Ask Uncle Agony

It's about time I replied to the correspondents, numerous enough to be counted on the fingers of one thumb, who have sent in enquiries. Who's first?

"You bastard, Langford," writes Sue Donym of Bootle. "In SFX 60 you mentioned Philip K. Dick's game of guessing titles that were mangled by phonetic computer translation. Then you left us with his brain-teaser from Galactic Pot-Healer, 'The Arithmetical Total Ejaculated In A Leaky Flow', and never gave the answer!"

Frankly, this was because I had no idea and was hoping someone would enlighten me. Thanks to readers Mike Kelly and Clare Sainsbury, who know more about cinema than me, for explaining that Dick was thinking of the 1958 Shirley Maclaine movie based on a James Jones novel: Some Came Running. Ouch. Next!

"You bastard, Langford," writes Anne Onymous of Nether Wallop. "In SFX 45 you plugged an incredibly rare and silly book called The Exploits of Engelbrecht by Maurice Richardson, about a dwarf Surrealist boxer who fights things like krakens and grandfather clocks, and I've never managed to trace a copy. Why do you torment us like this?"

I just wanted to brag about owning that rarity, ho ho. However, this year Savoy Books produced a swish 50th anniversary edition of Engelbrecht with enthusiastic plugs from Michael Moorcock and J.G. Ballard – look for it on Amazon or Savoy's own website,

"I would like to break into SF," writes R. Mortis of Gravesend, "but feel that editors would be prejudiced because I have no heartbeat or respiration and pieces are falling off me. Is there any hope?'

Don't despair! You are dead, but according to Messrs Asimov, Dick, Hubbard and Tolkien of the Erstwhile Authors' Support Group, this can actually increase your book productivity! You also sound as though you would fit in well at SF conventions.

"You bastard, Langford," writes L.D. Visions of California: "Your column in the very first SFX back in 1995 wickedly suggested that Harlan Ellison's blockbuster anthology The Last Dangerous Visions still hadn't been delivered to the publishers, 23 years after it was first announced. Kindly retract this foul libel."

I take it all back. The Last Dangerous Visions is now in fact running 28 years late – but Harlan Ellison has sensibly stopped making rash promises of imminent publication as he did in 1972, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1988, etc. I think he has suffered enough.

"Just as a favour," writes A. Critic of Camden Town, "can you give an example of how film critics in the respectable mainstream press are far more observant than us sci-fi fanboys?"

Certainly! Here's Mark Steyn reviewing X-Men in The Spectator: "Cyclops had uncontrollable laser beams shooting from his forehead ..." I look forward to further Spectator reviews which will insightfully reveal that Superman's X-ray vision shines out of his ears, while Spiderman can squirt streams of sticky webbing from both nostrils.

"Speaking as an expert in photography," writes J. Robert Anal of Scunthorpe, "I must point out something your editor has probably never noticed – that SFX cover photos of gorgeous girls and handsome men are often inadvertently positioned to obscure the lowest part of the F in SFX, giving the unfortunate impression that it is some other word altogether!"

Our editor was shocked, horrified, astonished, gobsmacked and aghast when you pointed this out, and will no doubt severely discipline the entire production staff (or hire a strict governess to do it for him). But surely SFX readers are too high-minded to notice such things?

I imagine they're even too pure to giggle at the wording of a certain passage from Robert K.Wilcox's FatalGlimpse, sent in by Name and Address Withheld of Greenwood Lake Turnpike, New Jersey, USA. The context: Elaine the psychic detective is helping the police with their enquiries by going into trance and peering clairvoyantly at far-off doings. Now read on ...

"You were describing the two in bed," he said. "Please continue."

Elaine looked at him a moment, as if deciding whether she wanted to or not. "It's hard going in and out like this," she said.

I'm so glad that none of you have sufficiently filthy minds to snigger at that. Next letter, please!

"You bastard, Langford," writes Eva D. Fanglord of Reading. "You won't dare print this, but I bet all this so-called reader correspondence was made up by –"

Bad luck, Eva – I've no room for more.

The editor has decided that David "Eighteen Hugo Awards" Langford shouldn't be allowed to answer further readers' letters for a long, long time.