Cloud Chamber 134
November 2002

Thanks for all the get-well-soon wishes. My dodgy knee does seem to be slowly improving. Short, dutiful walks are being taken in all directions, one of them in the nearby cemetery where – despite two decades at this address – Hazel and I had never been able to verify the story that wild deer roamed. It seemed inherently unlikely, since though very unkempt and overgrown the place is hardly more than 300 yards long, not to mention hemmed in by high-traffic roads. Nevertheless ... dramatic pause ... this time we saw three deer. It's the quintessential British urban experience. You wait twenty years and then three come along at once.

Ansible 184 Footnote. An early Greg Pickersgill fanzine featured an informal award called the BLINDING PILLAR OF INCANDESCENCE, presented for the most cretinous letter of comment received. Should I revive this for the US Ansible reader who snidely asked why Forrest J Ackerman's medical expenses had not been met by 'Britain's vaunted socialized health system'?

Random Reading

Hazel K. Bell, ed., Indexers and Indexes in Fact & Fiction (2001), a British Library publication full of juicy and eccentric titbits from the wonderful world of indexing. Lots of fun but laden with rather familiar stuff in the form of strange and silly indexes I already knew about: A.P. Herbert indexing his own Misleading Cases, Hilaire Belloc's doom-laden index in Caliban's Guide to Letters where every entry leads to the same fatal page ('Affection, Immoderate, for Our Own Work, Cure of, see Pulping, p. 187'), The Stuffed Owl, the annotations in Pale Fire, that Ballard story 'The Index', etc etc. I was amused to note that although some of Bernard Levin's contentious index entries in The Pendulum Years: Britain and the Sixties are quoted, the editor is too mealy-mouthed to include the naughtiest one, however justified by the context of the Lady Chatterley's Lover trial: '"cunt", see Griffith-Jones, Mervyn' (the prosecutor). But there are novelties here too.

Peter Cook, Tragically I was an Only Twin: The Complete Peter Cook (2002). Blurbed as a 'definitive collection' of this inventive humorist, a description which like the 'complete' in the subtitle is somewhat misleading. For example, the book contains only seven of the famous 'Dud & Pete' dialogues with Dudley Moore, as compared to twelve (plus an introductory squib) in the 1971 book The Dagenham Dialogues, and at least one more that's been printed in book form to my certain knowledge. Oh well, there's still plenty of good stuff, including 1990s radio material entirely new to me.

Mailing 117, October 2002

Andy. Many thanks for the llama-crowned statue in Lima, and for letting me quote you in Ansible 184. I'm reminded of Terry's Small Gods, in which the statue of Patina, Goddess of Wisdom, mysteriously carries a penguin: it is eventually revealed that the sculptor couldn't do owls. But my favourite account of South American public statuary comes from Peter Fleming's Brazilian Adventure. Here he is in Rio de Janeiro:

Victory has got a half Nelson on Liberty from behind. Liberty is giving away about half a ton, and also carrying weight in the shape of a dying President and a brace of cherubs. (One of the cherubs is doing a cartwheel on the dying President's head, while the other, scarcely less considerate, attempts to pull his trousers off.) Meanwhile an unclothed male figure, probably symbolical, unquestionably winged, and carrying in one hand a model railway, is in the very act of delivering a running kick at the two struggling ladies, from whose drapery on the opposite side an eagle is escaping, apparently unnoticed. Around the feet of these gigantic principals all is bustle and confusion. Cavalry are charging, aboriginals are being emancipated and liners launched. Farmers, liberators, nuns, firemen and a poet pick their way with benign insouciance over a subsoil thickly carpeted with corpses, cannon-balls and scrolls....

Ian. Our reviews of Dead Air are strangely similar, except that I didn't think it deserved a whole column of CC! • Thog has mixed feelings about the Bulwer-Lytton contest, as you might imagine: it seems hardly sporting to concoct one's own awful lines rather than daringly tracking them down in their native habitat of published fiction. • Paul K. I confess to having wimped out of the NYRSF review assignment to tackle those massively (in)complete Bear and Vinge collections. No, I said selflessly, I am not worthy, there are far finer critics in Folkestone.... • KVB. I'm used to having Acnestis point me to books I ought to buy, but there's a special embarrassment in being directed to one's own shelves! I acquired the Penguin Longer Contemporary Poems while at university – mainly for the lead item, Auden's sprightly 'Letter to Lord Byron' – and never got to the back of the book to discover Vernon Watkins's sinister 'The Ballad of the Mari Lwyd' lurking there. Many thanks. • Damien. From reports of Octocon this year, I suspect that China Miéville is tiring of being expected to put the boot into Tolkien as his convention party piece; he has plenty of other things to say, after all, and can do very well without the spectre of Mike Moorcock looking over his shoulder muttering (as I find myself imagining it) 'See how well this lad has learned his master's voice! I taught him all he knows....' • Chris A. I agree that I didn't find Ted Chiang's 'Hell is the Absence of God' personally mindblowing, but I sensed that it could be so for someone capable of taking the theology more seriously. • Me. It is of course the final book in Brian Stableford's emortality sextet, The Omega Expedition, which has the retrospective introduction. Don't know why my fingers typed Cassandra for Omega last issue. • Maureen. The image of Harlan Ellison as the reincarnation of Coleridge brought one of those magical 'I need to lie down for a bit' moments. In case you don't know Max Beerbohm's famed cartoon of Coleridge table-talking (in The Poets' Corner, 1904), I include a scan below. Mr Ellison, to be fair, has a somewhat different effect on audiences.... • Finished, or abandoned, 13-11-02.