Cloud Chamber 52
July 1994

I was sorry to miss last month's mailing, but life has been intermittently frantic. The good old Guardian seems to be keeping me reviewing sf on a more or less monthly basis, but I don't know when the luck will run out. So, what's up?

Fantasy Encyclopedia. Bits of 'typesetting' work keep cropping up. First there was the 25pp Glossary, in which the Clute/Grant/Kaveney intelligentsia tried to explain for contributors' benefit what some of their esoteric headwords like BELATEDNESS,CROSSHATCH, KNOTS, METAMORPHIC FANTASY, SEHNSUCHT and WAINSCOTS actually meant, in words of more than two syllables. Then came the Entry List, produced in a nice version solely for John Clute to wave at interested American publishers during his current trip: this ran to 25pp in three columns of small type, yet was avowedly incomplete (most TV entries yet to be added, for example). After that, the mere two sides of the contributors' 'style sheet' were a huge relief. This includes a sample entry which has its moments:

SMITH, (PETER) DON(ALD) J(OHN ALBERT) (1900-? ) US author who entered the field with "Scuttlebutt and Naughtiness"" in Spine-Shivering Tales in 1929. His first novel, The Elves of Arcadia (1934 UK; rev vt The Perfect Lover 1935 US), is a contemporary FAIRY TALE in which Oberon and Titania work in a used-car emporium. His most significant work was Brightsleeve and Wondermask (coll 1936; vt with 1 story cut Stop Me if You've Heard This – Aaargh! 1937 UK), assembling the 14 stories in his Count Parmesan series, relating the adventures of a 16th-century VAMPIRE-hunter in an ALTERNATE WORLD; one story, "Blue Stake"", was the basis of the film The CLOCK STRUCK THIRTEEN (1939). Thereafter DJS, an author of submarginal colloquy and a sense of muted velleity, left the field in somewhat mysterious circumstances. [KP]

Other works: It Crept from Out the Courtyard Deep * (1935), film tie; Suck that Aubergine! (1935), nonfiction vegetarian cookbook based on recipes numerologically deduced from Bram STOKER's Dracula (1897).

As editor: Night Jobs in Seattle (anth 1937), the first of an annual series which continued with Night Jobs in Seattle 1938 (anth dated 1938 but 1939) and 1939 (anth 1939).

Further reading: Don J. Smith: An American Original (1963 chap) by Jack CHALKER and Mark Owings; The Night's Worth a Thousand Bucks: Don J. Smith as Entrepreneur (anth 1984) ed Arnold Peterson.


Read and reviewed. Simon Ings, City of the Iron Fish. Stuff about literary influences usually needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt, but I wonder whether anybody knowing the genre could possibly read Part One of this without the name 'M.John Harrison' crossing their mind in hundred-foot neon lettering to an accompaniment of brass bands. Far be it from me to suggest that Viriconium of the Iron Fish is in any sense a homage.... There are also signs of Philip K.Dick (notably Ubik) and a lot of throbbing stuff which I ascribe to the Unauthorized Sex Co. It is well written. • Kim Newman, The Original Dr Shade & Other Stories ... I saw many of these in Interzone, and they're mostly quite jolly, if slighter and more reliant on pop-cult props (and, oh all right, 'intertextuality') than feels wholly comfortable. A slight gnash of the teeth at the number of story afterwords casually mentioning 'Famous Monsters, my second volume of short stories'. • Philip G.Williamson, Heart of Shadows: bog-standard fantasy. Ripping Yarn of Cursed Stone nicked by Foolish Merchant, whereat an Ancient Heartless Invincible Smelly Avenger pursues and lots of people suffer unwanted cardiectomies. But wait, is that a last-ditch plot token there on the horizon? It's a million to one chance, but it might just work....

Ansible. Possible error in Ansible 84, attached: Rob Hansen tells me that Kim Thompson, referred to by Chris Priest as a 'her', isn't. • Recently I had a mild e-mail altercation with Mike Glyer, editor of the US fan newsletter File 770, who described my and Ansible's moral failings at huge length. A key paragraph: 'The cumulative effect, in my mind, is that Ansible is characterized by relentlessly portraying people unsympathetically, scornfully, and as irredeemably beyond respect as professionals or fellow fans, licensed by its ability to make most people laugh in the process.' This depressed me mightily until Paul Barnett – as ever, the kindest of men – kicked me back into good cheer ('I demand my right to be represented as a dimwit, buffoon, professional incompetent and other demeaning things! No culture or subculture is mature unless it has attendant gadflies'). But does anyone here really see Ansible in Mike Glyer's dismal light?

Mailing comments. Maureen asked how I felt about the Hugo business. Extremely ambivalent, is how. I don't think I really deserve this string of awards; on the other hand, the people whose writing I most admire tend not to make the 'Fan writer' shortlist. What is depressing is the inertia of the voters, who in these non-specific categories ('Fan writer' isn't awarded for any particular work or works) seem to take years to notice that X is pretty good or that Y hasn't actually written anything. Sometimes I've been tempted to withdraw, but the US nominees themselves are against this ('I don't want an award for "best fan writer other than Langford"') ... and of course there is a certain chauvinistic frisson in Winning Hugos For Britain, as it were. • Carol Ann: even if The Betwitchments of Love and Hate is just a typo, I like it. • Daniel: every time I order something from a certain software supplier, I tell them again that the plural of virus is not 'virii'. But they think it looks nice. • Andy: your view of Charles Fort accords with mine (and Martin Gardner's) – that he was a humorist and satirist of science who delighted in collecting 'damned' facts that didn't fit, and spinning dozens of weird and contradictory theories of his own to account for them. That he believed them seems improbable, but some humourless Forteans do insist on this. • Barry. There are times when, lazy sod and moral reprobate that I am, I want to read an all-out killer review simply as an excuse not to open an intimidating-looking book. Glory Season is intimidating because (a) it looks awfully fat; (b) to imagine dear old David Brin writing sensitively about interactions in a largely female society causes me, for unknown reasons, to gibber around the room in an ad-hoc ape impersonation. So thanks. • Mark. I have Lillian Hellman's personal memoir An Unfinished Woman around somewhere. She had one hell of a career (Dashiell Hammett's lover; friend of Dorothy Parker, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eisenstein, Mailer; prominent opponent of McCarthy witch-hunts; a playwright praised by K.Tynan) and may be lots more famous in the USA than here.