Cloud Chamber 157
December 2007

Happy New Year!

That says it all. I felt I should finish this issue while it's still 2007, but now it's the evening of 31 December and CC still consists of mere scraps. Keeping Ansible going seems to use up all my fannish energies these days. "You can stop!" Hazel keeps pointing out: "You can stop any time!"

One major distraction this month was the sudden death of the hard drive in Hazel's computer. Fortunately our local computer shop was able to dig out a second-hand drive small enough not to make the elderly motherboard flee in terror at the eternal silence of those infinite spaces, and I had a merry couple of days reinstalling everything. Thank goodness for the house network whereby Hazel backs up her family history researches at least daily to this computer, whence the files get copied to one of more of those computers, plus an external hard drive and a rotating selection of USB flash drives, with everything – including more or less my whole life's literary work – burned to CD-R at regular intervals. All the same, something was bound to slip through the cracks. "Argh! We never backed up the email attachments directory!" Let us draw a veil over the sordid scenes of recrimination. (Actually Hazel was remarkably patient about these upheavals.)

Earnest young pairs of Mormons in suits have been prowling our part of Reading for several months, wearing glittery LDS name badges as a warning to their prey. "Sir, how do you think life could be improved?" Me: "By avoiding the shackles of organized religion in all its forms?" This usually seems to work as a conversation-stopper. The unlucky ones pick on Hazel and get a long tirade about the bloody awful transcription of UK parish registers on the all-encompassing LDS genealogy websites. After considerable research, it seems, Hazel had concluded that she doesn't in fact have an ancestor whose surname was Smihtx. Or something like that.

In July, on the wettest day of the year, I travelled to London to speak at the Harry Potter convention. See the resulting SFX column.

In November, Hazel's father had a hip replacement operation (entirely successful) and she spent some time looking after him in Wheatley, Oxfordshire. By way of personal distraction I experimented with self-publishing at and found the process surprisingly easy – you can even edit and re-edit your cover design on line, at no cost until you decide to have a proof copy printed. The result is a book of my incredibly specialist 1980s computer columns: The Apricot Files. Copies have been presented to three computer museums, a few old friends from the Apricot microcomputer era, and – most important of all – my mother's archival shelf of Books By My Sons Which I Will Never Ever Read. The real sense-of-wonder moment came when someone actually bought a copy from the Lulu site and I received royalties. Now that was unexpected.


That 2007 Hugo Speech. I think Martin Hoare usually adds some byplay of his own, but here's the text I gave him for the Japanese Worldcon, including the Traditional Phone Joke:

Dave Langford is very grateful, although he doesn't feel worthy because he spent too much of 2006 neglecting fanzines while he wrote a crassly commercial book on Harry Potter. He's especially guilty about publishing spoilers for the big scene in the seventh volume where Harry discovers his father is in fact Darth Vader. On behalf of fandom I'll be taking revenge by ringing Dave in the small hours to tell him a really major spoiler – that this year's fanwriter Hugo went to Harry Potter. Thank you all!

Chris O'Shea didn't (of course) have to accept anything as my representative for the Best Locus award, but he took lots of photos, including this shot of the ... unusual ... Hugo trophy with its figure of the apparently iconic (since the 1960s) Japanese tv superhero, Ultraman:

Taral Wayne did his best to cheer me up by sending his tactful write-up for an artists' bulletin board: "Every Worldcon designs its own Hugo award, the only constraint being that the traditional chrome rocket must be included. Most years, the award is tasteful and restrained. Some Worldcons try to be 'memorable', usually with unfortunate results. / This year the Worldcon was in Tokyo. I don't know what anyone expected but surely it wasn't this – the rocket sharing honours on a tacky base of Mt. Fuji with Ultra Man. / Ultra Man is a cheesy kind of superhero giant-robo from Japanese TV in the 60s. It's the equivalent, say, of George Reeves as Superman on American TV at about the same time. But whereas a veil of forgetfulness is mercifully being drawn gradually over the memory of Reeves, Ultraman seems to have become the de facto spirit of Japanese science fiction. / To paraphrase Robert Charles Wilson from a recent conversation: 'if there's a Hugo to lose, this is the one.'" For my own part, I'm sufficiently happy with Ultraman that I can almost effortlessly refrain from quoting a certain fable of Aesop.

Blurbismo. Chris Priest discovered an example of publishing tact on the back of Auberon Waugh's first novel The Foxglove Saga (Chapman & Hall). A plug for A Tourist in Africa by big daddy Evelyn Waugh concludes: "His travel diary makes a very pleasant bedside book (which should induce sleep in all but the most stubborn insomniacs)." • Monica McAbee offers the publisher's description of A Dangerous Beauty by Sophia Nash as Department of Double Entendre material: "Determined to stay in the shadows while spending a season with a dowager duchess, Rosamunde Baird has sworn to avoid adventure and temptation, two things that brought her ruin years ago. But then the Duke of Helston dangles before her the very things she craves the most." Oops.

Thog's Near Misses. There is often intense competition for the Thog slot in Ansible, and submissions which don't actually make the editor laugh aloud (or wince uncontrollably) tend to fall by the wayside. For example, Brian Ameringen suggested this haughty narrative reticence for the Department of Convenient Omissions: "... I will not make public the means by which I transported Esau Cairn from his native Earth to a planet in a solar system undreamed of by even the wildest astronomical theorists. Nor will I divulge by what means I later achieved communication with him, and heard his story from his own lips, whispering ghostily across the cosmos." (Robert E. Howard, Almuric, 1939 Weird Tales; 1964) • Martin Morse Wooster savoured the heady aroma of the following: "Behind this young woman trailed a legend of intrigue; it included the sulfurous whiff of blackmail, heart-cutting tragedy, plus an old scandal at whose core lay a mystery." (Frank Delaney, Tipperary, 2007; quoted in Emma Donoghue's review, Washington Post, 6 December ) • From Helen Spiral: 'He looked up to find Royse Bergon staring hard at him, his lips parted in a frown.' (Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse Of Chalion, 2001) • And Tim McDaniel unearthed a gifted cat: 'They had never played all together before, had never rehearsed this particular work, and the resulting sound was ragged in the extreme; but they took immense pleasure there in the heart of it, and their audience, Mrs Brown and a white cat, sat mildly knitting, perfectly satisfied with the performance.' (Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander, 1970)

Signage. "We should like to inform customers that only guide dogs are allowed in the shop". (printed sign at branch of Boots, UK)

Random Links. "What could possibly be an even worse title for a cookbook than Beard on Pasta?" (from Making Light) • Kipling fan fiction (via Mog Decarnin). • My Novacon 3 (1973) photos.Mike Moorcock in Heliotrope

The Letter Column

Keith Brooke did indeed complete his charity run (mentioned in Ansible 242) despite injuries:

Many thanks for your support for my efforts in the Great North Run.

It's all over now. The day was fantastic: superb weather, great company, wonderful atmosphere and the setting was perfect - the last mile running along the seafront at South Shields was really uplifting. Two days on and I'm not aching nearly as much as expected, and my broken toe was only a little more swollen afterwards than at the start and not too uncomfortable at all. I finished in a little over two and a half hours and, if nothing else, I proved that there are at least 28,165 people who can run faster than me, many of them in silly costumes. At least I beat the guide dog, and the guy alternating between running backwards and sideways. But not the man in the full gorilla costume. Oh well ...

I managed to raise over a thousand pounds for the Big Issue Foundation - a fantastic result! Many thanks again.

[Langford reply:] I think the broken toe, or even the least sprain, would have been a deal-killer for a wimp like me.

Shaun Green responds to "your pop music/SF notes in Ansible 243":

A few years ago in a Brighton club I bumped into a few German rockers who'd just played a gig. I managed to extort a CD out of them and discovered through this (rather than their broken English, which was barely audible anyway) that they'd named themselves Cziltang Brone, a phrase Niven fans may recognize. I thought the name was pretty cool and held on to the CD for quite a while, despite really not being interested in the cheesy 80s rock it bore. I can't remember if they actually sang about Ringworlds and Pierson's Puppeteers or just the usual 80s rock staples of beer, women, and wishing you were in Helloween.

Sam J. Lundwall does not wish to update his SCANDINAVIA entry in the Encyclopedia of SF:

Thanks for egoboo in Ansible, the thinking esseff gentleman's only friend. I cannot suggest myself for the new Scandinavian entry – I have very little contact with the Scandinavian esseff scene these days. Most of my friends there are dead or should be. Also, to be honest, I have recently notified my US contacts that I am severing all contacts with them, due to the innumerable US wars against the entire world, including Iraq and Afghanistan etc etc (and before that the equally awful wars and attacks against Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia and Chile and Libya and everyone else not strong enough to defend themselves). All this has been and is paid for with taxes paid by these people, which disgusts me. During WWII, my father refused to have anything to do with anyone in Nazi Germany. I am doing the very same thing as regards the Fascist US. So, no more contacts with the US, which of course would include the Encyclopaedia. One could argue that the US-UK Axis of Evil should force me to discontinue UK contacts also; but like many I regard that thing as just Blair and his henchmen brown-nosing their US owners and masters. And hopefully that will now change. Now, no more US esseff for me, no more US computers, no more US drink, no more of anything from there. The world is a big place with lots of better and cleaner stuff to offer in all fields. It works just fine.

Carol Pinchefsky sent a quote posted at Overheard In New York:

Mom to two kids: Now, you can both get one paperback each, but remember, they have to be normal paperbacks. Nothing about dragons.

Denny Lien reminds me that it is possible to overdose on "Eyeballs in the Sky" material – all from The Shadow of Wall Street (1929) by Frank S. Lawton:

• "Those eyes of his would bore through an oak door. You've noticed his eyes, haven't you? The kind that are soft as velvet most of the time, and glitter like dagger points at others?"
• "He had noticed Compton Moore's eyes, but the chief thing in them that had struck him was that he could not say what color they were, and that they were eyes which were utterly baffling."
• "Twenty minutes later Compton Moore came out, calm and collected, but with the velvet absent from his eyes and the glittering dagger points strongly in evidence."
• "The glittering eyes, visible through the eyeholes, seeming to transfix in turn each of the wealthy men around the table."
• "During that period John noticed how the velvet in the eyes now and then turned to dagger points. They glittered at the end of his musing."
... and so on.

Marion Pitman is our cricket correspondent, or maybe our Harry Potter film correspondent:

Don't know if it's relevant to Ansible that Daniel Radcliffe is apparently a big cricket fan – was interviewed on radio during Lord's Test. Apparently he was in the next stand when I was there, but I didn't know it at the time :-). On TMS he sounded slightly nervous and thoroughly normal, I thought it was rather sweet. He said that due to the intense discomfort of riding a broomstick, he is possibly the only young person on the planet glad that JKR stopped writing Quidditch matches.

Jonathan Vos Post sent a obituary extract that casts a disquieting light on US academic duties:

Clark Kerr said his job as [University of California] president was: "to provide sex for the students, football tickets for the alumni and parking for the faculty." (New York Times, 2 Dec 2003)

Random Reading

Steve Aylett, Lint (2005), a purported biography of sf author Jeff Lint – who is not Philip K. Dick but has frequent eerie resemblances. His life, for example, is changed by his "Fantastic Lemon" Experience of 1973, although "Lint never could explain to anyone what was so 'fantastic' about the lemon." Mike Moorcock and Alan Moore both plug this enthusiastically on the back cover. There are almost believable full-colour illustrations of Lint's terrible book jackets, comics ("The Caterer"), tv cartoons, etc., and the whole thing is crammed with intensely silly one-liners. "In 1949 Lint managed to convince the hapless Alan Rouch [a fellow author] that he could win the Nobel Prize by disguising his head as a giant eyeball." 144 pages later, when you'd swear that Aylett must have forgotten that throwaway line, we get the authentically tatty cover of J-LINT, a Lint fanzine featuring an interview with Rouch illustrated with a photo of someone whose head is disguised as a giant eyeball. I laughed a lot while reading this – often embarrassingly, on trains – and wish I'd tackled it back when a review would have been timely.

John Clute, The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror (2006). There is a certain Borgesian flavour about this little volume. Rather than actually write a novel, Borges would review the imagined work with such concentrated intensity as to give the impression that the actual book must in some sense exist. Rather than compile The Encyclopedia of Horror in all its stifling immensity, John Clute sketches his argument about the nature of horror in 30 theme entries (some crucial, some whimsical, some wilfully tangential) which imply the shape of an unwritten encyclopedia. Brilliant, perverse, provocative, fascinating and irritating are just some of the adjectives that come to mind. As in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, there's a four-part model of the genre under scrutiny – not horror in general but horror in the shape that most interests Clute – which begins with SIGHTING, continues through THICKENING, reaches horrid clarity in the light of REVEL, and trails off into AFTERMATH. These parallel the fantasy stages of WRONGNESS, THINNING, RECOGNITION and RETURN (the latter having been termed HEALING in the EoF). Clute has since suggested a similar model of science fiction that runs from NOVUM through COGNITIVE ESTRANGEMENT to CONCEPTUAL BREAKTHROUGH and a resulting UTOPIA (or DYSTOPIA) ... but this, I strongly suspect, is tongue-in-cheek. The Darkening Garden does a nifty job of seducing you into impressed murmurs of "Yes, of course ..." before, from time to time, you find yourself shouting "BUT!" The book design is small but classy, with all 30 theme essays illustrated by different artists. Of the proofreading (normaly, misappehension, fo [of], confesions, manqu, illegibile, lexion, etc) it is perhaps wiser not to speak.

Charles Stross, The Atrocity Archives (2004) and The Jennifer Morgue (2006), enjoyable romps which fuse a partly rationalized Cthulhu Mythos with spy-story pastiche – the first purportedly in the manner of Len Deighton and the second very blatantly a James Bond caper (cat-stroking billionaire megalomaniac sails the Caribbean in his own ship and plans to rule the world by salvaging Something Awful from the depths of the Bermuda Triangle ...). The premise is that the Many-Angled Ones live at the bottom of the Mandelbrot Set and in parallel worlds accessible to mathematical invocation. Ever since Alan Turing's unfortunate discovery of the Turing/Lovecraft theorem, a secret and very tatty UK government department known as the Laundry has struggled to keep the lid on and prevent computer geeks from stumbling upon algorithms which might, for example, lead to Birmingham being devastated by the entity known as Nyarlathotep. Our hero was recruited by the Laundry after inadvertently coming close to doing precisely this. Of course everything is mightily classified. The Lovecraftian Deep Ones, with whom we coexist under the terms of the (secret) Benthic Treaty, are codenamed BLUE HADES, and similar sinister capitalizations are endemic. Thus that Bond spoof is eventually filed as CASE BROCCOLI GOLDENEYE. Good fun – intelligent silliness. Of course I was charmed by the special treat planted for me in "The Concrete Jungle" (bonus story in The Atrocity Archives), with its brief reference to disastrous research at "Cambridge IV" – a second or third Charlie Stross homage to my BLIT series. Thanks, guv.

Yes, of course I read heaps of other books – some reviewed for SFX, a couple written up as "Curiosities" for F&SF, and all too many that I felt no urge to annotate. Sorry. It's been a draining year; I hope to be a bit more dynamic in 2008.