Another convention in Hinckley, the fourth Discworld event, and another bloody awful journey to get there. Traditionally it's all OK until Coventry, whereupon the rail connection goes ape. This year I was wary about being misdirected on to a fast train to London, but not wary enough to realize that Central Trains' discreet noticeboard saying BEDWORTH/NUNEATON REPLACEMENT RAIL BUS SERVICE had the hidden subtext THIS MEANS HINCKLEY TOO, BUT IT AMUSES US NOT TO TELL YOU THAT. An hour wasted at Coventry; a hideously queasy coach journey that jolted over every traffic-enraging hump in Bedworth (where, as the driver then ascertained, no one wanted to go); some rapid calculation, at Nuneaton, that I needed a Grimsby train on the farthest platform; the friendly DELAYED warning that appeared when I'd got there, followed five minutes later by CANCELLED ... In the end I took a black cab all the way from Nuneaton to the hotel, hoping desperately that the committee would allow this as a guest expense. (They did.) Gosh, I can hardly wait to cover this ground all over again next Easter!
The Discworld event was strange, very strange – as will emerge in an upcoming SFX column – but curiously enjoyable. Imagine my relief when kindly DW fan Darrell Ottery offered me a lift back to Reading. It was perhaps inevitable that a few miles down the road, the car battery failed and opened the way to hours of eating fast food very slowly indeed at a Little Chef, while the AA crawled to the rescue and did its stuff....
I didn't go to the Boston Worldcon two weeks later, but my spies are everywhere – see Ansible 206. (The on-line version has a few additional Worldcon snippets at the end.)
Public service note: the 2005 Glasgow Worldcon opened its on-line room booking during the Boston event, and rooms are going fast. Details at http://www.infotel.co.uk/worldcon/.
What else? That new edition of The Space Eater is now in the hands of Cosmos Books, with a cover by David A. Hardy and plans for not only a trade paperback but the novel's first ever hardback. I've also delivered the SFX column collection (The SEX Column) and am wondering just what to do next. Well, there's always Novacon, but what do I write next?
Haven't been to London much of late, except for the Bloomsbury launch party for Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The publishers did their best to evoke the early 19th-century period, with two determined violinists on permanent hearing-aid-jamming duty, and vast numbers of candles. As the crowd thickened it became harder and harder not to get jostled against the bum-high candle stands dotting the floor, and many a party outfit must have been blobbed with wax. A lady magician doggedly did her stuff in a corner but was ignored throughout by the champagne-swilling masses. Perhaps because the Worldcon was about to start, perhaps because some invitations had gone astray, the usual sf suspects seemed thin on the ground. Those who dared to touch the displayed books were pounced on by sales staff with discreet murmurs of 'that'll be seventeen quid.' I relished the horror on Susanna's face when I told her she'd just had her first mention in Private Eye – not too shattering, actually. Their ever-snide book man merely complained that 'a great deal of hype surrounds' JS&MrN (an issue addressed at some length in John Clute's 'Excessive Candour' review), but still tipped it at third place in his Booker Prize predictions. I liked this novel enormously, and rather wish that Neil Gaiman hadn't pinned a large KICK ME notice on its back with his all too enthusiastic blurb: 'unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years.'
Some 2004 titles for review: Charles Stross, Singularity Sky (lots of eccentric fun), for New Scientist. Clive Barker, Abarat II: Days of Magic, Nights of War (liked the story, mostly, but not the pictures); Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (so wittily charming that I barely noticed the longueurs deprecated by Clute); Ramsey Campbell, The Overnight (horror in a modern bookshop: effective build-up to rather routinely icky slaughter); Conrad Williams, London Revenant (sort of like a darker Neverwhere with serial killings mixed in) – all for SFX.
Peter Weston, With Stars In My Eyes: My Adventures in British Fandom (2004): a NESFA Press publication, marking Pete's Worldcon appearance as fan GoH. Some of this fannish autobiography has appeared in fanzines which are now hard to find; the cumulative effect is quite impressive. Our man's informal but hypnotic way with anecdotes transfers effectively from its normal convention-bar habitat to actual paper, with cartoons, graphics, photos, and an index. Secret histories abound, from the 1963 beginning of sexual intercourse – er, I mean Westonian fan contact – to the climactic 1979 Brighton Worldcon. I'd have enjoyed this even without the remarkable (considering how late in the timeline I turned up) number of Langford namechecks. Recommended!
Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003): deserved all its commendations, though the mathematical/logical set-pieces cover familiar ground for me. Catching up on missed childhood reads: Edward Eager, Magic by the Lake (1957), very E. Nesbit – as everyone says – despite the period US setting. Arthur Ransome, Coot Club (1934), Pigeon Post (1936) and The Picts and the Martyrs (1943), full of satisfying incidents and good solid storytelling.
Mailing 133, August 2004
Ian S. I've read only the very first Anita Blake novel, and your remarks don't encourage me to continue.... Tony. Hildegard of Bingen was a 12th-century nun whose carefully recorded visions are now interpreted as migraine effects. See Oliver Sacks's Migraine (2nd ed, 1985), or my brief account for Fortean Times: ansible.co.uk/writing/ft115.html. Chris H. According to Terry Pratchett, universities are places where knowledge is stored. Students arrive knowing everything, and depart realizing how little they know: evidently the difference has been transferred to the college coffers. Surely the 'hopeful' undercurrent of the last Bloom County collection was Berke Breathed's anticipation of his replacement strip Outland; but I've never heard a good word about the latter. Maureen. Fascinating stuff on Tiptree/Fowler; unfortunately I have yet to read the Fowler story. Dop. Jennings Follows a Clue led me to read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon (as also alluded to by AMB) – which reminds me to mention Neil Gaiman's Doyle/Lovecraft crossover story 'A Study in Emerald', whose ingenuity made me smile and which just won Neil another Hugo. It's still on line at neilgaiman.com. Steve J. I've been reading Cerebus on and off for many years; it was the Hills' enthusiasm that recently persuaded me to give Bone another go. Another short CC, alas. Despite the good cheer of Hugo #24, I've been feeling uncreative and irrationally glum for weeks. Must pull self together. But not today. [13-9-04]