Round Number

I may be one of the oldest inhabitants of this magazine, but I bet you never realized I'm staring three hundred in the face. Unless the vast Langford publishing operation is wiped out by a well-judged meteor impact on Reading, July 2012 sees the 300th issue of my vile sf gossip-sheet Ansible. Would that round number be a good place to stop?

If I drove a stake through my accursed creation's heart and buried it in an unmarked grave, I could say goodbye to formatting long boring award listings ... the Hugo shortlist now has sixteen categories with five or more nominees in each. Even more heart-warming would be a rest from writing short but painful obituaries. In the early months of 2012 Ansible ran over sixty of these, including venerable authors John Christopher (remember the TV version of his Tripods series?) and Russell Hoban, plus game designer M.A.R. Barker and artists Jean "Moebius" Giraud, Ralph McQuarrie of Star Wars fame and Darrell K .Sweet. All very gloom-inducing.

Some good news for a change, if you like World SF Conventions: because no rival bid emerged by the March deadline, the London Worldcon bid for 2014 is unopposed and doomed to succeed. See Unless London is wiped out by a well-judged meteor impact, we should be having another UK Worldcon. I'll be in the bar.

Meanwhile, the sillier Ansible departments also cheer me up. Some newspaper hack always has a new sneer at genre fiction, like this horrified Guardian summary of the ebook market: "Sci-fi and self-help. Even paranormal romance, where vampires seduce virgins and elves bonk trolls." Other tasty stories of strange bedfellows include a recent Financial Times piece that tantalizingly began: "Harry Potter and Viagra have more in common than you may imagine." Ever since I quoted Margaret Atwood explaining that Oryx and Crake, her future-dystopian novel of rampant genetic engineering, isn't nasty old SF because it contains no "talking squids in outer space", we've had regular talking-squid sightings, and this major SF theme (though not yet an SF Encyclopedia entry) acquired its own website at

Authors grumble entertainingly, like Terry Pratchett reporting his fanmail during the Harry Potter boom: "Did you get the name Hogswatch from Hogwarts?" Terry: "I'm inclined to say yes." He also invented a specialist Ansible acronym often found in his email: NFA,YB. This stands for "Not For Ansible, You Bastard." It became such a well-used synonym for the regular fannish DNQ (Do Not Quote) that on one surreal occasion I found myself writing in deadly confidence:"Terry, this is NFA,YB ..."

Where are the bastards of yesteryear? Long ago I got into copious hot water for quoting the Major SF Author who'd ranted, "Not only did that bastard Kubrick fire me, he hired my enemy to adapt my story!" – my lips are still sealed, but Google knows all. But there was no problem with William Gibson's uninhibited description of rude bits censored from his Count Zero magazine serial. If I published that today, Ansible's email edition would be blocked by the net-nanny filters that tag "bastards" as Pornographic Language. Pornography, I feel, should be made of sterner stuff.

Then there's the thrill of recognition. Hugo awards are exciting enough (Ansible has won six), but I was gobsmacked by email from the Big Brother 2012 organizers, urging my readers to volunteer for in-house humiliation. Because BB is "keen to represent all aspects of society" and make equal fun of us all, even the talking squid in outer space.

It is a proud and lonely thing to run an SF newsletter....

David Langford suspects he has to keep going, or the subscribers expecting paper copies way beyond issue 300 may band together and kill him.