Cloud Chamber 87
August 1998

June and July were largely filled with the excitement of writing stuff for the revised edition of Scribner's 1982 Science Fiction Writers. This meant brand-new long essays on a couple of 'new' authors who hadn't made it into the 1982 book, being Greg Bear and Chris Priest: swotting up their complete works was, er, an interesting task. (As Teresa Nielsen Hayden said, 'They're not bad books, but Greg Bear writes as though paper grew on trees.') Almost more work, for much less money, were the shorter assignments on Knight, Niven and Vance: Scribner's are too mean to commission whole new essays on authors already covered in 1982, and e.g. felt that 16 productive years that have shifted the centre of gravity of Jack Vance's career justified only a 'minor update' of 'a paragraph or two' to be tacked on to Malcolm Edwards's rather carping 1982 essay. I argued them into a 'major update' of 1,000 words: the nightmare was the bibliography, whose format requires publishers' locations to be given in full. Sudden discovery of many Vance first editions and important revisions from Underwood-Miller, who must be variously cited as 'San Francisco and Columbia, Pa.' ... 'Novato, Ca., and Columbia, Pa.' ... 'Los Angeles and Columbia, Pa.' ... 'Novato, Ca., and Lancaster, Pa.' ... and eventually they split up, leaving just Underwood Books at Grass Valley, Ca. Of course most reference works omit all this daft detail, and without a kindly helping hand from Vance's major bibliographer Jerry Hewett (a Good Man) I'd still be gibbering. Meanwhile Scribner's took a robust 'we don't want it good, we want it Tuesday' attitude to the whole project: editor Richard Bleiler was originally expected to get the whole mighty tome updated in a month or two, and although he managed to have the deadline extended to mid-September, the contract has a sneaky clause whereby unless you deliver by early August, the fee is automatically halved. It was not explained why, for all their haste in other areas, the publishers routinely took six weeks to issue contributors' contracts. So it goes.

Meanwhile, in an outbreak of returning to the fannish roots, I finally got around to disorganizing a Psion-full of notes from this year's Minneapolis expedition into an 8,700-word trip diary. Expect the next issue of Geri Sullivan's Idea to make a particularly loud crash as it hurtles through the letterbox.

Commonplace Book. 'He had even incurred the deadly suspicion of classicism by differing from his young friends the Punctuist Poets, when they produced versification consisting exclusively of commas and colons.' (G.K.Chesterton, 'The Trees of Pride') • 'Glad I was to sit with another man after supper, listening to the technique of jam-making, from the delicate carving of the raspberry pip to the care of acres of turnips.' (Lord Dunsany, The Travel Tales of Mr Joseph Jorkens)

Mailing 66

Andy B ... aha, another Intuition talk sees print. Lots of fun; many thanks! • Naturally I was morbidly interested in your comments on the SFVIEW software, your anguished e-mails while trying to get the thing going having given me some bad moments. Since the main problem seemed to be the inordinate time taken to generate the Big Global Index, I've since put a fair bit of work into optimizing this process: 8 hours now trimmed to 2 hours 40 minutes here (Pentium 166, 32Mb RAM). The other problem, of the Global Index being out of step with the headword list, relates to your e-mailed remarks about having moved various files between directories at odd times. At one stage you had a headword list generated by the program in a directory to which you hadn't copied the addenda list (which slips in two missing headwords), and a Big Index sent by me on disk, which naturally enough did take account of the addenda. The moral is to keep all the files together! ... But I and my beta testers were mortified to realize that for several months we'd all been failing to notice 'Encylopedia' in the main header bar of the main window. Argh.... I've since been having a lot of fun adding mechanisms for fixing dud cross-references, many of these first detected by the splendid Andy B. • Thanks also to other Acne SFVIEW purchasers, including Catie and Steve. • Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) was a German Romantic painter who specialized in haunting, highly symbolic landscapes and ruins, producing an overall effect which can only be described as (dare I say it?) doom-laden.

Steve ... I thought of another Herbert/Zindell parallel or two later, one being the obvious one of a centrally important planet named for its climate: Dune, Icefall. And then, I confess, I bunged off the whole slightly revised bit from Acne to The New York Review of SF for possible use as one of their little boxed mini-essays and squibs. 'Thrift, thrift, Horatio ...'

Elizabeth ... A great difficulty in correctly remembering that Mordaunt quatrain is interference from A.A.Milne's version in 'The Rabbits' – where his Bright Young Things play at being boy scouts, tracing spoor and generally stalking, to the refrain:

Sound, sound the trumpet, beat the drum,
To all the scouting world proclaim
One crowded stalk upon the tum
Is worth an age without a name.

Mark ... You read The Space Eater? Now I have to kill you. • I'm not doing a vast annotated book list this time since I feel knackered from things like The Complete Works of Greg Bear, and have fallen back on comforting re-reads of older stuff – including, as close study of Ansible 133 may suggest, the durably entertaining Anthony Villiers books by Alexei Panshin. (Though duty calls me to James Adams's The Next World War: Computers Are The Weapons And The Front Line Is Everywhere, awaiting review for New Scientist.) One anthology recommendation: Tor's The Avram Davidson Treasury, collecting 38 stories (with guest introductions) by that fine, erudite and underrated author. I had a rather embarrassing object-lesson in why he should be underrated when rereading stories here that I'd skimmed way back in my teens or earlier. Davidson sometimes needs the sort of close attention demanded by Gene Wolfe, and there are lovely jokes, twists and ironies which I now realize that speed-reading young Langford simply didn't notice. Oops.

Catie ... The Mouldiwarp books are the only major Nesbit fantasies that I've never seen, let alone read. I envy you. Hasty scribbling on the wants list, while I remember....

Claire ... Lionel Fanthorpe told a Fortean Times interviewer this year that he was 'boringly orthodox' about religion. I don't know whether the Church of England objects to his performances, but believe he's not one of their ministers – his actual connection is with the disestablished Church in Wales.

Cherith ... Thanks for the haiku. I suspect I've met them on the net, but we all know words on the net aren't Really Real....

Have you seen the full current set of Children's Fantasy stamps? 20p The Hobbit, 26p The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, 37p The Phoenix and the Carpet, 43p The Borrowers, 63p Through the Looking-Glass. The £2.25 presentation set comes with a little essay by (it had to be ...) Terry Pratchett.