Baffled? Frustrated? At the end of your tether? Don't worry, things can only get worse when you bring your SF/fantasy queries to the high-powered drink tank of "Ask the SFXpats"!
"I'm trying to trace a fantasy book that I read when I was about thirteen, or twenty-three. There was a wizard in it and it had a brown cover. That's all I remember. Please help."
According to the SFXports, this just has to be Mortimer Snerd's The Dreadrune Of The Doomdark Dragonbane (Garlic Press, 1980). Every point matches except for the date, the brown cover and the wizard. Snerd also wrote the twelve-volume Gleetquest cycle, which is best known for being unpublished.
"I just read this novel called Foundation And Empire (which I bought by mistake for Gibbon's Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire) and thought it was quite promising. Could you tell me whether this Asimov chap is planning a sequel?"
The 1940s issues of Astounding SF in which Gibbon's Decline And Fall first appeared are now fantastically expensive and rare, far beyond the budget of such an insignificant person as yourself. Have a nice day.
"When will Robert Jordan ...?"
No need to go on! The SFExpectorants all know this one by heart. When at last it's finished, the 15 volumes of the Wobble Of Time saga will consist of 27 main-sequence novels and 35 prequels, not counting a round dozen nonfiction spinoffs and tie-ins. The final set of 142 books, showcased in prestigious gilt-effect display stands, will dominate sales in all the major remainder chains. We just don't know exactly when.
"Is it spelt Issac Asimov or Izaak Amisov?"
"It" is in fact spelt I-T, ha ha. Seriously, the name you're groping for is very often misspelt, but on the basis of sheer sales figures we are confident that you mean Tarry Pritchet. Or JK Rowlingova. Which, really and truly, is how they spell her in the Czech Republic.
"Speaking of her, where can I find those rare, rumoured Harry Potter titles HP And The Alchemist's Cell, HP And The Chariots Of Light, and HP And The Pyramids Of Furmat?"
Some alternate universe, maybe, say the SFXpedients smugly. What happened was that those extra names were registered as trademarks by Warner in 2000, as smokescreen tactics to help keep the Goblet Of Fire title secret before publication. Nobody has ever understood our Mr Langford's joke about the next one being called Harry Pooter And The Diary Of A Nobody.
"This is a really tough one and you are my last hope. The movie starts with long scenes about ape-men, and there's this giant black monolith and then musical spaceships and another monolith on the Moon and a mad computer that kills the astronauts by lip-reading and a terrific psychedelic light-show and an ending none of my mates could understand. My question is, where nowadays can you get the needful to smoke during the light-show part?"
Following a heavy brainstorming session with our legal advisers, the SFXpanders can only say that despite many similarities, the mystery film is not after all Winnie-The-Pooh And The Honey Tree. Relax and take a stress pill ...
Terry Pratchett (for it is he) writes: "On Sunday AM on BBC1 yesterday [27 November 2005] Andrew Marr was kind enough to describe me as 'following in the tradition of Philip Pullman and JK Rowling.' And a fine tradition it is."
Er, yes. And what was your question exactly, Mr Pritchet?
That is in fact an SF novel by Algis Budrys. Conversely, Harlan Ellison's "The Season The Lemmings Worshipped The Slime-God And Daisy Jack Found The Factory Had Swallowed His Quicksand People" is a mere short story. The SFXpurgators had rather hoped that Langford would not, at this point, see fit to mention DG Compton's classic SF title Hot Wireless Sets, Aspirin Tablets, The Sandpaper Sides Of Used Matchboxes, And Something That Might Have Been Castor Oil. They hoped in vain.
"Is it true that early in his career, Sir Arthur C Clarke invented but failed to patent the concept of gravity? And that mercury can be extracted from HG Wells?"
Well, luckily that's all we have space for. But the SFXpostulators will be showing off their staggering genius and erudition again next issue, so keep those queries coming! Preferably to some other address.
Why is David Langford? He has no idea. (Nor do I – Ed.)