Cloud Chamber 91
December 1998

Merry Xmas to all! This is a quick issue because the deadline is nearly on me ... so again you get a bonus Golden Oldie: CC91 is printed on the backs of CC36 overruns. Mark asked about CC's history. It began in OMPA in 1976 and appeared at various (sometimes overlapping) times in WOOF, FEAPA, FAPA, FLAP, APA-SF&F, EURAPA, Frank's APA and another with no apparent name, before finding a happy home in Acnestis as of issue 40.

Thog Again. Before my November guest appearance in Portland, Oregon, I stayed with local friends – Debbie Cross and Paul Wrigley – who avidly collect Badger books and have done much to promote the Cult of Fanthorpe in those distant parts. Naturally I arranged to bring along a stack of Badgers that they still wanted, purchased at colossal expense from Martin Hoare's shelves of duplicates. A quick Thog-skim on the outbound plane revealed the wonders of Space-Borne by 'R.L. Fanthorpe M.B.I.S.' Here, unusually, the great man plunges into Joy of Padding exercises as early as the first paragraph:

'The crowd had to be seen to be believed. There are crowds and crowds, but this was the crowd to end all crowds. Never, perhaps, ever before in the whole of human history had there been such a massive congregation. Such a teeming of humanity, as there was gathered round a wide expanse of concrete and there in the centre, like some strange steel deity, the object of their semi-idolatrous adulation, stood the ship. It centred their thoughts, as the small sphere of wind and leather, centres the thoughts of the teeming masses at Wembley Cup Finals. As far as the eye could see in every direction, were men, women, and children. Their faces eager, upturned. Full of hope, expectancy.'

Anyway, to cut a longish chapter short, the spaceship presently takes off:

'And then it was over, the electric silence, the dynamic tension ended, in a cataclysmic eruption of power, which seemed all the greater for its majestic and solitary loneliness; the huge silver dart leapt up, probing with its rapier tip; against the blue vaulted curtain of the heavens, and then it was up. Like Wordsworth's "Skylark" it rose and rose, till it became an invisible sound, receding over the heads of watching humanity. The send-off was over. The adventurers were on their way. The Argosy had sailed: Ulysses and his band were setting off from Troy. There was no turning back. It was a moment of no return. The decision had been made. The button had been pressed. The gun had been fired. The arrow had left the bow, it could not be recalled. It was further from man's power to bring it back than it was possible to live again, even one second of yesterday.'

Chapter 3 begins with a detailed description of the starry sky through which the ship is now travelling: this continues for a thrilling page and a half, and names some 44 stars, constellations, zodiacal signs, etc. The brain-destroying Fanthorpean coup comes when, having exhausted the northern heavens, the author treats us to details of how things would look if the ship were travelling the other way. By Chapter 6, Earth has been accidentally destroyed and the astronauts begin to worry a bit: 'Any slight mechanical defalcation, if I may put it that way, and we're dead. We become twenty-four bloated corpses, sailing forever in a big steel coffin, a communal tomb, a jet propelled mass grave.' There are many unexciting twists to follow before friendly aliens rescue two survivors – one male, one female – and deposit them on a planet closely resembling Eden. If you want to know more, don't ask me – as threatened, I hastily gave the book away....

Pored Over in Portland

Avram Davidson & Grania Davis, The Boss in the Wall – presenting the late great Davidson's one unpublished novella of outright horror. The central unpleasantness, developed from a real-life nightmare, effectively and rather characteristically shades off into a fog of interlinked US rural legends, rationalizations, conflicting scholarship, petty academic rivalries, a frustrating labyrinth of texts and clues. Although connections are elusive and certain fragments of the jigsaw may be missing altogether, there are good and nasty glimpses of something both horrific and pitiable, something with the grisly solidity of M.R. James's best bogeymen. I was also reminded of Lafferty's introductory advice in The Devil is Dead: 'This is a do-it-yourself thriller or nightmare. Its present order is only the way it comes in the box. Arrange it as you will. [...] Put the nightmare together. If you do not wake up screaming, you have not put it together well.' Which can of course be read as a stupendous auctorial cop-out ... but the sense of complicity, of having assembled certain of the parts oneself, can artfully add to some stories' impact. Davidson was certainly artful.

Nasty Accidents of almost Claire-like proportions (h'mm, could that have been better phrased?) happened to me in the Portland bookshops. Besides the above, the following were lugged home or are still in transit, occasional question marks indicating forgotten details of the latter ... Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Life; G.K. Chesterton, Complete Works vol 14, containing all the miscellaneous and uncollected short fiction, including both 'unknown' Father Brown stories; Theodore Cogswell, ed, Proceedings of the Institute for Twenty-First Century Studies (PITFCS) – Advent reprint of TC's wonderfully controversial fanzine-for-pros that preceded SFWA; Michael Coney, The Celestial Steam Locomotive; Susan Cooper, Seaward; Avram Davidson, The Redward Edward Papers; Lindsey Davis, The Iron Hand of Mars; R.L. Fanthorpe, ? (a present from Debbie as reward for unearthing 15 Badger titles still on her wants list); John M. Ford, How Much For Just the Planet?; Joe Haldeman, Infinite Dreams and Dealing In Futures; Michael Innes, Carson's Conspiracy (a late Appleby novel of whose existence I hadn't known); Molly Ivins, Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? and Nothin' But Good Times Ahead, hilariously savvy US political commentary; Jonathan Lethem, The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye; H. Beam Piper, Uller Uprising; Thomas Quale, The Feaster in the Fudge Room (chapbook in which Lovecraftian undertones are revealed in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Oompa Loompas being identified with the abominable Tcho-Tcho tribe of Cthuloid myth); Amy Thomson, Virtual Girl and The Color of Distance (Amy wheedled me into buying the second and then presented me with a remainder of the first); H.C. Turk, Black Body, thrust on me by Tom Whitmore as a 'Thog Needs To Know This!' submission ('Thog feel unwell'); David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest; P.G. Wodehouse, The Great Sermon Handicap vol II, comprising versions in 'English, Chaucerian English, Nederlands, Vlaams, Afrikaans, Fries, Deutsch, Mittelhochdeutsch, Plattduetsk, Letzebuergesch, Jiddisch, Schwyzerduetch, Phonetic English' – a present for Hazel from Paul and Debbie; Gary K. Wolf, Who Censored Roger Rabbit?; The Hornblower Companion. Gosh, where did all the space go? Cheers, and Happy New Year.