Cloud Chamber 70
November 1996

October 1996: sudden flashback to a forgotten moment of sense-of-wonder in the late 1960s, when Isaac Asimov finally brought the Foundation series' major plot device on-stage via 'the Prime Radiant, which held in its vitals the Seldon Plan – complete.' This came to mind on Saturday 19 October as I gloated over a row of eight ring-binders containing in their vitals the 1094 proof pages (plus front matter, i to xvi) of the Fantasy Encyclopedia – complete. Perhaps now, after too many false endings, the bloody thing really is finished with. Meanwhile, more apologies for Cloud Chamber's lateness....

Neverwhere ... everyone seems to be talking about it. Ho hum. Thought I should watch it out of loyalty to Neil, but seeing it after reading the book led to disappointments (although it picked up a bit after the first episode). Without knowing anything about the subtleties of shooting on video rather than film, I thought I could detect much toning-down. A special snigger for the Dizzying Vertigo bit (episode 1) where our hero emerges from darkness near the top of St Pancras Hotel, looks down, and has a fit of the vapours ... somewhat defused by the twin problems that (a) Equity evidently vetoed the scene as scripted, and tucked the actor away behind a nice safe iron railing; (b) Beeb cameramen apparently didn't fancy the obvious trick of pointing a camera straight down and wiggling it a bit. Similarly for the 'Beast of London' (or Morag the Friendly Cow, as Terry Pratchett called it): this was scripted as a boar – based on a bit of old history where a boar really did wax fat in the 18th-century sewers and cause alarm – but the BBC claimed they could find only cuddly pink pigs. Hence the unmenacing bull ... it was a huge distraction to be thinking, 'dearie me, if only the camera were on the floor and tilted up, and they'd constructed a smaller tunnel which the animal would very nearly fill, it would look bigger and more menacing.' Oh well. Maybe we are all hideous cynics here: Hazel insists that she found the series effectively disturbing, even the bull.

Commonplace Book. Anecdote from Pete Birks's fanzine: 'This afternoon David Black at work (a young Glaswegian) told us of a marvellous series of road signs he'd come across in Wales one night, when he was drunk and travelling quite fast. The first one warned of road works ahead and gave a speed restriction. The second told him that he was going too fast. The third one told him exactly how fast he was going. The fourth one told him his registration number. At that point he began to take notice. Apparently it was part of some experimental scheme.' The idea of this jolt to the bleary driver is somehow irresistibly comic. • Thomas Hardy to Robert Graves, 1920: 'Yesterday I was not quite sure of a rustic word which I wanted to use in a poem, and once again found myself at a loss: because the only authority quoted for it in the Oxford English Dictionary was my own "Under the Greenwood Tree, 1872".'

Thog's Caption Masterclass

Another encyclopedia, just published, is Carlton Books' The Ultimate Encyclopedia of SF ed David Pringle. (It was very nearly 'ed D.Langford', but I reckoned I didn't have the time.) Good old DP put together a solid enough text, given the time and budget constraints ... but the book's rush-job status is evident. As fellow-contributor Paul Barnett put it, 'A ten-minutia brouse as reveled on apsect in patricula about this projectile. As you two have presummably notticed, it seems to be pucked with litrls. Oh deer.' The back jacket describes the film entries in proleptic terms lifted from the book's original proposal: 'The section will include information-packed box-outs ...' Internal highlights are the TV section's photo captions, added in-house and full of that laddish SFX wit which is so hilarious after eight pints of lager. Perhaps the pinnacle of mirth is the labelling of stills from The Lathe of Heaven (I think it is ... they don't bother to say), with the two white male leads and the one black female: 'WHICH IS THE ODD ONE OUT? Write your answer on a postcard and place it in the nearest time machine. No stamp is required.' How we all roared.

Lucy Sussex's choice for Most Egregious Caption is an explanation of the cover of The Sheep Look Up whose tone is rather more characteristic: 'SHEEP IN GAS MASKS. John Brunner's alarmist novel argues that if society can't make a rapid ewe-turn we'll all be well and truly rammed.'

Somehow the Barnett/Langford sobriquet for this book became the Umtilate Encyclopode, or Umtilote for short ('The chief of a little-known Central African tribe,' Hazel decided). Then came Paul's news about DP being keen that 'Cralton take on a companion volume covering fatnasty.' Instantly I realized that we could provide much better photo captions in similar vein.... 'Rabelais – jokes about crap or just crap jokes?' 'C.S. Lewis – found something nasty in the wardrobe!' 'E.R. Eddison – his Worm Ouroboros is OK sword'n'sorcery, but it just never seems to end.' 'Charles Williams was sexually weird – but they say he never had an Inkling.' 'Borges – blinded but never effed.' 'Cabell – banning Jurgen didn't faze the master of raunch!' 'LOOSE TOLK. Tolkien's furry-footed Frodo offed the Dark Lord by giving him the finger.'

As Paul noted, it's hard to achieve Carlton's own level of effortless mastery. Meanwhile, he took on some of the movie possibilities ... 'NAKED LUNCH! There were no holds barred when David Cronenberg's The Fly opened.' 'HANG THE PICNIC: Anne-Marie Lambert's legs were the very stuff of fantasy.' 'THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – well, that's what Snow White said!' 'BANDITS AT ONE O'CLOCK – Nuff said!' And, getting into the real Carlton spirit: 'DANTE OR DID HE? – Hell, who knows?' 'WHAT'S ON? – The feller with the deerstalker didn't rely on sheer luck! (Geddit?)' Of course we also captioned each other's imagined photos. I offered, 'JOHN GRANTThe World was his oyster!' ... but the deadly riposte was, 'DEAF BECOMES HIM.' Acnestis members are cordially invited not to join in.

Just Between Ourselves ... despite a unexpectedly pleasant and stress-free Novacon (good to see so many of you!), I still feel rather tired and shitty from too much behind-the-scenes toil on TAFF damage control, as perhaps sufficiently implied in Ansible 112. Regarding mailing 46 and other recent matters: much sympathy to Maureen and Paul (awful news about Paul's father, and then the burglary), Dop (Health Authority appallingness) and Elizabeth (house move); also admiration for particularly fat and impressive Acne contributions last time round from Bruce, Mark and Tanya.... • Elizabeth Willey proposes to send me a mailbag of remainders of The Well-Favored Man (hardback 1st) for distribution to those of you who want them, on the basis that recipients will send a cheque to Amnesty for whatever their consciences dictate. Same deal possibly to follow for the subsequent books, when and if they are remaindered. Can those wanting TWFM let me know by early December? • Thog's Masterclass has an unsuspected fan: Ursula Le Guin complained of cutting each specimen out of Ansible and then losing it, and demanded a collected edition. 'Certainly,' said Paul and I, 'if you write the foreword.' She instantly agreed – whoopee! – and the hunt for a publisher is on.... •