Cloud Chamber 137
February 2003

My stated intention (last issue) of being hugely busy until July had a lot to do with the 'lucrative book deal' mentioned in the same paragraph, which in accordance with the weird ways of publishing has since become a lucrative non-deal. The idea, sprung fully-armed from the forehead of M*lcolm Edw*rds at Gollancz, was for me to bash out a merry spoof of The Hobbit in the wake of recent bestsellerdom for the venerable Bored of the Rings and the more recent but still less funny Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody. Although I cautiously kept this dark – thinking that another publisher might jump in while I was honing the Langford masterpiece – there were loose lips at Gollancz, and as we all know, loose lips sink hobbits. Specifically, VG also leaked the details to their author Ad*m R*berts, who, being an idle academic on vacation, dashed off a doubtless wholly inadequate Hobbit spoof and sent it in unsolicited. After several weeks of mysterious silence following his promise to sign my contract in good time for Christmas, M*lcolm Edw*rds loyally decided to go with the MS on his desk rather than wait even a few more weeks for Langford to deliver. The upside, in addition to not having to write the bloody book, is the largest kill fee of my career. So I can't complain, can I?

Mysteries of the Web. Spotted on CIX: 'Someone just came to one of my web sites from Alta Vista. The search expression used was "nostrils OR sheaves OR seth OR bagatelles OR crackle". What on earth were they looking for?' There's probably a novel in there, if anyone can work it out.

Random Reading

HugeSouthAmericanRiver. A sudden upsurge after no commissioned reviews at all from mid-November to mid-January. Greatly impressed by Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt. Enjoyed William Gibson's contemporary novel Pattern Recognition (whose 'search for mystery artist' plot is reminiscent of a strand in Count Zero, and whose expertise from Gibson's own hobby of collecting retro-tech gadgetry suggests that my old Curta mechanical calculator might be worth £800: gosh), Katharine Kerr's sf colony adventure Snare and – against expectations – Steve Cash's vaguely Anne-Riceish fantasy about childlike immortals, The Meq. Cannot bear to say more about Deathstalker Legacy by our very own Simon R. Green. Admired, with many reservations, the slick technique of the late Robert Ludlum's thriller The Janson Directive, which overuses the genre traditions of (a) repeatedly introducing new characters with a quick 'sympathy hook', and killing them off a few pages later; (b) coming up with a different and usually exotic technique for each of the all too many assassinations. My suspension of disbelief failed altogether when the aged Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, consults his priceless early edition of Dr Johnson's Dictionary and from a recess in the hollowed-out book pulls a gun on the hero. ('I don't think that could have happened at Trinity in Oxford,' I remarked to Maureen, who opined that it was more of a Balliol thing.) • SFX unexpectedly asked me to review Parzival and the Stone from Heaven, Lindsay Clarke's retelling of an early Arthurian romance from the days before Perceval was deposed by Galahad as number-one Grail knight. It's nicely told – not too fusty, not too relentlessly modern. I was a mite embarrassed by the reflection that my vague familiarity with the wounded Fisher King, the Waste Land, etc etc, all came from secondary sources like The Waste Land notes, essays on Wagner's Parsifal, and indeed Hexwood. • Thomas Palmer, Dream Science (1990), recommended by Paul Barnett long ago and read at last. Fascinating novel of parallel or parasite realities, whose initial Kakfaesque weirdness is explained and (after a fashion) resolved rather than being left as an enigma or an 'is he sane or isn't he?' tantalizer. Unsettling in the Dick tradition, without Dick's legendary sloppiness. • Philip Pullman, Count Karlstein (1982), an exuberantly melodramatic Ruritanian romp; multiple narratives, ornate plot curlicues, and an author enjoying himself so much that it's contagious.

Mailing 120, January 2003

Chris A. Anthony Burgess evidently had a Thing about the idea of filming The Wreck of The Deutschland. In The Clockwork Testament, or: Enderby's End (1974), his non-hero Enderby gains a certain alarming notoriety as the initial screenwriter of what looks suspiciously like the Ken Russell version of Gerard Manley Hopkins (but also suggests Burgess's feelings about his similar fame for A Clockwork Orange). I love the fragments of screenplay:

Father Hopkins, S.J., kisses his hand at it.


We see a lush-kept plush-capped sloe in a white well-kept priestly hand.

Hopkins, in very large close-up, mouths the sloe to flesh-burst. He shudders.

Christ is being nailed to the cross. Roman soldiers jeer.

15. RESUME 13
Hopkins, still shuddering, looks down at the bitten sloe. The camera tracks on to it into CU. It dissolves into:

The hands of a priest hold up the host, which looks a bit like the sloe. It is, of course, Fr Hopkins, S.J., saying mass.


The Deutschland, American-outward-bound. Death on drum, and storms bugle his fame.

... And so on.

AMB. Congratulations on real royalties from Pocket Essentials. My own current gloat is Big Engine's sale of Czech rights to The Leaky Establishment. This brought cheery e-mail from a Czech publishing insider who reads Ansible: 'I heard it was assigned to a female veterinarian who otherwise translates Robert Jordan and such, not exactly excellently.' He also remarked on the translation of David Pringle's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy: 'What I loved most was learning that Mary Gentle's Grunts! is about "a school of sea monsters".' • Cherith. Many, many people have ranted about the film of The Two Towers. Sorry it was so gruesome for you! • Chris P. Many thanks for that no-holds-barred account of the first Best Young Novelists outbreak. I hope this will find its way to your famous website. • Jae. Frank Key's work often shows a weakness for bizarre alphabetical lists; I also enjoy this structure in the various illustrated alphabets produced by Edward Gorey. • Steve J. The 'life reviewed as a film montage' story: you may be thinking of Richard Matheson's 'Mantage', collected in Shock! The hero's life is compressed to movie length, skipping over all the boring times but also, alas, the sex scenes. • Damien: ah, another fan of Caroline Stevermer's A College of Magics – much admired here. • Maureen. Always glad to look things up in the vast GKC collection. • Oops, it's 14-2-03!