Cloud Chamber 126
February 2002

11-25 Jan. Lost track of the diary entries for a bit, alas. Just as well, perhaps: there's always this looming temptation to make a routine day sound untruthfully exciting, or even to do something unusual for the sake of livening up the record. • Books read for review in this period: Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, The Science of Discworld II: The Globe; John Whitbourn, Downs-Lord Doomsday, concluding that darkly witty trilogy; Steve Aylett, Only an Alligator, read with some sympathy for the relevant reviews editor's comment 'if I didn't know he was a young writer I'd say he was some kind of severely damaged ex-hippy acid casualty.'; Bruce Durie, The High History of the Holy Quail, self-published reissue of a not very funny comic fantasy released through a vanity press in 1998 (and slaughtered in Vector); Jonathan D. Lindley, Iy Correction, desperately turgid sf saga which despite the title is not about dyslexic opticians; Stephen William Theaker, Quiet, the Tin Can Brains are Hunting!, a distant and even more pointless sequel to his silly Professor Challenger in Space; A.D. Nauman, Scorch, unrelievedly gloomy treatment of dystopian corporate themes handled with rather more panache by Pohl & Kornbluth in The Space Merchants (1953). The last four were forced down for corrupt personal gain because SFX wanted another small press review feature. Glub. • Other work: several software orders and a couple of days correcting the proofs of The Wyrdest Link, text sent on disk at Gollancz's request yet now mysteriously littered with errors ('Patchett', 'univesity', 'laywer') that imply it's been rekeyed from the MS despite loud editorial insistence that this Definitely Did Not Happen. Strange are the ways of publishing. • Good cheer in the post: The New York Review of SF (Jan 2002) with my review feature, Weird Tales (Winter 2001-2) with my first short story to appear in ages; and US and Japanese reissues of Steve Jones's Lovecraftian anthology Shadows over Innsmouth, in which I also have a story. The last two are accompanied by ... royalties! • On the 25th I issue my tenth VAT invoice of 2002 (muted cheers), and assimilate the dread news that HugeSouthAmericanRiver wants me to review not only Ben Bova's The Asteroid Wars II: The Rock Rats but a Star Wars spinoff by Alan Dean Foster. Think of the money, lad, think of the money.

28 Jan. Monday. Where did the weekend go? Swallowed by the latest Discworld novel draft, Night Watch, which turned up as a vast e-mail attachment. Extensive first-pass report despatched to Terry Pratchett by late Sunday afternoon.

1 Feb. The rest of the week has been eaten by another and more detailed examination of Night Watch, prolonged debate with Terry over plot points (e.g. initial ending scrapped and replaced by a tougher, better scene), reviews of the Bova and Foster epics, etc. Now I should reread Jonathan Carroll's Voice of Our Shadow for a piece in SFX, but feel too knackered. • Much taken by the subtlety of future politics in the Bovaverse, I have furtively copied a paragraph to Maureen: 'Jatar Pahang was not only the world's most popular video star, she was also the mistress of Xu Xianqing, chairman of the world government's inner council, and his secret envoy to Stavenger and the government of Selene.' She Who Copyedits replies: 'Ah yes ... I remember that bit, she said gloomily.' • Men are putting up scaffolding next door and the computer monitor has been on the blink for days, giving a general sense of doom-ladenness and End Times. Time to buy a new system?

3 Feb. Sunday. Further commentary on further draft of Night Watch; Terry assures me I am now Officially Stood Down re editorial feedback on this one. • Write-up of Voice of Our Shadow despatched to SFX. • Now writing on a rejuvenated computer, having found that the dodgy little shop a couple of minutes' walk away sells 17" monitors for trifling sums. Now it's all bigger, brighter and – the important point – not hideously distorted by a failing CRT. • Next door, the dishevelled back garden is being grubbed up by a JCB, trees and all, presumably to be made into a car park. There goes the view from my office window. Mordor encroaches.

4 Feb. A relapse into software obsessiveness. Looking up Alan Dean Foster in the SF Encyclopedia CD-ROM while drafting that review, I'd found that the end of his entry and attached bibliography were both missing. Grolier's text conversion had glitched at the superscripted figure in Aliens3. A little rejigging of the Langford SFE viewer software adds a (temporary) routine to trawl through all 6732 entries, skipping those flagged as mere cross-references and reporting 'major' entries lacking a closing credit like [JC] for John Clute. Several Grolier cock-ups come to light, and I have to dig out the original SFE documents from 5 1/4 " disks to restore text in not only FOSTER but ANTIMATTER, Charles N. BROWN, MONSTERS, NUCLEAR POWER (2 1/2 columns lost after the exponent in E = mc2) and more.... • Next door the accursed builders return to their favourite tradition of foul-smelling bonfires fed with old sofas, damp greenery, soiled underwear, etc. Will they beat their previous record of 15 days' vile smouldering?

5 Feb. David Pringle at last agrees to run my James White omnibus introduction in Interzone. Exceedingly modest fee, but extra cash for an already commissioned and paid-for article is sheer jam. • Tinker with a rather unsatisfactory draft column for SFX 90. Wonder if some small press might do a book of the first 100 columns, assuming I get that far?

6 Feb. Mention of Erich von Däniken in rec.arts.sf.fandom leads naturally enough to Colin Wilson and a splendid outburst from Ken MacLeod: 'Colin Wilson's work is where bad ideas go when they die. It's the damp patch on the floor at the shallow end of the meme pool. It's the second-hand bookshop from hell. It's the flea on Madame Blavatsky's baboon.' • Remember I'm doing a Live Thog Show at Lionel Fanthorpe's '50 Years of Famous Me' event on the 9th. Fiddle with notes....

7 Feb. Crowded day. Good stuff: New Scientist with my Egan review, news from agent that Big Engine royalties due by 31 Jan have arrived, and annual royalty statement on The Necronomicon – still, incredibly, selling in (especially) French and Japanese editions after 24 years. • Finalize Ansible and get it printed locally, with many a gloat that I'm not going into London for a pub meeting in today's miserable weather.

8 Feb. Visit my mother in Newport en route to ...

9 Feb. Cardiff, and Lionel Fanthorpe's event. He's been in print (not, I think, continuously) since 1952, now claims 250 published books, and it's his 67th birthday. Characteristically, despite guests like Terry Pratchett, Jack Cohen, Colin Wilson, Guy N. Smith, Bob Rickard of Fortean Times, and even myself, the entertainment consists largely of Lionel reminiscing, singing his own songs, declaiming his own poetry, acting in his own plays, regaling audiences with allegedly unsolved Fortean mysteries, and reading from the slim volumes of religious consolation which form much of his latter output. By then I'm safely in the bar, having earlier found myself trapped at the front when there proved to be no interval between the opening presentations and the RLF Musical Interlude. Try to imagine his song inspired by 'The Cold Equations'....

11 Feb. Write SFX 90 column based on the above, so the one I drafted on 5 Feb can be polished over the next few weeks for SFX 91. • Disagreeable moment later in central Reading: can it be the latest droll urban sport for teenaged yobs in parked cars to beckon passers-by from the open window as though wanting directions, and then chant (oddly childish) abuse before driving off at speed?

12 Feb. I've been putting this off rather: final tax accounts for my late father, which should bring my mother a refund of about £1,000. • Tinker with Fortean Times column sent to Bob Rickard in December: he's lost it and I've thought of a new bit of silliness to insert, so we both want resubmission. Bob writes: 'I don't know if you were there for Colin Wilson's well-lubricated lecture ... if so, you heard him single me out, loudly. "Poor old Bob Rickard is groaning," he said. "He's heard it all before." I don't think I groaned so much as nodded off and Colin must have interpreted my drooling slump as some kind of sarcasm.' Yes, I suffered the same embarrassing tendency to doze off as the erstwhile Angry Young Man went on about The Atlantis Blueprint and absolute proof of high-tech civilization 100,000 years ago, the most important bits of which proof had apparently been cut from the text by a collaborator who got cold feet or was visited by Men In Black or something, so the really hot stuff won't appear until Colin's next book. Audience attentiveness sharpened no end when Terry Pratchett replaced Colin at the mike.

13 Feb. Wondering how the Andromeda Bookshop creditors' meeting is doing today.... • Time to send this issue of CC to Maureen. I think the diary could do with a rest now.

Random Reading

Chris Wooding, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray (2001), alternate-Victorian fantasy shading into horror: very effective and gruesomely inventive, much enjoyed. The 'haunting' is actually possession of the title's afflicted girl, by the returned spirit of a dreadful old woman called Thatch: h'mm! A certain amount of fast talking is needed to gloss over just why the occult Fraternity – represented as largely upper-middle-class Masonic types who are doing very nicely out of their power and influence – should be trying so hard to summon the Horribles from Beyond and end their own cosy world. • William Nicholson, The Wind Singer (2001), mostly interesting and worthy, though I've seen a few too many of these inexhaustible fantasy armies which emerge more or less literally from nowhere when a culminating menace is required, and vanish even more literally into dust at a wave of the appropriate plot coupon. • You will detect that I'm trying to catch up on Children's Lit recommendations: have also bought Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines (2001) as instructed, though agreeing with others here that the hype about the originality of mobile cities seems a little strange to fans of Chris Priest's Inverted World. Or Greg Bear's later variation on the theme in Strength of Stones. Or, come to think of it, James Blish's Cities in Flight. • Lemony Snicket, The Miserable Mill (2000), following the established formula but with bizarre ornamentation like the perversely Carrollian opening wrangle over what the first sentence of the book is, the mere name of the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, the reflections on how to read vital books written in a jargon you don't understand, and the manifestation of the sinister Count Olaf in drag. Much unedifying fun.

Mailing 108, January 2002

AMB. It's a pity, really, that the most egregious Jack Chalker/Mirage Press description of the BSFA should have been changed before Thog could pillory it. Oh well. • Damien W. I was fascinated by the account of the Moomin cartoon strips, evoking that familiar sense of having missed an awful lot when young: the whole Tove Jansson thing, for example, all those Arthur Ransome 'Swallows and Amazons' stories, most of E. Nesbit, all of Edward Eager, etc etc. However, I was well briefed on Biggles, Dr Dolittle, the Famous Five, Jennings, and Richmal Crompton's William. • A Rex Stout bibliography? See Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers, whose latest edition (circa 1997) is retitled St James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers. Easily found in large libraries here. Also, Rex Stout: A Biography (1977) by John McAleer is long, flatulent and crammed with unnecessary detail, such as just how many days Stout spent writing each book, but includes a basic bibliography. • Cherith. Congratulations on the BSFA Award nomination! Well counted, that Tanya! • The story/plot distinction ('The king died and then the queen died' supposedly converted from story to plot by adding 'of grief') is from E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel (1927). • Bruce G. I have a shameful tendency to admire epic productions like your Special Wyndham Issue and then silently file them for future reference. The Webster essay is top-notch. • KVB. I'm always amazed and delighted when anyone even notices my reviews in 'public' places like Foundation (here, of Gene Wolfe's knotty Return to the Whorl) – ta very much. • Maureen. I suspect the 'disputed book with God on its side' in the World Fantasy Awards was Tim Powers's Declare, which Diana Wynne Jones (who quoted that remark) greatly disliked and which tied for the novel award. Mind you, I've said nothing. • Yes, although I haven't read Linda Nagata's Deception Well I deduced from back-references in Vast that the latter was a sequel – confirmed by Brian Stableford's review of DW in The New York Review of SF. It's classic British publisher behaviour to begin the release of an ambitious and complex sf series with its second book. In 1996 Bantam UK tried to launch David Weber's not so ambitious 'Honor Harrington' sequence (Hornblower in space, they tell me) with its sixth title, which presumably flopped, since it was left to Earthlight to start afresh with book 1 more recently. • Jae. 'Keeping these bloody diary thingies is awfully seductive,' indeed. Am trying to win free of the insidious addiction. Am also still holding out, perhaps in vain, against going to see The Lord of the Rings.... • Chris P. I remember some of Charles Eric Maine's sf novels, read in my uncritical teens. (By the way, it's The Tide Went Out, not The Tide Goes Out.) Very plotty, but even then I winced at the science! For example, the eponymous radiation-contaminated chap in The Isotope Man (1955) is capable of fogging photographic film. This would be almost OK if a roll of film which he'd handled were affected in its entirety, but what Maine gives us is a group photo in which this man only is obscured by 'a grey ill-defined blur [...] like some nebulous kind of ectoplasmic aura'. • Am grateful for the moral support of those like you and Paul K and Maureen who are skipping the Jersey Eastercon. I've been there and done that, although I spent the 1993 event running the con newsletter, and I'm more inclined to attend smaller cons in 2002. • Paul K. Such heroism, taking on the chore of Acnestis statistics! I was so surprised to read I'd been in every 2001 mailing that I didn't quite believe it, and had to go and count. It's a fair cop, guv. • Thanks for the Pullman Clockwork commendation; book since acquired, read, enjoyed, PK comments agreed with. • Steve J. One of the least worst jokes in The High History of the Holy Quail involves getting a lift from a rustic who duly says, 'I had that Gandalf in the back of me cart once.' Almost before one's ribs have ceased to ache from that one, the driver is identified by the author as Jon the Carter and exits from the story in the direction of his home village Barsoom. What a card. [13-2-02]