Cloud Chamber 132
September 2002

Well, gosh. I admit that I'd contemplated the possibility of a fan writer Hugo award at the San José Worldcon (although it seemed time for jaded voters to threw me out – as happened to perennial Best Editor winner Gardner Dozois). But for Ansible to win as well, out there in File 770 territory ... it is to boggle. Of course I'd prepared speeches for both categories, just in case.

Fan Writer – accepted by Martin Hoare: 'I know Dave Langford will be amazed and grateful that despite his efforts to alienate fandom by quoting all your favourite writers in Thog's Masterclass, you've still given him another Hugo. In fact I'm going to ring him right here from the stage, waking him up in the small hours of British time, and I'm betting he'll be stunned and astonished. [PAUSE FOR BUSINESS WITH PHONE] Yes, he says: "Dave Langford is amazed, stunned and astonished by this very welcome Hugo award. Please leave your message after the beep."'

Fanzine: Ansible – accepted by Tobes Valois, who I can only hope did not stagger on-stage nailed to a cross. 'Dave Langford thanks you all very, very much ... although he's begun to worry whether Ansible qualifies for the Fanzine Hugo. Its total circulation, including e-mail, is now something like three and a half thousand – and although he's a cheapskate, Dave sometimes buys his contributors drinks, so they get paid "other than in copies of the publication". These two embarrassing facts mean that according to the Hugo rules, Ansible is a semiprozine. When someone told Dave this, all he'd say was, "Look out, Charlie Brown, here we come!"'

• Meanwhile, my delight that Chris Priest and Bob Sheckley are guests at Interaction, the 2005 Worldcon in Glasgow, reminded me that long ago I begged various authors including Chris to write about Bob for a convention programme book....

Classic Reprints: Robert Sheckley

(Guest of Honour appreciations written for the programme book of Skycon, the 29th British Easter SF Convention, 1978)

Christopher Priest

One of the first science fiction books I ever read was a novel by Robert Sheckley called Pilgrimage to Earth. I had great difficulty in understanding the plot.

Chapter 1, called 'Pilgrimage to Earth', was about an innocent young man called Alfred Simon travelling to Earth to discover love. Chapter 2, called 'All the Things You Are', dealt with a completely different group of characters landing on an alien planet; Alfred Simon, whom I had grown to like and was worried about, was not even referred to in passing. Chapter 3, called 'Trap', was about a sort of trap that appears outside a cabin somewhere in the backwoods, and in which a variety of strange alien beasts keep appearing; still no sign of what had happened to Alfred. I read on, growing steadily more confused, but equally determined to see this thing through. The plot became ever more complex; the next chapter was about a man being turned into a dog. Not only had Alfred vanished from the story, but the spacemen in Chapter 2 had never reappeared, and at the end of Chapter 3 one of the characters had fallen into the trap, and I wanted to know what happened to him.

I was about halfway through the novel before I realised what now seems obvious. I was very young in those days, but I was also rather dim.

Some months later, when I had read every Sheckley book I could lay my hands on (because in spite of thinking it was a very advanced example of the avant-garde, I thought the individual 'chapters' were some of the best and funniest writing I had ever read), I realised that I had been behaving like a character in a Sheckley story: a none-too-bright young man, very resourceful, very determined, but with a paranoid hunch that someone in the universe was out to get him.

So from the beginning, Bob Sheckley's stories have always been special to me. For a long time, my notion of a good SF short story was in seeing how close it came to Sheckley's standard. Today, when I find most of the SF I discovered in the same period to be almost unreadable Sheckley is still one of my four or five favourite writers. Any book or magazine that includes one of his stories gets a guaranteed sale of at least one copy.

And don't forget his novels, the ones that really are novels. Dimension of Miracles, Immortality Inc, The Status Civilization, Journey Beyond Tomorrow ... they're all quintessential Sheckley. And there's one not many people have read, and it's one of his very best. It's called The Man in the Water, and it has been out of print since the early 1960's. Any publisher in his right mind would snap it up today. (I've got a copy, and it's a first edition, and it's autographed, and I would not part with it for a thousand pounds.)

There's a new novel, just out: The Alchemical Marriage of Alistair Crompton. Buy it now, while Bob's here to sign it for you.

I know as a fact that I'm not the only fan of Bob's writing; he is easily one of the most popular SF writers in the world. (In 1976, I was at a con with Bob in Metz, France. There was a book-signing session laid on in one of the shopping-streets. A whole row of science fiction writers sat at trestle-tables: Bob Sheckley, Harry Harrison, Theodore Sturgeon, Philip José Farmer and me. I sat for an hour, picking my nose and watching the girls walk by; Harrison, Sturgeon and Farmer did a respectable trade; the queue for Bob Sheckley stretched all the way round the cathedral and back again.) But here's a paradox for you: how many Hugos or Nebulas has he won? The answer, in short, is none. Search your conscience on this! Could it be that his books are so enjoyable they can't possibly be good? If that's so, then it's a grave miscarriage of justice, and none of those prizes are worth a damn. What I think actually happens is this: his books are overlooked because people take excellence for granted, and after the Hugo or whatever has gone to someone else, they kick themselves all round the room for not voting for him.

But the writing is only one side of Sheckley, and for a long time it was the only side I knew. Then, in 1975 – fifteen years after I read some stories in a book and thought they were the first chapters of a novel – I met Bob for the first time. Now I'm proud to say he's become a friend.

This is what he is like: he is gentle and genial, and very shy. If you want to meet Bob at this convention, the best place to look is behind pillars or under sofas. Then you'll see a craggy smile and crinkly eyes peering amiably towards you, and you will have found our Guest of Honour.

This convention is the first ever in Britain or America to honour him in this way. Not, if I may say so, before time. After enjoying some of the most inventive, witty and original science fiction for a quarter of a century, let's give a loud and hearty cheer for that!

Harry Harrison

What can one possibly say about Robert Sheckley? A lot if one believes the mewling cries of 17 ex-wives and the groans of investors who lost their all in AAA Ace Interstellar Investments. But investors – financial or marital – take their chances in the marketplace of life, so who is to blame this handsome, cold-eyed, scathingly witty genius of the pen? Not I, for who can blame a writer who still uses a pen in these days – not to mention a high stool, plastic shirtcuffs and a green eyeshade. If Sheckley seems a bit old-fashioned for an SF writer he is not to blame, for he has one of the finest minds of the thirteenth century. Yes, that is his secret. Longevity. Born in 1427, he has been writing ever since. It is not his fault that he could not sell until the middle of the twentieth century. Blame the foolish editors. But now the world and the future is his! Watch the words spluttering from his facile pen, as many as one or two a minute. Watch the books roll out – often one a century! Oh what joys the readers of 2178 have in store! As one who is old enough to be his father (I have my secrets too) I ask all at the Skycon to hail this genius of a writer, and wish him the best of many books to come.

Kingsley Amis

I once called Robert Sheckley 'science-fiction's premier gadfly' and this was rightly taken as indicating strong approval, but I don't think I had quite the word I wanted. A gadfly is a force that provokes you into doing something, whereas all Sheckley provokes you into doing is reading more Sheckley. What I was after was a way of conveying that quality of his by which he shakes you up, makes you revise your ideas of what's possible in science fiction, in literature as a whole and in the universe. Where other writers will do different things in different stories, Sheckley will do them in the same story. It must be over twenty years since I first read it, but I shall never forget the delightful shock of 'Specialist', which made me see that it's possible for a story to be ingenious, funny, touching, tense and powered by an idea that is squarely in the tradition of SF and at the same time completely original. Hail, master!

Brian Aldiss

... As for Sheckley, the man is eccentric, to say the least. I can recall an occasion when I happened to be in his room in a hotel in Rio de Janeiro, and saw to my horror that he was pouring water from a bucket out of the window. Going over to the window, I helped him steady the vessel and leaned out to see what was happening. Various writers of a dubious bohemian persuasion were standing below – or I should say hanging about below – among them J.G. Ballard and H. Harrison. Although I tried to wrestle the vessel from Sheckley's grasp, more water poured down on the scribblers below. They looked up and saw me, since when I don't question they think I have a lot to answer for. It was all Sheckley's fault.

However, when you are toasting that wolf-in-sheep's-clothing as GoH at Skycon, I, since toasted wolf is hardly my meat, will be Down Under at the Aussiecon. So I would like to contribute something, if only to get a copy of the programme as souvenir.... Sheckley is part of history now; he deserves all he gets.

Random Reading

Robert Charles Wilson, The Chronoliths (2001), one I'd meant to read many months ago owing to the intriguing premise, only for my copy to conceal itself deep in a pile of other guiltily unread books. As everyone who reads sf reviews now knows, the Chronoliths are gigantic monuments to an alleged future conqueror known as Kuin, which in 2021 begin to appear from nowhere – often crushing cities in the process. Made from impervious blue non-matter, they carry proleptic inscriptions commemorating Kuin's victories some 20 years after their arrival. In the not-so-good old days of sf, this threat plus the resulting scientific investigations and attempts to grapple with implicit paradoxes would have been regarded as quite enough to carry the novel. Robert Charles Wilson throws in extensive but painfully plausible family complications for the protagonist, a bleak dose of likely Realpolitik, and an all too credible youth cult of near-worship for the predestined (though, as years pass, still unidentified) conqueror Kuin. The cult's terror activities play as important a part as the scientists' insight when the story nears its climax, the first attempt to stop the materialization of a predicted Chronolith. By this point, causality has got itself into a Gordian knot of more or less mystic entanglement, and the satisfyingness of the payoff seems to depend on how far you're prepared to believe the offered interpretation. As the protagonist, by now writing as an old man, remarks in a coda: 'At least, that's what I prefer to believe. I'm old enough now to believe what I choose. To believe what I can bear to believe.' Good stuff, although that coda also includes a highly conventional sf indicator of new hope after the 'War of the Chronoliths' – a starship launch – which in the wake of all those intricate philosophical tangles seems just a mite easy and banal.

Lemony Snicket, The Unauthorized Autobiography (2002). This man follows me even to the far reaches of Snowdonia, wantonly turning up in a tiny Porthmadog bookshop.... As usual, comparisons with Edward Gorey come to mind. Besides the familiar macabre relish for terrible fates befalling or involving children in a weird milieu which is neither contemporary nor exactly historical, the present volume adds a dose of Gorey's habitual teasing incompleteness. In picture books like, for example, The Other Statue or The Awdrey-Gore Legacy, Gorey would present a series of sinister tableaux or stage properties that suggest a story, and tacitly invite the reader to follow the hidden connections ... at first providing small payoffs of satisfaction but ultimately leading us up the garden path to a tantalizing dead end. The Unauthorized Autobiography is laden with suggestive framing devices, manic lists, pointless digressions, disputed testimony, unhelpful diagrams, gloomily ambiguous photographs, and downright silly texts masking every-11th-word code messages. Overall, it builds up an atmosphere of what one might call comic dread while revealing remarkably little – although there is much confirmation of the fictional Snicket's complicity in the back-story of the books published under his name. Series fans wondering what V.F.D. stands for will find all too many possibilities here, none particularly likely to be the 'real' one.

However, this UK reprint – although extraordinarily and expensively produced, as a hardback whose front cover opens in the middle – deprives us of the US original's dust-jacket, as described by Yvonne Rousseau: 'Other passengers in the bus might have observed me reading a brightly jacketed little hardback entitled The Pony Party! by Loney M. Setnick. Its back-cover blurb begins: "Hey, Kidz! / Reading is fun, cool, educational, and this book is one of the most exciting ever!" On the inside flap of the back cover, the illustrator, Beth Quiltrest, has depicted herself in a wideskirted lace-hemmed dress, her stockings and high-heels eloquent in a tiptoe backward kick designed to give free play to the gigantic wide-ribboned first-prize rosette pinned at her waist. The accompanying bio-note explains: "BETH QUILTREST is always happy when she wins a contest. She says that illustrating the madcap adventures of the world's giddiest siblings makes her writhe with joy." • On the other hand – before I obeyed the instructions ("Disguising this book, and yourself if necessary, may be your only hope") on one side of the inside flap of this book's (reversible) front cover, fellow passengers would have seen me holding a duller brown-paper covered book entitled Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography ...'

I myself was reminded of The Book of Bond or Every Man His Own 007 by 'Lt-Col. William ("Bill") Tanner' – in fact Kingsley Amis – 'with reversible bookjacket for work in the field.' Reversing the jacket presents instead THE BIBLE Revised To Be Read As Literature, which would seem appropriately numbing if not for the small-print review extracts on the back. 'Ill-judged.' – Spettatore Romano. 'Compulsive family reading.' – Woman's Domain. 'Useful; but the later, more fanciful episodes might well have been dropped.' – Jewish Monthly.

Michael Innes, Lord Mullion's Secret (1981), a very late entry in the list of Innes detective entertainments, of which I reckon the best are among the first dozen, published from 1936 to 1946. Mildly witty social comedy about the privations of nobs compelled to open their stately home to the public twice weekly. The very slight strand of mystery concerns the sorting-out of a family tree and the status of a 'gardener's boy' whose naturally refined speech (oh dear, oh dear) betrays his upper-class lineage – a terribly old-fashioned trope which this author has used elsewhere, even when writing as serious, mainstream J.I.M. Stewart.

John Sutherland, Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet? Further Puzzles in Classic Fiction (1999) – more literary detection in the vein of Is Heathcliff a Murderer? and Can Jane Eyre Be Happy? After those two books, a certain scraping of the barrel can be detected. Of genre interest: 'Why isn't everyone a vampire?', examining Bram Stoker's fudging of the issue of vampire epidemiology. If, as stated, every victim becomes a vampire and proceeds to spread the infection, it would take an awful lot of van Helsings to contain the resulting exponential growth. A terse endnote acknowledges Anne Rice's use of the notion that something more than a passing suck – e.g. a transfusion of vampire blood – is required to confer vampirism. No mention, of course, of Brian Stableford's or indeed Terry Pratchett's considered extension of this to the logical conclusion (in The Empire of Fear and Carpe Jugulum respectively) that the vampire elite has every reason to keep the benefits of immortality and arcane powers to itself.

Keith Laumer, The Star Treasure (1971), an unexpected find in a Welsh charity shop. I expect solid sf action-adventure from Laumer, but this one was curiously disappointing. His heroes tend to take hard knocks and undergo some kind of transformation – e.g. into a cyborg or psionic superman – which ultimately saves the day. The trouble here is that the turning point is far too long delayed and inadequately foreshadowed. Our protagonist is one of the few men with integrity in a corrupt space navy which takes its orders from corporate bosses, a situation made so clear so early that one is left drumming one's fingers while the hero takes death-defying risks to bring news of what he regards as a mutiny to high officials who are also – surprise! – corrupt. Of course he's court-martialled, cashiered and despatched to the dread Prison Planet, but he still won't join the revolutionary cause owing to his unflinching integrity, and gets into deeper and deeper trouble, worse and worse exile, until at last he can only die alone from starvation and exposure. Then, on page 146 of 176, he's rescued by nice aliens who live undetected on the dread Prison Planet, is restored to health (p151), discovers the secret of the corporate bastards (p158), becomes a psionic superman (p160), humbles the entire corrupt space navy (pp166-7), zaps the leading corporate bastard although he too is a psionic superman (pp172-4), and semi-reluctantly accepts the role of master of the universe (pp175-6). When on form, Laumer could pace this kind of wish-fulfilment plot (and decorate it with tasty sideshow attractions) to produce a surprisingly palatable read. Not here, alas.

Stephen Baxter, Evolution (2002), yet another massive sf blockbaxter. This relentlessly dramatizes the history of the primates, from their big chance in the wake of the Dinosaur Killer comet impact 65 million years ago, to – with a little misdirection regarding a 2031 ecological crisis, which plot strand only seems to be the frame story – a final curtain some 500 million years in our future. Best typo in the proof, about an early primate: 'He looked much like a small femur.' Most alarmingly named 2031 eco-terrorist: 'British-born Gregory Pickersgill was the charismatic leader of the central cult; the worst kind of trouble – sometimes lethal – followed him around.' The author's presence is a little obtrusive in earlier sections where pre-sentients are surrounded by similes involving aircraft, bombs, or Leonardo da Vinci sketches. Creatures incapable of thinking, let alone thinking ahead, are reduced to apprehending the foreshadowed future 'on a deep cellular level'. I found myself, perhaps a little unfairly, constructing parodic sentences like: 'Had the primitive postpithecine Langf possessed the concept, he might have compared the grim expanse ahead to the length of an L. Ron Hubbard novel.'

Michael Gerber, Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody (2001), reissued by Gollancz in the same small hardback format as Bored of the Rings and subjecting J.K. Rowling to the identical BotR treatment: burying a very English original in silly mangled names, rapid-fire gags of varying relevance, and droll Americanisms ('Lord Valumart', ho ho). BotR, for all its utter crassness, was intermittently funny and got in a few shrewd critical jabs – '"Alas," Goodgulf [Gandalf] explained' – but Shameless Parody fails to reach even this standard. Gerber has apparently researched the phenomenon of humorous fantasy to the extent of spotting that Terry Pratchett does footnotes, and strews these around mercilessly without any visible concern for the fact that 'J.G. Rollins' (what a mirth-inducing twist on her name, to be sure) doesn't.

Clive Barker, Abarat (2002): I feel a bit like the skeleton at the feast here, since several people have recommended this highly to me, and the magical premise sounds pleasant enough – but somehow the book didn't engage me as it should. The escape from Midwestern small-town horribleness into a fantasy world is nicely handled, with an enchanted sea summoned to the boring grasslands. This sea contains a colourful archipelago whose major islands are each permanently at a different hour of the day or night. Interesting grotesques abound. One reason for my puzzling lack of interest may have been the introduction, amid all the more creative stuff, of a dreadfully wicked Dark Lord who lives – where else? – on the island of eternal midnight. Another is that with very few exceptions I dislike Clive Barker's paintings, here copiously reproduced in lavish colour on the glossy page, and incidentally stifling one's own imagination. For example, the Yebba Dim Day, the island at Eight in the Evening on the Straits of Dusk, which has been sculpted into a giant head, seemed promisingly evocative but according to me is a lumpish disappointment when at last we see the artist's impression. There are to be four books; maybe I'll give this another try....

Mailing 115, August 2002

Paul. I have a curious sense that you're disputatiously agreeing with me, or at least forgetting the context of my Fantasy Encyclopedia musings. These arose from suggestions here in Acnestis that the main run of current fantasy – call it the generic or heartland or routine stuff – got less FE attention or respect than more 'literary' material. I admit some playfulness in testing this against the not very sensible metric of entry length (and I didn't even get around to considering how this can be skewed by lousy but prolific authors whose entries are distended by sheer bibliography). But I thought it an amusing point that authors who deploy many routine fantasy themes in routine ways can lose out – in terms of this dubious wordcount metric – by getting a mere cross-reference to (say) the GRAIL theme entry rather than a paragraph about their innovative handling or development of said theme. As you say, 'The number of cross-references to standard fantasy tropes is indicative of the fact that rather than doing anything important, original, worthy, or even interesting, Jordan is simply using the conventions of genre fantasy in a remarkably conventional way.' Which is pretty much what I had in mind; maybe I should have added better irony indicators. (Was it Bernard Shaw who suggested leftward-leaning italics as the much needed typestyle 'ironics'?) To answer your final query, John Crowley gets nearly 1,600 words in the FE, to Jordan's 900. • Complete agreement regarding the virtues of The Separation. I wrote a commissioned review for HugeSouthAmericanRiver in mid-August and it still hadn't appeared on their site as I finish this in mid-September, whereas (and this will make Chris P nod gloomily) a later review of Robert Rankin was put on line without delay. But that's the only recent Langford review to have made it into visibility. HSAR editor Jon Weir merrily tells me, 'Review software is flakier than a Cadbury's Flake at the moment!' • Maureen. Despite sandy soil, Lower Harlech is well supplied with slugs of uncommon size, which emerge seemingly from nowhere at the first touch of rain or dew. So I think the parish council would regretfully decline the offered airlift of your own surplus. Diolch yn fawr, though. • Your note that Neil Gaiman seems 'preoccupied with doors that aren't really there' reminds me of the goddess's letter in Gene Wolfe's There Are Doors: 'You may see one, perhaps more than one, at least for a little while. It will be closed all around. (They must be closed on all sides.) It may be a real door, or just something like a guy-wire supporting a phone pile, or an arch in a garden. Whatever it is, it will look significant.' The hero is warned, 'You must not go through.' In the event, he's taken unawares – I think. • As for Margery Allingham, Yvonne Rousseau wrote to me with a mass of detail from the Julia Thorogood biography, confirming that The Beckoning Lady is full of roman à clef elements. The lady artist who has such awful tax problems is Allingham herself, the feckless partner 'Tonker' is her appalling husband Youngman Carter (who, besides a tendency to commit her to the loony-bin when her thyroid trouble played up, failed to pay his share of surtax and so caused a lot of the financial mess), and as for the murder victim: 'For the plot of her next novel, she decided to kill off her tax adviser.' • Chris H. I still haven't seen another SF Masterworks reissue since number 50, Eon. The Fantasy Masterworks continue, with the 32nd being Poul Anderson's 1954 The Broken Sword, received on 28 August. • Cherith. I had the same reaction to Bridget Jones's Diary when I leafed through it in the Criccieth Chapel Bookshop (motto: 'More grot than you can imagine! Our stock never changes!') in August. There seemed to be a basic lack of the claimed funniness. Perhaps it grows on people, but not apparently on you or me. • KVB. Your warning of rash-inducing caterpillars reminds me that I forgot to mention coming across a couple of splendidly huge and furry specimens, two or three inches long: the one in the Uncultivated Bits of Harlech seemed well able to look after itself, but the one attempting to cross the heavily trodden beach path was coaxed on to my Visa card and transferred to the safety of the undergrowth. So far the card has showed no signs of dissolving.... • Thanks for the accounts of A Barfield Reader and C.S. Lewis: Writer, Dreamer and Mentor. Barfield has always seemed to be the most elusive of the Inklings, a near-invisible presence even in Humphrey Carpenter's The Inklings (1978), as though Carpenter couldn't lay hands on his works and needed a copy of the then-uncompiled A Barfield Reader. Most of Barfield's output, for example, is relegated to a nine-line footnote which rather desperately includes such information as: 'Several of the books were published by Faber & Faber ...'

Bits & Bobs

Charles Platt sends what he calls the bon mot of the day: 'A friend notes that Harlan Ellison is much like life: "Nasty, brutish, and – what was the third adjective?"'

Sharp Quillets of the Law. A correspondent forwards e-mail about the Stella Awards, which I earnestly hope are as apocryphal as so many of the Darwin awards which seem to have inspired them. 'Stella Liebeck is the 81 year old lady who spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonald's. This case inspired an annual award for the most frivolous lawsuit in the U.S.' The nominees begin with '1. January 2000: Kathleen Robertson of Austin Texas was awarded $780,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The owners of the store were understandably surprised at the verdict, considering the misbehaving little bastard was Ms. Robertson's son.' And the winner: 'Mr. Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma City. In November 2000 Mr. Grazinski purchased a brand new 32 foot Winnebago motor home. On his first trip on the freeway, he set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver's seat to go into the back and make himself a cup of coffee. Not surprisingly, the Winnie left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Mr. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not advising him in the handbook that he couldn't actually do this. He was awarded $1,750,000 plus a new Winnie. (Winnebago actually changed their handbooks because of his court case, just in case there are any other complete morons buying their vehicles.)' Please, please, someone tell me this isn't so....

A million people rushed to assure me that it isn't. The case of Liebeck and her Coffee of Doom is well known, but all the supposed Stella Award finalists are fictitious. More information here.

Sex Toys. Several people have rushed to inform the pure-minded newsletter Ansible that Amazon US now sells an interesting Mattel toy that ties in with the Harry Potter stories, a Nimbus 2000 Broomstick (URL on request) which seems to be attracting a slightly older audience than was intended. Basically, it's something that you put between your legs and which – thanks to hidden batteries – vibrates. Some parents have nervously removed the batteries from their excitable children's Nimbus 2000s. Apparently Amazon have already 'deleted a few of the juicier customer comments about the item', but some of those that remain are still vaguely disturbing: 'I'm 32 and enjoy riding the broom as much as my 12 yr old and 7 year old. The vibrations, along with the swooshing sounds make for a very magical journey! It is a very durable toy, as well. My only complaint is, I wish the batteries didn't run out quite so quickly.' Coo er gosh.

The Discworld Convention in August was strange, but fun. They do all these things that don't happen any more at trad conventions, like huge formal banquets, or 99% of attendees going to all the programme items (leaving me alone in the bar with other sots like Diane Duane and Peter Morwood). Terry Pratchett was boggled by a carefully prepared moment of terror at the opening ceremony, when he walked on-stage and the house lights went up to reveal 600 fans whose faces were concealed by full-colour photographic Terry Pratchett masks, with eyeholes.... It took him several seconds to rally with, 'Why didn't I get one of those?' Those who remember the monster statue of Poseidon in the Hanover Hotel lobby, and how his trident became adorned with a giant slice of toast at the 2001 Eastercon, will be pleased to know that the tradition continued at DWcon with a huge frilly garter, appropriately placed. Chris Bell whispers of terrible plans for Easter 2003, involving a very large sausage. Mind you, I've said nothing. [14-9-02]