Cloud Chamber 95
June 1999

Another short Welsh break after weeks of All Too Much. One of the regular challenges up there is the improvisation of food from whatever odd selection lurks in the cupboard, as when we found ourselves with a wad of minced pork, some elderly Italian pasta shells and a jar of Chinese stir-fry sauce insistently labelled as for use with chicken only. The resulting ethnic melting pot, christened Pork Marco Polo, was perhaps not one of our greatest triumphs. Then came the supreme effort to use up, at last, the Mexican-flavoured Oxo cubes left there by Martin and Jean Hoare in 1993....

Meanwhile I slumped around dipping into the Harlech Langford Library Annexe, a shambolic assortment of duplicates, odd books acquired on holiday, and certain not-quite-duplicates. One of the latter is The Selective Ego, a distillation of the nine majestic autobiographical volumes of Ego by dramatic critic James Agate (1877-1947), a nationally known theatre pundit from the 1920s to his death. Yes, I have the full set in Reading, smug smug. This eclectic diary-cum-scrapbook is a partial inspiration for Ansible ... I'm thinking of Agate's packrat fondness for squeezing in good lines and anecdotes with a happy disregard for relevance. The entry for 6 May 1937 has actress Mrs Patrick Campbell showering him with quotables in New York, most tellingly: 'I did so enjoy your book. Everything that everybody writes in it is so good.' Meanwhile history rumbles on – taking Mrs P. to lunch, Agate sees 'the Hindenberg nosing majestically between the skyscrapers' and has the taxi follow it for a better view; later he goes to bed amid a terrific electrical storm and wakes to news of the airship disaster. Coo er gosh.... He was infamous for spattering his essays with untranslated French, but the mighty intellects of Acne will have no trouble with this bit, preserved for posterity in (again) 1937:

Some thirty years ago Sarah Bernhardt was playing at Manchester, and one afternoon she took a drive with a friend into the country. As they were passing a field they heard shouts and stopped the landau. Two local teams were playing a vigorous football match, and, it being a wet day, were smothered in mud. Sarah climbed up on to the seat and, clad from head to foot in white furs, watched the contest with eager interest. When it was over she climbed down and sank back on her cushions with a murmured: 'J'adore ce cricket; c'est tellement Anglais.'

Small World Dept. Mere hours after writing the above with a general sense that Agate is now forgotten, I bought the 21 May Guardian and found him approvingly quoted as one of the few contemporary critics not bowled over by Citizen Kane. On the same day, in the tiny but worthy Browsers Bookshop in Porthmadog, I at last acquired the much-discussed Philip Pullman fantasies while Hazel bragged that half the Egyptology section was by people she was at Oxford with. Not to be outdone, the young woman behind the counter pointed to The Subtle Knife: 'He was my tutor at Oxford. Must read his stuff one day.' What could I do but give her a copy of Ansible?

Thog's Classics. 'She threw her face over her apron.' (Charles Reade, The Cloister and the Hearth, first edition 1861)

Mailing 76, May 1999

Mark ... at the pre-Clarke pub session you remarked that L.E.Modesitt had cut back somewhat on his famous sound effects. This reminded me to keep track during study of The White Order, read for review en route to Wales next day:

crunch ... terwhit ... Clang! Clang! ... Clang! ... Tap! Tap! ... Crack! ... Whhhrannn ... thump, thump ... Thrap! ... terwhit ... Whhsttt! Whhhstt! ... Clannnnggggg!!! ... scritch ... Thrap! ... Scritttchhh ... Thrap! ... Hsssttt ... Clunk! ... Thrap. ... thunk ... whuff ... Whhhssttt! ... Whsst. ... Whhhssst ... Crumpt ... umpt ... ump ...Whhssstt! ... Whhhssttt! ... WHHHSSSTTTT! ... Whhhsttt! ... thump ... Whhhssstttt ... Whhsttt! ... Whhhsstt! ... snick ... Whhhstt! ... Whhhhsttt! ...Whhhst! ... Whhsttt! ... Whst. ... ye-aah! ... whuff ... whuff ... Rrrrrrrrrr ... Gurrrr ... rrrrr ... Gurrr ... rrrrr ... Gurrrr ... rrr ... Whsst! Whstt! Whsst! ... Whhsst! ... Whst! Whst! Whst! ... Whst! Whst! ... Whhsst! ... Whhsttt! ... Whhssst! ... Whsst! ... Whhstt! ... Whhsttt! ... Whsstt! ... Whhst! ... Wheeeee .. whuffff ...Whhssttt! ... Thud ... Whsst! Whsst! ... Whhhstt! ... Splushh ... whuff ... Thrap.

You're right, Mark – Modesitt is doing it a lot less nowadays! For the uninitiated, the subtly varied Whsst effects are all chaos wizards chucking fireballs. It would be unwise to challenge one of these chaps to a game of whist. • I agree about actually preferring to sit indoors in a pub (as it might be the Paviours) than outside on damp ground (in, to pluck an example at random, St James's Park). But I don't turn up for Acnestis pub meetings often enough to feel that my vote carries or ought to carry much weight. • In another Porthmadog bookshop I came across a remaindered coffee-table tome on cults: it had the air of being rushed out in the wake of Heaven's Gate, but seemed quite sober and informative. I noted a common failure of courage, though: not a word on Scientology. The scope indicated by Dave Barrett's title Secret Societies presumably spared him from having to bite this particular bullet.

Me. The four untracable Josh Kirby picture titles (CC94) turned out to be his informal names for paintings done for the dread Tunnels and Trolls gamebook series, so they were indeed never published under the given titles. Call off the search, if anyone was searching.... Also I eventually managed to locate a copy of In the Garden of Unearthly Delights, the unlocatable book with which the new Kirby selection was not supposed to overlap, and found four duplications. Don't tell anybody!

Ian ... we have a winner! Yes, that stuff in Lowndes's Believers' World about the rival but otherwise identical texts confided to the prophets Speewry, Ghrekh and Pittam is indeed explained as a misunderstanding of their having been (for deeply implausible fail-safe reasons) committed to three different shorthand systems, Speedwriting, Gregg and Pitman. Groan. I owe you a drink – likewise Sheila Pover, who happened to see that issue and got it instantly. • I think your assessment of The Lord of the Rings as 'one of the most turgidly written books of the millennium' has to be regarded as a bit subjective. On one hand, there must be thousands or tens of thousands of books which would rank above LOTR on any objective scale of turgidity. On the other, it's been admired by a great number of people who were or are much concerned about style, e.g. W.H.Auden, John Clute, Ursula Le Guin and Naomi Mitchison. It would be silly for me to find anything wrong in your being allergic to Tolkien at his most lofty and archaic (it's the early cutesy bits written for the kids that get up my own nose); I just can't see 'turgid' as an apt description.

Claire ... when I was ten or so, my mother was particularly concerned that I shouldn't Ruin My Eyes with the fierce abrasion of print, and imposed a strict curfew on use of the bedroom light. So yes, I did do a bit of torchlight reading under the blankets, but found it more generally convenient to leave the door artfully ajar and let the landing light shine through the crack. This may or may not have Ruined My Eyes as predicted. • I do prefer and try to buy from real rather than on-line bookshops, and fall back on the net mostly for difficult titles that are out of print. For example, following a decade or more of hunting (with a few finds, but at unfeasible prices because the first edition was the only one), I recently received Lord Dunsany's sf novel The Last Revolution after ordering on-line from Australia. In fact it came from a real second-hand bookshop, and I only wish more British s/h dealers would make their catalogues accessible this way. Meanwhile, I haven't actually bought anything yet from we have a Waterstone's and two branches of Blackwell's to support in Reading, after all.

Tony ... you and Mark both mention that I put Cloud Chamber on my web site; your additional note that I strip out the mailing comments is Only Sort Of True. I do look through and edit lightly if anything seems so sensitive or inscrutable that it shouldn't be on public show. The inscrutability issue rarely arises since I prefer to give a trace of context to help Acnestoids – including me – 'place' the comment rather than having to hunt through past mailings. As for sensitive, private matters, CC has long been written in the knowledge that sooner or later even lovingly cherished Acne mailings may end up on a free-fanzine table, and that imagining oneself to be talking in the 'privacy' of the APA is wishful thinking. (Some of us have recently remarked as much. I drafted this before reading, and realizing that I was paraphrasing, the latest from Mark.) However, I've occasionally had second thoughts and dropped bits from the web edition. Trust me. • I generally liked Darwin's Radio but thought Bear set himself, and failed quite to solve, a knotty pacing problem when the rapid slide to apparent global disintegration had to be sort of put on hold for nine whole months to fit in his heroine's important pregnancy.

Andy S ... thanks for the envy-inducing report from the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts. They used to send me annual invitations, but I could never actually quite afford to go, and seem to have dropped off the list in recent years. • A spurious doctorate likewise dogs me, especially in letters from academia – sometimes on the basis that anyone with the temerity to write chunks of sf/fantasy reference books must have some relevant qualifications (nope), but more often as a result of my useful initials: D.R.Langford.

Bruce ... many thanks for the bonus chunk of 1968 George Turner. Zelazny's anachronistic lurches of diction in Lord of Light are variously loved or loathed by readers, but I think they are intentionally comic – the intrusion of 'doing time' in Yama's lofty diction, as cited by George, always reminds me of Max Beerbohm going over the top with the same figure of speech in the Shakespearean pastiche of '"Savonarola" Brown'. Here Savonarola is imprisoned by Pope Julius II: after three gruelling hours of gaol his hair has turned white (while Lucrezia Borgia in the adjacent cell has gone mad), and he soliloquizes:

... O, what a degringolade!
The great career I had mapp'd out for me –
Nipp'd i'the bud. What life, when I come out,
Awaits me? Why, the very Novices
And callow Postulants will draw aside
As I pass by, and say 'That man hath done
Time!' And yet shall I wince? The worst of Time
Is not in having done it, but in doing 't.

Am also reminded of Kingsley Amis's brief parody in That Uncertain Feeling of Dylan Thomas at his most irresponsibly obscure, with its sudden crash into railway bathos:

When in Time's double morning, meaning death,
Denial's four-eyed bird, that Petrine cock,
Crew junction down the sleepers of the breath ...

Chris H ... Eric Partridge the lexicographer (A Dictionary of Historical Slang and much, much else) actually wrote a book-length study of shaggy-dog stories. This appeared in 1953 under the very innovative title The Shaggy Dog Story. Perhaps with tongue slightly in cheek, it cites such influences as ancient Greek gags, 18th-century epigrams, Edward Lear, clerihews and the classic Australian story of the two loquacious drovers camped miles from anywhere: one peers into the gathering dusk for a long, long time and eventually says 'Horse' ... whereupon the other gazes for even longer, finally uttering his correction: 'Cow'. Next morning the first drover grumpily packs his bags. 'Going?' 'Yes, too much bloody talk around here.'

Penny ... again you goaded me into looking up the date of a William Mayne book, Plot Night, which shocked you with such unthinkables as people throwing fireworks at each other and kids with Catherine wheels on sticks. Both were pretty commonplace in the year of publication, 1963: I know, because I was there! • Bryan Talbot is in process of publishing a new Luther Arkwright story in nine comic-book instalments. This storyline is called Heart of Empire and began to appear in April 1999. Bryan tells me that owing to the grotty distribution of US comics, the print run is ever so small and the instalments may soon be hard to find. I prefer to wait for the graphic-novel version myself – let's hope there'll be one....

Paul K ... You mention being the 1987 Hugo Administrator who found it necessary to class Watchmen as nonfiction, and remark: 'There was no real alternative, still isn't.' Yes and no to that. The nonfiction category was supplemented by 'Other Forms' for the 1988 Hugos (and it was in this year and category that Watchmen won – your own difficult decision must presumably have been for The Dark Knight Returns, which lost as nonfiction to Trillion Year Spree in 1987). In 1998 the nonfiction Hugo was broadened to 'Best Related Book', at last legitimizing this as a catchall for worthy art books, graphic novels and the like. The weakness of the experimental 'Other Forms' had been the barrel-scraping associated with finding five worthy nominees that were neither fiction nor nonfiction (or indeed 'Original Artwork', another weak category that was dropped in 1997); the present situation seems more sensible.

Maureen ... as you know, we too had Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden as recent visitors. Two bits of serendipity as I took Teresa on a walking tour of Reading (while Patrick wrestled with e-mail and editorial work): a real live walking hedgehog crossing a path in our local cemetery, Teresa never having seen one before, and arriving at the Norman church next to the town hall on the very rare occasion of its being unlocked after a weekday service. Best bit inside: a wall monument to an eminent Elizabethan (or thereabouts) mathematician whose bust is surrounded by five angelic figures bearing gilded models of the Platonic solids ... except that the icosahedron seems to have been nicked. • One conversation somehow strayed (thrap ... clunk ... whsssst!) on to the subject of the great Tor author L.E.Modesitt, and I mentioned that his first successful fantasy The Magic of Recluce had been rather notably free of multiple exclamation marks and onomatopoeic crap. Teresa fixed me with a steely eye: 'I copyedited that one.' One sort of gleans that success goes to the heads of certain authors – naming no names, now – who may later come to feel themselves above being copyedited at all. • Like you with The Softback Preview, I feel rather like not going on about everything I gobble down for ... such as Acorna's Quest by Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball (oh dear) and Orion Arm by Julian May (sequel to Perseus Spur, oh dear oh dear).

Lizbeth ... was it some rogue spell-checker that forced Pat Cardigan upon you? This nom-de-plume now seems almost as universal as the legendary Issac Amizov, Samuel Delaney, and of course Patrick and Theresa Neilson-Haydon. Michael ... I too was immensely impressed by Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and likewise recommend it to one and all. Particularly nifty, yet so very obvious once you've thought of it, is the technique of using the graphic-novel format for this discourse on comics – so example and exposition are perpetually and fruitfully entwined.

Steve ... you asked about unusual structured verse-forms as used by Neil Gaiman. There's a wonderful section called 'Technical Terms' in the first edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage, which provides a concentrated browse through all this kind of esoterica; I think all this information is still in the second edition revised by Sir Ernest Gowers, but it's been scattered through the main alphabetical headword sequence. Also very useful and recommended by John Clute is the Penguin A Dictionary of Literary Terms. Many of these odd verse forms are difficult to handle with any grace because they require whole lines to be multiply repeated: e.g. the triolet, which Gaiman slips into the mouth of a gate-guarding demon in the first trip-to-Hell episode of Sandman ...

There's one at the door,
At the gate to damnation.
Is it thief, thug, or whore?
There's one at the door ...
And there's room for one more
Till the end of creation.
There's one at the door.
At the gate to damnation.

[PS: in the privacy of a low-circulation APA, I didn't ask permission to use this. But for the web site ... here's Neil. 'Yes, of course you can use the triolet. I'm flattered. Put a (c) DC Comics at the bottom of the page to show willing.' © DC Comics it is.]

Villanelles have similar constricting repetitions. I've met very few successful ones: a couple by W.H.Auden, William Empson's 'Missing Dates' and the famous Dylan Thomas elegy ... 'Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age must burn and rave at close of day: / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.' The form continues with four rhyming triplets ending alternately with the first and third line of the opening verse, and a final quatrain ending with both; the poor bloody poet not only has to come up with good key lines to begin with but must work hard at shuffling the context to keep them sounding fresh! I'll pinch the requested pantoum (Malay pantun) and rondel definitions from reference books: the first is 'quatrains rhyming abab, bcbc, etc. returning to rhyme a at the end' and the second is usually 'three stanzas working on two rhymes, thus: ABba abAB abba (B)', where capitalized letters represent whole repeated lines and (B) is an optional final refrain. In this notation, with the addition of A2 as a repeated line distinct from A, the villanelle goes: AbA2 abA abA2 abA abA2 abAA2. • Auden provides a nice little anthology of verse-forms as part 2 of The Sea and the Mirror, a sort of meditation on The Tempest of which I'm very fond: Antonio soliloquizes in chilly terza rima, Ferdinand in a floridly metaphysical sonnet, Stephano a ballade, Gonzalo windy hudibrastics with intermittent rhyme, the attendant lords a single shared couplet, Sebastian a sestina, Trinculo simple quatrains, and Miranda a villanelle partly disguised by the use of half-rhymes. (In case you're wondering about the rest, Alonso gets a complex new stanza-form and the sailors a sea-shanty, while in other parts of the work Prospero goes on in blank verse, Caliban in prose [pastiching Henry James!] and Ariel in a little song.) I sneaked a tiny homage to The Sea and the Mirror into my Tempest story for Mike Ashley's More Shakespearean Whodunnits....

Holiday Reading

NEW OR NEWISH STUFF ... Philip Pullman, Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife: very impressive indeed, to the extent that I found myself suddenly glad not to be reviewing these and thus repeatedly pausing to make notes. Thanks for all the recommendations. Strange – well, mildly coincidental – that last issue I was going on to Claire about Kingsley Amis and rage against God, and here's a sequence that storms the last bastion of What You Can't Say In Children's Fantasy, the presentation of God as the bad guy. This has occasionally been done in sf, usually as a rather simplistic conceit; here the leaders of the adult human opposition are by now morally compromised to an extent that befouls their cause whether right or wrong – even if Church and Government seem worse. Further reversals, upheavals and betrayals seem likely in book 3, and I almost wish I'd waited until October to be able to devour the lot in one long self-indulgent weekend. Pullman's particular brand of fluid inventiveness and narrative confidence make me wonder if he's a fan of Diana Wynne Jones – not that there's anything derivative here, but it's interesting to compare (say) Diana's differently diverse handling of parallel worlds and externalized souls in The Lives of Christopher Chant. • Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader ... a little book of bookish essays by an avowed book-lover, daughter of the encyclopedic US anthologist and editor Clifton Fadiman. Much charm and quite a few chuckles (Thog appreciated the quoted Richmond Times-Dispatch description of Camilla Parker-Bowles as Prince Charles's power mower), but the author seems terribly determined to admit only to ultra-respectable or fashionably eccentric literary loves. At the 128th and last page, it occurred to me that her sole disparaging remark about books had been a quick sneer at one section of her distinguished father's personal library – the science fiction. So it goes. • Richard P.Feynman, The Meaning of It All, three popular lectures given in 1963 under the less punchy title 'A Scientist Looks at Society' and eventually published in 1998. Plenty of characteristic common sense and some good anecdotes, but it seems to be transcribed from recordings of talks improvised from notes, with all the resulting false starts, gaps and repetitions which Feynman would presumably have cleaned up had he chosen to publish this material. Which – with 25 years of opportunity before his death – he didn't. • Esther Dyson, Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age ... sensible-seeming general commentary about Internet developments, published 1997 by this noted net guru. (Whose father, by the way, is the Freeman Dyson best known in sf for identifying that phobia which causes irrational dread that a shell of matter may suddenly enclose one's sun: Dyson's Fear.) One odd aside is worrying until you realize she probably doesn't mean our fandom: 'That's why fandom is so eerie. There's usually no real communication between the fans and the stars, just lurkers and fantasies on one side and a PR machine on the other.' • Peter Chippindale, Laptop of the Gods: A Millennial Fable. Yet another comic fantasy series begins: a sub-Holt premise (Greek and other gods in suburban heaven, bickering over garden fences and playing VR games while the computerized Beast 666 stitches up the millennium) whose slapstick alternates with little moralizing and/or satirical sermons on the state of the world. A quoted review likening this to 'Terry Pratchett before he became unreadable' comes from the Sunday Telegraph and so resonates strangely – at least in my prejudiced mind – with Chippindale's deeply hilarious anti-PC satire about what a great time all those coddled people with disabilities have: 'Once suitably challenged, back on Earth you're free to do anything you like, because no one can hold you responsible!' (A million Telegraph readers collapse in hysterics at this biting wit, they are going to hurt themselves, it is not good for them to larf so much.) • Ian Stewart, Life's Other Secret: The New Mathematics of the Living World, latest in pb from the Novacon 29 GoH. Not as joke-crammed as some of Ian's earlier pop-maths books, but it's a very readable status report on crossovers between biology, physics and especially mathematics down there where the Meaning Of Life is still elusively lurking. He really is the best expounder of mathematical wonders now writing. • Grant Morrison, The Invisibles: Counting to None ... third collection of this bizarre comix conflation of every paranoid conspiracy theory imaginable or better not imagined. I thought parts of the first (Say You Want a Revolution) were overly disorganized and pretentious, but had a lot of fun with the second (Bloody Hell in America) and now this one – whose wild mix of magic, gunfire, unlikely sex, convoluted time travel, the Hand of Glory, multi-dimensioned weirdness and the true alphabet of 64 letters all definitely demands rereading.

NOT SO NEW BUT READ FOR THE FIRST TIME BY ME ... Ian Dennis, The Prince of Stars: 1987 second part of an Arabian-fantasy diptych. I reviewed the first, Bagdad, back in the White Dwarf days. Quirkily atmospheric, with inevitable tales within tales, wandering at random in and out of comedy, ultimately a mite inconsequential: despite various political rearrangements the tagline is, 'Were you under the impression that something happened?' • Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and Fantastic Mr Fox ... acquired s/h just for fun, which they are. • Philip Kerr, A Philosophical Investigation ... semi-sf featuring the 2013 equivalent of that once fashionable Violence Chromosome theory, with national screening for a particular male brain abnormality that correlates with violent aggression: unfortunately one man on this database hacks into it, deletes himself (great plausibility loss here: there are no backups at all) and philanthropically starts murdering his potentially murderous 'brothers'. His database codename was Wittgenstein and he partly identifies with the philosopher, leading to much bandying of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus with the policewoman specializing in serial killers who's now on this case. Waste Land gags are also numerous, with another killer's invariably female victims including Mary Woolnoth and Jessie Weston. Although often in danger of being capsized by all the intellectual baggage, Investigation manages to stay quite tense, but I really didn't believe a word of it. • Lord Dunsany, The Last Revolution (1951) ... his one straight sf novel, with a powerfully Wellsian flavour. A well-off clubman who makes his living by designing gadgets builds a crablike robot which proves bright enough to beat him at chess and sufficiently endowed with emotion to be jealous of the attention its maker gives to his fiancée. The proud inventor is blind to the possible downside of the fact that this baleful machine very soon learns to create others in its own image. Also it can somehow play on the sympathy of lesser machinery like trains and motorbikes, subverting them with the spirit of 'the Last Revolution' in which mechanical slaves will throw off their oppressive human masters.... The story remains determinedly parochial, with the rebellious robots never getting beyond a particular stretch of English moorland where they malignly besiege a lonely house (Night of the Cybercrabs!). Just as in The War of the Worlds, the decisive factor that saves the world isn't any human endeavour but a slow-moving natural process: rust. It reads well, with some quirky humour and a doom-laden sense that the Last Revolution can only be delayed, not averted. But even in 1951, and even outside the sf ghetto, this was all well-worn material. Ambrose Bierce had a murderous robot chess-player in 'Moxon's Master' (1893), and the 'Book of the Machines' chapters of Samuel Butler's Erewhon (1872; those bits previously published as a separate essay, 1863) have a far more eye-openingly prophetic feel:

Among themselves the machines will war eternally, but they will still require man as the being through whose agency the struggle will be principally conducted. In point of fact there is no occasion for anxiety about the future happiness of man so long as he continues to be in any way profitable to the machines ...

OLD STUFF REREAD. Mark Lawson, The Battle for Room Service: Journeys to All the Safe Places, a practising coward's enjoyably sub-Bryson essays on travel to 'activity-challenged' spots, confronting the terrors of narcolepsy in e.g. Milton Keynes, Luxembourg, Peoria, Winnipeg, and – where I have heard of this city before? – Melbourne. • Agatha Christie, A Murder is Announced ... read decades ago, reacquired as Guilt Purchase in Welsh charity shop where I couldn't find anything else to buy, reread at increasing speed as I realized I remembered every detail of the clever central deception but had clean forgotten the terrible Christie tat of red herrings and lengthy interrogations and implausibly many characters who are really someone else, all remorselessly serving to pad a novelette-sized ingenuity to novel length. • Maurice Richardson, The Exploits of Engelbrecht: The Chronicles of the Surrealist Sportsman's Club (1950) – genial insanity, swotted up as material for one of those 'Curiosities' columns in F&SF which exhume strange and forgotten works. The title character is a dwarf surrealist boxer who mostly fights clocks, but is versatile in other areas as well: to quote my draft, 'In the angling championship whose greatest prize is the giant pike that ate the Bishop of Ely in 1448, little Engelbrecht distinguishes himself brilliantly as the bait.'

MORE FAST READS/REREADS IN BRIEF: Ngaio Marsh, Singing in the Shrouds, serial killer on board ship with tiny passenger list, much better written than the Christie. Terry Pratchett, The Dark Side of the Sun, enjoyably inventive space opera, maybe a shade too ostentatiously Clever. Henry Cecil, Unlawful Occasions, a complicated and witty criminal caper that threatens en-masse blackmail of City lawyers. William R.Burkett, Sleeping Planet, sf action-adventure so uncannily derivative of Eric Frank Russell (especially Next of Kin) that I used to be sure Burkett was an EFR pseudonym. Anne McCaffrey, Dragonsong, presumably for younger readers; ugly duckling makes good despite the needless distraction of a plot crossover with Dragonquest. C.S.Forester, Lieutenant Hornblower, still good fun as our hero and fellow-officers suffer under a sadistic and clinically paranoid captain before trouncing the Dons in Haiti. By the way, Hazel likes the handwritten inscription found in our Harlech copy – see Charity Shop Guilt, above – of the Captain Hornblower R.N. omnibus: 'May the mice never run round your pantry with tears in their eyes.' And the same to all of you.