Cloud Chamber 139
April 2003

Odd realization as I braced myself to travel to the Pan/Tor launch party on 19 March: I hadn't been to London for over six months. General jitters in the wake of the knee trouble, mainly, exacerbated by cold-weather gloom. Some things had changed.... First, the rail fare was up by over 50%, the routine New Year increase being expanded into a socking one by confining network card discounts to weekends. (My card ran out in February and I'm so glad that I tested the water before renewing it.) Second, the decline of Charing Cross Road began to be visible: the remainder shop near Centre Point with the nice second-hand basement had become a barber's, the next one down the road was in the chaotic throes of a closing sale, and the good old greasy-spoon caff Battista's – a traditional rendezvous point when meeting Chris Priest – was boarded up for redevelopment. Sulk. Instead we (and Chris's visiting Russian editor, and John Jarrold) girded ourselves for party fun in the Silver Cross, miraculously emptied of fannish crowds. The party itself, at the ICA – don't think I'd ever been in there before – was OK despite stunning levels of heat and noise, and it was good to meet several of You Lot there. When I told Panman Peter Lavery that it would be nice to see more of the US Tor list in the British imprint, including major recent series by Brian Stableford and Gene Wolfe or even anthologies containing me, he laughed heartily and assured me that only a few select top sellers – or predicted top sellers – were to feature in the Tor UK list. I mite have known it.

April so far? Published Ansible 189. Received and distributed some review copies of the Great Big Critical Collection, Up Through an Empty House of Stars: Reviews and Essays 1980-2002. Went to London again for the BSFA/SFF AGM thrash, returning to find e-mail with the dismaying news of John Foyster's death in Adelaide that day. Gloom. Delivered digital typesetting of John Sladek's novella Wholly Smokes to Cosmos Books for their co-published print edition of this Ansible e-book. Had a foul cold and a 50th birthday in the same week. Finally received the E-reads trade paperback of my reissued sf novel The Space Eater, which should have appeared in mid-2001: their book design may be awful, but the blurb is worse (whether or not I was particularly successful in portraying the female lead as deeply withdrawn and emotionally scarred, 'lovely and seductive' does seem a bit much). Discussions with yet another US small press, BeWrite, about their reprint of my and Paul Barnett's 1987 silliness Earthdoom: they are actually consulting us about the blurb and cover! The downfall of Big Engine was rapidly followed by interest from John Betancourt of Wildside Press (publisher of the Cosmos imprint), who wants to buy up virtually all the BE assets except for 3SF. Speaking as a minor BE asset, or liability, I'm highly interested in all this. Overall: much publishing action, but nothing that puts me in imminent danger of getting rich. It was ever thus.

Commonplace Book. 'Mars is essentially in the same orbit as Earth. Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe.' – Governor George W. Bush, Jr., 11 August 1994.

Random Reading

Humphrey Carpenter, That Was Satire That Was (2000), a very readable survey of the 1960s satire boom that attempts to show sources, linkages and context rather than staying focused on particular stars like the Beyond the Fringe quartet. It's a much-ploughed field, but Carpenter comes up with unfamiliar material – like the opening of an Establishment club sketch by David Nobbs: 'How do you do. My name is God, and I'm here tonight because I'm omnipresent.'

Alan Moore and others, Promethea Book 3 (2002): yet more of this weirdly mystical comic, in which action-adventure tropes (zapping demons, socking supervillains on the jaw, etc) are increasingly upstaged by exploration of the multiverse as Moore sees it in terms of ritual magic. In past episodes we've had a dose of planetary and elemental symbolism, an entire issue devoted to Tantric sex, and another pondering the Tarot trumps; now our eponymous heroine is engaged in a vast metaphorical tour of the Kaballah's Tree of Life, and some fans are apparently getting a little jaded by the dearth of two-fisted action. It still looks beautiful, though.

Bill Napier, The Lure (2002), scientifically literate novel of SETI and alien signals, presented as a technothriller rather than sf – less concerned with the impact of biochemical revelations from Out There than with paranoid governments trying to suppress it all by, if necessary, assassinating entire research teams. Perhaps the US President would indeed take theological advice from ghastly fundamentalists in such a case, but Napier's fundies are such unbelievable caricatures.... Too much routine chasing around, while the real story is skimped.

David and Leigh Eddings, The Elder Gods (2003). Yes, of course this was for HugeSouthAmericanRiver. The enormous sales of the Eddings fantasies had somehow led me to hope for better dialogue from self-confessed gods than (resonantly closing a chapter): 'It's the only way we have to save Dhrall from the forces of the Vlagh.' Meanwhile the human races are called things like Maags and Trogites. Thus a Maag freebooter confides: 'The notion of picking Trogite vessels like apples off a tree lights a warm fire in my belly.' Oh dear, oh dear.

Mailing 122, March 2003

Penny. A footnote to CC137: I compared notes with Adam Roberts about the Hobbit parody affair. He was clearly not to blame for the cock-up, and I hold no grudge. The whole thing seems to have resulted from poor internal communications within a certain publishing house, which I will not name for fear that a certain Malcolm Editor will again tick me off for breaking the code of omerta. Adam Roberts's title, by the way, is The Soddit. Keep watching the bestseller lists! • Chris H. Your 'Typo Corner' reminds me of an ad from the Ken Hom school of litcrit: 'the three books of The Illuminatus! Trilogy are only partly woks of the imagination.' Also, seeking a reference in Gordon Dickson's Dorsai! (DAW 1976), I noticed a slip in the sequence of chapter titles giving our hero's current status, usually a military rank. One segment dwells on his 'part-Maran' heritage (Mara being a planet), and is regrettably headed PART-MORON. • Maureen. Jane Austen is a divisive subject at 94 London Road. I'm fond of the books (Emma survived the ultimate turn-off experience: I had to read it at school), but Hazel says 'Yuk! All those horrible people!' It's the high-precision cattiness about their flaws that's so effective. Mr Knightley in Emma is a bit of a pain because he's so tiresomely unflawed and right: not quite 'Right but Repulsive', but a touch of 'Wrong but Wromantic' would have helped. • Everyone. Am feeling too snivelly to write more.... [13-4-03]