Cloud Chamber 46
October 1993

Right, I thought, this one will be easy enough to put together – I've reviewed James Blaylock's Lord Kelvin's Machine for Foundation, so that's 1,000 words straight off. But that would be a bit of a swiz: half of you will be getting Foundation in due course anyway....

That SF Encyclopaedia CD-ROM. My polemic last issue was rapidly superseded when Nimbus Information Systems agreed that their CD text display software, while of course wondrous and beyond compare, would be immensely improved by the Langford program that added various blatantly missing facilities. After negotiations, they have signed a contract (drawn up by me) to pay a small royalty for the face-saving software. Watch for 'Additional software © Ansible Information' credits, ho ho.

Now that I have a financial interest, I'm prodding them about their software's friendly way of allowing anyone to dump the entire text of the CD Encyclopaedia to disk files suitable for global pirate distribution. Some people are so unworldly.

'What I Know For Sure About Writing.' Thanks, Sherry, for the Fowler and Wolfe lists. Not a lot to disagree with there. According to me.

SF Humour. Paul: I didn't read the second Phil Janes funfest but struggled through the first. Oh dear, he tries so desperately hard. Some chap isn't just fat, he's ... he's shaped like an enormous pumpkin. No. Got to make it funnier. Thus: '... he resembled that vegetable from which Cinderella's fairy godmother had conjured a stage-coach.' How we all laughed.

Ansible and the Net. Tanya: Charles Stross has badgered me into giving him a disk copy each month, with which he Does Something. God knows what, but Usenet was mentioned at one stage.

Acronyms. Andrew: I think APA stands for Amateur Press Association (e.g. Acnestis) and am slightly disconcerted by contributions headed 'Being an APA produced by ...' – are you a conglomerate?

Pi. Andrew: the Biblical approximation about circumference and diameter turns up in almost identical verses in Kings I 7:23 and Chronicles II 4:2 (yes, I cheated and used the CD-ROM). The former – 'And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.' This was actually the basis of some debate; pi must somehow 'really' be 3 in certain fundamentalist eyes, because the Bible can't be wrong. There is a fairy tale that the Indiana state legislature once passed a law that pi should henceforth be taken as 3, or, according to who's telling the story, 4. Researching this for a book, the closest I could get was a just-defeated – by two votes – Indiana enactment that pi should be made officially equal to 3.2.... (About 1.86% too large.)

Klingon. Andy: there's a bit on this in Ansible. A linguist called Mark Okrand fudged up a 'Klingon language' for the third Star Trek movie and has since published The Klingon Dictionary with official blessings. This led to a Klingon language fandom, and one Lawrence Schoen (PhD, linguist at a Pennsylvania college) now heads a fan club called the 'Klingon Language Institute' and publishes its scholarly journal HolQeD (don't ask me). Schoen, with a Spanish instructor from the University of Minnesota, organized the two-week Klingon Language Camp that saw recent publicity. (75 media interviews! Camp attendance: 12.) But despite all these academic connections, none of the material I've seen suggests that 'Klingon' is actually being taught in any US university.

Fog Index. DVB: Notes on Gunning's 'Frequency of Gobbledegook' index, from my files.... First work out the average sentence length. Then calculate the percentage of 'hard words' in the total word count, the rule of thumb being that a hard word is anything with three or more syllables which isn't a proper name, a combination of 'easy' words (this eliminates terms like 'horsepower' and 'superfluid'), or a variant of a word whose basic form is 'easy'. 'Edit' counts as easy, therefore 'editing' is easy. (As a writer – no, an originator – I always suspected it.) Finally, add the average sentence length to the hard-word percentage and multiply this sum by 0.4. The result, Gunning being an American, is supposed to give the US school grade at which you should be able to tackle the prose. Grade 1 corresponds to six-year-olds, Grade 2 to seven-year-olds, etc. I'm uneasy about adding two different kinds of number (an amount and a percentage) at the last step, but it seems that the formula tests out pretty well on a practical basis.

Pat Cardigan. Sally Ann: I must tell Pat about this improved spelling of her name. No, no, no, I don't have a 'thing' about Pat – she has a thing about me.

Britannica spine titles. Mark: this sort of found poetry (or whatever it is) is always fascinating. Piers Anthony's first story title 'Possible to Rue' was supposed to be a volume of an imaginary encyclopaedia, and Damon Knight once hinted that 'Stranger Station' came from attempts to glean story ideas from the running heads of an sf checklist. And Alan Coren did a spoof review of all 23 volumes of a Britannica from the titles alone: 'Botha Carthage. An exceptionally well-documented life of Hannibal, whose dying words give the book its intriguing title. His actual words, apparently, were "Bugga Carthage!" but the publishers, I understand, felt this might have meant rejection by W.H.Smith, and compromised accordingly.'

Everyone Else. Thanks to all. Am currently rushed, exhausted etc., so no more this mailing.