Cloud Chamber 89
October 1998

Things are getting crowded again. I may well miss the Nov Acne mailing owing to bouts of travel ... most cheeringly a trip to Portland, Oregon, for a return GoH appearance at OryCon as noted in Ansible. Pray for me. I am to be interviewed on stage by Lionel Fanthorpe (later: no, he had to drop out and is being impersonated by Geri Sullivan.). Other welcome complications include SFX wanting an extra piece for their Christmas special (later: argh! first version bounced because I wrote what they asked rather than what I should have telepathically divined was meant) and writing hasty reviews for, a UK incarnation of the web bookshop: they've taken over the old Bookpages site and seem pretty enthusiastic.

Old stuff also continues. In theory, the Scribner's Science Fiction Writers material should have been paid for weeks ago, but all I'm getting are batches of hideously copyedited material rushed by courier – as I bet the cheque won't be – with huge lists of queries from anal-retentive fact-checkers. My Greg Bear article was accompanied by requests that I insert parenthetical definitions of such arcana as 'multiverse' (a word coined by William James in 1895 and used by Sir Oliver Lodge and G.K.Chesterton long before John Cowper Powys and Mike Moorcock got their hands on it), 'space opera', 'nanotechnology', 'memes', 'datanet', 'dataflow', and what 'QL' stood for in a sentence immediately following one about Bear's 'Quantum Logic thinkers'. Best of all, I committed one typo, of the word 'them', and was rewarded with "Please provide brief bracketed definition for "tem".' (>> Steve Rasnic TEM ...)

(Later: argh again! Minutes after I wrote that paragraph, along came the Christopher Priest material, in which the pedants have carefully gone through 'correcting' all quotes from The Glamour to correspond not to the first edition but to the first [revised] US edition rather than Chris's preferred revision of 1996. A new struggle lies ahead.)

Ansible 135 Correction. An error crept in (under 'Small Press') as I wrestled at the last minute with that fearful labyrinth and cryptogram which is Steve Sneyd's handwriting. His chapbook Kin to the Far Beyond is £1.70 post free, not £1.45.

Thanks to Tanya and Pat for their splendid birthday party on 10 October. Amazingly, I somehow found my way home.

Read in Reading

More belated study of things recommended long ago. Peter Høeg, Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow ... started slowly and had a slightly perplexing non-sequitur early on (why, when her child friend dies, should heroine Smilla immediately start investigating the company which pays his mother a widow's pension?), but develops considerable power. Towards the end I was afraid it might lose its force in ramifications of the slightly science-fictional mystery that emerges. It seemed just right that, instead, Smilla halts her story at the precise point where (like a chess master realizing how the game must end) she sees that any move made by the principal villain now leads to his death. Some authentic shivers in there. • A.S.Byatt, Possession ... much more fun than expected, albeit a mite sloppy in places. Having read this with lazy enjoyment while shagged out from the Discworld con weekend, I was bemused to find it cited in a routine newspaper anti-Booker-Prize rant as a typically inaccessible and hermetic Booker winner. Gorblimey. • John Whitbourn, The Royal Changeling ... the author is on good history-twisting form, but I still prefer the original title Elves and Muskets. • Sheri S.Tepper, The True Game ... omnibus of her first three 'fantasy' novels King's Blood Four, Necromancer Nine and Wizard's Eleven (I remember seeing these in Seattle in 1989 and being put off by the titles and grotty covers). Interesting, readable, and quite inventive, but there's something not quite right in this version of the Apparent Fantasy Which Proves To Be SF scenario. Perhaps it's that the sf is so near the indistinguishable-from-magic level (a wide range of psi powers dwarfing those in Lord of Light, and semi-mystical supertechnology too) that it seems hardly worth insisting on the distinction. Especially since the sf recedes again in book 3, which suddenly foregrounds a Very, Very Horrible Place – with no visible justification for its existence – that spews forth Inexhaustible Armies of the Dead to Hideously Engulf The World. Fortunately the hero is by now more than a match for such piffling opposition. • Stephen Baxter, Moonseed, 535pp of about the most thorough-going disaster sf since Bear's The Forge of God. Although I really don't believe in the climactic rabbit which Steve pulls from his hat (he's been watching his video of Total Recall, that's what he's been doing), and although there's a prolonged stutter of false endings as if he couldn't quite decide which closure he liked best, it is definitely a Ripping Yarn. After reading the review in Interzone 136, Steve sent heart-rending e-mail: 'Aaiee, I've been Gilmored!'

Commonplace Book. A Goonish moment from A.E.W.Mason's The Witness for the Defence (1913), found by Yvonne Rousseau: '"You have heard of Bahadur Salak?" he said. Thresk started. / "The affair at Umballa, the riots at Benares, the murder in Madras?" / "Exactly."' (I get days like that too.)

Mailing 68

Tanya ... it must be the literary coincidence of the mailing that even as I observed that 'Dead bards stench every coast', you were 'littered with the jaw bones & entrails of poets'. If only someone else had mentioned Dead Poets Society....

Cherith ... I noticed the King in Yellow names in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books long ago (isn't her Lake Hali also a peculiar lake of fog, echoing Chambers's 'Along the shore the cloud waves break'?), but never thought of it as more than a fragment of literary in-jokery. • The G.K.Chesterton 'accursed tome' tale is 'The Blast of the Book' in The Scandal of Father Brown – it's a practical-joke story more than one of crime and detection, but quite funny and pointed nevertheless.

Bruce ... have failed so far to comment on the amazing double-double package of The Metaphysical Review owing to general stunnedness and brain-numbed failure to connect it with Acne. Am impressed, boggled, overwhelmed, speechless.

Andy S ... many thanks for the library draft. Great fun. I covered some of the same ground in the LIBRARY entry in the Encyclopedia of Fantasy. Neil Gaiman's Sandman Library of Dreams is a pretty explicit homage to the ideal library in James Branch Cabell's Beyond Life, which thus deserves mention – will photocopy the relevant bits if you don't have the book. Then there's poor old Lord Sepulchrave's doomed library in Titus Groan, and Borges's exhaustive 'Library of Babel', and the booby-trapped library-cum-labyrinth in The Name of the Rose....

Everyone Else. Special envious regard for several hefty and enjoyable contributions. Especially liked Paul on America and The Extremes (plus special commendation for Kindness to Langfords in the Starlight review), Claire on the latter, Ian and Bruce for doing what they do best, and Other Good Stuff too mislaid to specify. Until December....

Overleaf. Clearing out some old papers, I found CC37! [That is, this one-pager was printed on the backs of old copies of Cloud Chamber 37.]