Cloud Chamber 67
June 1996

With Bruce's encouragement and the excellent example of lots more of you, I think I'll have a go at a List – of stuff read in the last month or so. Much of this is comfort reading, as I staggered away from Fantasy Encyclopaedia obsessiveness to find something soothing.... • James Agate, Ego 1-9, a vast 1932-47 diary, scrapbook, commonplace book, correspondence record and ragbag by the leading theatrical critic of the day; Agate turned his life into this bizarre public performance and died while finalizing the galleys of volume 9, already meant to be the last. Dramatic Critics' Slash Concept: Agate/Tynan ... JA 'discovered' the young Kenneth Tynan and did indeed make a discreet pass; it was politely declined. • E.C.Bentley, Trent Intervenes – 1938 collection of detective shorts, nice and civilized but a little faded by time. • Simon Brett, Not Dead, Only Resting – another of his Charles Paris thrillers, which I like enough to pick up second-hand when they're cheap. The mysteries are fairly anodyne stuff; the fun is in the grimily realistic satire of theatrical low-life. • Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island – humorous UK travelogue, pleasant enough reading but less interestingly varied than The Lost Continent (perhaps because it lacks the US book's resonances between childhood memories and modern revisitation – BB seems aware of this and tries hard to recreate the effect with flashbacks to his early days in Britain). • John Crowley, Aegypt and Love & Sleep, the first reread as preparation for the long-postponed treat of the second. Which seems fine, and I'm trying to make it last as long as possible, in view of the strong possibility that JC may not provide the needed fix of book 3 until the new millennium, and the conclusion later still.... • Michael Ende, The Grey Gentlemen – this Eastercon acquisition is a pleasant time-fantasy despite digging the moral finger (Workaholism Is Bad) a bit forcibly into the ribs. Also published in English as Momo. Mysteriously complementing the red and green of The Neverending Story, this edition is printed in brown ink. • Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere – e-mailed draft for plot fixing (see Pratchett below). I have no idea whether the coming BBC tv series will work, but the book is a Good Read. I like the conceit of interpreting the Tube map as a reflection of ancient magical doings in 'London Below', where e.g. there really are Seven Sisters (two of them being Serpentine and Olympia). Interestingly, Neil is doing an alternative text for the US market, with more explanations of London's geography. This version, I pointed out, should follow fantasy convention by including a map, of the Underground.... • Richard Garnett, The Twilight of the Gods, classic satirical fantasies 1888-1903, happily rediscovered while reshelving books. • A.P.Herbert, General Cargo, Light Articles Only, Mild and Bitter, Sip! Swallow! ... unspectacular but OK collections of lightweight Punch (etc) articles that tend to hang around in bathrooms and on bedside tables. • John Myers Myers, Silverlock ... nifty literary-fantasy romp, reread to check suspicions that the grudging Myers FE entry submitted by A Certain US Critic contained several errors. It did. (ACUSC: 'I didn't read the book again for this, but Bleiler's summary of it says ...') • Ellen Kushner, Swordspoint – hey, she is good! • Tanith Lee, The Dragon Hoard – funny children's fantasy from the early years (1971) before she got all doom-laden (OMT) and vanished into immense vampire sagas. • Sarah Lefanu, Writing Fantasy Fiction – much tickled to find some of my own bilious remarks on nomenclature and diction quoted respectfully ... or is Sarah just passing the buck? The first ever How To Do It book which advises regular study of Thog's Masterclass.... • George Orwell, Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters; needs no introduction. Orwell at his most human and endearing. • Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay – the nineteenth Discworld novel, read with interest to see how much it's changed since my hordes of editorial comments on early drafts. Looks OK ... and, oh dear, here's Discworld #20 in electronic form – does the man never sleep? Hogfather is his 'Christmas' fantasy, with an Ankh-Morpork Assassins' Guild contract being taken out on Discworld's Santa Claus, the Hogfather. Ingenious stuff. Three days after my first lot of e-mailed comments, the next draft arrives via the net: it now seems rather quaint that only a few years back, Arthur C.Clarke was making a terrific fuss about delivering books by satellite link.... • Gore Vidal, Pink Triangle and Yellow Star – ever-so-readable essays 1976-82, some (mostly on the Matter of America) idly skipped by me this time around. • James White, The Galactic Gourmet, proof copy from Tor: another in the 'underside of Sector General' subseries, this time starring a nonhuman masterchef whose awesome goal is ... to make hospital food taste good (and to every species, too). The first half's hospital comedy is better than the second's earnest world-saving. • Wu Chêng-ên, Monkey ... dipped into for FE research and read right through. Arthur Waley's 1942 translation is jolly but takes liberties: the original 16th-century Chinese fantasy has 100 chapters, of which Waley gives 30. • Gene Wolfe, 'The Fifth Head of Cerberus' and most of Castle of Days (an odd omnibus comprising the fiction collection Gene Wolfe's Book of Days; The Castle of the Otter, a book about The Book of the New Sun; and a miscellany of essays, fanzine pieces, letters, etc).

Serendipity. More or less simultaneous arrivals here: the FE proofs for the letters E, F and G, including a Harlan Ellison entry in which three story dates from Angry Candy remain to be filled in ... and Acnestis, with Jenny lauding her favourite web site, all about Ellison, including a bibliography! I duly connected to it, paged my way with bated breath through several slow-to-download documents, and eventually reached the story list for Angry Candy ... which omits original publication dates. What an interesting bibliographical concept.

Commonplace Book. A flyer came through the door from a semi-posh restaurant in Sonning, whose main courses include 'Loin of Monkfish'. Do fish have loins?

Mailing 41. Kev ... the spectrum of reaction to John Clute is very wide. I very much enjoyed Look at the Evidence, but Greg Pickersgill subtly conveyed that he did not find it on his wavelength: 'I have never actually thrown a book across the room, but if Clute was in a room with me I'd certainly consider throwing the damned thing at him and yelling something like "Say that again in fucking English you son of a bitch!" [...] Clute can reiterate until hell freezes over his concept that he is merely using "the right word at the right time" but I don't care. The text is not illuminating, is not inspiring, does nothing to arouse enthusiasm or even contemplation about the books it discusses....' [fax, 24 May]. • KVB ... why should a pheasant be 'the Phasian bird'? Brewer (much thumbed during Fantasy Encyclopedia research) says tersely: 'So called from Phasis, a stream of the Black Sea', with a quotation indicating that the river Phasis is 'now' (1894) called the Rion. • Pat ... patience is indeed required when dealing with Gamma these days. Another bit from the pile of old faxes I'm engaged in throwing out: 'I did get very fed up with Gamma [at Evolution]. On at least three separate occasions he barged into a conversation by pushing himself physically up against me, then standing in drunken and apparently malevolent silence, staring at me and breathing horrid pongs, and then, on getting a pretty firm hint that he was being a nuisance, accusing me of hating him, etc. Reason tempered by mercy, natch, but it is a difficult situation.' [Chris Priest, 8 April] Someone said at Eastercon that Gamma was now living 'on the streets'. Oh dear. • Steve ... I don't think that when you actually see the Fantasy Encyclopedia you will find the John Clute Working Model either as all-pervading or as dogmatic in application as some fans have assumed since the famous sound-bite versions in the Locus interview and Intersection panel.... What on earth is Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, and is a printed script (or whatever) available? Evidently a great source of disconcerting quotations! • Cherith ... well, I once wrote an article on Rex Stout for the late and not very lamented Million, and will dig up a copy if you'd like something to disagree with. • Jane ... to me, it doesn't follow that an APA which is invitation-only has to be forever 'a group of friends of the administrator'. The usual procedure in such APAs: a member, any member, says 'so-and-so has heard about us and would like to join: shall we invite him/her?' And the general default is that the invitation is made (subject to membership limits and consequent waiting-list delay)... unless there are strong objections. In the case discussed, there certainly were strong objections, and (however wicked it may have been of Maureen to short-circuit the procedure) it looks as though the consensus would have been not to extend the invitation. This is at least an honest way of dealing with 'APA-wreckers'; I don't know why you're so much keener on dishonest ways, like pretending there's an infinite waiting list. • Jilly ... speaking as one who still hasn't got around to opening The Stress of Her Regard, I noted with Strange Apprehension your remark on having read only the first few chapters. Is it one of fantasy's unfinishables? Or were you merely in mid-read? • Bruce ... am awed by your energy. Twenty pages of apazine? There are giants in the earth, still. The essay on Keith Roberts would no doubt annoy him, but then most things annoy him. This, alas, was the case long before his appalling health problems. • Tony ... there was a strangely pale (that is, white) Ansible after Intersection, which everyone took to be some sort of mournful tribute to John Brunner but in fact was because my usual printers were busy and I had to go to a quickie copy-shop that didn't offer coloured paper. I must confess that the pale Ansible in Acnestis resulted from my belief that I'd handed over the usual bundle at Eastercon, when I hadn't – whereupon Hero of the People Kincaid ran off photocopies.... Re GENDER DISGUISE, John Clute wrote a hasty draft FE entry thus titled, saying it was 'relatively rare' in fantasy ... whereupon other editors pelted him with scores of examples (beginning with Éowyn in Lord of the Rings) until he screamed for mercy. • Claire ... when I'd done the MILNE entry earlier this year (see next column) I thought I'd better check whether Christopher Robin was still around. At the time he was on record as of the end of 1995: 'Still alive. Still hates teddy-bears.' Which in turn reminded me of Alan Coren's 'The Hell at Pooh Corner', which echoed the pain of CRM's autobiography in a supposed interview with the now 60-year-old, gin-soaked Bear: '"... The Great Gatsby came out that year," said Pooh, bitterly. "The same year as Winnie-the-Pooh." [...] "Why didn't I get the breaks? Why wasn't I a great tragic hero, gazing at the green light on the end of Daisy's dock? Why didn't Fitzgerald write Gatsby Meets a Heffalump and Milne The Great Pooh"' His parting line: '"Funny thing," he said, "I could never stand honey."' • Paul ... H'mm. I agree sufficiently with five of your six Desert Island Books choices that I've started thinking I'd better go back and have another crack at The Chalk Giants, which I didn't get on with when first reading it ... err ... 20-odd years ago. Returning recently to 'The Fifth Head of Cerberus', I said quite loudly after a few pages: 'Bloody hell, this is Severian talking!' I'd be fascinated to see everyone's List 2, the books one hasn't read but has long wanted to. I actually got as far as carrying my copy of Gargantua and Pantagruel to London recently, to read on the train, but got distracted by something else; I even hunted through the book to check the absurd number of foes despatched by Friar John using only his wooden cross as club (13,622); but, guilt guilt, I still haven't read it. How many unread books on our shelves do we sort of feel we dimly know, by literary osmosis?

Entries What I Have Wrote

I thought I'd tot up all the Fantasy Encyclopedia entries I've actually done, not including rewrites of others' work. It comes to something like 72,000 words. Ouch.

Alexander, Lloyd; Amis, Kingsley; Amulets; Anachronism; Anstey, F.; Armstrong, Anthony; Arscott, David; As Above, So Below; Babel; Bad Place; Balance; Bear, Greg; Beerbohm, Max; Bestiaries; Blish, James; Bramah, Ernest; Brave Little Tailor; Cabell, James Branch; Calendar; Cats; Celtic Fantasy; Chess; Chesterton, G.K.; Cold Iron; Collier, John; Conditions; Cthulhu Mythos; Cuchulain; Cupid and Psyche; Daedalus; Dark Tower; De Sade, Marquis; Detective/Thriller Fantasy; Dickson, Gordon R.; Dionysus; Disguise; Eco, Umberto; Eldorado; Elementals; Elements; Enchantress; Escher, M.C.; Fictional Books; Fimbulwinter; Finn Mac Cool; Four Horsemen; Frayn, Michael; Frog Prince; Garrett, Randall; Giants; Gnostic Fantasy; Gorey, Edward; Goulart, Ron; Great Beast; Haunted Dwellings; Hughart, Barry; Humour; Hyperborea; Icarus; Identity Exchange; Illuminati; Illusion; Imaginary Lands; Imaginary Animals; Initiation; Inklings; Inns; Invisible Companion; Kalevala; Kipling, Rudyard; Labyrinth; Langford, David; Last Battle; Learns Better; Leiber, Fritz; Lewis, C.S.; Library; Limbo; Loki; Low Fantasy; Magic Words; Magritte, Rene; Marl, David; Martin, J.P.; Mayne, William; Mcgirt, Dan; Mcguffin; Memory Wipe; Mentors; Metempsychosis; Milne, A.A.; Mirrlees, Hope; Mirror; Modesitt, L.E.; Monkey; Morris, William; Muses; Myth of Origin; Niven, Larry; Nonsense; Numerology; O'Brien, Flann; O'Shea, Pat; Orwell, George; Pandora's Box; Philosophers' Stone; Pictures and Portraits; Plot Coupons; Poictesme; Poltergeists; Pratchett, Terry; Precognition; Priest, Christopher; Priestley, J.B.; Quibbles; Read the Small Print; Richardson, Maurice; Riddles; Ring; Ritual; Robinson, W. Heath; Rumpelstiltskin; Saberhagen, Fred; Saki; Scott, Allan; Sea Monsters; Sensible Man; Shapeshifters; Sherlock Holmes; Shop; Simak, Clifford D; Smith, Thorne; Smith, Dodie; Sorcerer's Apprentice; Soul; Spells; Spiders; Stars; Statues; Swords; Talents; Template; Theriomorphy; Thurber, James; Time in Faerie; Totems; Trolls; True Name; Under the Sea; Unicorn; Urban Legends; Vance, Jack; Volsky, Paula; Webber, Collin; Whitbourn, John; Wild Hunt; Williams, Charles; Wilson, Gahan; Wilson, Colin; Wizards; Wolf; Worm Ouroboros; Xanadu; Zodiac.

You probably didn't know I was an authority on any of these people or alleged fantasy themes. Frankly, neither did I.