Cloud Chamber 16
October 1982

Cloud Chamber Sixteen: again Dave Langford, 94 London Road, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5AU, UK, telephone Reading **********, sets pen to typewriter in a desperate race to save his FLAP membership. Will he succeed? Who knows? Who cares?

Gosh, life's been fast and furious. Since the UK Milford finished and October started seems about 45 minutes, yet all of a sudden it's the 20th of October. Really? What on earth have I been doing, then? 1-2 Oct last two days of Milford and colossal party: here everyone transcended mere sobriety with effortless ease and John Brunner cornered stray guests to tell them what he'd been telling other attendees all week, how he was really on the rocks and poverty-stricken and had been a fool to buy a £6500 word processor which did all these wonderful things [45 minutes omitted here] but was gravely defective in not being able to put cedillas under his capital Cs, something essential if you type fluently in as many languages as John Brunner, and how he'd be really hard put to make ends meet were it not for a fortuitous $25000 for reprint rights he was collecting on account of being Worldcon GoH next year ... oh, John's all right really, but he doesn't half go on ... 3 Oct Return from Milford; convalesce; select New Scientist from enormous waiting pile, only to find its letter column dominated by a long and somehow familiar piece on this word processor which won't put cedillas ... 4-5 Oct Desperately write talk on 'Computers in SF' foolishly promised to Basingstoke Area Young Scientists by the SF Foundation (who then pointed the finger at me): on the evening of the 5th I give them the best I can manage, including such delights as 500 words of padding stolen from a Lionel Fanthorpe epic, The March of the Robots:

'The silence was broken by metallic noises. Harsh clanking, jarring, metallic noises: Things were.stirring within the disc ship. Strange metallic things; things that were alien to the soft green grass of Earth. / Terrifying things, steel things; metal things; things with cylindrical bodies and multitudinous jointed limbs. Things without flesh and blood. Things that were made of metal and plastic and transistors and valves and relays, and wires. Metal things. Metal things that could think. Thinking metal things. Terrifying in their strangeness, in their peculiar metal efficiency. Things the like of which had never been seen on the earth before. Things that were sliding back panels ... Robots! Robots were marching.... Robots were marching, and were about to spread havoc and destruction across the earth ...'

... enough, enough, there is much more, and much worse ... 6 Oct Realize there is no time to produce Ansible 29 in time for 7 Oct the monthly SF meeting at the One Tun pub in London: as usual I travel up early and threaten my favourite editor, Richard Evans at Arrow Books, with loaded glasses of beer. After several pints he relents and agrees to commission a second SF novel from the brilliant synopsis already supplied. 'This calls for a celebration!' I cry, bursting scant minutes later into the One Tun. I don't remember any more until 9 Oct First of three days in bed with cold reading complete works of Rex Stout. 12 Oct Start bashing out Ansible for Fencon, one-day convention due soon in Cambridge. Sad lack of Milford report from Richard Evans, TAFF/Chicon report from Kev Smith. 13 Oct Little brother Jon, famous 'musician' with the semipunk Mekons, comes visiting with girlfriend ('Don't tell our dear mother about her,' he wrote, 'because I am trying to convince her that I am a Homosexual.') and bottle of Polish Pure Spirit. I don't remember any more until 14 Oct 3.30 pm at the Science Policy Foundation (in the carefully preserved London house where Benjamin Franklin was for a long while the guest of the Royal Society) to talk with Foundation master Maurice Goldsmith and professional oddball George Hay about the former's plan for a new sf magazine which I might yet have something to do with but probably not: George keeps saying 'We want it to be Campbellian.' I keep closing my eyes when he says it. Later there's a party, the hyper-downmarket mag Computer & Video Games celebrating its first year with unlimited free wine even for infrequent contributors like me. I don't remember much more ... 15 Oct Mad dash to finish Ansible. Lift to London from Jon and Sally (I only find out her name at this late date), who ditch me miles from anywhere on the South Circular Road – which, believe me, is grim – to wait far a central London tube train at East Putney Station (very grim indeed). Late for lunch with New Scientist, who are encouraging about my mad ambition to write all the SF reviews in that august journal. Then calls on Micronet 800 (computer net wanting SF newsletter to show on their Prestel viewdata pages), C&VG (to say things unaccountably forgotten last night), Arrow (to upbraid R.Evans for not doing a Milford report – he placates ms in the usual way at the nearby pub), the British SF Association monthly meeting (just in time to miss the talk wherein my chum Garry Kilworth hideously insulted every writer of his acquaintance including me) ... 16 Oct Up at throbbingly early hour for lengthy journey on no fewer than five successive trains to reach Fencon in Cambridge by 11am. There I find Joe Nicholas Himself an a panel/game called 'So You Think You Could Be A Writer' – victims being expected to show literary skills by extemporizing brilliant pseudoscience, punchy first lines, page-long bits of padding, complete SF stories in exactly 8 words, etc. Joseph shone in the Getting Your Hero Out Of Impossible Situations round:

'I floated there, a naked brain in the death tank, waving my nerve-fibres in a desperate attempt to avoid the skewers on every side of the tank. When the earthquake shock came I was ready to seize my one slim chance. The glass dividing panel in the tank shattered as the archvillain had foreseen, and the piranha swarm swam lustfully forward to feed on me – in that mad rush, though, one swam head-on into a skewer and ripped its head off! Swiftly I plunged my nerve-fibres into the gaping wound, made contact, and steered the piranha to freedom!'

Great stuff. Otherwise the con was like many others, though with a certain intellectual tinge from those Cambridge smartarses: John Horton Conway talking about the 'Life' game he invented and which has wasted more computer time even than 'Star Trek'; a panel of philosophers and physicists answering Ultimate Questions posed by the audience, an SF quiz which left the participants' brains splattered over the ceiling. I don't remember any more ... 17 Oct Home again for a visit from Kev Smith, who thought America was triffic and spoke of a soul-searing dinner with Gordon Dickson at which GD's 'arranger' / 'organizer' / hanger-on kept leaping up to propose toasts to 'The greatest SF writer of them all – Gordy Dickson!!' (I gather this put Kev in a slight quandary. 'What did you do?' I asked urgently: 'Well, Dickson was paying ...') 18 Oct Recover slowly from preceding week. 19 Oct Mail out Ansible. Feel able at last to eat a little dry toast and thin biscuits. 20 Oct Realize (a) I ought to do something about FLAP; (b) two story deadlines loom; (c) I haven't earned an awful lot of money in this not very typical month; (d) my knee hurts and I don't know why.

Ansible 29 should be enclosed, incidentally, along with a TAFF form and subtle hints that you should vote quickly (there'll just be time if you rush) and choose a worthy person to vote for, whoever she may be ...

Old Promises and Stuff Like That: When I dig out my back issues of Paperback Inferno (still packed somewhere) I shall send Steve Leigh a copy of the Slow Fall To Dawn review. Ditto a copy of Twll-Ddu 19 as soon as I recall who wanted it ... no charge. And I remember Pauline expressing interest in The Tumour in the Whale (collection of 'modern folklore' I mentioned in #16 – have picked up a couple of remaindered copies if anyone wants one for $2 or so – US bills fine) and asking after any American version of the same. The TLS reviewed one such, recently, presumably a UK reprint of a US title: The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and their Meanings (by Jan Harold Brunvand). Sounds interesting. 'The very titles of the stories outlined reveal how deeply US popular culture now depends on automobiles: The Death Car, The Economical Car, The Killer in the Backseat, The Solid Cement Cadillac, The Philanderer's Porsche and so on. Older versions of many were set on America's trains ...' Reminds me of Larry Niven's alarm at having his car tale 'The Deadlier Weapon' retold to him several times as a true thing which happened to a friend of a friend. Good grief, is the bottom of the page really that close? How I do go on.

Oh All Right, Mailing Comments (FLAP 18): ARTHUR – Well, gee, I write sercon stuff too, and also fannish stuff, and the Foundation/Vector Langford gets along just fine with the fannish Twll-Ddu/Tappen Langford. Or to translate this into Sercon, what we seem to have here is an Artificial Dichotomy... DAVE (L) – I ought to break down and prove I'm not a sot either really; but I don't remember any more.... BECKY – your whim is my command.... BILL – ... please imagine these ... dots ... as Blue, just for you.... ERIC – 10 REM OH GOD MORE COMPUTER STUFF... MARTY – 'You could put up a donkey in Ebbw Vale on the Labour ticket and it would win.' (S Wales saying). Mr Foot represents....

[Footnote, over 16 years later: if it's any consolation, I no longer understand most of the mailing comments either.]