsky's Room, although I found it vaguely disconcerting not to be told who wrote it until the fourth column, and then to learn in the sixth column that a second writer was involved. Were you deliberately reflecting the elusiveness at the core of this story?

Mailing 106, November 2001

Chris H. Oh, let's not have a pedantry competition about that Robert Bloch fantasy. It first appeared and won its Hugo as 'That Hell-Bound Train', but all known reprints use what was presumably the author's preferred title 'The Hell-Bound Train'. Neither can exactly be called wrong. • AMB. Following his famous Pratchett mix-up of Guilty of Literature and the Pocket Essentials as recorded in CC123, D.M. Sherwood responded: 'The book of that man Butler. Well I think that he should have let his children starve rather than prostitute his art there are literary crimes for which no mundane justification suffices.' Clearly you have a fan. • Steve J. In an APA I left long ago, all discussion of computers was traditionally prefaced by 'Neep-Neep Alert!' Consider yourself alerted.... I too have wrestled with the horrible MS Windows Help compiler, and would probably have written my own front-end program to make it usable if I hadn't discovered a freebie: Help Writer's Assistant, which lets you write and link help topics as though in a Windows word processor, with the ugly codes and multiple documents hidden from view. The free version limits the number of individual pages in a Help file to 20 (I think), but my own modest efforts have never needed so many – I've restrained myself from adopting the Windows 95+ help style in which information is ideally broken down into individually displayed sentences joined by a maze of links to ensure you get lost as soon as possible. • Chris P. Welcome aboard! Of course I was horrended by that long and, under the circumstances, remarkably restrained diary of The Separation adrift in publishing's doldrums. One rather tends to fall silent in despair. I'd forgotten having consoled you at one point with an instant summary of the Harry Turtledove versions of World War II. In case anyone here is curious, I found the relevant e-mail in my vast hard disk archives:

Harry Turtledove tirelessly churns out alternate-history versions of absolutely bloody everything. Paul Kincaid says one of the US Civil War ones (The Guns of the South) is very good. There's an alternative WWI series that I likewise haven't looked at [but see above as I wrestle with its successor]. There are two Turtledove goes at WWII, neither of which enters the kind of territory I imagine as yours. • One series, "Darkness", translates it into fantasy with a rearranged map, dragon air strikes, armoured columns of behemoths, submarine leviathans, etc etc (and, rather desperately, magic energy sticks which behave exactly like rifles). There's even foreshadowing of an occult Manhattan Project. I couldn't face any more of this after vol 1, especially after the tremendously subtle hints about human sacrifice being a jolly good source of magical power, thus providing a practical reason for the death camps I confidently expect in vol 2. • The second series, "Worldwar" is more fun, but in a curiously old-fashioned SF way. WWII is interrupted by an invasion fleet of slightly thick aliens who (like all those routine invaders in Analog, Eric Frank Russell, etc) have underestimated the speed of human progress and run into 1940s technology when they're expecting a trivially easy mop-up of the medievals reported by their advance probe. The resulting conflict goes on and on with heaps of action-adventure, but the expected ironies and echoes seem rather thin on the ground: there are a few touches like the Warsaw ghetto doing a deal with the invaders on the basis that anything is better than the Nazis, but the spanner thrown into the historical works by worldwide invasion from space is so huge that fruitful connections with Real History get very rapidly frayed. Then, after four great fat 1940s volumes, he takes up the tale again with a follow-on series set in the 1960s....

The 'American Empire' follow-on to his alternate WWI 'The Great War' is clearly heading rapidly to a revised WWII with the defeated Confederate States of America in the role of Germany. Volume one has a fascist party on the rise there, and death camps are all too evidently looming for the blacks. • Chris A. I found the Complete Poems of Felicia Hemans lurking in the musty basement of a Barmouth junkshop late in October. Read 'Casabianca' all the way through. Decided not to invest in this volume. • AMB. Hazel recognizes a good many of those High Wycombe pubs from her own impetuous teenagerhood there. • Kev. You speak of synchronicity. An Ansible correspondent just sent this on-line book blurb, wondering who was going to get sued and for what:

The Sex Squad, by David Leddick (1999). 'In the 1950s, seventeen year old Harry Potter moves to Greenwich Village, NY, to pursue a career as a ballet dancer. Professionally, he finds a place as a chorus dancer at the old Metropolitan Opera House and becomes a member of the "Sex Squad" – those chorus dancers well built enough to carry off the skimpy costumes in Aida. Personally, he quickly becomes the focal point in a tempestuous, complicated love triangle with two of his fellow dancers. Torn between passion and his true love – dancing – Harry must come to a decision about whom he loves, who he is, and what he is willing to sacrifice for the world of ballet.'

Changing Quidditch to ballet and shifting the era to the 1950s is surely not enough to deceive Ms Rowling's lawyers. • Tanya. Alas that I left Tony's Acnestis party before not only the cake but also the pictures. At least they weren't taken with the dread BSFA Camera of Doom, to which I myself fell victim on the cover of Vector 219 this autumn. • KVB. The smallest of nitpicks: Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes is a 1962 novel rather than a 1963 collection. UK paperback publishers used to have a bad habit of giving the date of an American book's first UK hardback as the copyright date, which happened in my copy of this one and presumably also yours! • David C. Still struggling to decide whether your one-line review 'a novel as clever as a well-timed bullet through the heart' is praise, or something more on the order of Bob Shaw's 'An oasis in the ocean of literature' or the traditional 'Fills a much needed gap'. • Finished 11 Dec 2001.