Cloud Chamber 40
March 1993

A lonely acnode from Dave Langford at 94 London Road, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5AU.

• Hello to all. What, 40? Er, I've never been that good at titles and have been using Cloud Chamber on and off since the 1970s. I only hope it doesn't carry some hideous curse – last year I revived it for the 'Reds in Space' APA (supposedly revolving around sf and politics ... I got dragooned in by Abigail Frost), whereupon mailing dogsbody Wilf James first helpfully put out the initial package without any deadline for a future one, and then vanished from sight.

As for the present APA title(s), Harold Morowitz has an essay in his The Wine of Life where he muses on the information to be found in Bergey's Manual of Determinative Bacteriology and notes: 'One is also able to learn that acne is an incorrect transliteration of the Greek noun acme, meaning a point.'

I feared I wouldn't have time to contribute this month but, inspired by Carol Ann's noble example, am going to cheat by slotting in a short essay written for Doug Fratz's Quantum. No one over here ever seems to see what I write for this US critical magazine. (But then, few of the 'active core of British fans' who spend their time running conventions seem to have noticed that I now write a column every month in Interzone. Why ever not? Because in the early 1980s there was a fuss about Interzone being launched partly with the profits of an sf convention in Leeds, and a number of these fans – feeling that sf convention money should go only to their own favoured causes and not to anything that might benefit e.g. writers – have boycotted the magazine ever since. I get depressed about this 'community' sometimes.) But I digress. Anyone not familiar with Alfred Bester can skip this bit, recording some research that interested me.

The Editor My Destination

• Personal details? I have fooled around in and near the sf genre for a long time, publishing three novels (one in collaboration), several score short stories, several hundred magazine columns (mostly sf reviews and computer stuff), and an awful lot in sf fanzines. In 1979 I remember being praised once or twice as the sort of funny British writer who ought to be winning fanzine Hugos instead of boring old American farts X, Y and Z. In the 1990s I am generally pointed out as one of the boring old Hugo-winning farts who ought (in some nebulous way, possibly involving an Exit subscription) to 'make room' for new talent. So it goes.

I'm still getting used again to the idea of reading sf and fantasy after a very long series of monthly review columns had the effect of aversion therapy – whereby you learn to dislike all books, by helplessly associating them with having Piers Anthony novels thrust resistlessly down your gullet. As a rest I've been writing on crime and other pop-fiction for the famously uncirculated Million magazine, and will be sorely tempted to re-run some extracts for this wider audience....

Now to thumb once more through the second mailing (I missed the first). Only one postal collection remains before the fateful deadline! The tension mounts. (But ejaculates prematurely.) Any lack of cogency is to be blamed on haste.

Sue's request for writing exercises reminds me of the infallible Robert Sheckley cure for writers' block. He said he tried a drastic exercise to get things flowing again (an enema for the muse, as Nick Lowe liked to say): making himself type 5000 words a day, any words so long as he met the quota, grimly bashing out stuff like ...

Oh words, where are you now that I need you? Come quickly to my fingertips and release me from this horror, horror, horror ... O God, I am losing my mind, mind, mind ... But wait, is it possible, yes, here it is, the end of the page coming up, O welcome kindly end of page....

After days and days of this, Sheckley made the great discovery that it was now actually easier to write a story than go on suffering. And so he did, quite quickly and happily. I have passed on this sure-fire advice to several aspiring authors who believe there is a Closely Guarded Secret to it all, but none of them ever thanked me. (Incidentally, it was Robert Silverberg who, when once asked if he'd ever had writers' block, said: 'Yes – it was the worst ten minutes of my life.')

Sally-Ann: I shamefully neglect US market research because I can't afford to subscribe to the magazines. Fortunately freebies crop up from time to time. It remains awfully expensive to collect US rejection slips from Britain. What's more fun is being invited to submit to theme anthologies: I've been lucky in that area lately, with sales to Alternate Skiffy (what would the world be like if the history of science fiction itself had been different? Their example had H.P.Lovecraft editing Astounding. I imagined a UK origin for the pulps with G.K.Chesterton's SF Magazine) and Christmas Forever (sf for Christmas 1993).

Maureen: unless I've got mixed up, I thought the problem with Short Form magazine ran more or less as follows. (a) Rude letter about H.Ellison's column received, signed as by Andy Porter of SF Chronicle fame. (b) HE goes to town on AP in his next column: pages of abuse, sexual denigration, libel, the lot. (c) AP points out that he did not write the letter, that he does not know who did, and that he would rather like an apology. (d) Nothing happens. (e) Nothing happens.... Well, one must be patient where HE is involved. Some people submitted to Again, Dangerous Visions in 1969, had their stories held over for The Last Dangerous Visions due in the early 70s ... and are still waiting, those who are still alive.

Vikki Lee: I devoutly believe in typo-free perfection in books and even lowly fanzines, but am always nervous of going on about it. This is because of an important law articulated by John Bangsund, stating that '(a) if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written; (b) if an author thanks you in a book for your editing and proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book; (c) the stronger the sentiment expressed in (a) and (b), the greater the fault; (d) any book devoted to editing or style will be internally inconsistent.' All this is called (but of course) Muphry's Law.... Rog Peyton says he spent some fifteen years of his life telling Panther and later Granada that the 'Julactic Empire' referred to in the blurb of countless Foundation paperbacks was a dictation error involving someone who couldn't pronounce 'Galactic' – but for edition after edition it persisted. Typos within a book are rarely corrected (as with the McCaffrey already mentioned) because the mean sods will do anything rather than reset the text. Instead, increasingly blurrier copies of copies go marching down the years.

Oops. Must stop: more in our next. Or, in view of horrible commitments in April, our next but one.