Cloud Chamber 128
April 2002

Things are fraught here as my May deadline for Richard Bleiler's Supernatural Fiction Writers (Scribner's, 2nd ed) gets closer. One amusement as I worked through the relevant fiction of Brian Stableford was his avowed fondness for vampires and decadence. Brian, a creature of the night? Hazel went 'Yuk!' at his perfervid (his word) titles The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires and The Black Blood of the Dead, the latter indeed being a line from one of the French decadents. We both feel that on mere appearance Brian is rather an unconvincing acolyte of absinthe. Admittedly it gets a bit tongue-in-cheek on the back flap of Hunger and Ecstasy (1996):

'Like Baudelaire, he never wears any colors but black, yet he has a certain fondness for green carnations. Stableford is acutely aware of the fact that Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde died – lonely, miserable and almost universally despised – at 46; now that he is 47 he feels he is ahead of the game.'

Meanwhile the back cover has a large head-and-shoulders photo of Brian in which his only visible clothing is a very white shirt.... Maureen's e-mailed comment on all this was: 'Maybe if A.A. Milne rewrote bits of Wilde, Brian is what we would have ended up with.' I'm afraid this immediately suggested a scenario:

'Green carnations were growing among the thistles in Brian's Gloomy Place, a rather boggy and sad corner of the Café Royal. "That Accounts for a Good Deal," said Brian glumly as he read the royalty statement again. "It Explains Everything. No Wonder. The Only Thing Worse than People Reading One's Books is ... People Not Reading One's Books." He gave a long, sad sigh. "Somebody must have Remaindered it. How Like Them."'

(In another episode he is of course discovered living under the name of Sanders Melmoth.)

Science Corner. We've read about it in sf for decades: food that heats up by itself when you squeeze the container. Now at last I have seen the future, and it is remaindered.... Last year our local shop experimented with cans of self-heating coffee, unattractively priced. Not many had moved by the 28 Feb 2002 sell-by date; when they were marked down to 60p, Hazel and I decided we could afford to investigate. You press the button on the transparent base, shake the inverted can a bit until the red liquid inside vanishes (red for visibility rather than chemical necessity, we inferred, although there seems to be some alkali in there too), count off three minutes with the can right-side up, heave on the ring-pull and enjoy your coffee. The result wasn't quite up to Railtrack standards, and definitely not hot enough – five or six minutes might have been better, since the internal heating cylinder was active for at least that long.... How does it work? Ignoring all the can's prohibitions about tampering with things with which Man was not meant to meddle, we took it apart and confirmed that pushing the button simply punctures a foil seal and lets the red alkali solution into that central cylinder. Which, dashing our hopes of futuristic electrochemistry or subtly deployed fuel cells, merely contains a quantity of anhydrous calcium oxide. In other words (assumes silly Monty Python voice), I think it would be more appropriate if the can bore a large, red label: WARNING! QUICKLIME!

Letter from Germany. Hannes Riffel casts new light: 'I'm sitting here, sweating over the German translation of Appleseed, asking myself from time to time what kind of being writes such a book, when I finally find the answer in a novel older than myself. In Retief's War (If 1965; quotations from Retief!, Baen 2002) there is a thin trail on p369: "Here and there a ... blue and white Clute hurried", getting stronger on p372: "a dummy abdominal section from a defunct Clute ... disguised the short Terran torso." Some social habits are described on p459: "a cluster of blue and white Clute" (no plural-s there, mind you), and on p560, we finally get some words: "'Where'd they get those watchacallums, guns?' a Clute inquired. 'I ain't never hear of nothing like that before. Melt a fellow down before he gets in harpoon range.'" Hunters obviously, these Clute. I'm not sure this helped me much with Appleseed (thank god the author is still alive to do just that), but it may give us just the smallest idea about the origins of one of the finest minds of our centuries. Scary, isn't it?'

Mailing 110, March 2002

Chris A. The 'bad year for British popular culture' continues with Dudley Moore's untimely death. Those dialogues with Peter Cook (also in Beyond the Fringe, also dead) are timelessly funny. • I hope the SFX small press roundup review of Dead Ground is not such as to cause spontaneous horses' heads on my pillow. The piece was commissioned as a full page, and squeezed into half that space via the twin miracles of tiny type and a sub with a chainsaw. Oddly enough, only the Dead Ground coverage seems not to have suffered. • Steve J. Oh yes, the totally insane INTERCAL really exists as a computer language. You can find the technical specification on the web, and even various flavours of compiler. Its COME FROM (as opposed to GO TO) statement is an old computing gag which I first met in Stan Kelly-Bootle's 1981 The Devil's DP Dictionary, a splendidly silly and unreliable 'reference'. Sample definition:

'acuracy. Absence of erors. "The computer offers both speed and acuracy, but the greatest of these is acuracy." – Anon. doctoral thesis on automation, 1980.'

Small World Dept: Kelly-Bootle contributed to Manifold, the maths fanzine once co-edited by Ian Stewart. • Chris P. Just now I have an immense bibliography of research reading, but no novel to show for it. Input: the complete fantasy and supernatural fiction of B. Stableford and R. Holdstock. Result: reference-book essays totalling 8,000 words. • There seems to be a Be Horrid To Adam Roberts movement, or at any rate tendency, based partly on his book about sf (which I haven't read) and partly on alleged personal irritatingness; I've got no closer than having him pointed out to me at a Clarke ceremony. But I have read his first two books, and although I have mixed feelings about both, it's a different mix in each case; at the very least, anyone who didn't read On owing to dislike of Salt has missed a lot of oddball inventiveness and annoyingness which I didn't find at all predictable from the earlier book. • Chris H. The SFE definition of ALTERNATE WORLD notes that 'some writers and commentators prefer the designation "alternative world" on grammatical grounds', so you're in good company, but 'alternate' has been so often used that it's embedded itself in genre terminology. • Paul K. You fiend, you spend your entire contribution saying interesting things about books I haven't read – though I do want to read The Years of Rice and Salt and, now, The Metaphysical Club. • Ulrika. All sympathy on the prospect of being evicted by cruel Sir Jasper and cast out into the snow. Argh! • Everyone. Apologies. Time has run out, our gas supply has been cut off, and I've been denounced by Harlan Ellison. [13-4-02]