Cloud Chamber 75
July 1997

Only one side (of me) this time, I fear, owing to alarums and incursions this week. We got burgled on Monday evening, 7 July. Well ... dispensing with the dramatic overstatement, some swift and light-fingered person nipped through the back door (having presumably climbed a highish garden wall) and – while we were busy elsewhere in the house – made off with Hazel's nice new shopping bag, which was empty, and one of my tatty old jackets, the latter unfortunately laden with wallet, keys and cheque book. In the orgy of plastic-card cancellations that followed, Barclaycard scored highest by getting a replacement to me by registered post as early as the 10th. But as you can probably imagine, it's the loss of 'worthless' trivia that rankles most: things like an Oxford Union membership card dating from my first term at college, and a long-expired BCCI (yes, honest) credit card carrying a picture of Harlech Castle and a particular holiday flat just visible in the background. Snarl. Cue quote from J.P.Martin: 'We are at once starting a revenge so fearful that anyone who speaks of it will develop lockjaw.'

BSFA Fun. I thought the Diana Wynne Jones evening was particularly successful – and indeed audible; perhaps it was a hearing-aid failure that left me disgruntled with what I look back on as the Great Baxter/Stableford Mumbling Competition.

Feeleywatch. Further to my snippets about famous critic Greg Feeley in CC74, I've bagged another Feeley Fan! Jonathan Carroll, interviewed in SF Chronicle (6/97), grumbles as follows: '... you will frequently have silly critics, like Gregory Feeley, who will say, "This doesn't fit the category, therefore it's not a good book," which is as ridiculous and provincial a comment as can be made, because the whole wonder and delight of fantasy, to me, is that anything goes.'

Commonplace Book. '[Robert] Graves, a devoted gardener, has long been in the habit of naming compost heaps after friends. During my visit he honoured me by naming his latest compost heap after me.' (Brendan Gill, 1975)

Thog's Paunch Masterclass. The spirit of Thog is everywhere; here's US newspaper columnist Jon Carroll quoting from the dire-sounding thriller Total Control by David Baldacci ...

'George Kaplan was fifty-one years old with thinning, gray-edged hair that covered a wide head; he carried a small paunch on a five-foot-seven-inch frame.' • Carroll: 'I'm picturing one of those IV stands on wheels that they use in emergency rooms; the paunch is suspended from it, looking sort of like a dismembered bagpipe.'

Mailing 54Ian ... I have the feeling that there is more to be unpacked from The Book of the Long Sun – even Clute sounds a little uncertain (and nervously spends more time than usual on plot summary) in his New York Review of SF review of Exodus. Wolfe specializes in points that require an intuitive leap of understanding ... or are too obvious to see, like the god-name Pas, which I only belatedly realized is the masculine form of the Greek word for 'all' – whose better-known neuter is Pan. By the way, Wolfe is definitely writing a trio of follow-ups, with the working titles On Blue's Waters, In Green's Jungles and Under the Long Sun. • Paul K ... To qualify my May remarks on the Worldwar sequence: yes, I agree that it's big-action crap skiffy, and should add that by and large I loved it too – despite disappointment with the trailing-off ending, if book 4 is indeed an ending. • Claire ... ah, these grumpy mutterings about my Intervention talk and its non-submission to Banana Wings are of course music to my ears. The inside story (just to tell the others what You Already Wot Of) is that the more astute faneditor Geri Sullivan deduced long before Easter that I would be giving a speech, and demanded first dibs. • [...] • Elizabeth ... 'not in the habit of reading plays'? Try Tom Stoppard's published scripts – highly recommended. • Benedict ... oh God, is Pournelle still writing that ghastly 'Chaos Manor' column in Byte? I am suddenly reminded of the accurate parody that the UK developers' magazine .EXE ran in 1989. See over. Terry Pratchett was convinced for ages that the author must be me.... • KVB ... Why do I feel that I should have known you'd be a fan of the great Loren Eiseley? • Mark ... thanks again for recommending the upmarket remainder shop in York Road, which I happily pillaged prior to two Jubilee gatherings. The Le Guin mainstream collection Unlocking the Air was apparently shortlisted for the Pulitzer. • Dop ... I should have known that bloody Simo or the bloody SFX bloody subeditors were responsible for the Sourcery review shambles. But did you see Simo's fearless shouldering of the blame on Let me quote: 'The Sourcery/Wyrd Sisters cock-up was a genuine error which both myself (as editor) and the writer of that feature should have spotted, but something will always slip through.' • Andy S ... oh thank you, thank you. After coming to terms with the appallingly precocious William Hague, it's nice to be reminded that a few people in the world are still older than me. Such as you and (just) Tony Blair. • Maureen ... I confess that one of my still-embarrassingly-unread books is, even now, Strandloper; will come back to your Garner essaylet when I have finally bitten the bullet.

What Have I Been Reading? Er um. James White in heaps, to sort out a column on the Sector General series for the dread Odyssey. • Elizabeth Willey (see how belated I can be?): have just whipped through The Well-Favored Man, A Sorcerer and a Gentleman and The Price of Blood and Honor, and generally had a good time – although the first book's piled-up excess of allusions or homages to Zelazny's Amber did very nearly approach off-putting levels. (I now take Tanya's point about different characters' diction, as also noted by Clute the Astute in the FE.) • Barbara Vine (cries of 'Not her again!') with Asta's Book, ringing interesting new changes on her retro-crime 'formula': this one's sheer density of revelations and red herrings would stagger credulity if synopsized, but works pretty well at leisurely length. • Raymond Smullyan, This Book Needs No Title: a mass of philosophical squibs, epigrams, essays and teases, provocative and entertaining but perhaps without quite the degree of literary polish needed to carry off this sort of thing. For example, the 'I am being particularly clever at this point!' exclamation marks do tend to pall.

Letter Column. John Clute: 'The World Fantasy Convention has all the grace and sophistication of the Astrology Stall at the Canadian National Exhibition. They're so eager to be thought of as a bunch of schmoozing pros that they act like geeks, in the original sense of the word. Do they call you collect to demand more coverage in Ansible? No? Why not?'

Entomology Corner. Fascinating insects visiting our garden this month: Demoiselle Fly (Agrion splendens), Summer Chafer (Amphimallon solstitialis), Lesser Stag Beetle (Dorcus parallelipipedus), Swallow-Tailed Moth (Ourapteryx sambucaria) and Common Housebreaker (Git vulgaris).