Cloud Chamber 156
April 2007

Although most reviews of the infamous The End of Harry Potter? were cheering and even encouraging, I have been following the inevitable put-downs with the gloomy satisfaction of Cassandra seeing things go to the dogs just as she said they would all along. For example, the book won me a place among The Scotsman's "literary losers of 2006" in the category of Most Transparent Cash-In, a term also used by this chap here, and by others who can't abide the possibility that for seven months' hard work at Gollancz's behest I might make a little money. Best of all is the Random Burblings weblog, whose grumble is quoted at some length at the opening of my Tor newsletter interview:

A bloke who isn't J.K.Rowling, and who has probably never met J.K. Rowling, and who has no more idea than you or I about what may or may not be passing through J.K. Rowling's head at any given moment, takes blind wild guesses about what J.K. Rowling might write in the last Harry Potter book, based on absolutely no inside information or significant evidence whatsoever.

In the light of Mr Random Burblings' implicit rule that only people who are very closely acquainted with person X should venture to write at length about X's work, it's interesting – perhaps not least to Scotland Yard – that the subject of his own book is Jack the Ripper.

Onward. Yes, I know, it's been a long time since I published this thing. It has become plain that Maureen Kincaid Speller's "Acnestis" APA, for which Cloud Chamber had been produced since 1993, quietly died in mid-2005: the July mailing was never distributed, although I eventually placed my contribution on this website (and produced the next issue for the website only). Maureen's academic and political preoccupations are no doubt of far greater benefit to society at large. I suspect that I won't be joining another APA, and will keep CC going – if at all – as an on-line enterprise. At least it's a handy forum for random communications which are too long and interesting, or just plain off-topic, to be squeezed into boring old Ansible. Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present:

The Letter Column

Denny Lien, ever alert to sub-Thoggian double entendre, offers a tasteful extract from George MacDonald's "The Golden Key":

She stood looking for a long time, for there was fascination in the sight; and the longer she looked the more an indescribable vague intelligence went on rousing itself in her mind. For seven years she had stood there watching the naked child with his coloured balls, and it seemed to her like seven hours ...

Diana Wynne Jones was the subject of an interview in SFX, causing me to express concern about the full-page photo "in which you appear to be turning to bay after being chased upstairs by a crowd of peasants with torches":

Well, you see, the photographer thought our house was too normal and went to endless trouble to produce this effect. And it wasn't peasants probably but GAS. It has just turned out that the original Victorian gas intake pipe in our basement was even then quietly leaking between floors. No doubt the photographer was exercising prescient precognition. Or maybe subliminal sense of smell. I certainly felt just like that photo looked when a nice gasman from Wales told us we couild have blown up at any time over Christmas. It was lucky they weren't chasing me with your actual torches. Oh and I had flu when they told me. "Evacuate the house at once!" they said.

[Later:] We seem to be as leaky as your famed Establishment. Today the loo started leaking, yesterday we had a flood in the basement. Obviously our Theme for 2007. But you'll be glad to hear I haven't smelt gas lately. Does electricity leak? Or is that only in Thurber?

Rob Holdstock outdid my paltry efforts to be grumpy about the current tiresomeness of air travel ...

And yes, it's a bugger about this new security. The world changes faster than I want, now, though when I was twenty I wanted to see Families In Space! How Utopic is the Blind Faith in Time of youth.

Getting to Spain involved declaring all liquids we were carrying with us (at Gatwick). I resisted the temptation to declare a bladder full of Boddington's Ale. Sarah had Extremely Expensive Hair Mousse. They refused to let her take it through. She argued. They formed a cordon around her. The container was too big. "It's hair mousse!" "No more than 50 ccs liquid, madam." "Hair mousse!!" "Too much mousse for security. Terrorism, madam."

So she decanted the mousse into three smaller containers: "perfectly fine, madam, take it through." Took the empty spray container through as well, REcanted the contents on the other side of security. Didn't blow up the plane.

What madness.

Mike Moorcock had a grumble about the poster image for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

Was just writing about the Narnia producers ripping off Frazetta's cover for my EC novel (polar bears drawing chariot). I don't remember the bears in the movie, just on the poster. They appeared briefly, maybe? No doubt too expensive to continue with them. Studios, by the way, are these days asking if effects movies can be produced at the same cost as regular movies, not seeming to realise that without the effects most of these movies have nothing to offer an audience. Jackson's essay was pure self-indulgence for me (though profitable no doubt to Jackson's effects biz). I'll be curious to see where the new logic goes. Definitely a sense of another 'crisis' in Hollywood at the moment ...

[Langford reply:] I didn't see the Narnia film; no idea whether it actually featured those polar bears. Was pretty sure they weren't in the book, though, so had a flip through and think I can detect where the movie-makers got their inspiration: the Witch's sledge is hauled by reindeer (hey, we can't have that, it BLASPHEMES SANTA CLAUS!) and the reindeer are driven by a dwarf dressed in ... polar bear fur. So the polar bears are in the book. Sort of.

[MM again:] Aha! I couldn't get into the books, probably because I came to them too late and I was a Nesbit fan and they didn't measure up for me. I've always been astonished at what a bad writer Lewis was. Though a convivial bloke when he dropped in to The Globe.

I think they just lifted the image from Frazetta, who must be used to that by now, because it made a cool poster.

* * *

It's a funny old world. Iain Sinclair reminded me that he wrote a Conan script in 1969, for which he and his partner got a hundred quid. At this rate I'm going to discover pictures of Ezra Pound in a propeller beanie next to his letter in Planet Stories for July 1939... Pity his first sf story Kantos of the Lost Nebula, bought by Marvel Tales, never made it before the mag folded. In 1941 the manuscript was seized by Special Intelligence and never seen again. It was his only copy. And don't get me started on the subject of James Joyce's several contributions to Novae Terrae. I actually did have the unexpected experience of Derek Woolcott, Nobel Prize for Literature winner, coming up to me and congratulating me on The Warlord of the Air a few years ago! We are very much Not Alone! Makes it all the sillier that the likes of Atwood deny they have written sf or that only second rate literary journos distinguish between sf and 'literature'.or that others believe they are protecting their careers by distancing themselves from association with the work of, say, Fritz Leiber or Brian Aldiss. I suspect they'll appear vaguely ridiculous in a few years, assuming anyone's reading them. Meanwhile I'm pleased to announce that my next major work of non-sf will be appearing in Pete Weston's Prolapse, which I believe is known in the sf fraternity as a 'fanzine'. Toodle pip.

Neal Tringham reported a Significant Passage in Night Floors, described as "a King in Yellow based adventure from Dennis Detwiller's Delta Green: Countdown (a sourcebook for a 90s version of the Call of Cthulhu game)". This is the kind of fate that befalls hapless souls who peruse the dread Encyclopedia of SF in Yellow:

This poor cable-television repairman has been trapped within the Night Floors since March 20th, when he attempted to disconnect a cable junction on the roof just as the change from day to night was occurring in the Macallister. For several weeks he has wandered around searching for an exit, eating old cake and hors d'oeuvres and drinking flat champagne and beer to survive. So far his mind has degraded only a small amount, and he has yet to run into any of the strange people who call the Night Floors their home; he hides at any indication of noise, holing up in any of the multitude of abandoned rooms until the sounds pass.

Terrified and disoriented, Langford will leap out of a doorway if he hears the investigators discussing federal or police matters, or if they are wearing uniforms, He will have a breakdown, babbling his story over and over again and begging to be released from the "prison", as he incoherently refers to the Macallister Building.

It's not too late for Langford to be rescued. The investigators can lead him out of the Night Floors and send him home. He will likely spend some months in a mental hospital.

Graham Charnock provides an appreciative review (originally posted to an almost secret email list):

Van Helsing – great film eh? Just watching it at the moment. Great sets, great special effects, great monsters, but the same narrative recycled every ten minutes: Van finds vampire, and love interest, loses vampire, and love interest, finds and loses sidekick, things blow up, Vampire finds Frankenstein Monster, Vampire loses Monster, Van finds vampire and Monster and sidekick and love interest, things blow up, Vampire finds monster again and then finds Van and sidekick, Van finds everyone, Van loses everyone. Things blow up. Van turns into werewolf. Finds himself, and vampire. Monster finds love interest, she finds Sidekick and then Van and vampire. Sidekick finds Van Werewolf but fails to kill him. Love interest dies, don't remember how, I closed my eyes for a second. In the end everyone bad is dead (except the love interest), everybody good is alive (except the love interest). Van puts his hat on strangely resembling Bono and rides off with sidekick. A film almost ninety percent constructed from special effects via a storyboard. The cast must have wondered why they bothered turning up every day, but then looked at their pay checks.

Sean Williams commits literary research:

I was revisiting Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" this morning while researching my latest book and cheatingly glanced at the Cliffs Notes online, just to refresh my memory. It contains this line, which tripped me up a tad:

"The full moon, of course, is a traditional prop for stories of this sort; that is, one finds it in all gothic, ghostly, and vampire-type stories."

I understand that it's traditional, but I certainly didn't know that it had become compulsory "for stories of this sort". When did that happen? Surely there should have been an announcement of some kind. Now I'll have to retrofit all my previous work, adding relevant moons or at least clouds to cover any suspiciously absent lunar activity. And what am I to do with my Gothic space opera series, in which the action is sometimes set on moons, or where moons are entirely missing? It's quite a conundrum, and one of which I thought other writers should be aware.

[Langford reply:] The Cliffs pundit obviously doesn't know his H.P. Lovecraft, where the moon tends most often to be gibbous – not because it's a specially sinister aspect but because HPL just loved the word. A glabrous, gibbous moon that guttered in the ghastly gloaming.

Bryan Talbot explains the Reading connection of his new graphic novel Alice in Sunderland:

Reading does actually appear in the book – at least Reading Museum. I needed to reproduce several "panels" of the Bayeux Tapestry and getting the rights for the original would have been exorbitant. I know it's well out of copyright but photos of it are not. Then I remembered hearing that there was an exact replica in Reading Museum, made by the Ladies Needlework Guild or something in 1885. I enquired and was told that I wasn't allowed to take photographs but could buy them from the museum at £12 per go. I only needed about ten, so thought this was reasonable until they informed me that there would be a further £50 per image EVERY time it was published. I thought about this, then got in touch with their PR person and made them an offer – if they let me use the images for nothing, then I'd advertise the museum in the book. They agreed (I even have a contract)! You'll see when you read Alice that I introduce the Bayeux section standing in the museum and describing where it is. It's the first bit of product placement I've ever done. Pepsi next?

I discovered that their copy, btw, is not strictly speaking an exact replica. The Victorian ladies censored all the willies from the naked bodies strewn across the battlefield!

[Langford reply:] Yes, I know the bowdlerized Reading "Bayeaux" Tapestry made, as I remember it, by the Leek Embroidery Society. My favourite figure is the standing naked man in the border of one section, who has acquired a small but recognizable pair of Y-fronts.

Richard E. Geis on Ansible 237 and the Hugo list:

I now know for sure I'm out of fandom! The only name I recognized in the Best Fan Writer nominations is yours.

I have now 'graduated' to a wheelchair. Sitting in it as I write this. But there is a remnant of not-quite-final-disability left to me: I can still use my walker around the house if I don't mind a lot of spine pain. And I still make it to the post office and Safeway twice a week on my trusty (and getting rusty) three-wheel bike. I do need some exercise and five Ibuprofens make the journeys possible. The greatest danger, though, on the outside, is my lack of balance and the sooner-or-later certainty of falling and breaking something. Ah, me, pity me. I'm going to go eat worms. East African worms (the purple kind) are the tastiest.

Rich Coad contributes another film review, or rather, a trailer review:

The other night, as I am sitting in my domicile, I thinks to myself, "Self, I believe there is a picture or two due out based upon the work of Philip K. Dick." So I hies myself to the IMDB and search out the name of the master. And there it is: Next! coming soon to the silver screen, featuring Nicolas Cage in the lead and based upon the story "The Golden Man".

Naturally, I decides to take a glimmer of the trailer what shows Mister Cage seeing a train hit a car then a speedomometer moving close to 100 and a car narrowly avoiding being hit by a train and Julianne Moore asks of Nicolas Cage "Can you really see the future?" and Nicolas Cage replies "Oh, yes, I've seen them all and none are good for you." and then they show the Las Vegas strip all neon-sparkly in the night and then it's "Oh my god it's happening!" Kaboom! and a giant freighter ship which must be in Los Angeles seeing as how Las Vegas is not on the ocean but anyways it gets blowed up real good and actually splits in half and sails through the air towards the camera and it says "April 27".

This trailer is puzzling to me because I have read "The Golden Man" and I do not recollect scenes of flying freighters and train bashing but I allow as I may be having some false memory syndrome so I decides to have a re-reading of the story. And I read about a goverment functionary in a post-apocalyptic world hunting down hidden mutants one of whom turns out to be a golden man operating solely on instinct who is irresistable to women and who does see the future but only as it relates to getting himself out of dangerous situations and he escapes and perhaps mankind is doomed.

Truly, I am thinking, I would not have thought it was possible to make a film less like the story upon which it was based than Total Recall was less like "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale". But I appears to have thunk wrong.

Limping With Dinosaurs
or, Do Raptors Dream of Electric Logs?

Yvonne Rousseau's friends Jenny and Bruce Spence visited Adelaide in early March, the latter being on tour with a saurian spectacular:

On Friday in Adelaide the temperature reached 39.7 degrees Celsius – but I'm pleased to report that the weekend temperatures were more pleasant. On Saturday, Jenny Spence and I occupied free seats in the front row at the afternoon performance of Walking with Dinosaurs. I learnt a good deal about the show's vicissitudes – from Jenny during the performance, from Jenny and Bruce Spence and others backstage, and from Jenny and Bruce at coffee afterwards.

Walking with Dinosaurs is a show designed for children (with its sessions already sold out, all over Australia). It features vast model dinosaurs built by Sonny Tilders and his animatronics team in Melbourne. Bruce Spence plays the ringmaster – alternating performances with another compere, so that two identical sets of clothes hang eerily in the wardrobe backstage. The dinosaur models consist of aluminium frames inside a mock-up of dinosaur musculature, over which a nubbly lycra-and-rubber-foam-and-other-things skin is draped. This musculature makes the movements of the models look more natural than they might have done – and hydraulics are also used to puff them up a bit during the performances.

The small raptors are able to run about because each one is infested by its own rather muscular man, dressed in the same shade of grey as the flooring, but with knees that bend in the opposite direction to a dinosaur's legs: once I'd noticed these rather indelicate intruders (thrust in like a finger in a glove puppet), I couldn't go back to ignoring them. Meanwhile, the landmasses of Gondwana (which move apart as the centuries go by during the performance) are occupied by men who are obliged to get in there an hour before the performance begins.

The huge dinosaurs included a stegosaurus, brachiosaurs (one youthful, one adult), a variety of ankylosaur, I think (heavily armoured and with a box-like club at the end of its tail), a couple of triceratops males (who made aggressive displays of frill-inflating or plate-lifting at one another until the elder decided to give up herd-leading), and a female Tyrannosaurus Rex rallying around to defend her youngster – which was a manned puppet with rather winsome ways, whose call was perilously close to 'Mu-u-um!'. Inevitably, the terrifying Tyrannosaurus Rex roars and gestures a lot but never demonstrates why it's thought of as a fast and furious tearaway (it's not a good idea for the models to collide with one another). However, it was a popular moment when Tyrannosaurus Rex was first announced, accompanied by a huge shadow cast on the screen of the iris door – which then opened to admit only the raptor-sized baby Tyrannosaurus Rex.

In addition to a system of chains inside the legs (one of which went wrong so that the youthful brachiosaur developed a slight limp), every huge dinosaur lumbers about looking as if, meeting long ago with a grey log lying in the same direction as its path through the primeval wotsit, it had straddled its way onwards only to be impaled on a vertical twig half way along the log so that it is now obliged to lug the log along underneath it wherever it goes. (Part of the 'log' contains batteries: afterwards, backstage, we saw each of them being cooled down by a small electric fan standing beside it.) The lighting that revealed the greyclad men and the 'logs' may have been less satisfactory at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre than at other venues – certainly, it was impossible to ignore the strings by which the Pterodactyl was suspended.

The Adelaide Entertainment Centre's auditorium is supposedly capable of seating 11,000, but a section was occupied on this occasion by an animatronics team with laptop computers. There was a break in the performance when (as Jenny and I learnt later) the ankylosaur (not yet emerged through the iris door on to the arena) temporarily lost radio contact – which would have meant that it could only move inexpressively around the arena without lashing its tail and wagging its head and so on. At other performances, a small raptor has fallen over (whereupon it has been impossible for the man inside to right it again) – a big dinosaur has become immobile on the arena – and a brachiosaur has seemingly broken its neck.

The space at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre is comparatively small – producing problems in parking the models backstage after the performance, and also (at this performance) keeping the brachiosaurs on stage rather longer than intended while they were manoeuvred so that one could leave without being blocked by the other. In the Brisbane Courier Mail on 27 January 2007, Sandra McLean wrote about the show: 'So is it any good? Put it this way – I've never seen anything like it.' This echoes my own sentiments.... [Yvonne Rousseau, 5/3/2007]