Cloud Chamber 50
April 1994

As the shattered wreckage still known as Langford tries to piece itself together after an utterly insane Eastercon stint of producing eleven newsletters in four days (not to mention two fiction chapbooks and more flyers and posters than I care to think about), followed by days of software support, Ansible 81 preparation and production, another Interzone column, frenzied reading to put together a – fingers crossed, now – Guardian sf roundup, and more frenzied reading ahead because nice David Garnett wants a rush article for New Worlds 4 ... I do sometimes pause to wonder why I'm not rich, or at least solvent. Answers on a postcard, please. Oh yes, I wrote some pieces for David Pringle's St James Fantasy Guide too, plus several dead good excuses for slacking on the Clute Fantasy Encyclopaedia groundwork that somehow stretches on and bloody on.

The Guardian reviews were hardest, because shortest. I've never thought of myself as a voluminous or sprawling reviewer (those longish Vector pieces on The Book of the Long Sun and The Iron Dragon's Daughter are unusually extended, for me), but trying to be coherent about anything whatever in a fixed text-bite of 70 words per book has left me with serious doubts as to whether I can really write at all. The content is squeezed in, tamped down in a way that makes me feel that one small editorial change will cause it to go sproing like a watchspring and expand to fill half the room. 'Of course,' said genial Chris Priest, 'they won't just stop at one small editorial change....'

Net Folklore. Some of the stuff that turns up on the computer nets is all too like that semi-institutionalized 'office graffiti' that propagates itself by photocopier. (The Dawkins 'copy me' meme.) Here's a bit sent on by James Randi, the stage magician and debunker of fraudulent psychics, healers, etc:

A Short Guide to Comparative Religions.

Taoism: Shit happens.

Confucianism: Confucius say, 'Shit happens.'

Calvinism: Shit happens because you don't work hard enough.

Buddhism: If shit happens, it really isn't shit.

Seventh Day Adventism: No shit on Saturdays.

Jehovah's Witnesses: Shit happens at every door I knock on.

TM: We'll levitate over this shit.

Zen: What is the sound of shit happening?

Hinduism: This shit happened before.

Mormon: This shit is going to happen again.

Islam: If shit happens, it is the will of Allah.

Moonies: Only happy shit really happens.

Stoicism: This shit is good for me.

Protestantism: Let the shit happen to someone else.

Catholicism: Shit happens because you are bad.

Hare Krishna: Shit happens rama rama.

Judaism: Why does this shit always happen to us?

Zoroastrianism: Shit happens half the time.

Christian Science: Shit is in your mind.

Atheism: Sheeit!

Existentialism: What is shit anyway?

Rastafarianism: Let's smoke this shit.

All of which led in due course to a postscript:

Taoism: Shit happens.

Science: Can you shit repeatedly?

Academia: Let us study x's shit.

Psychiatry: How do you feel about your need to shit?

Americans: Hey, let's talk about my shit!

James Randi: You must produce a stool of prestated size live on TV before dozens of trained observers.

Mailing Comment. I am to explain to a stunned, incredulous Paul Kincaid how it is that I like Jack Vance. It is of course impossible to respond to this sort of question (no matter what the subject) in terms which will make the interlocutor smite his/her brow and cry 'Yes, I was wrong, this author is good after all!' I enjoy Vance's exotic, deadpan style, which when taken at a leisurely pace (rather than being speed-read) is often fine stuff and sometimes very funny. He's particularly good at sending up religious excess: consider the incredibly pure Chilites and the allied institution of Rhododendron Way in The Anome, or the Temple of Finuka (devotional hopscotch!) in Emphyrio: Vance never prods you in the ribs to draw attention to the silliness of all this, but leaves it to you. Alas, a fair bit of his work uses the coolly exotic narration as a vehicle for gosh-what-happens-next pulp plots, so the style is at odds with the action. But I still dote on the daft footnotes and chapter epigraphs in books like the Demon Princes series; apparently some impatient fans skip these as irrelevant, but they're full of nicely odd ideas, bits of local colour, and information relevant (if sometimes only tangentially) to the plot. And I do have a soft spot for an author who, instead of informing us curtly that the hero bolts down a steak or some 'space-rations', almost invariably creates an entire and convincing inn or restaurant for the occasion – offering 'parboiled night-fish, fresh from the bogs', or in Throy (a weakish novel suffering from Vance's frequent loss of impetus late in a series) a sign on the sanitary eatery's wall assuring would-be dissatisfied customers that 'the Chief Dietician will appear and explain in unforgettable terms the synergistic concepts behind her preparations, and make it clear why every mouthful must be carefully chewed and swallowed.' Someone once said that Shaw's plays are the price we pay for his prefaces; with certain laudable exceptions one might suggest that Vance's plots are the price paid for his colour and atmosphere.... Is this an answer, Paul?