Cloud Chamber 93
March 1999

Rush, rush, rush. This last month has been a mess, with far too much happening, including mad dashes to South Wales when my mother needs cheering up after my father's bad days in that nursing home. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy CD-ROM software is working nicely, after I fudged up a secret utility program to automate the activation of some 42,000 internal cross-reference links. But there are 24,000 words of text corrections and updates to be folded in yet.... Reviewing for the On-Line Bookshop Whose Name I No Longer Dare Speak (think large ladies with bows and a breast shortage) continues despite the sheer bizarreness of the non-disclosure agreement they insisted I sign, which is slightly more terrifying than the Official Secrets Act. When I queried the need for all this, I was sternly told: 'As a reviewer you cannot disclose any information about which titles you are reviewing for us, anyone you are interviewing for us, any features you know we are going to be running, how many books you review for us or how much you get paid for doing so.' So, rather than brag about and prepublicize an upcoming interview with a top-selling fantasy author conducted by a 15-time Hugo winner, they insist that this terrible thing must be shrouded in deadly secrecy. Gorblimey. Meanwhile I've just finished helping Mike Ashley with research for his The Smarties Book of Amazing Facts, the usual columns continue, and it looks as though I'll be rushing madly to write a 20,000 word text commentary for a book of Josh Kirby's paintings by the end of April. And then there was the gruelling fun of being guest of honour at Microcon in Exeter, where the bar is a pub 15 minutes' walk from the dry campus function-rooms. The dread Reconvene looms. All this is a way of unsubtly indicating that as well as intefering with party-going and sleep, current levels of overwork are making it hard to cope with Acne. I don't want to drop out, but am miserably unable to muster any mailing comments. You are all wonderful, though....

Computer Corner. Letter from computer supplier: 'We would like to state that [our] motherboard is year 2000 compliant except for the real-time clock.'

Nasty Accidents

The expensive fruits of various used-book search engines (including Brian Ameringen) have been trickling in since the New Year. My wants list is now reduced to a shadow of its former self. Now why exactly did I have all these titles on the list? • Eric Thacker & Anthony Earnshaw, Wintersol (1971) ... the successor to Musrum (1968), a very odd illustrated (by both authors) fantasy that seemed to hover on the verge of becoming a cult book in the early 70s. Surreal, aphoristic, hard to describe without extensive quotation. 'Needing time, Musrum accepted the offer of the year 1489 from an itinerant pedlar. This gave him the opportunity to construct the North American Continent.' Wintersol, in Fantasy Encyclopedia terms, is a particularly eccentric REVISIONIST FANTASY about that bad man SANTA CLAUS ... beating Tom Holt to it by 23 years. • Augustus De Morgan, A Budget of Paradoxes (expanded edition of 1915, Vol 2, miraculously matching the Vol 1 I've had for years and years). De Morgan was a mathematician now remembered, or not remembered, for De Morgan's Law in Boolean logic – Boole was one of his pals. He was also a kind of 19th-century Martin Gardner whose column in The Athenaeum dealt lovingly with a profusion of books and pamphlets by 'paradoxers' who believed they had squared the circle, invented perpetual motion, demonstrated the Earth to be flat and/or hollow, proved that hidebound astronomers were all wrong about planetary orbits being ellipses, refuted Newton's laws of motion, etc. Only ufology is missing. Budget collects all these columns.... • Lord Dunsany, Jorkens Has a Large Whiskey (1940), for some reason the hardest-to-find of five collections of outrageous and fantastic – but once in a while, sad or moving – anecdotes told by indefatigable club raconteur Jorkens. Splendid stuff. • Damon Knight, The Futurians (1977) ... enjoyable and fairly uninhibited account of this legendary fan collective, founded in 1938 and including Asimov, Blish, Knight, Kornbluth, Merril, Pohl and Wollheim. • Louis Untermeyer, Heavens (1922) ... collection of parodies by this now more or less forgotten US poet. On my list because James Branch Cabell, as recorded in the Collected Letters, was delighted by the take-off of his Poictesme books – which is indeed rather good. 'At last, after certain adventures which are rather more unmentionable than not, Ortnitz and his companions arrived ...' In fact, some of the verse buried in the prose – a favourite Cabellian trick, in Figures of Earth especially – strikes me as somewhat better than Cabell's. As a bonus for me, there are pastiches of Chesterton and Wells besides less familiar authors. Oddest item: a 'T.S. Eliot' poem on relativity. •Robert Lowndes, Believers' World (1961) ... I'd sort of expected this to be disappointing – which it was – but had been curious owing to James Blish's fairly enthusiastic review of his pal's book in The Issue at Hand. What got Blish all excited was the opportunity to grind an axe about Spenglerian theories of history, whose connection with the actual text seems tenuous. Lowndes's story does have its moments: it's rare in sf to find a fake religion being ultimately considered as worthy of faith. In fact there are three religions, on three worlds, each denouncing the other two as vile heretics ... although the sacred texts are identical apart from what seems to be the prophet after each world is named: 'For only unto X were the true equations given', where X is variously Speewry, Grekh and Pittam. I'll buy a drink for the first Acnestian to guess the truly appalling shaggy-dog explanation of these names. Not fair if you've read the book.... • Anthony Armstrong, The Prince Who Hiccupped (1932) ... Punch stalwart's first collection of (mainly) fairytales with a comic spin. Contains what may be the first logically minded prince who, having idly wasted two of his three wishes, says: 'Well, then, I wish for three more wishes.' • Ernest Bramah, The Specimen Case (1925) ... the one Bramah collection which, apparently to dispel rumours that he was two different authors with the same name, contains both a bit of Kai Lung chinoiserie and a Max Carrados detective yarn (neither included in his other collections). The rest of the book is early and lesser stuff held up by these two goodies, like a book which desperately flaunts its TERRY PRATCHETT introduction. Oh well. As a completist, I have now completed Ernest Bramah!

Cartoon (wouldn't fit in Ansible): Atom's 'Arcturan Kama Sutra #93: The Cloud Held By the Willow Tree'.