Cloud Chamber 63
October 1995

Life has yet to slow down and allow leisured multi-page issues of this thing. The current panic, I regret to say, is my not-so-magnum opus the Discworld Quiz Book (at mention of which I lapse into prolonged, defensive mutters of 'not my idea, honest, but Gollancz commissioned the thing') ... or, as they are now referring to it, Unseen University Challenge ... or, as Paul Barnett insists on calling it, What's My Tel? Anyone with red-hot ideas for cunning questions or quiz themes is urged to send them along! Yes, I have the Pratchettiana available on Internet, but am trying to use it minimally for checking and reference rather than inspiration.

Time has also been lost to rage and paranoia at Carlton Books – see Ansible 99 under 'Publishers and Sinners' – whom I had to drag to the very threshold of the county court before it occurred to them that they could avoid hassle by merely paying what they'd agreed to pay (and did not dispute agreeing; the editor had apparently exceeded some internal budget and thought it easier to cheat me than explain himself to the accounts people). All this was in connection with a project for an illustrated sf encyclopaedia which I am glad to say I won't be editing: they want the whole thing written in an absurdly short time on the 'We don't want it good, we want it Tuesday' principle, and are airily unconcerned about the daftness of rushing through the project now while the publishing niche is filled by John Clute's very nice-looking book from Dorling Kindersley. Oh well. It's all over now: I got my cheque and a truly grovelling apology (after copying the correspondence to the editorial director, who I deduce didn't know what his just-out-of-college whizkid editor had been up to), and I can cherish the near-anagram 'Ratclone' that occurred to me during the fracas.

And then there's a resurgence of software work, drat it: I hoped that particular client would shut up until the New Year.... I realized the other day that my absolute favourite Jack Vance quotation fits eerily well into the software context, especially regarding documentation:

'I respond to three questions,' stated the augur. 'For the twenty terces I phrase the answer in clear and actionable language; for ten I use the language of cant, which occasionally admits of ambiguity; for five, I speak a parable which you must interpret as you will; and for one terce, I babble in an unknown tongue.'

(And yes, Cherith, I agree that The Five Gold Bands is un-Vancean in style – also pretty terrible all round. Vance's detective novels as by John Holbrook Vance also seem as though written by an entirely different author; though they're praised by some, I find them curiously dull.)

Yvonne caused me a momentary start with the revelation that Steve Green was lurking spousefully on the fringes of Acnestis ... until cold sweat and nervous twitches were dispelled by careful re-reading and the revelation that this was not Steve Green of Ann Green fame and Critical Wave infamy, but Carol Ann's Steve. Phew.

Jane ... I like your reading lists lots better when you have time to expand on each book in some detail, as this time. Really must re-read Cyteen: I read it for Gollancz years ago and was impressed enough to recommend it highly (though in the end another publisher offered more) ... but there were one or two minor plot glitches which might well have been caught on a final rewrite, during copy-editing, or whatever, and I can't safely say that I've read the book. Peter Dickinson's King and Joker has a distant sequel called Skeleton-in-Waiting. Thanks for reading the TAFF report: I was mildly baffled by the bit about Hazel coming across as a daughter rather than a wife, until it occurred to me that you might be detecting an unintended subtext of worried protectiveness ... Hazel had never flown before, had a truly rotten trip out, and spent much of the time dreading the flight back (although she asked me to minimize this in the text). I thought David Lodge explored the 'Catholic thing' very interestingly in How Far Can You Go? and was a bit disappointed that a great chunk of it came up all over again in Paradise News – one felt he'd been there and got that stuff out of his system.

Ian: Hazel rather annoyingly insists that your Arabic musings and examples are the best bit of Acnestis. Keep it up; this is fascinating material.

Maureen: one exception to the positive response to John Clute's Locus piece – Brian Stableford seems to object to the entire organization of the Fantasy Encyclopaedia, and opined, 'I suppose Clute must have been drunk.' For shame.

Steve: although there have been some examples of what obituarists call the Acid Drop, the reports and eulogies on John Brunner inevitably gloss over various things. For example, I fear it wasn't so much that his greatest books are uncommercial or unrepublishable as that John's perfectionism about details escalated through the years into paranoid obsessiveness: publishers are used to touchy authors, but don't relish having every typo or copy-editing suggestion met with a huge tirade accusing everyone in the firm of incompetence, illiteracy and determination to sabotage the book.... I wished Ansible (that is, I) hadn't quoted the report about John paying LiYi to go away, mainly because he chose to be highly offended by its use – despite having not merely said it but carefully typed it out as part of a circular despatched to half his friends, although he then decided to retract it a few days later. (He forgave me for Ansible, though, and we remained on good terms.) The same issue cropped up again and again in maudlin-drunk phone calls to numerous friends and acquaintances, in which John would bewail the impossibility of LiYi while (all too often) she shrieked incomprehensible abuse into the extension phone. I liked John once I'd penetrated the somewhat off-putting armour of his Public Manner, and sympathize with LiYi's being stranded in this foreign land with such imperfect English ... but the marriage does, alas, seem to have been desperately unwise and I fear its stresses must have hastened John's death.

Current reading ... Robert Irwin, The Arabian Nights: a Companion (Penguin £7.99) – wonderful stuff which I would have bought, only the great man pressed a copy on me at the Clute launch party. Have I already recommended his The Arabian Nightmare here? If not, I do now.... Bruce Bethke, Headcrash – an often very funny fictional dismantling of cyberpunk and VR clichés, which ultimately argues that whole 'cool' scene to be a collection of adolescent fantasies. I found it very slightly reminiscent of the way Alfred Bester took apart various ghastly sf wish-fulfilment situations in his short 'The Starcomber' alias '5,271,009'.