Cloud Chamber 27
March 1984

a further something for FRANK'S APA (and a select several others, so there) from Dave Langford, 94 London Road, Reading, Berkshire, RG2 5AU. Phone Reading 665804. Collar size 16". Inside leg 33". Access number... no, no, my serene trust in fandom extends only so far. Any strangely pale patches this issue are because the duplicator has decided pale patches are the In Fashion for Spring of 1984. 29 Feb.

After my recent outbreaks of woe, gloom and misery, it's only fair to note that some money has actually been trickling in of late. Rather difficult to write fannish things without that customary trickle of good old reliable self-pity... like the leper, or whoever it was in Life of Brian, who bitterly complained that healing had utterly destroyed his source of income. The Pocket Books advance has actually arrived, thus touchingly marking the anniversary of Pocket's publication of the wretched book. It'll be no surprise, to those of you who know all about publishing, that the actual process was; (a) Large cheque from Pocket cashed by Arrow Books. (b) Strangely depleted amount, suggesting a mysteriously low conversion rate, notified in sterling to my agents, (c) Arrow take 20% of this as their rightful commission for so efficiently selling and handling the US rights for which the cheque is the first ever payment, (d) Arrow then reward themselves for not having sold many copies in the UK (thanks to their not having distributed more than about five that I've been able to trace), by retaining lots more of the money as "unearnt advance", leaving about one-third of the amount as under (b). (e) A.P.Watt take 10% of what's left, and (f—!) I give the remainder to Barclaycard.

All the same, life feels good. The Public Lending Right money was more than I or anyone expected, but what was really great about the scheme was that you got a computer printout with estimated library loans for every edition of every book registered. People are still reading War in 2080! Numerous libraries still have my silly UFO book, and the Morgan/Langford Facts & Fallacies! I thought the things would have rotted away, crumbling under the vile sweaty hands of library-goers. Then I came to the bit about the thousands and thousands and thousands of people estimated to have borrowed The Space Eater... That PLR form was a terrific psychological boost that kept me cheerful for weeks, and still does whenever I think back to it. (How much did I actually get? About half what Chris Priest did. Go and ask him.)

In addition, I got paid for a few short stories, and sold a few more to odd places like Knave magazine, and signed up to write a new nonfiction epic in collaboration with (of all people) Brian Stableford just up the road... Collins have finally blacklisted me after my faithful and conscientious reviews of each Stephen Donaldson book, meaning that with luck I'll never have to read one again... 250 feet of bookshelves have given us a start towards getting the mighty Langford book collection from its encoffinment in cardboard boxes... a few quid is promised from upcoming book publications, including of course my 25% of Charles Platt's. Micromania, which is still proving fun: C.Priest put his finger on it when he mentioned that as agent he was getting a terrific charge out of the imminent (1 March) publication, without the boring preliminaries of having to write the book. Much the same feeling prevails here, with the added bonus of being able to look upon Chris as an effete parasite since I did at least write some of the book. I wonder if sniffers after scandal in the computer press will notice that I'm sort of running with the thoat and hunting with the zitidars, as it were, by writing chunks of both C.Platt's "microcomputers are evil and corrupting" book and Mike Rohan's more conventional "gosh, aren't computers wonderful" effort, Second Byte. This reminds me of Ian Williams's confession last mailing that he rots his brain with game programs like Manic Miner... I will shyly add that I had a really great time with the Commodore 64 version of MM for a few hours, during which I managed to transfer the program from cassette (which takes about a million years to load into the computer) to floppy disk. After that it was less exciting, but I stuck around long enough for a couple of observations. First, each "level" of the game requires that you get through all the previous ones, and each level is of little interest once you've sussed the pattern of moves which gets you through – so to play level 20 you have to let the program condition your reflexes to take you smoothly through the previous 19. Not only is playing by reflex pretty boring, but the acquired reflexes are, of course, good for nothing but playing this one game. Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, I found myself wondering whether the lad who wrote the game – with its interminable, arbitrary sequence of actions to be performed 100% correctly on pain of instant "death" – had ever read Algis Budrys's Rogue Moon?

A few days ago, Private Eye arrived with one of its little denunciations of journalists, this time a fellow called Nigel Blundell who allegedly spends his time plagiarizing and re-plagiarizing from a limited fund of anecdotes, to produce endless Octopus-published books called World's Greatest Mysteries, World's Greatest Ghosts, etc, etc. Enter the Funny Coincidence Department: only the day before, I had a letter from Haverfordwest recluse David Redd, enclosing a couple of pages xeroxed from N.Blundell's World's Greatest UFO Mysteries, published as usual by Octopus (1983). You've guessed it! My little UFO hoax book has successfully taken in mighty Nigel Blundell, and has been misquoted as gospel at a couple of pages' length. I suppose I should feel frightfully guilty for corrupting and polluting the pure intellectual wellsprings of UFOlogy, but actually I've been giggling a lot. After all, the book is a spoof; it contains enough anachronisms and giveaways and jokes (if you haven't met it, the central story concerns Hazel's great-great-grandfather meeting a UFO in 1871 and writing an account lost for generations in the 'secret' drawer of the desk on top of which Ansible is now regularly collated)... in short, even the people who gave it good reviews on its own weird merits have done so tongue-in-cheek and nobody appears to have believed it bar two or three Very silly small-time reporters. Oh, but Nigel Blundell is the 'top Fleet Street journalist' (Eye). That explains everything.

Further funny coincidence, this time bringing us as close to Real Street Life as I ever get... last time I visited Frederick Muller Ltd at Wimbledon, I barged casually onto the Tube as is my wont, collapsed in the nearest seat and hauled out the current review paperback (of which more in a moment). There seemed to be a peculiar chemical pong in the air, but Tube cars can smell of practically anything, after all. Vaguely I noted that the black chap sitting opposite seemed to have a terrible cold, as evidenced by catarrhal sounds and a huge white hanky... Abruptly he lurched upright, revealing himself to be thirteen feet tall, and loomed over me, exhaling the aroma of three Evo-Stik factories going full blast. "This... train..." he said in groggily Delphic tones, "This... train... stops... at... Fulham Broadway." He slumped back then, and ever so casually I took in the details like the large white plastic bag (not a hanky at all) he was breathing into and out of; the discarded bags on the floor with a yellow gluey residue in each; the fascinated audience pressed against the extreme far ends of the carriage, watching me and my travelling companion. "Fulham Broadway," I said with a pusillanimous nod, feeling I probably ought to be a few seats further away but wondering whether the move might not seem a little pointed. "Fulham Broadway," he agreed, diminuendo, and lapsed into hungry sniffling. I'd given the right password. Several stops later he hauled himself upright and fell out of the train, at East Putney actually: I wonder if he ever found his way to Fulham Broadway? There would be absolutely no punchline to this, except that later, back home, Hazel said to me, "Why are those people across the road hanging out of their top floor window?" and I was able to give one casual glance and knowledgably opine that they must be doing the glue-plastic-bag-exhale-inhale-repeat routine in that awkward position either to keep the pong from their landlord or in fear of fumes going BANG within. Hazel looked rather alarmed at this deep knowledge of sinister practices unknown to me six hours beforehand. (Honest, I'd always assumed they just took the lid off a can of glue and went sniff sniff. The subtleties had eluded me.)

Everyone in FRANK'S keeps going an about music, a subject which leaves me similarly blank. It's not that I can't hear it, obviously (on past visits to Greg's or to convention discos I've frequently felt my eardrums meeting in the middle, on every beat): it just fails to make any sense, as though I were poring over a really exciting page written in Japanese, Oh, I can vaguely see that there may be something in certain rhythms which appear fairly obvious, or in violent contrasts like that Also Sprach Zarathustra bit which goes whee-ee for a little while and then goes bamm and then does it all again: but this is plainly on the same level as being able to half-follow a Japanese comic strip but only during the violent parts when the fists and swords are going. What on earth are all the subtleties, what are music critics on about, and how can anyone possibly have perfect pitch when most notes sound (I kid you not) hardly different at all? Better to talk about books, except that a list of recent reading would probably make me sound a real idiot. Well, never mind – It's the reviewing, of course. Right now I'm staring at a pile comprising Pilgermann (which at least I'm looking forward to), Heretics of Dune (which I asked Gollancz not to send, seeing as how I'd failed to read God-Emperor} and the 619-page doorstop of Battlefield Earth, together with a scatter of paperbacks. My brain has lately been gruyèred by such delights as Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern (McCaffrey's most egregious yet, featuring desperate efforts to shoehorn dragons into a plot where they're largely irrelevant: high points are an alternative-technology plague cure which B.Stableford assures me would convert the 'flu plague to one of serum hepatitis, and a hyped-as-tragic climax in which dragon-mounted, teleporting, time-travelling heroine Moreta perishes in... a race against time to deliver vaccine), The Robots of Dawn (stodgy follow-up to former Asimov robot novels, actually so much better than the awful Foundation's Edge that my review was quite encouraging – as who might say, "This lad is improving"), Vonda Mclntyre's Superliminal (fairly OK if you can swallow an incredible load of codswallop about how starship pilots need to be cut off from Earthly biorhytms otherwise relativity would kill them off like flies, so they have their hearts replaced with little pumps and that does it, except that now when they screw ordinary folk the biorhythms are out of phase! which gives them heart (pardon?) attacks!), Piers Anthony (words fail me), Jack Chalker (my stomach fails me) and, my hot tip in the next decade's R.L.Fanthorpe Deep Badness Handicap, dynamic new young British author Frederick Dunstan (a product of my old Oxford college – I knew they'd gone downhill since me, but this is ridiculous).

Dunstan's Habitation One, bunged out by Fontana with a lavish plug from famous loony Colin Wilson (that's a comment hook, Greg, and I'm well aware that Colin also plugged the paperback Science in SF), displays the most fascinating, er, auctorial psychology I've come across for quite some while. An incredibly dull and portentous opening, followed by amazingly inept speeches along the lines of "As you well know, such-and-such a famous event well-known to everybody took place xx years ago", livens up only when the author finds the opportunity to mutilate and/or kill a few of his characters. From about a third of the way through it gets very lively indeed, and I gather that the reader is supposed to be moved and harrowed by the cumulative horror. It's probably just because I'm a callous swine that I kept giggling more and more. The total casualties and mutilations run into three figures, but let me tell you about just one, a lady called Salla whose fate is not untypical. First she walks into a boobytrap set for someone else and has quantities of her sliced off, literally: a bit of shoulder, a breast or so, a chunk of hip, a scattering of toes. A short hospital stay soon perks her up, and she's back on her feet, but with a tendency to sort of brood over things – indeed she takes to shooting people, preferably pregnant women who can gorily miscarry, nursing women so the same bullet can kill the mother and the child at her breast, etc. (Bear in mind that this is but a minor subplot and Salla is but a minor character – more of a stage prop, actually, as will emerge.) Luckily she falls over and lingers some while in pain from multiple fractures, before being publicly executed – thrown down a species of hole known as the Looney Bin. Shortly the corpse is retrieved, for now comes the great necrophilia scene; after which, and for absolutely no motive at all, someone starts humping – sorry! starts carrying the now slightly smelly remains of Salla about the place. The character doesn't know why he's doing this, but the author does: the not too fresh cadaver is required next chapter for the great cannibalism scene. I'll spare you the touching scene in which a young Romeo and Juliet find true love as he helps her try on her first wooden leg, or where a giant spiked yo-yo is wielded to "mince off" someone's chest, or – enough, enough already. There is more, much more, all quite painstaking and humourless. A sick mind, Dr Jackson? Or, as I suspect from the author's biography, merely an adolescent trying to be shocking and being let get away with it by some fool publisher? This, anyway, is the sort of thing which keeps crawling out from under stones when you write a monthly review column. How long can I cope? Progress reports may follow, provided I'm not retired to an early grave by the trauma of Battlefield Earth.

Random reactions to FRANK'S 4: Land of Laughs (Rog Peyton) was a book I really did enjoy – it's particularly remarkable when you look back and note hew few quoted sentences are used to create the fiction-within-a-fiction which so impresses Greg. Associated guilt-pang: apparently my Andromeda order for the book went astray and I bought the book in F*rb*dd*n Pl*n*t, tempted by their habit of giving discounts to even unfamous authors (hint)... New Potato Caboose (Darroll): don't quite understand how Japanese golfballs work if you can't get along without 1800-2000 'kanji'. By the way, some US firm used to do a Tolkien-Elvish golfball... GUBO31D (Abigail) – Our, meaning Hazel's, copy of that 'Desiderata' thingy has just been unearthed and carries the copyright note I remembered: '© 1927 by Max Ehrmann. Copyright renewed 1954 by Bertha K. Ehrmann.' I vaguely recall that Ehrmann wrote a whole book of such little twee prose-poems; this one caught on, presumably by way of rip-off under cover of 'the old gravestone inscription' story, and presumably one of the Ehrmenn then Took Steps to reap the rewards... John Barfoot ought to be writing the Great English Novel or something, not upstaging us all here... To Kev Williams I humbly say Thanks... That spoilsport Chris Priest tells me the marvellous W.H. Smith Directive (how to recognize scruffy and eccentric authors) is a spoof – shame... I think I'll stop here with a superfluous mailing label and see if the duplicator will work with its new drum (thanks, John & Eve) and new ink (thanks to C. Priest, who wouldn't let me put it in for Deadloss because he thought the drum looked quite inky enough – hence the pale pages scattered here and there through Deadloss). Good wishes to all not mentioned, except – but that would be indiscreet.

PS: of course today (1 March) I know all about gluesniffery – or volatile solvent abuse as the gluemakers would prefer us to call it – thanks to the New Scientist article. My timing always amazes me.

Cloud Chamber 27
Dave Langford
94 London Road, READING,
Berkshire, RGl 5AU, UK.