Cloud Chamber 125
January 2002

Still Diarizing

11 Dec, continued. After the despatch of CC124 masters to Maureen, the day ends in a bout of Christmas shopping.

12 Dec. Good news: Paul Di Filippo's review column in Asimov's, forwarded by trusty Ben Jeapes, devotes almost a column of praise to The Leaky Establishment. Tom Easton in Analog has also given it a kindly word. Am feeling dead lucky, since reissued books tend to be ignored. There's even been a review in the Morning Star. • Titivate and send off the New Scientist review of Greg Egan's Schild's Ladder, given a fillip by the reminder in one of Jordin Kare's Usenet postings that some physicists really did worry about high-energy colliders creating a new, more stable vacuum state that would spread at lightspeed and erase space/time as we know it. This is Egan's starting point, though for plot reasons his 'novo-vacuum' expands at only 0.5 c, slower than future human starships. • A line from the Tynan diaries is so reminiscent of lower-ranks crosstalk in Terry Pratchett's City Watch that I send it to him: 'Roxana, fired by a film about Helen of Troy, has been looking up the story in a book of Greek legends. I ask her what happens at the end. "Ah," she says, "Ackles gets hit in his venerable spot."' (Terry: 'Nice one.')

13 Dec. A morning of fiddly software matters. Bad news: having to unearth the source code for the long obsolete International Table Tennis Federation player ranking program. Good news: e-mailing it all to Brazil and never, I hope, having to work with the horrible thing again. A few notes on internal program comments seem necessary for Brazilians: '"Horror Honker" was our Mr Priest's whimsical term for the error warning display ...' • Lee Hoffman's Science Fiction Five-Yearly (produced by Geri Sullivan and Jeff Schalles) arrives for UK remailing as arranged with Geri. It's a change of pace. • The New York Review of SF liked the boxed feature I thriftily adapted from CC book notes, so I repeat the process. Writing without actually, well, writing. • This would be a good time for Mr HugeSouthAmericanRiver to offer review assignments for the weeks ahead. Instead, an e-mailed circular conveys that he (and work) will now be unavailable until 3 January. It is the eternal whinge of the freelance that salaried editors always seem to be taking lengthy paid holidays. • Royalty statement from new owners of Collins & Brown/Paper Tiger: under their Chrysalis Books logo, the letterhead now reads 'COLINS & BROWN'. Calculate that at the present rate of sales of A Cosmic Cornucopia (that Josh Kirby art book, with my text) I'll begin to get actual royalties in the summer of 2036.

14 Dec. Revise and send NYRSF submission. • Thoughts of lazy collapse briefly cross my mind before the arrival of what seem like scores of interview questions from a Finnish sf mag to which I made reckless promises in the summer. It's tough going when you're asked to provide embarrassing and unprintable anecdotes about ten named British authors who happen to have visited Finland. • Discover in the November SF Chronicle that Don D'Ammassa's review column opens with a reasonably encouraging plug for Leaky, mysteriously listed under HARDCOVERS. Since the section for TRADE PAPERBACKS (which is what Leaky is) appears less prominently on a later page, this is a highly convenient mistake. I may even forgive editor Andy Porter for conflating two Ansible mentions of the SF Encyclopedia in his January issue, being my note about the possible third edition and the separate fact that the Langford SFE CD-ROM viewer already adds many corrections and new death dates. Hence Andy's stunningly banal comment on SFE3 (CD-ROM not mentioned): 'Lots of previous listings will now have dates of death added to birthdates, according to Langford.' Who would have thought it? Holmes, this is marvellous!

15 Dec. Oh good: the August invoice that languished so long with SFX has been processed at last. Phew. • Traditional pre-Xmas visit to my mother in Newport, with much overeating and gin-and-tonic. Train journey reading: Lois McMaster Bujold's Memory (1996), nice lightweight sf fun. Bujold has a knack of making her ongoing characters appealing.

16 Dec. Sunday. Various updates to continuing work, before protracted loafing sets in. Another attempt at the evil distraction of a computer game: I've long had a soft spot for the original Heretic, fantasy Doom with prettier settings and renamed weapons (rocket launcher becomes Phoenix Rod, etc), and have been out of touch so long that Heretic II now costs only a tenner as a classic reissue. Unfortunately the interface has gone all Lara Croft, so instead of seeing through the protagonist's eyes you sort of steer him from behind, and in tight corners can't see what's attacking because his head is in the way. Lapses into slow motion at the most action-packed times suggest my old computer isn't really up to this game....

17 Dec. Is it Scroogelike to grumble at the seasonal deluge of Christmas cards (Yuletide spam) and wish for interesting mail instead? Well, here's Interzone, which seems to arrive later every month, and a welcome £5 prize from the BSFA. 'All these awards – you must be loaded!' quips competition-setter John Ollis. 'It's hardly worth bothering with this little offering for Comp 150 in Matrix, is it?' It's a fiver more than comes with the Hugo, mate. • Respond to Finnish interlocutor with suitable answers and a few evasions. • Some debate with Eileen Gunn about what she calls 'old news' in my columns for her The Infinite Matrix – that is, snippets which though not yet seen in Ansible itself have been around for a whole week, even a fortnight! More droll commentary is demanded, to pep up such cobwebbed items. This is the pace that kills.

18 Dec. Even if I no longer down tools and spend the day celebrating whenever something of mine is published, it's still nice to get copies. Today, at last, the Cosmos trade paperback of Guts: A Comedy of Manners arrives, and looks suitably icky. (I had to order this from Amazon since – another exciting feature of print-on-demand publication – Cosmos themselves haven't received copies.) Also the February 2002 F&SF with a Langford 'Curiosities' column written aeons ago, about Lord Dunsany's The Last Revolution. • I'd forgotten the UK had dropped out of the Eurocheque system. Today's rude reminder is a notice of charges for recent deposit of a Eurocheque made out in sterling: £10.44 grabbed by the issuing Swiss bank and £10 more by Girobank here. Grr. • Richard Bleiler e-mails an invitation to write for his new Scribner's reference book, a fantasy/horror companion to the 1999 edition of Science Fiction Writers. Sounds promising – though suddenly I recall that contributors to the former book were promised the CD-ROM edition as added incentive, a pledge never fulfilled.

19 Dec. Langford office activity is closing down in favour of preparations for a Christmas escape to North Wales, far from phones and e-mail. 'And far from work,' says Hazel menacingly, little knowing that one holiday book – John Barnes's The Merchants of Souls – is a review assignment for Nova Express. • Oops, forgot this. At my height of manic overwork this year, NESFA Press requested an introduction for a Tom Holt omnibus, and I pleaded gibbering inability. Later NESFA struck back with the idea that I should write about Tom in the programme book for Boskone 2002, where he's a guest and the omnibus will be launched. Am feeling guilty about past lapses (there was also a BFS Holt booklet for which I didn't write the intro owing to lack of time and a silly deadline), so summon all my failing powers and two hours later send off a distinctly cobbled-together eulogy of the great man....

20 Dec. Away to Harlech for a week of escape from Christmas. SF moment at Reading station, where a poster proclaims the Revised Leaf Fall Timetable. Didn't they have something of the sort in Dragonflight? The train journey is tranquil until Machynlleth and the arrival of a young woman who passes the time playing through her mobile phone's entire repertoire of excruciating ring tones. We feel something like nostalgia for this merely local annoyance when the carriage fills up with what seems to be a whole school's worth of shrieking children. Focus grimly on very difficult Xmas crossword puzzle, expected to occupy both of us for days, and am slightly embarrassed to reach Harlech with the thing practically finished (also, with a mild headache). • Read: Lloyd Alexander's Westmark (1981), first in a fantasy trilogy but – as with each book of the Prydain sequence – telling a complete story. Brief and breathlessly told: the young hero begins as a printer's devil in an alternate medieval-European world, and a bit more about his craft and training wouldn't have come amiss before the adventures begin. The traditional trope of a good but ailing king needing to be rescued from the influence of a scheming minister is complicated by a nascent anti-monarchist movement with a charmingly charismatic leader. • Reread: Gerald Kersh, Clean, Bright and Slightly Oiled (1946), his lively wartime memoirs – or rather, the first volume. Two more were promised but never appeared. Start dipping into: Avram Davidson, The Other Nineteenth Century (2001), tasty period stories which are huge fun to read but for all their brilliance can be overly slight or cryptic. For example, the semi-supernatural 'Buchanan's Head' assumes that the reader will not only know all about the critic Buchanan belabouring Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites in his 1872 article 'The Fleshly School of Poetry ...' but will be sufficiently acquainted with the intensity of this forgotten feud to accept it as the mainspring of one of those Hideous Sources of Psychic Contamination so very common in occult fiction. (Henry Wessells, here and elsewhere, explains the obscurer allusions in an afterword.)

21 Dec. Dipped into: James Agate, The Selective Ego, a 1975 selection from this theatre critic's nine majestic volumes of mingled diary, autobiography and scrapbook, published from 1935 to 1948 and endlessly browsable; somehow we have the originals in Reading and the selection in North Wales. New acquisition from shopping trip to Porthmadog: John Mortimer, Rumpole Rests His Case (2001). The mixture as before, with the indefatigable barrister dealing with characteristic twists on topical themes like asylum seekers, home-owners shooting intruders, TV shows inflicting trendy redecoration on hapless homes, and MPs battling against soft drug use by anyone but themselves. Genial entertainment.

22 Dec. Have I read this before? Agatha Christie, The Body in the Library (1942), traditional Miss Marple tat which openly admits that the title situation is already so far gone in cliché as to be a joke, but is less self-aware about the usual unnaturally symmetrical circle of suspects with carefully variegated motives. Oh, and there's a small boy who loves detective stories: 'I've got autographs from Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie and Dickson Carr and H.C. Bailey.' • Found in expedition up the steep frosty lane to Harlech village and castle: Arthur Marshall (who turns up quite a lot in charity shops here), Follow the Sun (1990), posthumous collection of his comic essays, many still chuckleworthy. • Apropos of nothing I suddenly have an idea for the next SFX column, which is just as well since although they still haven't issued any new copy dates since October the thing must be due in early January. Make furtive notes on Psion palmtop. Hazel: 'Are you working?' • Reread: John Barnes, One for the Morning Glory (1996), a skewed fairytale fantasy that I still find charming, not least for dislocations of language that seem to outrage some genre pundits (well, Jo Walton). In this world one wears a triolet rather than a doublet, and tucks the small firearms known as pismires into one's swash, a clothing accessory which must of necessity be buckled....

23 Dec. Snow. Only a thin layer of sugar-like grains, but undeniably snow. Me: 'Wonderful!' Hazel: 'Ugh!' Thus the attitudes of the freelance dilettante who loiters at home and the civil servant who walks a mile and a half to work. Heroically trudge out to investigate regular Sunday car boot sale in lower Harlech, but it seems to have been cancelled. That's enough exercise for today. • Read, another one from local junk or charity shops: Iris Murdoch, The Bell (1958). Weird combination of alarmingly plausible emotional frictions – centred on a weird lay community attached to a nunnery – and unreal physical action involving grandiose schemes to haul a huge old bell out of a lake to be substituted for the new bell whose arrival at the nunnery is for no very likely reason the subject of excited press attention. High marks for effective picturing of bad relationships, low marks for old-fashioned suspension of disbelief. Clute Choice for favourite overused word: 'rebarbative'. • Time to start rereading an oldie about which I may have to pontificate in 2002: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (1954-5), first read in an epic nine-hour session when I was seventeen. Even then, I thought the Tom Bombadil episode was a bit much.

24 Dec. Draft SFX column as previously sketched out. Very soothing to know I have something to send if the editor demands instant gratification, as has been known to happen at awkward times of year. • Sprawled in determined inactivity, Hazel and I are both reading epic fantasies – more LOTR for lowbrow me, and the Aeneid for her. On finishing the English translation, she starts again with the Latin text. I do not propose to try Tolkien in the original Anglo-Saxon.

25 Dec. Lots of picturesque snow, but at the proper distance, i.e. on the mountains of Snowdonia well to our north. It's sunny in Harlech, luring us out for a long Christmas walk over miles of near-deserted beach. This features an art installation of almost Turner Prize quality: two stuffed rubber gloves and a baseball cap arranged to give the impression that some unfortunate tourist has sunk almost out of sight into the sand. • Traditional Christmas dinner somewhat complicated by the tiny flat's cooking facilities: twin electric rings and a midget microwave. This year's solution is turkey steaks sliced from a vast boneless lump intended for roasting, and pan-fried. Yum. • Lazy holiday reading veers between the Davidson collection (which has some real gems), C.S. Forester's tales of Hornblower as midshipman and lieutenant (these are old friends) and the rest of The Lord of the Rings (still a rattling good story despite my three decades' accumulation of cavils and second thoughts). Haven't yet ventured to open the novel I'm actually supposed to be reviewing.

26 Dec. The snow has come closer in the night, covering local as well as distant hills and – to Hazel's disgust – sprinkling lower Harlech with a thin but visible layer of white. It's therefore particularly heroic that Hazel the snowphobe should come with me on the traditional Boxing Day haulage of bottles, newspapers, etc to the recycling bank, struggling through hellish drifts sometimes towering whole millimetres above the pavement. • All shops closed, as would not be the case in Reading. Indeed the local greasy spoon has shut down for the whole winter, with a placard in its door warning that 'Pukka Pies Are Best CLOSED'. Probably they are. • Finish Davidson and move to a real piece of Victoriana: Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868), one of whose narrators describes an institution closely resembling some sly Davidson pastiche ... 'the Mothers'-Small-Clothes-Conversion Society. The object of the excellent Charity is – as all serious people know – to rescue unredeemed fathers' trousers from the pawnbroker, and to prevent their resumption, on the part of the irreclaimable parent, by abridging them immediately to suit the proportions of the innocent son.' Unfortunately The Moonstone's fame as a notable early detective novel means that anyone even vaguely familiar with the critical literature knows its central secrets (laudanum, somnambulism, amnesia); but there is more, and it's an interesting piece of construction. • Bedtime reading: Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).

27 Dec. Up before dawn to prepare the flat for an empty period (who knows when we'll be back?) and catch the 0843 train for Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Reviewing duty calls: John Barnes, The Merchants of Souls (2001), sequel to A Million Open Doors and the ultimately rather depressing Earth Made of Glass. • Smooth transit until Wolverhampton, where time passes as trains are cancelled or prove inadequate: a great groan goes up all along the crowded platform when one long-awaited train arrives with just two carriages, both so crammed that passengers are literally spat out when the doors open. Much later, we end up playing reservation hopscotch in a carriage whose every seat is doubly or even triply reserved: with this train running over an hour late, I reckon I'm safe in grabbing a seat booked between Birmingham International and Reading, but not so. End up perusing more John Barnes while perched on the luggage rack. It would be true if unfair to claim that reading this book gave me a pain in the bum.

28 Dec. Mounds of post to be dealt with. BT, full of festive spirit, always likes to send a huge phone bill as close as possible to Christmas, and the domain registration is also up for renewal. More cheering are comp. copies from various publishers: SFX, Prospect magazine (reprinting 'Different Kinds of Darkness', renamed 'The Shudder Club' by editorial fiat, and with a free 0.2 euro coin stuck on the front), and a Tor proof of James White's Alien Emergencies – assembling three Sector General books (Ambulance Ship, Sector General and Star Healer) with an introduction by some guy called Langford. All these are cast aside in favour of reading Acnestis 107. • Long walk to collect undeliverable (on 22 Dec) parcel, which as we predicted contains the traditional Christmas bounty from my aunt in Cornwall: clotted cream. Now more like clotted Stilton.

29 Dec. Slump, sprawl, eat, drink, do crosswords. The Private Eye Xmas special is as usual full of clues laden with filthy innuendo leading to innocuous answers, but I'm embarrassed to recognize that the unclued 99-letter puzzler is (flashback to Michael Green anthology of rugby songs passed around Newport High School 35 years ago) the opening of that vile ballad 'The Good Ship Venus'. Hazel gives me a Look.

30 Dec. Much like the 29th, really. Catch up on thousands of Usenet messages; half the regulars in rec.arts.sf.fandom are banging on enthusiastically about The Lord of the Rings. 'Only when I saw it for the sixth time did I notice the subtle ...' etc.

31 Dec. New Year dinner party at Farah Mendlesohn's and Edward James's place just up the road. A jolly evening despite absence of various unfortunates stricken with illness or travel difficulties. Gather that Adam Roberts is less than popular in some sf circles (see Carl Freedman's SF Studies review as reproduced by A.M. Butler in Acnestis 106), reminding me of an odd missive from Mike Moorcock: 'Other site well worth checking out for its fiction is Revolution SF, which has a fine piece on The Red Poppy, American crime fighter against capitalist crooks from the Daily Worker, 1930s. Great, knowing spoof by local author (Austin) who knows his US Reds a lot better than most. China Miéville and I immediately wanted to write Red Poppy stories. Both these sites seem heavy on humour, I fear. We even have a link to Adam Roberts. But someone said that was carrying the joke too far. I have a nice new shiny little bête noire for myself. You can't hate your old enemies when they start getting rheumatism and heart bypasses. You need a few new healthier ones. I pick Roberts. And don't tell me he has leukaemia. My enemies usually take at least a year to start feeling the symptoms.' Oh dear!

1 Jan. Happy New Year, everyone. Glum news that Jack 'Jay' Haldeman, Joe's brother and also a very nice fellow, has gone into a hospice since – writes daughter Lori – 'his battle is almost over'. And he's only 60. Later: see Ansible. • Start reading: John Barnes, A Million Open Doors (1992), to check on the background of this series. The title of part one, 'Canso de Fis de Jovent' (in the invented Romance language of the hero's culture), reminds me of rumours that JB wanted this to be the novel's title but was tactfully dissuaded.

2 Jan. Back to work, with new Infinite Matrix instalment due today and the SFX column to be polished up. Oh, the wild joy of issuing one's first VAT invoice of the new year! • A little programming for a change, writing a quickie Windows utility to convert e-mail addresses to HTML character codes as recommended by Eric Lindsay for 'mailto' links on web pages: the link still works but the address is less visible to automated harvesting 'bots' run by spammers. • More programming, less fun: an Ansible Info customer complains that merely by ignoring all instructions for installation and use, it is possible to make our PCW disk copying utility stop with an unfamiliar error message. Insert further software tests to guard against the staggeringly unlikely, nay, cretinous situation described.

3 Jan. Routine. Eileen Gunn sends her Infinite Matrix contract, which to my delight calculates that payment at 25¢ per word means $250 for a 500-word contribution. Could this be why enterprises so notoriously fail? When I nobly reveal all this, there are hasty instructions about tearing up cheques and awaiting the replacement. • Bright idea: maybe Interzone might run the James White intro as an article, if there's no objection from Tor Books? Make enquiries.

4 Jan. Some encouragement in the post: issues 2 and 3 of the long-awaited Steam Engine Time; the first Cosmos Books royalty statement for The Complete Critical Assembly and Guts, accompanied by an actual cheque; payment at last for that Independent obit of Josh Kirby; and four more copies of Prospect with my story, each having a different euro coin stuck to the cover. Collect the set. Prospect, by the way, echoes the Tanya Brown School of Langford Criticism by giving me a blurb that mentions Harry Potter.... • Thick frost and general gloom oozing through the office window all day. As we say here at 94 London Road, I feel seasonally disaffected.

5 Jan. HugeSouthAmericanRiver stirs from hibernation at last and sends the new Tom Holt, Falling Sideways, for review. Ought to do The Merchants of Souls first, but am suffering a kind of blurry uncertainty about this one. • David Pringle is interested in the White intro and Tor don't mind, so a copy is duly e-mailed. • Manage at last to focus on my problem with the Barnes review, which is that the ostensible political crisis that drives his story is all smoke and mirrors, a cover-up for very different machinations whose revelation I find faintly disappointing but which it seems unfair to discuss in detail when the book has only just been published. Solution: a remote handling device in the form of an analogy with Anthony Price's spy novels, which seems to convey the needed point without massive spoilers. • Reread: Barry Pain, The Problem Club (1919), thanks to an article on it in Steam Engine Time, and R. Austin Freeman, The Stoneware Monkey (1938), in the wake of a short essay on Freeman's sleuth Dr Thorndyke e-mailed by Stu Shiffman.

6 Jan. Finish drafting Barnes review. Phew. • Maureen is arriving today to stay here for a children's-lit conference in Reading, and so I guiltily start thinking about Acnestis mailing comments. Before I can think too hard the doorbell rings, and we all pass the evening in frivolous chatter.

7 Jan. Ought to be reviewing the new Tom Holt drollery, Falling Sideways, just sent by Amazon. Instead do software order (yet another ghastly old Ansible Info package) and plug stuff into Ansible 174 until it's only four lines short of publishability. Eventually manage to bolt down the Holt before Maureen's late return from excesses of academe and dinner.

8 Jan. Jitters at the breakfast table: Maureen has to deliver her paper on Alan Garner today, Hazel faces the prolonged, exhausting and (she suspects) utterly pointless Civil Service ritual of Big Statistics Day, and I need to dash off a light-hearted review before a grim confrontation with the dentist. Tom Holt has become the copy of Punch in the waiting-room of fear. • Some cheer: the first 2002 issue of the Japanese sf magazine subtly titled SF Magazine (in Japanese) turns up with a translation of 'Different Kinds of Darkness' at the back, i.e. as the lead story. Unfortunately I didn't think to submit it to them, and they approached F&SF, which thus gets the fee. Oh well. • Draft, redraft, and send off various reviews. Fudge up four lines for Ansible 174, get the thing printed in town, try to spend BSFA prize voucher on The Wind Singer but WHS don't have it so buy Mortal Engines instead, find The Wind Singer hugely discounted at Waterstone's, consider going home and hiding under the bed, think better of it, and let's draw a veil over the visit to the dentist. • Maureen returns covered with glory after her presentation, and we all make the epic 100-yard journey across London Road for tandoori.

9 Jan. Comparing SF Magazine with the Japanese edition of War in 2080 enables me to recognize my name on the front (i.e. back) cover. Whoopee! There's some guy called Baxter in there too. • Farewell to Maureen, hello to late postal delivery with newly photocopied Ansible Info manuals from Chris Priest: another software order goes off. So does the on-line Ansible 174; soon countless fans are telling me why Moorcock is wrong about Tolkien, while a few report this issue's cock-up: it's Wendy Graham who edits FTL, not erstwhile Interzone TV reviewer Wendy Bradley. Oops. I blame Fear of Dentistry.

10 Jan. Interzone column sent. Still catching up on things put off during 2001 deadline hell and Xmas hols: today it's the optician. After the eye test a sinister Italian-accented salesman conveys that a face like mine urgently needs a fashion makeover involving designer frames like teensy little letterbox slots. Hold out for usual large lenses, but the quoted price still plunges me into gloom. Defer the grim decision and sulkily decide to end this Cloud Chamber here. More in our next.

Random Reading

OJRIL (Old Jokes and Ridiculously Irrelevant Links): The Completely Incomplete Graham Chapman ed Jim Yoakum (1999), previously unpublished scripts with an unexpected, at least by me, bit of sf bibliographical interest. 'Our Show for Ringo Starr', a never filmed sf-comedy vehicle for the eponymous Beatle, was scripted with Douglas Adams around 1974 and contains the first iteration of the 'Golgafrincham B Ark' material later used in Hitch-Hiker's Guide. Not a lot of people wanted to know that. • Clive James, Even As We Speak: New Essays 1993-2000 (2001), a mixed bag ranging from ponderously worthy (immense review of Hitler's Willing Executioners) to cringe-making (obituary of his great pal Princess Di); several good pieces, some ephemera. • Also various soothing rereads. Still haven't finished Heretic II....

Mailing 107, December 2001

Chris P. The research bibliography for The Separation is full of fascination, like the famous 'Prestige Workshop' of yore, and makes me guiltily remember that we acquired eleven volumes of Churchill on WWII (one missing) with this house and I still haven't read them. • Alan S. Not having More Annotated Alice (1990), I can't compare this with the 2000 'Definitive Edition'. Martin Gardner's introduction to the latter says that, owing to intransigent publishers, MAA is a sequel to the 1970 revision of The Annotated Alice (with post-1970 notes only) rather than the updated edition he'd have preferred, and only in 2000 was it permitted that 'the notes from both Alice books be combined'. • Andy S. My review copy of Zenith the Albino lacks pages 189 to 220 and so is even more breathlessly told than yours, until it calms down a bit with a second copy of pages 221 onward. I too wondered whether 'Anthony Skene' was an invention, but he's listed in John Clute's records as a contributor to the Sexton Blake canon and the 1930s UK sf magazine Modern Wonder, and also as a screenwriter for The Prisoner – but the last, as mentioned in the Zenith front matter, was a different Skene. • Cherith. I've long been fond of Randall Garrett's 'Lord Darcy' fantasy detections, both for the ingenious systematization of forensic magic and the deadpan nods to the detective genre. It was nice to realize (without any joky nudging from Garrett) that the immensely fat Marquis of London, who never leaves his palace, and his legman Lord Bontriomphe, are this timeline's Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin; and that some of the stories offer more or less sardonic comments on the plot devices of such well-known crime novels as Busman's Honeymoon, The Judas Window, and Murder on the Orient Express. • Paul K. Thanks once again for the hero work of grading those immense wads of Year's Best collections, and incidentally for a judiciously balanced paragraph on my own story which cheered me more than the outrageous flattery from some quarters. • Tanya. I greatly appreciated the BBC Online insight about the foul anorak-clad geekishness of films which contain back-story. That should purge a lot of stuff from the cinematic hall of fame, beginning with Citizen Kane. • Jae. Although your own comment doesn't quite imply this, a number of people seem to have read 'no Ansible at London first-Thursday meetings' as 'no Ansible at all'. I'm still pottering along happily enough with all the other outlets (post, Acnestis, vast e-mail list, newsnet, web site). Good luck to anyone who wants to produce a regular replacement for London pub distribution. • Ian S. Agree entirely with your assessment of Chasm City. • Gary D. The trouble for me with lists of films, even droll lists of boring ones, is that they leave me feeling blank because I've seen so few – in this case Citizen Kane (which I quite liked) and Tron (ho hum). Am not a theatre-goer either, but will surely buy the script of Michael Frayn's Copenhagen. • Maureen. Ahh, the rats, the rats in the walls. Coincidentally, my old pal Adrian Smith wrote on his Christmas card, 'Rats in Walls are a bad idea – ours stole 4 apples and ate my modem lead yesterday!' I enjoyed the Pullman book I Was a Rat! no end for its obvious high spirits throughout, and may even have said so in Acnestis. [11-1-02]