Cloud Chamber 65
March 1996

Once again, ritual apologies are scattered in all directions. The Fantasy Encyclopaedia is generally held to blame, what with major last-minute panics since various contributors who shall not be named seem to have paid no heed whatever to the official and even extended-unofficial contributors' deadlines and are now crowding the ultimate, non-negotiable point (possibly already past by the time you read this) at which the poor bloody editors will have to either cut any outstanding headwords or fudge up some feeble, inadequate text of their own.... The fun has been enhanced by various magazine column commitments, and bickering with Gollancz over Discworld quizbook proofs, and writing an eldritch Cthulhu Mythos story for much gold, and doing a bit for the David Pringle Illustrated SF Encyclopaedia Which Is Avowedly Not As Good As John Clute's ('Take the money and run,' Mr Pringle soberly advised), and, er, stuff like that. The cats overleaf are an unexpected present from Sue Mason.

Bob Shaw's death is still hard to believe: see Ansible, of course, but clouds of gloom have prevailed ever since I found the bad news waiting on the morning after Miscon. It then became necessary to organize a memorial feature in SFX (on the basis that Paul Barnett had arranged the John Brunner feature and it was my turn, there being no one else associated with the magazine whom we quite trusted to get it right): new column remembering Bob to replace or displace the one I'd already written for the April issue, and whipping-in of favourite Shaw novel appreciations from Brian Aldiss, Ramsey Campbell, John Clute, 'John Grant', Harry Harrison, Chris Priest and Ian Watson. Then the requests for appreciations began to flood in, notably from famous US fanzine Mimosa, pleading utter desperation and a need for something, anything at all, about Bob. For some reason I was touched by this and abandoned other urgencies to expand what I'd written for SFX by larding in lots more personal and fannish material, bringing it up to a solid 1,500 words. Which Mimosa immediately bounced, because what they wanted (which they had neglected to tell me) was an exclusive focus on Bob Shaw the fan, with absolutely no mention of those nasty icky 'book' things with which he'd wasted valuable time he should have devoted to more Serious Scientific Talks. Mimosa's loss is Vector's gain ... but my teeth are nevertheless a bit worn down with gnashing.

Mailing 36 • [...] • Steve ... I have forgotten why you should have written 'Robert Irwin is a complete plonker'; I think he sometimes prats around a bit when reviewing, but he's a fine writer – and, oh dear, I lost his The Arabian Nights: A Companion some while ago under a rising tide of overwork. I did like The Diamond Age but, as I think has happened before with the great Neal Stephenson, the ending seemed a bit inadequate after the general brilliance of the development. • Jane (and I think somebody in a later mailing – ah, it's Cherith) ... the Lloyd Biggle 'Jan Darzek' books comprise All the Colours of Darkness (1963), Watchers of the Dark (1966, which moves out from Earth to a galactic stage and is probably the best; also rather funny), This Darkening Universe (1975), Silence is Deadly (1977) and The Whirligig of Time (1979). The second book takes Darzek from Earthly private eye to Galactic council leader, after which he has to work his detective wiles on – respectively – a planet-killing death force uncomfortably reminiscent of what the Dark in book 2 pretended to be; a silent planet which possesses the forbidden Deaf Ray (I'm only joking a bit); and a planet-wrecking nuclear terrorist. • Maureen ... not having actually er um well read Modesitt's The Death of Chaos – a review copy of which lurks in our eating-room like Behemoth trying to be inconspicuous – I confess that I'm less interested in the Balance and Industrial Revolution stuff you mention (which makes it sound exactly like the previous two Recluce books) then in whether the man has got a grip on his godawful verbosity and repetitiveness.... Ah, wait a minute: 'we see him doing it rather a lot, rather more than the book actually needs.' Maybe my question is answered. •

Pause For Gloom. 13/3/96. The most effectively depressing response I ever received to one of my fanzines was engineered with some cunning: it was written in cipher with an enclosed key, so that instead of merely glancing at a missive telling me how misguided, banal, unfunny (etc etc) my writing was, I had my nose rubbed in it letter by letter. This evening I gathered from asides in two friends' faxes that something bad had happened, turned on the TV around 9:15 pm, and spent unpleasant ages inferring from the woffling of reporters and 'firearms experts' what had actually happened at Dunblane Primary School. Merely being told outright wouldn't have been so bad. (PS: of the two friends who alluded to it, one has 6-year-old children who do gym at just that time of day, and the other has a cousin with unharmed but traumatized children in that actual school.)

Mailing 37Maureen ... My independent consultant Hazel said, approximately, 'I wouldn't have him in the house so why should you have to let him into your APA?' Sooth is what she speaketh.... • Steve ... your thoughts on Clarke submissions sound a lot like my own. Points of disagreement? Based on what you write, very few: I don't think The Prestige (by the way, good review, Bruce!) can really be argued as not sf except on the 'But it's good ...' principle, what with it actually having a full-blown matter transmission engine sitting right there in the middle of the plot; I did finish both Rider at the Gate and The Wild but in both cases (despite felicities in the latter) was left wondering whether the relentless effort had been worth it. • Tony ... my developing theory of the Wellington is that the last redecoration stripped away several inches of soggy, porous filth that had formerly been lining the walls and soaking up some of the excess noise.... • Jane ... I presume you've read Orson Scott Card's famous anti-gay outburst? See Ansible 51 – 'Stormin' Mormon: not many SF writers do theology on the side, so I was interested to receive Orson Scott Card's 1990 rant "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality" from Sunstone (a "Mormon issues" journal). Boy, Card really lays it on the line. Tolerance is a Bad Thing. Homosexuality is a Sin and its vile practitioners should jolly well Repent. They could be hetero if they only tried....' Later, several fans told me that Sunstone was regarded by hard-line Mormons as a bit daringly liberal. • Andrew ... this has nothing to do with Acne, but Naveed Khan sadistically changed the Ansible e-mail list server so that all the bounced copies come to me – including yours, which as with other academic e-addresses was reported as undeliverable owing to 'congestion'. Try Friar's Balsam. • Maureen ... St Cuthbert (?-687), Bishop of Lindisfarne, has the title rôle in William Mayne's recent YA fantasy Cuddy; the only reference to what might be Cuthbert's eider ducks in Everyman's Book of Saints (a dreadfully pious volume) is the line, 'Bede relates that he successfully kept the birds off his barley by preaching to them.' Cruel and unusual punishment. • Claire ... five phases of the Saint? I imagine these might begin with the early Rough Justice Saint, who drinks beer and can be a bit brutally reminiscent of horrible Bulldog Drummond; he was soon replaced by the Witty Con-Man (and Tormentor of Teal), who was a lot of fun but moved to America as the whisky-drinking Avenging Angel (e.g. cleaning up the whole of New York gangland in The Saint in New York); during the war he became Captain America, nobbling spies and saboteurs for the FBI or whoever it was; finally there was the Cosmopolitan Playboy, connoisseur of wine and good food, who no longer went looking for adventures but to whom they (and a constant supply of distressed damsels) just happened. Something like that? • Pat ... I kept nearly buying that expensive edition of Gene Wolfe's Bibliomen, but settled for the very nice 1995 paperback from Broken Mirrors Press, only $7.50. This was from Wrigley-Cross Books in Portland, Oregon, a nice outfit who accept credit card orders by e-mail; e-address on request....

Commonplace Book. 'But breathes there a bard with soul so dead, who never to himself has said, "If I can write of asphodel, why not asparagus as well?"' (A.A.Milne)

Sue Mason: Poncy Soft Southern Pub Cat In Native Habitat

Poncy Soft Southern Pub Cat In Native Habitat

Mailing 38Simon ... after getting over the relief that the CD-ROM SF Encyclopaedia was not the utter horror it would have been from Nimbus, I must admit I was a bit disappointed by Grolier's less than flexible front end. It looks pretty ... but my fingers itch to expand that rather small 'Leper's Squint' text window to full-screen size (even I can program to the MDI standard with independent resizeable child windows, so why can't Grolier?), and likewise to maximize the presentation of the murky pictures. And that 'powerful search tool' offers no facility for tracing the searched-for word or phrase within an entry, which is a serious pain when your search dumps you without explanation into a multi-thousand-word author or theme entry. • Stephen ... I gather that, following your reports on circulation gloom, Analog and Asimov's have both just been sold. Right on re your comment about not underestimating older literature: I tend to distrust that line of Progressive Improvement reasoning which explains that, you know, sf began with utter hopeless illiterates like Mary Shelley and H.G.Wells, but advanced by leaps and bounds to the glorious literary triumphs of E.E.Smith and A.E.van Vogt until now, at last, we luxuriate in the pyramided wonderfulness exemplified by Piers Anthony, Jack Chalker, Peter F.Hamilton and [insert own fave raves here].... • Steve to Maureen on Ramon Lull: a good and clear essay on Lull Engines (see also Blish's Black Easter) is 'The Ars Magna of Ramon Lull' in Martin Gardner's Logic Machines and Diagrams, reprinted in his Science Good, Bad and Bogus (1981; OUP 1983). Lull's exhaustive working-out via tables and wheels of all possible combinations of attributes – since God must supposedly combine all attributes – has a monumental logical daftness which Borges must have had somewhere at the back of his mind when he wrote 'The Library of Babel'. • Jenny ... Hornblower not very keen on ladies? Shame on you! Considering that much of the first-written book The Happy Return involves his struggle with conscience over whether to have it off with the inviting Lady Barbara ... that two books later in Flying Colours he's in bed with a voluptuous Frenchwoman; that in The Commodore he suffers a bad case of fleas after being lured by a Russian noblewoman to examine the equivalent of her etchings ... er, could there be bits that you've forgotten? (And although Hornblower's devotion to the Navy can, agreed, get a bit much, his obsessive guilt and self-denigration make him rather more interesting than the ideal career officer you seem to imply.) • Paul ... I actually acquired a copy of Operation Ares a year or so ago (it's not that easy to find unless you bagged it on appearance, since I gather Wolfe doesn't want new editions). More when I've read it and prepared myself for your doubtless excellent essay.... • Ian ... might that 'Bond-spoof series, The Man From C.A.M.P.' possibly be connected with, or an imperfect recollection of, Cyril Connolly's Fleming parody 'Bond Strikes Camp'? In which, you will remember, M has the hots for 007 and lures him into drag as the only way to save his country by ensnaring a thus-inclined master spy who proves to be M himself. No doubt Jane has known of this one for years! • Ken ... You've read Rucker's The Fourth Dimension and How To Get There, but do you know C.H.Hinton's The Fourth Dimension? My edition is 1912 but I think it first appeared years earlier; it describes how to construct these coloured cubes which, if learnt and manipulated in the mind, will enable you to visualize hypercubes in all their eldritch perspectives. (I dug up my copy of Hinton last month as a possible route into that commissioned Lovecraftian story: was trying to get a conceptual handle on those impossible, eye-wrenching geometries of submerged cyclopean cities, etc.) •

Sue Mason: Hard Northern Pub Cat In Native Habitat

Hard Northern Pub Cat In Native Habitat

And here I reluctantly stop, with renewed apologies for all the distractedness which has kept me so (fumbles hopefully for the mot juste) distracted. Next month, free time will be copious and things will be better. I think that every month.