Cloud Chamber 47
November 1993

This time I had the perfect excuse for non-contribution: the photocopier went spung! and so did the bank account. Maureen put a stop to such malingering by threatening a duplicating-ink enema and advising the use of the Amazing Folkestone Electrostencilling Service. Many thanks....

Life has changed. This is embarrassing; not the sort of thing one likes to air in public. One has seen more exhibitionistic fans strut their stuff, but isn't the whole matter a trifle ... sordid? Let me say right away that I can give it up any time I like. And peer-group pressure had nothing to do with the fact that I have, um, well, joined a computer net. Anyone addressing me in public by my new secret name of had better be prepared to roll up their trouser leg, that's all. End of technobabble.

Frank Key. Following on from my recent article on the great man (printed in The New York Review of SF), he writes: 'I think you've got my measure: no tiresome speculations as to what it all "means".... Comments: (1) Malice Aforethought Press consists also of Ellis Sharp (dedicatee of Iain Banks's new tome) and (possibly) Maxim Decharné. Maxim has decamped to become a drummer with a beat combo called Gallon Drunk. Other than pictures in Melody Maker, I haven't seen hide or hair of him for a year. (2) I am puzzled – as I think you indicate you are – by the recreational chemicals conjecture. The inference [in the American review I was quoting – DRL] seems to be that unless one ingests powerful hallucinogenics, one is doomed to write like Mrs Gaskell or Anthony Trollope.'

PS: obsessed with ruddy spelling-checkers, The New York Review of SF corrected Key's title 'House of Turps' to 'House of Turnips'. I have duly sent them a salutary xerox of the title page, which for no apparent reason is in French – 'La Maison du Térébenthine'.

Alan Coren. When I quoted his cod article on the Britannica spine titles, I hardly thought I'd be alone in remembering it ... but didn't expect this to be the topic which provoked more simultaneous independent recollections than anything previous in Acnestis. A group cultural gestalt may be emerging. Oh dear.

Reading and Reviewing. I'm still easing back into reading a bit more new sf/fantasy ... a certain area of my mind still remains stunned from the amount of reviewing I did until a couple of years ago, and I keep putting off reading Worthy Books. So I only just caught up on John Whitbourn's A Dangerous Energy, which in addition to its solid alternate-England setting conveyed the intellectual stench of demonology like nothing I've read since Black Easter or thereabouts. (Nor does Whitbourn cop out, as I fear Blish did a bit in The Day After Judgement.) I was also late reading that John Grant genre-switcher The World, which is really ambitious, disturbing and odd, and had me fascinated all the way up to Mexicon. Lately I tackled Stephen Marley's Mortal Mask and was impressed – the potential for humour in chinoiserie (Ernest Bramah, Barry Hughart) tends to obscure the violent magic of that mythology, which rages unchecked through MM ... with some memorably nasty frissons.

The World and Mortal Mask have one slender thing in common: they were reviewed by Chris Gilmore in Interzone 77. He mostly liked MM but seems to have skimmed somewhat – e.g. he claims that a nasty character called Aklo is there to show that humans can be just as vicious and unpleasant as the gods or devils ... implying that he entirely missed the late 'revelation' that Aklo is by no means human. But his trashing of The World, in perhaps the most contemptuous hit-job review that Interzone has ever printed, leaves me bemused. Could he have been reading the same book as I? Did other joint Acne/IZ readers feel that way?

John Grant (Paul Barnett) is wisely not leaping into the fray with an angry response because, aside from errors of fact and so on, the Author's Reply To A Poor Review all too easily boils down to a petulant 'you didn't like my book, you swine, and you should have!' This (Vikki) is the essential problem with hitting back against a vile reviewer. One is asking a public forum to accept that (a) it's all wrong, that old saw about the futility of debate over personal taste (de gustibus non disputandum); (b) in fact, when it comes to my book, there is for the first time in the history of the universe an objective standard of excellence; (c) I'm right, the book is good and therefore the reviewer is provably incorrect; (d) this proves it.

Most obscure book read: Eric Linklater's The House of Gair (1953), pressed on me at random by kindly Chris Priest to pass the long train journey from Hastings to Reading. Odd, flawed, surprising, entertaining; bits of it are reminiscent of a version of The Magus written by, er, Michael Innes in his J.I.M.Stewart mode. Chris and I both wondered whether John Fowles had ever read this one. (I knew Linklater only through his juvenile The Wind on the Moon.)

No doubt dusty second-hand bookshops are full of similar small surprises hidden amid rows of titles grey with familiarity, the ones that seem impossible not to find: Tobit Transplanted, The Ballad and the Source, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, The Shadow and the Peak, The Spoils of Time, The Weak and the Strong ... the list would be far longer if I had a better memory. Actually the last is a minor work by Gerald Kersh, who later wrote great stuff like Fowler's End – not an easy title to find anywhere – Night and the City and The Song of the Flea. All three are recommended.