Cloud Chamber 51
May 1994

The first thing I want to say is: yes, I know it was Jeff Noon and not the mythical Steve Noon who won the Clarke award! Just another attack of DTs, or brain death, or something. This was corrected in all subsidiary editions of Ansible (including Internet). Honest.

Well, for once I do have a reading list to hold its own in the 'mine's bigger than yours' stakes – possibly. In fact it's more the embarrassment stakes, since I'm rather late catching up with many items that had to be discussed in that New Worlds 4 article:

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, good but a bit limp (understated is, I suppose, the word) and with some truly naff attempts at futurespeak. • Martin Amis, Time's Arrow – backwards ran dialogue until reeled the mind. • Kathy Page, Island Paradise: classic example of lit snobbery with Venus, or maybe Mars, renamed as 'Planet Three' because, evidently, Page feels the real name would be too sci-fi. • P.D.James, The Children of Men, nicely written (too nicely in places – occasional sense of the author leaning back all covered in perspiration and saying 'Gosh, that passage is really good!') but with several dodgy plot devices in the good old Gernsbackian tradition to force the story into the desired direction. • Robert Harris, Fatherland, a jolly spiffing alternate-history thriller but no more than that. • Marge Piercy, Body of Glass, a fun story although Piercy evidently learned all she knows about cyberspace from good old technologically unreliable William Gibson. • Nicholson Baker, The Fermata, of which I will merely mention that by about halfway I found myself counting the genital euphemisms in curiosity as to whether the author could come up with a worse one. His low point: 'my triune crotch-lump'. (John Clute, sitting down suddenly after being told of this: 'I used to be interested in sex until a moment ago!') • Paul Theroux, O-Zone – special L.Ron Hubbard award for imaginative science. An insufferable teenage supergenius and brat explains how he proposes to use a hand-held particle beam weapon to make a way through this deadly laser fence, like unto the parting of the Red Sea: 'It's fibre-optics, fuck-wit. The beam bends. [...] This weapon can do it. We just program it to fire a continuous exode full of antigons.' At which point someone complains (just as I did) that they've never heard of these terms, and is answered: 'I only discovered antigons last year, wang-face!'.

More reviewing for other places: Chris Evans, Aztec Century, which impressed me more than somewhat. • Greg Egan, Permutation City, enjoyed largely for its exceedingly cheeky mathematico-philosophical vehicle to an unending cyberspace afterlife requiring no actual expenditure on sordid things like computers. Also I felt dead clever on realizing from the title of Part One ('The Garden-of-Eden Configuration') that this would centre on cellular automata theory. • Roger MacBride Allen, Isaac Asimov's Caliban, in which whatever talents Allen actually has are swallowed in this 1950s Undead Asimov Robot Mystery routine ... well enough done, but ambition should be made of sterner stuff. • Roger Zelazny and Robert Sheckley, Bring Me The Head of Prince Charming – yet another example of the unfunny funny fantasy, seemingly not plotted but made up as the authors went along. • Roger Zelazny, A Night in the Lonesome October, a very silly romp with a cast of dozens – Jack the Ripper, his dog Snuff who tells the story, Frankenstein, Dracula, Holmes (in drag) and Watson, witch, druid, werewolf, satanic vicar, etc, most with their own talking-animal familiars, plus a selection of Things – all plotting and counterplotting with regard to the possible return of the Lovecraftian Ichor Gods.... Ends a bit abruptly, but quite fun. • Roger Stern, The Death and Life of Superman – official novelization of a lengthy DC comics series which revises (yet again) the Superman 'myth'. Maybe the original was OK ('No, it was lousy' – Avedon Carol), but the interminable transcription of fight scenes, which might possibly have had a certain kinetic quality in four-colour art, just doesn't work on a page of text. Nor the cameo appearances of a million other superheroes and spear-carriers whom only an inveterate comics reader might be expected to recognize. Appalling stuff, in fact.

Also: all necessary reading to do the Pringle Fantasy Guide entries on Lloyd Alexander, David Arscott & David Marl, Max Beerbohm, Ernest Bramah, G.K.Chesterton and Michael Frayn. Next ... Barbara Hambly.

Mailing comments. Yvonne Rousseau saw CC50 and thought the Comparative Religion Through Shit item for Catholicism ('Shit happens because you are bad.') should have been ascribed to Protestantism. Yes, I agree; we need a new Catholic paradigm. 'Shit may happen freely provided you confess it afterwards'? 'Shit happens and must not be prevented other than by total abstinence from food – artificial devices like nappies constitute mortal sin'? • Kev – Paul Barnett sent me an anguished fax saying roughly, 'Oh God, how can I get out of Mexicon, I've just seen that Chris Gilmore is coming...?' • Catie – thanks for the party invitation. Alas, it was not to be. (Deadline trouble.) • Paul – it's ages since I read Brautigan ... I had that same complaint that In Watermelon Sugar was sugary to the point of being diabetic, but The Hawkline Monster was a load of fun. • Tanya – how did you get on with Fort? I love him when he's flinging out daft theories in all directions and disbelieving in all standard orthodoxies and unorthodoxies ... but those endless transcriptions of rain-of-frogs-and-blood newspaper clippings do get a bit much. Damon Knight wrote an interesting Life of him, Charles Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained (1970). •