Cloud Chamber 34
February 1985

from Dave Langford, 94 London Road, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5AU, UK. For FRANK'S APA and hardly anyone else, honest Frank, would I lie to you? Feb 85.

Will we ever learn? Again the Langfords plunge into house titivation, wishing for DNQ reasons to lessen the gormenghastly spectacle of decay before summer comes. The legacy of the last builder we hired was a drunken fireplace (may be inspected by appointment), some leaky window frames (we're not worried, it's only the spare room which is dank and unwholesome... oh, hi there, Patrick and Teresa) and a still unrepaired pigeon-hole (this, for those not in the know, is a rotted gap in what builders call the undereave soffit, enabling pigeons to mate noisily in the ceiling over Hazel's sleeping head – not to mention playing Rollerball with bits of loose slate when other activities pall). The previous builder succeeded in causing not one, not two, but three floods: in the front room when scaffolding impaled the roof, over post-party sleepers when their temporary roof-patch succumbed to storms, and in the cellar when an ingenious arrangement of blocked gutters helped my pre-Albacon bathwater find its true level...

We persevere, changing builders at every opportunity. The present lot are working with such will that despite locked doors and draught excluders I keep being driven from home by The White Death, fine powdered plaster which (like some fans I could mention) creeps everywhere. To coin a phrase, it gets right up my nose. At least the de-plastered walls allow some rewiring of electrical eccentricities – such as in the downstairs bog. Its former light circuit (as I gleefully informed people, frightening many into sudden constipation) was so arranged that on pressing the switch you announced your intentions to half the county by simultaneously activating a blaze of outside lighting in the garden. Far above, Concorde pilots still sloping upward from Heathrow would glance, nod wisely, and murmur "Langford's having a crap again."

What else is new in Reading? Martin and Katie Hoare keep arguing loudly about the social value of Katie's family curse, two senile dogs inherited from emigrant parents. Not having been dogtrained from early youth, Martin keeps making tactical errors such as leaving his dinner on low coffee tables. (When nature takes its course, he storms from the house for a lengthy and exclusively liquid dinner, telling his tale of domestic woe to all the pub regulars, several complete strangers and a couple of chairs.) Sophie the Old English sheepdog has further distinguished herself by severely biting Katie in a spirit of Xmas frivolity, and by suffering interesting weekly attacks of diarrhoea on the Hoares' former carpet. Bumble the Jack Russell terrier (look, I didn't invent these names) has taken to coming out, as it were, in sympathy – fertilizing random areas of floor by dead of night. We draw a veil over the terrible morning when Martin wandered barefoot into the bathroom. "You could have put your foot in the loo and flushed it," I said helpfully, but the advice came too late. (I believe he hopped, cursing, down the stairs and into the garden; a vision I'll cherish to the end of my days.)

What of famous Contravention plotters Chris Hughes and Jan Huxley? Chris dreams hotly of breaking into computer journalism and getting free review copies of serious business applications software called things like Manic Space Goat Attack... ambition should be made of sterner stuff. His latest ploy: a form letter to editors of a million computer magazines, saying roughly "I'm wonderful, commission me to write things, samples of my brilliant published work are enclosed." After posting these with remorseless efficiency, he spent the next day on a further, hasty wave of letters which actually contained the enclosures. To his alarm, one or two replies said things like "Can't help you myself, but I've passed your letter on to the editor of Naff Computing." Of course Chris had already written to Naff Computing, and owing to a previous quarrel with its editor had taken pains to have that particular letter (otherwise identical with all the others) signed "Jan Huxley"...

In between bouts of builders, I've been getting a lot of post. A vast parcel from NEL proved to contain Dune Messiah... and Children of Dune... and God-Emperor of Dune... and Heretics of Dune... while almost simultaneously Gollancz (undeterred by my cowardly failure to tackle their edition of Heretics) offered number 6, Chapter House Dune. The whole pile is somehow more daunting than expected; there's a subtle intellectual difference between, say, knowing how much effluent accumulates in a jumbo-jet during a protracted flight and being confronted with the steaming result in one's own home. Perhaps I should emulate Colin Greenland, who is writing a Yorcon programme book article and begs in a letter for information and quotable quotes on major 1984 SF: "especially your Asimovs, Heinleins, Herberts, etc., which I make a point of ignoring as I go about my daily tasks." New readers may need to be reminded that, just like me, Colin writes a monthly review column covering (coff coff) the entire field of SF and fantasy... Shall I tell him that his partial list of '84 titles omits mention of Greg Benford's – the Yorcon GoH, you know?

Meanwhile I'm grappling with another Piers Anthony outbreak, Refugee, dealing with early trials of a lad who will rise to glory through four agonizing sequels. Early trials consist of an interplanetary trip during which everything he holds dear is hacked away by space pirates. Space pirates have it easy because ships lack bolts on airlock doors: the enterprising pirate merely hauls alongside and boards his victim for several chapters of rape, loot and pillage. So popular has space-piracy become that our hero's increasingly decrepit colony craft is raped, looted and pillaged on no less than eight separate occasions in 333 pages. Crowded place, space. I couldn't believe I was reading this stuff... Turning to the latest (March '85) from good old Gollancz, 2040: Our World in the Future by Michael Allaby, I peeped at a chapter on "War" and found this:

When people talk of approaching war, though, it is not the little wars they have in mind, or even a war like World War Two. They fear the ultimate war, in which superpowers launch their entire stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Surely that war would change the course of history? Probably it would, but much less than you think. / In the first place we must get rid of the idea that such a war would destroy all life on Earth, reducing the planet to a radioactive cinder. It would do nothing of the kind. The destruction would be immense, the human death toll counted in hundreds of millions, but the planet would recover very quickly... The southern hemisphere would not be involved and would not be damaged ...

Invited to comment on this dazzling presentation of current scientific thought about the "nuclear winter", hero Gollancz editor and CND stakhanovite Malcolm Edwards had no hesitation in saying, "Er um well... nothing to do with me, boss... the book's been hanging around the kids' editorial department for years..."

Mailing comments? Enjoyed but don't have heaps to say about the last outbreak. Ron: you'll be appalled by recent correspondence in SF Commentary, with Jerry Pournelle and macho friends lambasting Fred Pohl as a brainless pinko for suggesting that "Star Wars" defence is not a good thing. The new catchphrase is "Mutual Assured Survival": when everyone has this perfect defence there can be no war! Of course there's no such thing as perfect defence; the "standard strategic answer" applies. If even 1% of the first strike (an improbably low figure) can penetrate space defences, the attack need merely be increased a hundredfold. This represents a raising of the stakes, an economic war which the USA is better equipped to wage – and doesn't Pournelle know it!

P&TNH: forgot to congratulate you on TAFF. Triffic.

Everyone: sorry about the tiny type, but you get more for your money (and I spend less)...