Cloud Chamber 73
May 1997

It takes a while to recover from these Eastercon stints: only this month did I exorcize the final residual twitches by completing a highly subjective convention report for Attitude. Suddenly I feel all fannish, having also rewritten my Intervention talk (itself dealing with old fanzines) as an article for Geri Sullivan's Idea, and assembled some dim memories of writing reader's reports on early Pratchett novels as a sop to the importunate Discworld Convention organizer – who's desperate for stuff to fill his progress reports. Further excitement arises from an invitation to next Easter's Minicon (Minneapolis) as fan guest. Apologies to any Intuition organizers in our midst....

[The following is not for reprinting as BSFA news etc, please.]

My vague association with the Pratchett Phenomenon has led to some odd propositions. One was last year's quizbook The Unseen University Challenge, originally suggested by Gollancz in 1995 as a blatant fast-buck exploitation book, to be thrown together in about a month and rushed on to the shelves for Christmas. It took stern faxes from Terry and a lot of talking by my hero agent Chris Priest to arrange things so there'd actually be time to try and do the book properly.... The next bright Gollancz idea was for a Discworld Diary, i.e. a bog-standard 1997 diary with a Josh Kirby cover slapped on the front and a merry Discworld quote pasted in for each week (their plan was for me to look up these quotations, for a pittance). To my relief, the mighty Veto of Pratchett descended from a great height on to this scheme. Most recently, in a subtle poaching manoeuvre, evil Malcolm Edwards of HarperCollins sent me a copy of The Physics of Star Trek and pointed out that I'd be the ideal chap to write The Science of Discworld – elaborating on the real science and pseudoscience behind Discworld phenomena like slow light, morphic resonance, the Trousers of Time and the quantum weather butterfly. You have to hand it to Malcolm: it really is a good idea. Jo Fletcher at Gollancz (not responsible for the exploitation projects already mentioned) emitted great ululating howls of rage at this attempt to bag a piece of the Discworld action, and vowed a 'counterpoach' whereby Gollancz would commission me to do a book based on Malcolm's proposition. Dodgy ethical ground indeed! Then Terry revealed that Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen had already made essentially the identical book proposal to his agent, giving them first moral claim; after which he fled Gollancz for Corgi, leaving both Jo and the hopeful Malcolm gnashing their teeth. But we may still not have come to the end of this saga. Stay tuned.


• Found in Barry Levin's infamous book catalogue ...



The Third Ear. G.P Putnam's Sons, New York. [1971]. First edition. Harlan Ellison's copy with his signed bookplate on front paste-down endpaper and his blind stamp on front free-endpaper. Dust jacket shows very slight darkening otherwise fine in dust jacket. With a signed photocopy of Ellison's review of The Third Ear by Siodmak which appeared in the Writers Guild of America West Newsletter for March 1972. On the last page of the review Ellison has written:

'To Whom It May Concern: / This book, from my personal library, was the impetus for the review you've just read. / It became an icon of terror and treachery in my career, as it was a review that two SF professionals (friends of Mr. Siodmak) interpreted as being undeserved, and they decided to "get even" by ruining my ability to sell my work. To screw my career & life. / They didn't succeed, but only because I hired a P.I., discovered their machinations, unmasked them, and brought them to book. 2 well-known professional writers. / And when one of them dies, I'll happily reveal the names, and release the documentation. / Till then . . . / [ signed ] Harlan Ellison 3 Jan 97 Los Angeles.' ... The photocopy review sheets are folded once otherwise fine. The book and review ... $300.00.

(What an exciting life Harlan Ellison leads!)

Scanners Live In Vain?

I muttered a while ago about wanting to acquire a cheap flatbed scanner, and (having realized that I didn't really need a very high specification) was jolted into action by the discovery that Watford Electronics now offer the Aries Scan-It Pro for a mere £136 plus carriage and VAT. This actually works rather well – an attractive point for non-technical folk being that you needn't open up the computer to instal an interface card, since it uses the printer port (without affecting printer operation). The real surprise was that the thrown-in OCR software, 'Recognita Plus', is in fact rather good: it translated (a scan of) the above clipping from the Levin catalogue into a text file with virtually no errors, did just as well on a small-proportional-font letter from Chris Terran, and even produced a recognizable if intermittently typo-afflicted transcript of the tiny print in Ansible 117. I was filled with science-fictional sense of wonder.

• Found in the electronic mailbox here ...

'This poem appeared recently in Infocus magazine. The original authors were Fred Bremmer and Steve Kroese of Calvin College & Seminary of Grand Rapids, MI. A poll conducted among Infocus readers had established "waka" as the proper pronunciation for the angle-bracket characters < and >, though some readers held out resolutely for "norkies". The text of the poem:


'The poem can only be appreciated by reading it aloud, to wit:

Waka waka bang splat tick tick hash,
Caret quote back-tick dollar dollar dash,
Bang splat equal at dollar under-score,
Percent splat waka waka tilde number four,
Ampersand bracket bracket dot dot slash,
Vertical-bar curly-bracket comma comma CRASH.'

• Moo!

Those who keep an eye on Usenet may have noticed Lucy Huntzinger touting her 'ElderMOO' on rec.arts.sf.fandom, as a wondrous on-line gathering place for fannish net users. Historically, this sort of thing has evolved from the MUD (Multiple User Dungeon, essentially a sort of permanent Internet D&D game) into the MOO (Multiple Object-Oriented thingy), more of a social-chat nexus. I was curious enough to have a look, and got reprimanded within minutes for using the term 'tacky' to describe the 'theme' text which tells you what the ElderMOO virtual environment is like. 'Well,' I said (typed) to Lucy, 'as well as all the fannish stuff, the theme goes on about a fucking Rainbow Forest inhabited by Fair Folk and sodding elves....' After a short pause: 'Not any more it doesn't! I've edited all that out!' Apparently the MOO software had all been pinched wholesale from elsewhere, and incompletely modified.

What's the thing actually like? I'd call it a cross between a text Adventure game – with extensive build-new-bits-yourself facilities – and an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channel. The real-time chatter via keyboard and display would be the attractive aspect for me if there were more participants, as actually following the conversation in a medium-to-large group of people has always been a personal problem. But one always tends to find the same few people there, such as Lucy, Alun Harries, Alison Scott, Mike Scott and Pam Wells ... or Felix, Ceiliog, Illyria, Zorn and (God help us) Rainbow_Fury, owing to the tedious tradition of special MOO pseudonyms. Me, I prefer to stalk the place under the impenetrable alias 'Langford'. But maybe I won't hang around there much longer.

Maureen might appreciate my interpretation of the MOO build-your-own-chat-room tradition, which involved 'constructing' a sinister alien mothership hovering in the skies, its interior suitably infested with Alien Greys, examination tables, and hideously flanged rectal probes (labelled, of course, 'Reserved for Mr Strieber'). However, the jape wears thin quite quickly....

Acnestis Mailing 52

Mark ... I am boggled, appalled and shamed to learn that a Spurious Thoggism has crept into the Masterclass canon. Especially since David V. Barrett gave Paul Barnett the impression that he and Peter Hamilton himself had checked the 'silk panties' quote against a copy of Mindstar Rising in that very convention's book room (allegedly leading to expressive cries of 'Oh Fuck' from the up-and-coming author). Clearly this tale, in Tolkien's words, grew in the telling: I must fix the Thog files. I was suspicious of Ken Lake's submission from, purportedly, Richard Matheson's 'The Splendid Source', as follows: '"So, you have found us out, sir." / Talbert's toes whipped like pennants in a gale. / "Have I?" he covered his excitement with."' I couldn't quite believe that third line, and managed to trace the story in one of the Matheson Shock anthologies. The second line was indeed correct, and entered the canon; in the third, though, the 'Have I?' appeared more sensibly after the other words. (KL swears that he quoted correctly from a reprint in another anthology, though.) • Steve ... One for the Morning Glory is indeed the story with a prince who (owing to an early magical accident) lacks the entire left-hand side of his body. As far as I know, it's John Barnes's only fantasy to date. • Ian ... like you, I don't have a great deal of time for sf as prediction (that's not the point of sf), but some lucky guesses are still amusing. My favourite, complementing your unenthusiasm about Asimov's clunky 'Multivac' computer stories, is Murray Leinster's short 'A Logic Named Joe'. As I wrote somewhere else: 'Here the machines called "logics" sound suspiciously like PCs: "It looks like a vision receiver used to, only it's got keys instead of dials and you punch the keys for what you wanna get." What you get includes TV, weather forecasts, financial and other information, communications, number-crunching, real-time conferencing.... Pretty good guesswork for 1946. [Moreover, all these] desktop "logics" are connected together – it's the Internet! And the menace of the rogue "logic named Joe" isn't that it's a Frankenstein monster: it just wants to work better and increase freedom of information. So it starts providing new and useful data on the net, including foolproof ways of committing robbery and murder, and the authorities are in total panic but daren't shut down the net because the whole world relies on it, and.... Does this remind you of anything in the newspapers recently?' • Dop ... further sympathy on going through all that medical treatment to little actual effect. I remember, long long ago, being put on an endless course of magic capsules which supposedly had a slim chance of improving the kind of dud-nerve deafness I've had all my life. The chance didn't come off (worth trying, of course), but the sheer horribleness of the medicine still sticks in my memory: the vile smell and taste leaked uncontrollably through the plastic capsules, lingering all day on fingers and tongue. Yuk! • Everyone ... after the hideous gaffe in my last issue, I have decided not to risk reproducing another Rowson cartoon. This probably means that Mark will cunningly not-reproduce the very same cartoon, leading to another chorus of comment. Anyway, usual thanks all round!

More Vaguely Recollected Reading

Robert Irwin, Exquisite Corpse: a dotty and borderline-fantastic story of Surrealism's heyday (or degeneration) in the 1930s, fraught with problems of memory. E.g. the narrator cannot recall whether he actually attended the clearly remembered 'lecture, entitled "Paranoia, the Pre-Raphaelites, Harpo Marx and Phantoms", which Salvador Dali gave in the Conway Hall some ten days later. He attempted to give his lecture on the paranoiac-critical consciousness dressed in a deep-sea diver's suit, from which heavily muffled and totally incomprehensible sounds emerged. His arms waved wildly and after a while it became evident that he was suffocating in the suit. Gala Dali followed by the organizers rushed on stage and set to banging at the rivets which held the helmet clamped down onto the rest of the suit ...' • Barbara Vine, A Fatal Inversion: more effectively sinister than the only other Vine I've read to date, A Dark-Adapted Eye. The delayed revelation of who actually gets killed helps turn the screw; the distributions of the reader's sympathy and the characters' guilt are constantly and artfully shifted. • Michael Frayn, A Landing on the Sun: slowly uncovers a a bizarre and long-forgotten Civil Service project to investigate the nature of happiness, whose two principals made the mistake of finding it. Much enjoyed. • Gregory Benford, Foundation's Fear: determined effort to write a Benford novel (heavy AI stuff, chilly alien intelligences, wormhole-ridden cosmology) set in the Asimov Foundation universe. In other words, it's a complexly polyhedral peg jammed into an all-too-plain round hole. • James White, The White Papers and Final Diagnosis ... the former is a collection put together by NESFA Press for his Worldcon GoH appearance, and including some often touching fanwriting in addition to the expected fiction; the latter is yet another novel in the popular (but no longer popular enough for UK publishers) Sector General space-hospital series. I have a soft spot for these quiet, compassionate, unpretentious and occasionally rather funny books. In the case of FD, I was slightly bothered by some minor lapses of consistency with the much earlier story which it builds on, and wanted to chide James for not re-reading the old piece ... whereupon it occurred to me that with his eyesight problems, he probably can't. (These days he writes using a Macintosh with the display font set to enormous size.) • Tom Holt, Bitter Lemmings: his filk songbook from Beccon Publications, which is probably a lot funnier if unlike me you're familiar with all the tunes and originals. (It includes the celebrated 'Wild Canadian Boy, The' as seen in the Xmas 1996 Ansible.) I did discover one baffling new fannish word, 'ose' ... Chris Bell eventually took pity on me and explained that this refers to long, long, sad filksongs, traditionally stigmatized as 'more ose'. H'mm. • Kingsley Amis, The King's English: his posthumous and quirky supplement to Fowler's Modern English Usage. The somewhat grandiose title has been explained in a letter to The Spectator (with what truth I don't know) as deriving from KA's fantasy of being The King, a literary gangland boss whose 'patch' would cover all of English letters. So novelists who perpetrated one solecism too many would be apt to find a couple of enormous thugs on the doorstep: 'That stuff you're writing ... the King don't like it. Just a friendly warning, right?' Yes, I think I rather like that fantasy.... •