Di Ex Machinis

It's all Mexicon 5's fault. Weirdness happened again: the Cactus Times convention newsletter grew increasingly bizarre and incomprehensible as the event wore on. Placid, tolerant Abigail Frost was the official editor, meaning that ill-treated slaves Barnett and Langford got to do only 90% of the work (rising to 110% on the issue 'guest edited' by non-computerate Paul 'Gosh, this editing is easy!' Kincaid). Recovering in the following week, I nervously hoped that copies of Cactus Times wouldn't reach a certain sensitive pro editor in Australia ... owing to one of the many running jokes that Got Out Of Hand that weekend. Is it possible to explain? No, but I'll have a go anyway.

It was all Linda Krawecke's fault. She is a patron of the dread mail-order pop-culture suppliers Archie McPhee in Seattle. (After our visit to that area, Eileen Gunn provided Hazel and me with a matched pair of McPhee's huge loathsome floppy plastic slugs. 'The white one,' she pointed out helpfully, 'glows in the dark.') Mexicon's committee was largely furnished from the McPhee catalogue. Hence the Frost 'Fuck off and DIE!' editorial handgun, frequently employed on would-be Cactus Times contributors, which took the shape of a one-legged transparent blue plastic dinosaur with a huge and penis-like trigger (its symbolism, the newsletter concluded, was best not explored). Hence the time-wasting game of 'Pinball Philosophers' in which you scored 20 for the Descartes slot, 5 for Aristotle and 50 for Marx (Groucho, actually). Hence the revoltingly lifelike and tactile rubber 'Brain of Mexicon' provided as quiz mascot, with the addendum of a large Mexican moustache. Hence the little plastic genie-lamp in the committee room, which when you rubbed it first laughed tinnily and then broke out into electronic cries of 'Free! Free! FREE!, just like chairman Mike Ford when Mexicon was over. Finally there was a half-gallon jar containing upwards of 800 tiny, kitschy things (including, I heard later, 49 lifelike black plastic ants), leading to a convention-long competition to guess how many things and win an Encyclopedia of SF. Proceeds went to Books for the Blind.

It was all Abigail's fault. The collecting box for How Many Things guesses had come free with Mexicon's giant order from Archie McPhee: an almost tasteful little Chinese mandarin with a slot in his back. ('We should have charged 50p a guess,' she grumped, 'but you couldn't get anything bigger than a 20p in the slot.' Not even, apparently, two 20p coins....) Abigail decided he must have a name and, staring at a copy of the Encyclopedia, realized that he actually looked like a certain editor thereof. He could only be that majestic Chinese-Australian sage Ni Kol-Tse. As she explained in Cactus Times: 'He knows EVERYTHING – except how many things there are in the jar....'

It was all my fault. I had brought along a buckshee copy of the first edition of the Encyclopedia corrections and updates I'd been typesetting for John Clute, and divulged with great glee how I'd managed to contest Peter Nicholls's 'correction' (made over the heads of the other editors – he faxed it directly to New York where the list was first drafted) of the correct plural di ex machina to dei ex machina. Evil cackles of mirth were heard from Encyclopedia technical editor John Grant, who moved among us that weekend in his mundane 'Barnett' guise....

Yes, it was all Paul Barnett's fault. In the very next issue of Cactus Times he gleefully inserted a correction about Ni Kol-Tse. 'He knows EVERYTHING – except how many things there are in the jar and the plural of deus ex machina.'

It was all practically everyone's fault from that point onward, as imaginative plurals ran riot up and down the columns of the newsletter. There were addendas and corriggendas and Cactes Times, and any inadvertent use of correct Latin plurals was apt to be followed by an interjection from Ni Kol-Tse himself: 'I have two proof corrigendae to make there, you drongos!' ('Oh shit,' we said later with much smiting of brows. 'It should have been drongoi.')

Most of all it is Abigail's fault: she has subsequently been drafting a Mexicon report by Ni Kol-Tse himself for a post-convention Cactus Times. This goes on a lot about gorgeous sheilae and 'ignorant pommy bastards coming the raw crustaceum about one or two minute lacunes in my omniscience.' Never let it be said that Mexicon lets a joke stop running until it's actually coughing up blood in exhaustion. 'And,' explained Abigail sweetly, 'to indicate the dual Chinese-Australian nature of this ancient sage I want the Ni Kol-Tse at the end to be in that oriental typeface but upside down.' I fled screaming. (Actually she didn't say 'that oriental typeface' but 'Firm'n'Fruity', the name by which the font in question is known for reasons lost in the impenetrable mists of Mexicon 4. But I digress.)

If it takes that long to explain one small point of mystification, what hope is there of translating the entire run of Cactus Times? On the whole I think it's all Pat Cadigan's fault. You had to be there, and she was.

Cactus Times – Not!

This regrettable post-convention issue of the newsletter was produced for a subsequent Meet Pat Cadigan gathering in London, as a subtle response to her continual demands to be slandered [sic] in CT.

Twenty Things You Didn't Know About Pat Cadigan, or:
Now Will You Stop Moaning, Pat?

  1. Pat Cadigan is also Mills & Boon's highest-selling hospital romance writer, under the name of Rosie M. Banks.
  2. As the above implies, she is Iain M. Banks's identical twin sister.
  3. Both Iain and she had plastic surgery to disguise this fact.
  4. Iain wears a beard to conceal the characteristic operation scar, a greatly enlarged mouth. Pat shaves hers just to be perverse.
  5. Pat has not touched alcoholic drink since the age of seven.
  6. Pat was proud to vote for Richard Nixon as president in 1968.
  7. She has voted for him again in every subsequent election (including that for County Sheriff).
  8. Pat's SF novels are in fact written by the late Virginia Andrews.
  9. The late Virginia Andrews is assisted in her efforts by child slave labour in a variety of fascist Third World countries.
  10. The children are paid the local equivalent of 10p per day, and are tortured if they fail to meet the deadline. Strikers are shot.
  11. Pat's hospital romances are written by a computer. All she does is boot up in the morning and take the MS out of the printer. That is, when she can't find anyone else to do it for her.
  12. Pat didn't even write the hospital romance program herself. She blackmailed her twin Iain into writing it, by threatening to tell Barbara about their incestuous relationship.
  13. Pat is John Jarrold's grandmother. His grandfather is the Lionel Hampton Big Band.
  14. Pat's income last year from nurse novels she didn't even write is conservatively estimated at £400,000,000. She declared $15,000 to the IRS, and applied for a $10,000 grant from a foundation for the support of starving writers. When she got the grant, she spent the lot on Giorgio of Beverley Hills perfume. Which she mostly used to clean the lavatory.
  15. Pat always uses a body double for the mini-skirts. At one stage during Mexicon the double (an underpaid editor of Antivity) rebelled at getting only $1.50 per hour plus bus fare, and understudy Charles Stross had to be called in. Luckily it was too dark in the disco for anyone to notice.
  16. Wandering the cliffs of Scarborough after Mexicon, Pat found an interesting piece of driftwood labelled IMPORTANT HOTEL PROP – DO NOT REMOVE. She fancied a souvenir of her visit. The rest is history.
  17. All Pat's famous '20-minute drunken tirades' are plagiarized from popular US sitcoms.
  18. [The cowardly Mexicon committee won't let us print this one. BASTARDS! SCUM! BASTARDS!]
  19. In her most famously influential SF rôle, Pat advised Robert A. Heinlein on the feminist position for 'The Number of the Beast'. ('Much the same as the missionary position, Bob.')
  20. It is no coincidence that Pat Cadigan shares initials with the well-known movement 'Political Correctness', which she founded as a breakaway group of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

A deeply unauthorized Not Mexicon 5 At All publication.

Some of the general inscrutability of the above list – partly written by Abigail Frost; mine are the funny bits – may be lessened by the following snippets: • (15) Deborah Beale and Charon Wood of Antivity, the then newsletter of Millennium SF, also contributed to the rash of mini-skirts that did so much for male libidos at Mexicon, while Charlie Stross wore deeply repellent shorts. • (16) another Scarborough hotel fell to the sea soon afterwards, owing to cliff subsidence. • (18) BASTARDS! SCUM! BASTARDS! was a highly controversial newsletter headline, referring to a dispute with the hotel manager who kept reserving bar tables for "hotel residents", meaning "hotel residents other than Mexicon scum".