Cloud Chamber 148
June 2004

Where was I? Going on (in February) about a heap of essays for Gary Westfahl's Encyclopedia of Themes in Science Fiction and Fantasy, all 35 safely delivered in May, only for more to be requested because certain other contributors backed out of their assignments. I slept very badly while all this continued, and now feel fretful about the looming ramifications of yet another great big encyclopedia project. If this goes ahead, will Acnestis become a necessary safety-valve or something from which I'll need to take a year's sabbatical? I have no idea.

Outings: a traditional holiday in Harlech over Easter, thus cunningly missing the Blackpool Eastercon which won such universal fannish acclaim. A brief visit to Newbury for one day of plokta.con, billed as a 'relaxacon', despite which almost the entire membership trooped dutifully into the con hall to listen to programme items through the interpretive medium of a Feedback From Hell sound system, leaving the bar ... well, not quite as empty as at the memorable Discworld Convention afternoon when Andy Sawyer and I were the only patrons, but it did feel like a strange new definition of relaxacon. Then there was the new-look Clarke Award evening in London, which was fine.

Publications: I'd been feeling a bit paranoid about non-coverage of this year's 'straight' story collection, inevitably titled Different Kinds of Darkness and available since January. But it seems that Cosmos Books' notional release dates can bear no relation to availability. Officially, to my surprise, it's a June book, and reviews began to appear in May – many quite cheering, including one in Publishers Weekly from someone who had evidently read the thing. Blimey, there's a novelty. Another pleasant surprise was learning that The New York Review of SF had belatedly asked Michael Bishop to review my 2003 parody collection He Do the Time Police in Different Voices, and ... he liked it! Splendid man. I can hardly wait for this immense egoboo in the August (?) NYRSF.

Random Reading

The briefest of notes this time; it's been too long. I enjoyed all these: Sandy Balfour, Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) (2003), crossword obsession as autobiography, or vice-versa. John Bellairs, The Ghost in the Mirror (1993). Lois McMaster Bujold, Diplomatic Immunity (2002), with our series hero getting all broody about videos of Baby's First Cell Division. Paul Féval, Knightshade (Le Chevalier Ténèbre, 1875), translated and introduced by Brian Stableford, 2001; crime caper thriller with ambiguous vampire elements. John M.Ford, Heat of Fusion (2004), short stories plus several verse outbreaks (most sent to friends as Xmas messages) including his very memorable reaction to 9/11, '110 Stories'. Diana Wynne Jones, Unexpected Magic: Collected Stories (2004) – 16 stories, omitting the separately collected Chrestomanci tales. Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines (2001). Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky (2004). Malcolm Pryce, Aberystwyth Mon Amour (2001) – a noir P.I. spoof set in, and transforming, this most boring of Welsh towns; I must acquire the follow-up Last Tango in Aberystwyth. Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope (2003; UK 2004). Jeff Smith, Bone 4, 5, 6 (1997-9); yes, Chris & Penny, I'm catching up on your fervent recommendations. Bruce Sterling, The Zenith Angle (2004), reviewed for New Scientist. Liz Williams, Nine Layers of Sky (2003; UK 2004), reviewed for SFX.

Didn't actually dislike, or haven't finished: Jean Lorrain, Nightmares of an Ether-Drinker (1895), shorts translated 2002 by Brian Stableford with another scholarly introduction. Dave Sim & Gerhard, Cerebus 15: Latter Days (2003) – got a bit bogged down in this owing to distractions, and have yet to progress beyond the shenanigans with a very small yet fanatical religious cult whose membership is closely based on The Three Stooges. Francis Wheen, How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions (2004).

Oh dear: Robert Rankin, Knees Up Mother Earth (2004), seventh in the Brentford trilogy – a prequel to all the others but a sequel to The Witches of Chiswick – for SFX review.

DVDs acquired: The Complete Clangers; Spirited Away. Hazel is enchanted by the former but insists on rationing us to one a week; I have yet to find time for the latter.

Mailing 131, May 2004

Penny. The idea of the British countryside being full of wickedness was argued (perhaps with intentional perversity) by Sherlock Holmes in 'The Copper Beeches': 'It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful country-side.' His argument is that 'the machinery of justice' is close at hand in the city, whereas at the likes of Cold Comfort Farm, 'hidden wickedness [...] may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.' Holmes, at least in Doyle's stories, never had to deal with Jack the Ripper; although, coincidentally, I recently drafted a column for SFX which mentions the Holmes vs Ripper film A Study in Terror, and its novelization. • No one gave me Eats, Shoots and Leaves for Christmas or any other time. Buggered if I buy it!

Catie; also Steve. My latest toy in the way of storage media (bought from Morgan's just before the Clarke event) is an 80Gb external USB hard drive, capacious enough to back up everything on every computer I own, several times over – all for £90 plus VAT. Mind you, I don't deal in audio or video files, so am easily satisfied.

Chris O'S. Having been involved in a very much less than perfect Eastercon (Skycon, Heathrow, 1978), I intensely appreciate any subsequent effort to push that event further down the roster of All-Time Worst Organized. Schadenfreude? Nah, I can't even spell it.

Chris H. One of my areas of disagreement with John Clute is that he feels Alastair Reynolds's acceptance of the light-speed limitation runs counter to the spirit of New Big Space Opera, whereas I think that (like Poul Anderson in Tau Zero) AR makes it a rather fruitful constraint.

Tony. Oh bum: all these years I've been advertising my superbly useful enhancement of the 1995 CD-ROM Encyclopedia of SF, and you go and buy the mere book!

Del. Usual noises of welcome. My favourite fact about the Reading Bayeux Tapestry is that the Leek Women's Institute – who embroidered it – drew the line at one chap in the nude, and gave him discreet Y-fronts. • Come to the Cemetery Junction cemetery and see the deer! Hazel and I spotted one again on 12 June, our 'oh my god is it that long?'th wedding anniversary.

Alan. Terry Pratchett's stage adapters have early access to the text. In the same way, I finished my dealings with the upcoming Discworld novel (Going Postal) on 1 April.

Alison. Agreed, Ian Stewart is a fine popularizer of maths. I religiously bought Martin Gardner's Scientific American column collections, from the 1960s, until he finally reached The Last Recreations in 1997. Tried Douglas Hofstadter? [13-6-04]