Cloud Chamber 59
June 1995

Sorry about missing the May mailing – this happened because of, ahem, reasons. Such as the long toil of connecting our esteemed Administrator to the net.... Also SFX magazine continues to be demanding, and then improves my golden prose so that I appear to call our favourite literature 'sci-fi' (the editors also do a nasty thing common in over-designed magazines: writing extra bits into your copy when they decide that that, although written exactly to length, the piece would fit better if expanded by two lines). Bah.

Mailing 29 • Since we're still muttering about Holmes's bicycle tracks, I shamelessly reprint my column from the very first issue of the late and insufficiently lamented Million. Also, I eventually traced the little Gerald Kersh jape about Shakespeare's shameful potboiling work of writing Bacon's essays: 'The Hack' in Men Without Bones (1955). • Andrew/Yvonne ... there's many a thrilling Dangling Modifier in the StargateTM gleanings in Ansible 95. • Pat ... Borges? Obscure? Blimey! • Paul mentioned the Ruddick Ultimate Island, which so far I know only through John Clute's alarming Foundation 62 review: do you (Paul) feel the Clute rhetoric was justified? Speaking of which, I've peeped into a draft of JC's Look at the Evidence (again, see Ansible) and look forward to buying the book ... it contains some of my favourite Clutebits, including his now extended and intensified demolition job on The Legacy of Heorot, and appreciations of Iain (M.) Banks which are qualified by grumps about his bloody awful character names: in The Player of Games, John seizes on Shohobohaum Za and unforgettably identifies this as an absolutely enormous bottle of Za. • Jilly ... never having actually read any Julian May, I feel a certain despicable relief that you are 'deeply disappointed' in her. 'Permission not to read Julian May, please, ma'am? 'Granted.' When Lois McMaster Bujold's Barrayar got a Hugo, it seemed time to investigate ... I was surprised to be so disappointed. Maybe Falling Free is better. (According to the Usenet chatter, though, Bujold can do no wrong and neither can May.) • Stephen ... '50,000 channels' on the web? Last time I looked at the Lycos web crawler (an automated thingy that locates and indexes web pages) it had clocked up something like 33 million 'channels'. • Ian on Andrew B. ... since you ask, 'tidal' force doesn't work quite as you describe. Rather than raising the water level on a planet's moon side and lowering it on the other, it raises the level on both sides. 'The moon pulling the water up' is a red herring, the planet/moon system being in free fall; tidal effects arise because with a big rigid planet whose centre of mass is in happy free-fall orbit, the planetary surface closest to the moon is forced to travel 'too slowly' for its slightly tighter orbit, and the far side 'too fast' for its wider orbit. Water, being free to slosh around, bulges up on both sides. Real-world tides build up in a system of resonances shaped by seabeds and coastlines ... I can't quite imagine this mechanism providing a continuous current in the ouroborous-river of The Awakeners. Phew. End of lecture. You may go now. • Chris ... Ah, another fan of Expiration Date! ... Richard Kadrey has apparently despaired of getting Metrophage back into print in the US and has made it available free on Internet. There's a lot of this about: I keep getting self-promotional e-mail from US authors wanting me to plug web pages containing unputdownable sample chapters of Saga of the Runefork or some such. Chris Priest's Last Deadloss Visions alias The Book on the Edge of Forever must be the first Hugo-nominated book freely disseminated on the net.... Soul Music: one of the bits bloody SFX wrote into my review was an adjective for the Bursar of Unseen University: 'crusty'. Crusty? The spaced-out loon who only briefly touches ground after a heavy dosage of dried frog pills? Crusty?Maureen ... Maureen? Maureen? Oh, she's out surfing the net.... • Tony ... thanks for being encouraging about my Confabulation reading of that (slightly adapted) New Worlds article: I always approach these things in a state of terror! • Jenny, Simon ... usual commiserations and congrats re Moving Trauma and New Place Bliss.... •

Recent Reading. Recent developments in Reading include a dull old club's conversion to the posh-looking Sardar Palace, meaning that within mere days we should have a classy Indian restaurant thirty seconds' walk from the front door. Potential visitors take note. But even more momentous was the weekend-long assembly of Hazel's long-desired garden shed from several thousand small metal bits ('Engage rear interlocking toggle brace spodulator with left-hand weevilling panel nipple WITHOUT allowing rumption splice plate to come into contact with gable snorkel' etc etc). Shed warming party to follow on the afternoon of Saturday 2 September ... that is, we planned a small post-Scottish Convention 'garden party' and would like to see some of you lot!

Recent Reading (let's try again) ... Nano! by Ed Regis reads like a spare chapter of 'science on the edge' coverage from his entertaining Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition, unduly inflated to book length. The trouble is that the nanotechnology story isn't yet a story: there's still this vast gap between real molecular engineering achievements and K.Eric Drexler's dream of self-replicating pan-creative nanomachines (as already appropriated by millions of sf novels this decade, Queen of Angels being a notable example). So Regis is doing his best, which isn't bad at all, with a story that so far lacks a punchline. • The Order War is the fourth of L.E.Modesitt's Recluce fantasy novels, which continue to be sort of interesting for their Nivenesque treatment of magic as a branch of physics, following strict conservation laws. There is some fudging here – 'chaos wizards' (Bad Guys) can incinerate or explode people at will while practitioners of 'order' seem (at first) limited to healing and self-defence, but doubletalk in an earlier book has established that order-magic can be used to create ruddy great destructive storms. This time it's not so egregious: our hero Justen is a engineer/mage with a talent for weaponry, who starts inventing orderly nuclear explosives but is persuaded to think better of it, and instead devises (in a series of forge, workshop and testing-range scenes which indicate this stuff is hard work) a magically enhanced armoured car, hot-air balloon and solar-collector-cum-military-laser. All good clean fun, with a refreshing absence of routine dwarfs, elves, trolls, the Wild Hunt et al. But Modesitt's writing is frequently sloppy and repetitious – whole sentences get repeated on successive pages, while I lost count of the dumb italicized sound effects (Thrap. Hhhssssttt! Crummpptt. Sssssttt! Yee-ahhh. Whhssttttt) and the number of times Justen sits down for another painstakingly described meal and calls for a glass of dark ale.... Word processors have much to answer for.