Cloud Chamber 98
September 1999

Australia. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt ... well, the two Hugos which as I'd predicted (meaning it as a joke) have bases that are lifelike models of Ayers Rock. Oh what fun, hauling these sinister rocket shapes through Melbourne Airport, where customs staff giggled uncontrollably over their x-ray machine. In brief: I had a wonderful time, with lots of splendid hospitality, especially from Yvonne Rousseau, John Foyster and the Aussiecon committee. Must write about it at length, but not just now, since fearful deadlines loom; time's wingèd chariot is once again parked outside the door and blowing the horn.

Read Here, There and In Transit

Here, BA (Before Aussiecon). Philip K.Dick, The Man in the High Castle ... God knows how long this has been on my shelves (it's the 1965 Penguin with a Max Ernst cover). The embarrassment isn't so much that I'd never read it as that I'm still not sure whether I had. One knows the plot through osmosis and Clutean 'secondary sources', one even recognizes notable passages like decent Mr Tagomi's overpowering sense of evil (oft quoted by critics), but uncertainty remains. Anyway, it is bloody good and conveys far more authentic chill at a different and darker outcome of WW2 than, say, Fatherland.

On the flight out. Peter Hamilton, The Naked God, 1,174 pages of zippy space opera completing the Night's Dawn trilogy. Spoiler, spoiler: the 'naked god' is an intelligent naked singularity of semi-infinite power, which once contacted (there's a lot of careering around the galaxy first) is happy to resolve myriad cliff-hangers and repatriate all the superpowered returned dead who have hitherto been more or less unstoppable. Gee whiz.

In Australia. Robertson Davies, Reading and Writing, a limited edition from Salt Lake City that found its way to a $2 remainder shelf in Melbourne just for me. Two speeches full of wise remarks on their subjects, with one momentary shock-horror jolt at the revelation that Davies couldn't see the appeal of Tristram Shandy. • Harry Kemelman, Friday the Rabbi Slept Late, Monday the Rabbi Took Off, Thursday the Rabbi Walked Out ... detective novels which aren't terribly strong on your actual detection but interesting about Jewishness, that perennial rec.arts.sf.fandom topic. • John Sutherland, Where Was Rebecca Shot? ... a third volume unpicking minor literary puzzles, now reaching for the bottom of the barrel.

On the flight home. Frank Muir, A Kentish Lad ... his autobiography, with heaps of good droll anecdotes. • Kate Wilhelm, Oh, Susannah! ... funny and marvellously convoluted story of a woman who after shattering disappointment and a head injury takes on a series of ad-hoc but highly detailed false personalities, while being stalked by various plausible villains seeking the McGuffin which a chain of comic coincidences is moving along an entirely different route. Even the most minor of the large cast of characters is fleshed out and made quirkily human. • Barry Humphries, A Nice Night's Entertainment, 1981 collection of his scripts, showing far wider comic range than the dread Dame Edna Phenomenon. • Jonathan Carroll, From the Teeth of Angels, perhaps his nastiest since Voice of Our Shadow, with Death himself toying with the usual high-living characters who meet the usual trapdoor into horror. At least this time there's a possibility of calm acceptance, if not salvation. • Peter Tinniswood, The Brigadier in Season, more farcical cricketing silliness. • Sheri S.Tepper, The Song of Mavin Manyshaped, fantasy about shapeshifter who escapes foreordained sexual abuse by her clan's males (very Tepper, eh wot?) and plays her shifty part in the world of the True Game. All this happens perhaps 20 years before Tepper's debut True Game trilogy, and I suspect the Mavin trio may have been written first: Song feels less richly imagined, but goes into some detail about the nasty place Hell's Maw and its ghoulish lord Blourbast, which in the other trilogy are respectively produced out of a hat and alluded to as an unnecessary-seeming fragment of the past. • G.K.Chesterton, Orthodoxy ... by this time I'd run out of printed texts in my hand baggage, but had cunningly downloaded a few electronic ones to the Psion, a useful emergency measure.

Acquired Down Under but not yet read. Barbara Ker Wilson, Jane Austen in Australia, a gift from Yvonne Rousseau. • Damien Broderick, Transmitters ... dumped in vast quantities as an Aussiecon 3 freebie. The author was not wholly delighted to be asked for his signature and, with reference to the naked lady on the front, wrote: 'For Dirty Dave, who only (didn't) buy it for the cover.' • Science Fiction, Fantasy & Weird Magazine Index (1890-1998) and The Locus Index to Science Fiction (1984-1998), two useful-looking CD-ROMs from Charlie Brown's dealer table, for which I handed over my emergency stash of US dollars. Most unusually, Charlie had earlier given me a freebie of the new Locus, partly because he'd stolen bits of the Ansible obituary of Chuck Harris but mainly so he could intone meaningly, 'Mine's bigger than yours.'

Since getting home. Oh, heaps of stuff, mostly things read before, while I tried to regain sanity. Three for Amazon review, including the very strange The Essential Clive Barker, in which Barker presents 70-odd brief extracts from his major works (he is not crippled by excess modesty, and all his work appears to be major), including just 4 complete stories. It's like sitting through a movie composed entirely of trailers that tease the viewer and show off the special effects. • Scott Adams, The Joy of Work ... I think I'm going off Dilbert: although it's intermittently funny, the cumulative effect is far too depressing.

Mailing 79, August 1999

Bruce ... congratulations again on mighty Fan GoH status. I was delighted to meet you and Elaine, chat a lot, visit your superbly fannish and Ditmar-infested house, and watch you cover your eyes with horrified hands as with great dexterity I nearly burned down the table at that Thai restaurant. • Ian ... I want to reread the Anthony Price spy thrillers again, now you remind me of them. There's one late (last?) novel, later even than A New Kind of War, that I've never seen. • Tony ... glad you made it through interview hell. After 19 years as a freelance I still get interview and indeed examination nightmares. The torture never stops (he said reassuringly). • Michael ... following your recommendation, I loved The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen parts 1 and 2, but came back from Oz to find that 3 had come and gone, at least in Reading; am steadfastly trying not to unwrap 4.... You mention P.Pullman. The word from my mole at the publishers is that he isn't (as I sugggested in a recent CC) having trouble finishing The Amber Spyglass. Allegedly he's having trouble starting it. Am hoping this is in error! • Steve ... I remember Donaldson's great line as 'They were featureless and telic, like lambent gangrene.'