Cloud Chamber 94
May 1999

Hello again, everyone. It was good to see some of you at Reconvene, although I was intermittently being a bit miserable and unsociable (ear inflammation leading to a choice of painful comprehension or soothing removal of hearing aid), and left early when the traditional sore throat kicked in. Apologies all round for missing the BSFA meeting: at the time I was either groaning with earache or trapped in the David B.Wake Production From Hell (actually quite a success in the end, it's said): hadn't dreamed that I'd be forced to attend bloody rehearsals! As noted in Ansible, it wasn't like this in the good old Hicks/Siddall days. Arrrr. When you could get forty-seven examples of egregiously bad under-preparation for the price of a single Attitude membership, and still have change. Arrrr. Tell that to today's youngsters, and unfortunately they'll believe you.

Speaking of Ansible, issue 142 has unusually many typos for various reasons, including overwork and over-trusting cut and paste from Michael Swanwick's and Harry Harrison's e-mail. In the latter it's Harvey Kurtzman, not Kirtzman. Also, please note that the address of Paragon, the 2001 Eastercon, is 379 Myrtle Road, Sheffield, S2 3HQ; and Alison (Braving the Balkans) Freebairn lives in East Kilbride. More from Alison: 'One thing is for certain – they won't get me wearing one of those Red Cross tabards over my war-zone chic.'

Since Easter I have indeed written and delivered the text for that Josh Kirby art collection A Cosmic Cornucopia, and am probably in danger of becoming a Kirby bore. This is or will be a Paper Tiger book, tentatively scheduled for 7 Oct. The publishers made it a whole lot of fun by letting me work out bit by bit that the numbering of the 100 or so colour xeroxes they sent (some untitled) corresponded to most but not all of a Kirby Master Title List which was conspicuously not sent and which I eventually winkled out of Josh himself; that the absence of some obvious selections like early Discworld covers was because (as Paul Barnett finally told me, weeks after I'd signed the contract) this was officially a companion or sequel to the 1991 collection In the Garden of Unearthly Delights, and duplications were not permitted; that the absence of further obvious items like recent Discworld covers was because PT had silently sat on Josh's proposal for well over a year and then decided that everything must be done in mad haste for the Xmas 1999 market, without asking our artist whether he'd painted anything in the interval; that consulting Unearthly Delights to check for duplication of pictures or textual points was impossible, since it's being reprinted and therefore no copies exist anywhere in the world.... You know. All the usual tokens of publishing's fear, surprise and ruthless efficiency.

I knew Josh had been active in the 60s, with classic covers for Corgi paperbacks by Ray Bradbury and many others, but hadn't taken it in that his first book cover appeared back in 1954 ... making it all the more embarrassing that Ron Tiner's Kirby entry in the Fantasy Encyclopedia identifies his 'early illustrations' as appearing from 1979 to 1983. Oops! I had some fun sorting out most of the boobs in the official Kirby Cover Checklist (Josh tends to be hazy about titles, authors and dates), intended to appear as an appendix in the book and probably also on some web site somewhere. Despite running to 400+ items it's avowedly incomplete, since Josh refuses to acknowledge any painting that isn't at least a little bit fantastic. Steve Holland assures me that the 'mundane' Kirby covers are highly regarded by connoisseurs, and dug out a list of more than 40 from Panther alone in 1955-60 (including the supposedly much admired painting for Camp on Blood Island); Josh cagily admits to just 9 Panthers in this period.

One mystery concerns four 1984 paintings for Corgi fantasy gamebooks unpromisingly titled Dragonslayer, Knight of the Golden Helm, Tigersnake and Giant of Skull Castle, all identified as by 'Stein & Stein'. Do these ring any bells? I can't trace their actual publication despite much net hunting in places like the ISFDB, used-book search engines, the Library of Congress and the National Library of Scotland (not the British Library, which charges for access to its on-line catalogue, chiz chiz chiz).

A final word on this project from Alison Freebairn, who is less than keen on the Discworld painting style: 'Given a choice between going to the Balkans and writing 25,000 words on Josh Kirby art I know what I'd choose! Now, that's a daunting prospect and no messing. Look forward to seeing the results all the same – how many euphemisms for "sinewy blocky icky ochre wall-eyed bodies" did you manage to construct?' The official code term is in fact 'Bruegelesque'.

Click here to see Josh Kirby's first ever magazine cover. (194k colour JPEG image.)

Thog's Classics. Recently I acquired the cult novel Irene Iddesleigh (1897; reprinted with corrections 1926) by Amanda M.Ros, about whom Aldous Huxley himself wrote an appreciative if slightly disbelieving essay. The first two sentences that follow provide context for the splendid third; it should be noted that the (at first glance) seven apparent individuals mentioned in succession in sentence two are all the same chap....

'The news of his wife being Mrs Otwell, instead of the honourable name her conduct ordered her to bury, only served to cast forever the gentle words of practical remembrance Sir John had in his last will and testament concerning her into an unknown chasm. Until now the forgiving husband, the meek adviser, the patient sufferer, the wounded knight, the once attached partner, the loving father, and the son of justice, gratitude and chastity was ready to share a little of his ransom with her whom he thought he may have probably wronged by too rigorous punishment. But President O'Sullivan, whose well-guided words and fatherly advice had on this evening so sealed the mind of forgiveness with the wax of disinterested intent that Sir John, on his arrival home, at once sent for his solicitors, Messrs. Hutchinson & Harper, and ordering his will to be produced, demanded there and then that the pen of persuasion be dipped into the ink of revenge and spread thickly along the paragraph of blood-related charity to blank the intolerable words that referred to the woman he was now convinced, beyond doubt, had braved the bridge of bigamy.'

Her other prose masterpiece is Delina Delaney (1935), which has a splenetic 20-page introduction lambasting critic Barry Pain for giving Irene Iddesleigh a jocular review entitled 'The Book of the Century'. The affronted author is determined to lay him waste with Biting Sarcasm, but keeps digging herself into a deeper hole by not, er, actually being able to do sarcasm. She also wrote verse, collected in Poems of Puncture (1932) and Fumes of Formation (1933). Thog is specially fond of the sombrely elegiac 'On Visiting Westminster Abbey':

Holy Moses! Take a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook,
Some rare bits of brain lie here,
Mortal loads of beef and beer.

In 1930 Mrs Ros heard about the Nobel for Literature, and at once resolved that 'I should make a dart for this Prize!' Alas....

Mailing 74, March 1999

Maureen (Admin) ... I don't mind my e-mail address and birthday (10 April) being listed, but not the phone number, please. How about web sites ( How many of us now have these evil things?

Mary ... I can live with the sort of contract you mention, where the rights become non-exclusive after a period (three months for SFX, less for Fortean Times). What's dispiriting is that many magazines, New Scientist for one, still pigheadedly insist on a 'we buy all rights in perpetuity, take it or leave it' deal which the commissioning editor has no power to vary.

Bruce ... will be in touch about somehow getting you a copy of my Chris Priest essay in Science Fiction Writers ed. Bleiler.

Colin & Mitch ... a belated welcome to the madhouse!

Andrew S ... the remark that 'no-one seems to have mentioned the end of Babylon 5' prompts me to admit, a little guiltily perhaps, that I've never watched an episode. Following even occasional tv programmes is a bit of a strain, and all that stuff about story arcs and intricate plot connections stretching over dozens of instalments just seemed All Too Much.

Paul K ... The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy is not an easy book to defend, but 'lazy and dishonest' seems over-hard on industrious David Pringle. He needed the money; as so often with these package deals he was given a fixed format dictated by designers, and a savagely tight deadline. The art layout was declared to be immutable, and Carlton's wrong estimates for text length had to be 'corrected' by cutting already cramped entries to fit. I had earlier been invited to edit the thing myself, but luckily was solvent enough to be able to turn it down. Yes, I did contribute some of the text. No hard feelings, though.

Mailing 75, April 1999

Steve ... I also heartily recommend A Deepness in the Sky, and your own plugs make me realize that I very much need to buy the Philip Pullman books. • C.S.Lewis and untranslated quotations: I'm trying to recall where I read about a splendid old scholar who tried to make visiting plumbers etc. feel at home with reams of erudite conversation in which the Greek tags were courteously translated but not the Latin ones, since of course everyone knows Latin.

Andrew S ... I've reviewed a few of the SF Masterworks reprints (it's really a very good selection) and got a testy e-mail from Millennium supremo Malcolm Edwards thanks to my mention of the numerous typos in Lord of Light. The funniest, on the second page, describes wise technologist Yama as 'wider even than Lord Kubera', the latter being an immensely fat person. Not Millennium's fault, Malcolm insisted, since they 'had to' photo-offset from some shabby Methuen edition. This cheapo approach means that although the Masterworks are uniform on the outside, the interiors are a dog's breakfast of typography from different sources ... e.g. The Rediscovery of Man is a third-generation copy, via the Gollancz edition, of the 1975 US Best of Cordwainer Smith. When even Patrick O'Brian's books appear as greying copies of copies of copies, further degraded by enlarging former A-format paperback typesetting to B-format, what hope is there for mere classic sf?

Claire ... Kingsley Amis's The Alteration strikes me as having been written largely for the sf-buff joy of hammering out an alternate world, with that dark but inevitable-seeming final twist coming from a less generally recognized Amis preoccupation: anger at the perceived indifference and cruelty of God. Asked in 1962 (by, of all people, Yevgeny Yevtushenko) if he was an atheist, Amis said: 'Well yes, but it's more that I hate him.' There's clear bitterness if not hatred in the disquieting, understated scene where the hero gets a private interview with God in The Green Man. The anger comes out most clearly in his underrated The Anti-Death League, which on the surface is a spy thriller in an army-base setting (with sf aspects: training in the use of nuclear small arms, as part of a cover-up for something much nastier). This presents a cluster of deaths and other unpleasantness as a pattern which certain characters can't help interpreting as malicious fun being had by a bullying God. The book has comic, romantic and action-adventure episodes, and even a generally upbeat finale, but the underlying rage and despair are memorable – and the final lines, as in The Alteration, show God or Fate or statistics nastily having the last word.

Mark ... here's an item, probably not new to you, for your surely forthcoming statistical checklist of sf that mentions the buzzing centre of British fan activity. 'This desert used to be called Croydon once, part of one of the mightiest cities in the world.' (Philip E.High, Invader On My Back, 1968)

KVB ... I recognize that sense of the first-read translation feeling like the true one. For me, that newish Borges Collected Fictions is full of odd notes that I'm trying not to read as wrong notes. (Kev wrote interestingly about this in Mailing 74.) Mind you, there have been at least two major slash-and-burn reviews of this translation. One was by Norman Thomas di Giovanni in The Literary Review, who of course has a personal axe to grind since he'd already translated a great deal of this material. But di Giovanni worked in close collaboration with Borges himself, and I can sympathize with his annoyance that English versions that Borges had approved and accepted as definitive should now be thought of as somehow superseded.

Lizbeth ... continuing comments on an author's death in mid-series. I was reminded (again) of Michael Innes's 1939 Stop Press, most of whose characters at the traditional English country house party are in the entourage of a mega-successful crime writer. It's the 21st birthday of this novelist's Saint-like series hero the Spider; the place is thick with publishers, editors, agents, stage adaptors, actors, artists, translators, miscellaneous hangers-on, resentful authors of similar but less successful fiction ... and one fellow who's being paid a retainer to steep himself in every word written by the star author, so he can take over the writing and at least complete the current works in progress should there be an unfortunate accident. I've been idly imagining who will be the Pratchettian equivalents of all the above at Discworld's 21st birthday party in 2004....

Andrew B ... I'm suitably awed by your devouring of Wilkie Collins (who, by the way, turns up as the detective in John Dickson Carr's period mystery The Hungry Goblin). It would be tempting to make up a similar list of repeated tropes in Anne McCaffrey's 'Talents' sf series, but I'm handicapped by having to review the new one – The Tower and the Hive – without any sight of the previous four. However, in addition to six pages of 'What Has Gone Before', the characters work very hard at helpfully telling each other things they already know. Ladies and gentlemen of Acnestis, I give you Thog's Infodump Masterclass:

'Had the Hivers but known they had met their match in Jeff Raven and Angharad Gwyn aka the Rowan as partners, they might have quit while they were ahead.'

'Not while there were Hiver queens needing planets to colonize,' Clancy put in.

'And that, of course, brought the entire FT&T organization in at the time of the Deneb Penetration with the Rowan as the focus for the Mind Merge that helped Jeff Raven despatch the Hiver Scouts trying to depopulate his home world.

'And why the Mrdinis decided to ask us, through Mother and Dad, to join forces and defeat the Hivers,' Thian said, 'since we could take out a Hiver Sphere without having to resort to suicide missions.' He leaned back again, pleased with his summation of the events leading up to recent developments ...

[All sic. Thog particularly savours the way Thian, who delivers the first speech, refers therein to his own grandparents.]

Carol Ann, Cherith and others who mentioned, looked forward to or indeed attended Acnecon: sorry to miss it again. My well known cowardice about following a round-table debate was augmented by deep knackeredness after completing and delivering the Kirby text. However, things may yet change on the former front: I've been to the Royal Berks Hospital audiology department (in obedience to Tanya's fervent urging, once time permitted) and had my hearing aid's new ear-mould modified to remove the pointy bit suspected of causing those nasties at Eastercon. Suddenly they realized that my hearing hasn't been re-tested in two decades or more. Am now on a waiting list for testing, and might be issued with more powerful amplification later in the year....

Tanya ... I had the benefit of another drunken John Jarrold rant about the Clarkes in early May. Basically the judges are all total fuckwits for not including To Hold Infinity and Inversions. This might not seem enough substance for a half-hour diatribe, but it was then 6:30pm and JJ had been having lunch with A Certain Author And His Agent (not me) since 12:30. After a few pints we then all went to the Simon & Schuster party. Next day I heard about the aftermath: the Certain Author awoke to find himself on the cold pavement's side, 50 yards from home in a pool of blood, with three teeth broken by his drunken fall. The Certain Agent merely fell over in Leicester Square and hurt his wrist and back. Ansible readers may remember the story of John Brosnan's subjectively instantaneous transition from a pub lunch with JJ to a trolley in a casualty ward. • Earthdoom, as I can be relied on to whinge whenever it's mentioned, is the novel I (and Paul Barnett) published shortly before Conspiracy, at which I was a special guest. It is likewise the novel whose existence Grafton successfully concealed from Lisa Tuttle's Bookseller round-up of Worldcon guests' work, which Grafton neglected to publicize at the con or in any of its publications because 'it's humour, not science fiction', and for which Grafton failed to fill any Worldcon dealer orders (falsely explaining to Andromeda that it had been remaindered), so there wasn't a single copy of my latest book available at the event. Bah.

Paul K ... I'm always impressed by this kind of detailed analysis of an anthology (Dozois's Year's Best for 97) that deals with each separate story in, often, more space than I tend to be allowed to cover a whole novel. Well done! • Congratulations again on the GUFF triumph. Since I managed against almost overwhelming odds to win the 'Auld Lang Fund', I'll be there Down Under too – finally getting my reward for all that work as UK administrator for the first-ever GUFF race in 1978-9.

Penny ... the William Mayne book that disappointed you, A Swarm in May, is a very early one: his third novel, I think, published 1955. (On the other hand, I've always liked the 1956 The Member for the Marsh.) Midnight Fair, which you found excellent, appeared 42 years later! There are some extremely good fantasies in the intervening period: Earthfasts, A Game of Dark, It and Cuddy come to mind. • I put Reconvene's found-property list in the electronic edition of Ansible 142, but it didn't include your Wilkie Collins novel, alas.

Mary ... the first three Philip José Farmer 'World of Tiers' books were, according to me, wonderful. After which, Behind the Walls of Terra and The Lavalite World seemed to have decreasing measures of the earlier joy and inventiveness. • In the USA last year I came across what must be the last Appleby thriller by Michael Innes, Carson's Conspiracy (1984). Rather sadly, the aged Appleby – though still seemingly very sharp – misreads the nature of the villainy that's afoot, is outmatched by plodding police work on the part of a mere Detective Inspector, and signs off by clearly announcing, twice, his final retirement. Innes seemed to be shoving him over the Reichenbach Falls way back in the 1945 Appleby's End, which had our hero planning to become a gentleman farmer after marrying his Judith (still with him at the last, as Lady Appleby). But a couple of Innes novels later he returned in A Night of Errors, 1947.

Everyone Else ... er, silent appreciation or something.

Read in Reading

Omitting reviews for That Lot With The Non-Disclosure Agreement ... Randall Collins, The Case of the Philosophers' Ring (1978), a very silly Sherlock Holmes story set just before World War I. The great detective is summoned by Bertrand Russell to investigate the stealing of Wittgenstein's mind by Aleister Crowley; also involved are a clutch of Cambridge philosophers and mathematicians, Keynes and the Bloomsbury Group, Annie Besant of the Theosophical Society, etc etc. In the end Crowley escapes to the USA: 'He is using various aliases: Gurdjieff, Gatsby, Burroughs, Leary and others.' • Orson Scott Card, Ender's Shadow (1999), a peculiar exercise in second thoughts, retelling great chunks of Ender's Game from the viewpoint of its minor character Bean, who proves to be secretly even more mindbogglingly brilliant and precocious than the child prodigy Ender but for variously plausible reasons hides his light under one or another bushel ... rather undermining the original story. Perhaps it would have been wiser to go back and rewrite Ender's Game in the light of having, as Card puts it in the introduction, 'learned a few things'? Hard to say. It reads pretty well. • Hal Clement, Trio for Slide Rule and Typewriter (1999), omnibus from the estimable NESFA Press, comprising the early novels Needle – one of my Formative SF Experiences in its 1963 Corgi edition – Iceworld and Close to Critical. Nostalgia-ridden review to appear in The New York Review of SF. These were serialized in the days when, to quote Brian Aldiss, 'Astounding smelt so much of the research lab that it should have been printed on filter paper.' • Terry Pratchett, The Fifth Elephant, this autumn's Discworld title. It's a good one: Samuel Vimes in spooky Uberwald, tackling a locked-room mystery (the Scone of Stone needed for a dwarf coronation has vanished) and being pursued at length by implacable werewolves. Terry's darker comedies are his best.