Cloud Chamber 38
May 1992

Something from Dave Langford, 94 London Road, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5AU, on the occasion of about 25 May 1992.

Before anybody starts worrying whether they've missed 37 key issues of whatever this thing turns out to be called, I should explain that the Cloud Chamber title originally stalked the earth from 1976 to 1987 and is now revived for acutely political reasons such as my not being able to think of another one just now.

So what is 'this thing'? I have this bit of paper saying it is an Amateur Press Alliance ('association' is more usual, but I suppose 'Alliance' does have something remotely political about it) run by an Organizing Editor ('official editor' is more usual, except in Australia where they have an Official Bloody Editor and quite right too) and is sort of, er, political – at which point cries of 'Langford's buggered off to the bar' are exceedingly usual, at least at sf conventions. Admittedly this hideous dereliction has a lot to do with the fact that what may later be reported as an exciting and lively discussion usually seems at the time, to my semi-deaf ears, to be an unintelligible farrago in which all the important points get made by the mumbler at the back without a microphone or the person on stage who in the gibbering heat of controversy has forgotten all about the microphone. But I digress.

(When younger I thought politicians rose by being good speakers and debaters, and even developed a theory that this was deeply unfair, as being able to sway an audience had nothing more to do with the ability to govern than mastery of quantity surveying, radioastronomy or tiddlywinks. Then Parliament got on to TV and I discovered they're mostly terrible speakers anyway ... clearly they must have other, hidden virtues. Anyone know what?)

Now, about This Great Movement Of Ours. Abigail wanted comments on contribution requirements (I hate this ghastly fan jargon of 'minac' and – not at all a new idea – 'maxac'), mailing frequency and stuff. I don't mind what it's called ('The Red Committee For The Assassination Of The Cabinet' might help if we want media coverage), and bimonthly is probably about right. With today's amazing electronic technology, though, minimum and maximum page counts are meaningless: I get some 2500 words into my one-page-of-A4 sf newsletter Ansible by cruel use of font sizes sponsored by opticians, yet could fill eight sides with the same text in larger print. No one wants to fiddle around counting words ... but one thing of which page-count is a good measure is how much the bloody mailing will cost to post. Should there be a surcharge for each page circulated, above the 'standard' two?

All this began at an sf convention. I must consult my notes and share insights into the politics promulgated by popular sf. Does anyone remember Heinlein's The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, which features a token socialist? This vile, whingeing character is incapable of coming to terms with reality and thinks it a bad thing that people in the libertarian society of a Moon colony should be left to die if they can't pay the air tax. The hero loses no time in rubbishing this view, but Heinlein wanted to make the point clear ... so soon afterwards the whinger is exposed as a villain and traitor, which jolly well shows you.

Then there was the Niven/Pournelle Footfall, with its original defence of 'Star Wars' weaponry: we should build the whole arsenal, is the constantly repeated message, because even if we don't seem to need it we'll regret not having it when, one day, the aliens invade. The book's great scene comes when a hitherto liberal ecologist realizes the truth of this message (the invading aliens make a point of messing up his favourite ecology, just to convert him), instantly switches views, and is soon demonstrating his new commitment by loyally drowning a less committed character in a toilet. Sf, the literature of ideas. •