Cloud Chamber 57
March 1995

I seem to have spent rather too long being overworked and/or unwell while Acnecon, Picocon and various BSFA and Champion meetings flitted by. Rats. Perhaps it was an error zooming down to Microcon in Exeter while still at a low spiritual ebb: that weekend was fun but had an aftermath of 'flu and a week of long semi-delirious nights during which all my unmet deadlines scrolled in slow neon lettering up the fevered walls of the brain. Have now, somehow, done a new batch of Guardian reviews and three essays for David Pringle's potboiler 100 Best Books about Hollywood (the luck of the draw brought me Ellery Queen, Richard Condon and guess who, Terry Pratchett). Still enfeebled. Bear with me.

Most interesting book reviewed: Tim Powers's Expiration Date, weaving much bizarre factual material (on Houdini, for example, and Edison) into an insane but, for the duration, oddly convincing science-fantasy theory of ghosts. Most ghosts are barely conscious automata, accidental by-products of death: you can trap them in various banal ways, palindromes being excellent snares since ghosts never cease to marvel at such lexical intricacy and will hover forever trying to understand it. Ghost trapping is of importance in this quasi-alternative LA underworld, since snorting a ghost provides a high unobtainable from dope and also has rejuvenating qualities. Major spirits like Edison's or Houdini's are specially sought after (ironic reinterpretation of history portrays Houdini the debunker of fake mediums as an adept who organized his life and stunts to defeat avid hunters of his spirit – his greatest escape); Edison is not merely a McGuffin but an active player in the game, having inadvertently possessed an eleven-year-old boy who ... but this gets very complicated. Much colour, weirdness, menace and fun. Have a look! I recalled a New York Review of SF comment about Powers's flair for alcoholic imagery when one character here fleetingly hears birdsong as curaçao, curaçao....

Mailing 26. In the order they reached me.... Jilly. Yes, I enjoyed the Lymond books – devoured the whole lot circa 1976 after a strong recommendation from another chap (Kevin Smith, now departed from fannish ways). All your other listed favourites are OK by me with the exceptions of Georgette Heyer, whom I approached through the detective stories and found rather dull (they tell me the historicals are better), and Sylvia Townsend Warner (have finally discovered the guiltily unread copy of Kingdoms of Elfin I was sure I had somewhere ... you may hear more of this). Regarding Men at Arms, I think you're right to correct Chris – except that when you write 'kills to save the Patriarch's life' you presumably had the Patrician in mind, and the saved character is in fact Captain Vimes. • Ian. Groaning sympathy with your sufferings at the 'information superhighway' presentation. I had to do one of these myself in February, sort of 'The World Wide Web for Wallies'. By dint of trying to talk English, cheering up drier paragraphs with the odd quip, and deporting all jawbreaking acronyms to a printed glossary which people could take away with them, I ... er ... at least managed not to send anyone to sleep. • Carol Ann. Nick Lowe once gave a very funny convention talk called 'The Black Wine of Thentis', which graded bad sf and fantasy by the characters' consumption of coffee (or close equivalent) – the hot, non-alcoholic 'wine' of the title is how coffee is smuggled into one of John Norman's Gor books! Maybe one day this can be rediscovered for Vector. Andrew. You didn't half jolt my preconceptions by starting with: 'As a gay man who has lived and sometimes still lives in New York city, I'm sure....' But then the name Delany heaved into sight and I mentally rearranged your sentence. • Rosemary. I have a feeling that the short story 'The Eyes Have It' which I know may be quite different from the one you mention: 'mine' is one of Randall Garrett's pleasant Lord Darcy fantasy-detective pieces, vintage 1964, collected in RG's 1979 Murder and Magic. • Simon. I liked Mysterium too – Robert Charles Wilson seems to have produced a body of interesting work before I noticed him, A Bridge of Years being another. [...] • Tanya. I'm all for your saying what you actually think in reviews – though omitting mere abuse like the phrase about the book being useful chiefly to prop the short leg of the table, and attempting (if there's room) to justify by example any remark which readers might suspect is mere abuse. If it is overwhelmingly a bad book, I'm not sure that determined hunting for rare 'Good Aspects' is entirely fair to readers who hope for some guidance: e.g. if there are three tenuous good things to say about the book and about eighty powerfully bad ones, justice may not be served by carefully citing two items on each side for the sake of 'balance'. • Maureen is tempting me to sound off about Alien Influences, which Clarke Award judges who didn't vote for it had better shut up about for a while longer. • Steve. I read the X-Files spinoff novel Goblins with interest since I'd heard so much about the series (though I can rarely face TV after a day peering at the computer monitor), and since HarperCollins's publicity appears to identify the author 'Charles Grant' with respected horror man Charles L.Grant – who can certainly write. But it was dull: wads of padding, tension pumped up through the old device of very short sentences and paragraphs, and cannon-fodder characters walking for no good reason into the pitch-dark alleyway where ... zzzzzzt! The heart of the mystery is some guff about the evil US Air Force adapting people into 'invisible' chameleon-skinned killers (was this an X-Files episode? the presentation implies not). The mystery element is unsatisfactory because the person who proves to be the 'goblin' has previously had such a minor part – a half-page glimpse and 13 words to speak – that the revelation causes one to say not 'Gosh! That's who!' but just 'Who? Oh ... er....' [thumbs back through more than 150 pages to check]. And the element of pathos, in the irreversible thing that has been done to this person, is more or less thrown away for the sake of keeping everything mysterious for as long as possible. • Yvonne. There was a shock of recognition in the two versions of the La Llorona story which you relate, since I came to them fresh from Expiration Date – which features a monstrous though also pathetic inversion of La Llorona who has drowned her lover and exploits her twin children to find her the tasty souls of others. • Chris. A near-perfect review of Stewpydde Tyettul there, language and all. The book was exhilarating to read, but half an hour later I was hungry again. • Tony. Welcome! • Oops, out of room. Apologies for grubby streaks in the left margin: photocopier trouble, soon to be cured by lavish use of money. •