Teenage Turtle Brainwashed Assassins

The Magazine of the Cambridge University Science Fiction Society
Issue 86 (Volume 17 Number 5) Easter 1990
Edited by Gareth Rees

The material in ttba is copyright © 1990 the contributors (Michael Abbott, Simon Arrowsmith, Robert Downham, Kim Foster, Simon Pick, Gareth Rees, Julian Todd, Barry Traish and Huw Walters). The material in this file may be freely copied for private enjoyment or research but may not be republished (e.g., in printed or CD­ROM versions), distributed in modified form, incorporated into other works, or quoted out of context without the express written permission of the copyright holder.



Editorial: Typing "Traish, Barry" Again

Gareth Rees

Welcome to a new issue, a new committee, a new editor and a new incarnation for ttba. I have to say I'm quite surprised at the paucity of tortoises and turtles in previous ttbas - but it looks as though their time has come (no doubt the memetic influence of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). I'm also surprised that no­one has ever tried to change the title of this magazine to something sensible. Perhaps some future editor more courageous than myself?

In fact, I'm surprised at quite a lot of things: for one, the quite incredible tenacity of this magazine. Over seventeen years, a comparable number of editors have struggled, and succeeded in bringing out (as the constitution demands) at least one issue every term. Lack of contributions did not deter them (volume 12 number 1, The Torment Begins Again, appears to have been written entirely by the two editors in the space of 24 hours). Nor did snow, sleet, hail, inadequate technology or piles of contributions from Huw Walters (or his early incarnation as Huw Walker, c. 1973).

So what causes this remarkable dedication? And what function (if any) does ttba serve in our society (and in society at large)? I like to think of it as serving three purposes.

First, as a medium for publication of fiction. It would be untrue to claim that ttba provides a springboard for student writers to get into sf (although Nick Lowe and Alison Spedding have certainly gone on to better things), but I think there is a certain satisfaction and encouragement in seeing your creative output in print, and in having it commented on (if only over a drink in New Hall bar). There is talent out there, if only it can be persuaded to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, and some of the fiction in ttba (although admittedly a small proportion) has been of a remarkably high standard.

Secondly, as a forum for critical discussion. Criticism is one thing sf lacks, and magazines like Vector, Australian SF Review and Interzone can only begin to fill the gap. Good works are being published, but how can they be separated from the vast quantity of rubbish we know by Sturgeon's law they are buried under (Dan Simmons, Connie Willis, Kim Newman, Robert Charles Wilson - have you heard of them? Are they good?). I could rant about the coverage of sf in the national press - the Guardian occasionally devotes six or so column inches to cover a month's sf publications - but I won't. Critical essays in amateur publications like ttba inevitably tend to be along the lines of "here are some good books by my favourite author" but even this is worthwhile, and when a well­thought­out article arrives, the editor can only boggle and give it pride of place in that term's issue.

Thirdly, as a record of the society. Forget literature and criticism, you say, this is where ttba comes into its own. Or does it? OK, you get a list of committee members and discussions, but not much more than that. A couple of years ago, the then editor (Julian Todd) wrote of the upcoming speaker meeting to be given by John Brunner,

"...there will be thousands and thousands of CUSFS members who would have liked to attend this speaker meeting, but can't. Because they are not yet members. And won't be for another ten to twenty years... someone is going to remember the good bits and write something about them..."
Unfortunately no­one did, but the sentiment was there.

But all this is a bit beside the point. I think the real reason behind the longevity of ttba is that sf fans like ourselves love the printed word. We build up vast collections of books, comics and magazines, caring less whether they are good or bad than if they have some connection with science fiction.

Enough ranting for one issue, I think.

The Chairman's Address

Barry Traish

I stepped from the ship and, turning my head, surveyed them. One hundred survivors. One hundred who chose to flee. The last one hundred.

We had been taken completely by surprise; never stood a chance. Those that we had left behind were nothing - mindless automatons under a control not their own. But there had been one ship, one last hope for humanity and somehow we had managed to escape. In fleeing to this far flung corner there was a chance that we could rebuild something of that which we had lost, perhaps even one day go back and reclaim what belonged to us. How long?

I shielded my eyes from the light of an alien sun, so that I could study the remnant more closely. They were wretches. Their clothing was ragged, their feet unclad, their eyes unhopeful, bitter reflections of their souls. But still they looked up - a hundred pairs of eyes rested on me. Me. I swam in the power and drowned in the responsibility. The crew was dead and I had been the one to emerge from the control room. They all looked to me to save them, to lead them back. These poor creatures weren't the soldiers I needed to return, but somewhere their pride still burned strong, I knew, and I would shape them.

One year later.

I strolled within my encampment. A young lieutenant saw me and saluted sharply. Ha! The power felt good. In only a year I had turned the misbegotten waifs into an invincible fighting unit, with which I good defeat all our enemies. Any other man would have produced farmers or traders, but armed with the space axes of old jokes and cliche dealing Flaz­Gaz heat rays, I would conquer!

Time to depart, back home. I wanted one last look at the graves of the old crew, now all memories, almost forgotten.

The captain, `Hang Dog' Walkers. Only half human, a cross between earth and the planet Wails. He went mad eventually, withdrawing within himself, which he thought was the whole universe, in his megalomania. I saluted him and moved on.

The navigator, `Slide Rule' Spindly. His mathematical skills were unswerving; he had computed the course of the ship before it crashed.

The second officer, Jacaranda Mellow. Her grave was undug, we never found her body in the wreck.

The ship's computer, CCA10. So intelligent it was almost human, we had buried its CPU here.

The communication's officer, Triskele Murrone. her final words were our Mayday. "Raffle... does anyone out there want some..."

The records officer, Gimon Arrowroot. He had recorded every event, but only an embarrassing photo of himself remained.

I turned, nothing could stop me now.

Time To Back Away

Simon Arrowsmith

So this is it. ttba is no longer in my hands. It feels a little strange to be writing this, not having any control over where its going. Not that I did when I was editing, really. The only reason for the existence of this bibble is that I ran out of space in "Still Mists In August". This is to properly thank all those who have helped and hindered me through my not­quite­a-year in office, including the CUSU photocopier, and to express my regrets at not having made any puns about the fourthcoming ttba having come forth (and, indeed, fourth).

All my burdens are now laid upon Gareth. This includes the Editor's Box, which I had to disturb from the dark corner of my overhead cupboard it was lurking in and carry down to Christ's (Christs' - now there's an interesting concept...). It was clearly not pleased by something, either this disturbance to its sedentary existance or the subsequent gutting inflicted on it by my rash successor, for the next day I was struck low by a very suspicious disease. All this goes to show something. I'm not sure what, though.

That about winds it up, I suppose. A certain nasty set of things lurks on my horizon (although they will be past by the time this is read) and I really should be working or sleeping or making some more job applications. Anyone got a temporary vacancy for a sometime chemist about to mutate into a mineralogist and ex­ttba editor?

Phoebe, Dreaming

Michael Abbott

At the centre of the kingdom, there is a cubical room, containing a large bed. It is covered with a green satin quilt, and behind it are two columns, one black and one white. In the bed lies Phoebe. She is breathing evenly, her silver hair spread over the pillows, her hands on the cover. She is asleep, and she is dreaming.

She dreams of people. She dreams of a hunched figure standing by a doorway, and the light in the room fades as the figure appears. Phoebe is in another bed, and when she moves a hand towards the figure, it is the pudgy hand of a baby, yet all of Phoebe is there, already complete in the child. The figure wears a ragged black robe and hood, and carries a gnarled stick. Its face cannot be seen.

Phoebe dreams of her father: Aurelius, golden­haired, powerful and noble. First he leans forward in his seat to see the figure in the sudden gloom, and then he pales at the sight and stands up. Phoebe, dreaming, knows her as the Crone, a bringer of disasters and a warning of doom to the kingdom. The Crone speaks, and her voice is harsh and dry. When she finishes, the sun comes from behind a cloud, striking the doorway directly: but all it shows are specks of dust whirling in the passage.

The baby Phoebe stares silently at all these things, and afterwards some whisper that it was strange that she did not cry at all.

Phoebe stirs slightly, and dreams of a man that she knows but has never met. She dreams of him as a youth in a dusty land: a swift, handsome prince, strong and clever. The sun shines off his fair hair as he fences on the sand with the other boys his age. But he outfences them all, as he has done before, and he turns away, bored and dissatisfied. He looks around for something new to do. His name is Alexander.

Phoebe dreams of her childhood: of a five­year­old Phoebe, dressed formally in a scaled­down court­lady's gown of midnight blue. She walks down a gloomy corridor, her skirts lifted carefully above the dusty floor. Her face solemn, she seems not to ignore, but to be genuinely unaware of, the bows and curtsies of those she passes. But the dreaming Phoebe sees them all, and also the scowls and the whispers, and the signs some make to ward off evil.

Princess Phoebe is not as popular as most beautiful young princesses, for she brings much more with her than most.

Phoebe's dream shifts to her father. As the child Phoebe walks down the corridor, he is riding the edges of the kingdom, overseeing the planting of thorn bushes. He travels well­guarded, but not armed himself, for he understands how to speak with his people. In most places he visits, he has to comfort them: reassure by his presence, explain with his words, calm and show them that their king knows his duties and cares for his subjects.

He is a good king: to the serfs he is gentle and understanding, to his soldiers he is honest and strong. Only his sleeping daughter, looking back into the past, sees his vulnerability: the tiredness in his face after giving a village strength, or the uncertainty in his eyes as he turns from reassuring a young woman with a daughter Phoebe's age.

At five years old, Alexander will already speak six languages well. Phoebe at five speaks only one, and that quietly and rarely. She visits her mother in her private chambers, and as soon as the door is shut runs into her mother's arms and is hugged. Phoebe is close to no­one else in the court, but she knows her mother well, and the smile on Phoebe's face would surprise the court, who have never seen her either smile or cry. Phoebe and her mother are very alike in some ways, and Queen Selene is teaching Phoebe he skills and wisdom. Phoebe speaks only one language, but she speaks it well, and she is learning to speak it so that the trees will understand.

Phoebe dreams of the future. She is a grown woman, still silver­haired, still grave and elegant, and now she is loved by her people for the king she has brought them. The new king, like Phoebe's father, is golden­haired. He rules well but casually: the court and commoners can forgive him this, though, for it is obvious how much he and Phoebe love one another. She has already borne him one daughter, and each one fills the other's world, and give the other purpose.

Phoebe dreams of the past, and dreams again of her christening. The day is fine, and the ceremonies have been going well. Dukes have presented fine gems and jewellery, courtiers paintings, and guild leaders the finest work of their master craftsmen. The court poets read fine verses granting her all the virtues suitable to a royal princess, and the astrologers have predicted a long life, and a fine prince who will love her greatly. Once again Phoebe sees the sun hidden by a cloud as the Crone appears in a doorway; she feels the temperature drop, and hears the sudden silence. She sees how no­one flees, or screams, or threatens the Crone, such is her power to command attention. the Crone speaks, and all listen. She brings her own christening gift for the infant princess: that on her sixteenth birthday she will prick her finger, and fall asleep for a hundred years, till a prince will come to wake her with a kiss. That she will be lost to her parents, and forfeited by the court to one greater in power than them all.

Phoebe, dreaming, sees the court reacting to the Crone's words. Some show fear and some show shock; some show relief that her curse is aimed only at the princess, some sorrow that she will have to bear the burden alone. Aurelius, straining to see in the sudden dimness, is grim, but only Selene shows quiet resignation, coupled with determination.

Phoebe dreams of Alexander, aged sixteen, and his birthday goes very differently from hers. In the morning, he disputes with philosophers, but only to while away the time, for their sophistries are easily answered, or too absurd to be worth a reply. But in the afternoon, boredom is put aside, for a while at least: his father presents him with his first command, a hundred cavalrymen (but he is the best rider among them), for him to train and order as he will. He will even be able to lead them on patrol at the edges of the desert kingdom. He smiles slightly in anticipation, at something new happening in his life, and maybe the beginning of his fame.

Phoebe, lying on her thick comfortable mattress, does not smile, but stirs uneasily in her sleep. She dreams of something else.

She dreams of the present, of the kingdom around her. Throughout the land, everything is still. All the people of the palace, all the peasants, in their fields or in their huts, all the merchants at their counting­boards or stalls, lie in deep slumber. Some of the more careful or fortunate lie in beds. The animals also lie asleep, in setts, on branches or in meadows. The trees still have the blossoms of early summer, the flowers still nod in the breeze. The corn is still half­ripe, the bread made by bakers the morning they fell asleep is still fresh, and, alas, the wine in the palace cellars has not matured since the day, eighty years ago, that the Crone's geas and the Queen's fertility magic took combined effect. Phoebe's sight, in her mind, passes over the whole of the kingdom: the only noise comes from the wind rustling through leaves, and the rivers (in which the fish no longer swim) running over stones. all in the kingdom are asleep, lying still as death: and of them all, only Phoebe dreams.

Phoebe's vision of the kingdom passes outward, spiralling from the castle at the centre towards the edges. There, at last, she finds something awake: the thorn trees. They stand around the edge of the kingdom, guarding it, and though they are trees, they are more than just wood, and they guard the kingdom well. Though they were planted under the supervision of King Aurelius, it was the magic laid in them by Queen Selene that made them grow and kept them strong: and Queen Selene had had her daughter's help to make the magic. Watchful in their fashion, they are aware of Phoebe's attention upon them, and accept her, as they would accept only two others.

Phoebe's head moves slightly on the pillow, and her vision passes over the thorn trees to the valleys beyond. There, gazing at the impenetrable thickets, is a man, in early middle age, with the weatherbeaten strength of the traveller, and with a harp slung over his back. He looks faintly familiar to Phoebe's sight. At present he is probing the thorn hedge carefully with a stick: but it resists completely, and he gives up his efforts with a smile. Phoebe watches him walk off down the hill: she has already dreamed of where he will go now, and she has dreamt of his meetings with other bards, and of the tales that they tell.

Phoebe remembers another player, and dreams of her tenth birthday. At ten, she has learned much from Selene, and on her birthday morning she is taken aside by Aurelius, who has decided that she is old enough to learn the truth. He tells her of the curse of the Crone, and the moderation that Phoebe's mother had been able to put on it, so that Phoebe would not lose her would, and would not travel alone into the future. Phoebe listened gravely, asking questions occasionally. She has heard much of it from Selene, and more in whispers around the court: but she is interested to note how different it sounds from him than it did from Selene: she told the unadorned truth, while he tries to reassure more than he informs, and yet makes it seem ominous, dangerous and uncertain. For his part, it is an unpleasant duty, and Phoebe's reaction is unnervingly calm. He is ill at ease and lacks faith, and Phoebe, dreaming, sees all this and loves her father for forcing himself to tell her these things.

Now Phoebe dreams about that night, when a feast is held in her honour at court. She sits between her parents, with her long silver hair combed down her back, wearing an ornate silver gown, her quiet grey eyes gazing solemnly at the revelry. Among the entertainments of the night there is a player, telling tales of giants slain and singing songs of old romance. He is not the man who will probe at the thorn hedge, but Phoebe, dreaming, knows one to be the grandson of the other. The ten­year­old Phoebe barely notices him to his verses, but sits lost all evening in thought and intuition, except when called upon to thank this dancer or that magician. But Phoebe, dreaming, sees clearly how the player listens, and talks to courtiers and servants alike, hearing all the gossip to make new tales. Even ten­year­old Phoebe catches his glance once, and wonders, though without needing to know, about the shrewdness and sympathy in that gaze.

Phoebe dreams again of the present, of faraway lands beyond her own. Throughout them, small troubles brew and ferment: but none at the moment large enough to threaten the world, no mighty leaders come to impose their ways on all. But Phoebe dreams of a desert land by night, where a cool wind blows through a tower room, and around a king and his best­loved wife. The king is a strong man and an ambitious one, and wants great things for his heir. Tonight, the dreaming Phoebe knows already, his wife will conceive one for him, beneath impatient stars. The king has already decided that his eldest son will be called Alexander.

Watching them, Phoebe's hands move slightly upon the satin covers, and she sees that her waiting begins to draw to a close.

Phoebe dreams of the past again: of her mother, silver­haired and elegant, quiet, subtle, but as strong as Aurelius, in another way. She dreams of her words at the christening, of how the kingdom would sleep with Phoebe that she should not live cast out of her time, of the thorn hedge that would grow to protect them all, and of the promise of a saviour to waken Phoebe and the land. She dreams of her mother speaking to her in long hours together throughout her childhood. Sometimes she speaks of wisdom, and of arts and subtle powers that are Phoebe's by birth: at other times she speaks of dangers, of inevitable fate, and of the need for a sacrifice for the good of others, and of a lifelong duty that is equally hers by birth. Sometimes Phoebe does not understand, but she knows she will in time: if not by her sixteenth birthday, then before she grows any older.

Phoebe dreams again of Alexander, as he will be at eighteen, and seasoned to battle. His hundred cavalrymen are with him still, and their reputation has spread beyond the kingdom: Alexander's father, the king, is proud of his son and his skills, and today Alexander rides on parade before a visiting ruler. Phoebe watches Alexander lead his men through sunlight and orange dust, and sees pride in his expression. And when he looks at the riches that the visiting ruler displays, she sees ominous purpose added to that expression: a relief from his boredom, and a way for him to be remembered through the years to come.

Phoebe's eyes flicker slightly beneath closed lids, as she dreams more quickly, more urgently. She dreams of the castle in which she lies; of her father and mother, asleep on their thrones, showing faith in her to the last; and of the Crone, asleep over a spinning wheel in a room far above them all. She dreams of her own sixteenth birthday, held without ceremony, for what could be done in the face of that day? At sixteen, Phoebe is still a quiet child, still distant from most of the court, and more solemn than ever, on this, her special day. Her mother dresses her in a loose white gown, and makes sure that her bed is fresh and ready. Then she kisses Phoebe on the forehead and sends her off to the highest tower in the castle, above her own rooms. Queen Selene then goes to sit on her throne, to be with King Aurelius, to set an example and to wait: at first for half an hour or so, but then together for a hundred years.

Phoebe dreams of her past self climbing flights of stairs, and today she gets no bows or curtsies as she walks the corridors. None of the court wish to meet her today: none of them quite trust their reaction if they should do so by accident, and King Aurelius has made his position quite plain. Although she looks calm, even to the dreaming Phoebe, there is an undercurrent of nervousness in sixteen­year­old Phoebe that dreaming Phoebe still remembers and still feels some of, even in her sleep, with so much still to do.

Phoebe, dreaming, watches her younger self - younger in mind an wisdom, if not in body - open the door to a small garret room, dim to the eyes even in full daylight. In it, the Crone is sitting, spinning thread, and snapping it off at the right length. She is still dressed in black rags, but her face can be seen: pale, deep­lined skin drawn tight over bones, and clever black eyes sizing up Phoebe. Her hair, drawn back from her face, is just visible within her back hood, and it is pale. Phoebe, at sixteen, thought it grey: but now, in her dream, it is the same silver as her own hair. When the Crone speaks, her voice is harsh and unmusical, but its tone is soft, and slightly sorrowing.

"Your mother told you what's to happen, child?"

Sixteen­year­old Phoebe nods, mute. Even dreaming, Phoebe is not sure whether this is awe, fear or chosen silence.

"Do you think you'll be strong enough?"

Sixteen­year­old Phoebe nods again, and Phoebe, dreaming, is unable to read her own expression. The Crone also nods.

"Yes, I think so. It's what your life has been for since your christening. You'll understand the necessity in the years to come." One sharp white hand extends from the black robes: the Crone offers a branch of a thorn bush, and speaks once more.

"My part ends with this. Take the needle, and my blessing."

Phoebe, shy, steps forward just far enough to take the branch: she pricks herself on the thumb in grasping it, and jerks her hand back immediately, surprise on her face, and a spot of red left on the branch. Her courage failing her, she turns and runs, as sleep steals up on her. The Crone watches her leave, and then settles her head in a comfortable position, waiting for the magic to take her too.

Sixteen­year­old Phoebe stumbles down the stairs and into her own bedroom. She crawls beneath the quilt before she falls asleep, and as her breathing slows and deepens, as Phoebe dreaming watches her, sixteen­year­old Phoebe becomes Phoebe dreaming in her turn.

Now Phoebe dreams of what might have been: of Alexander, who is not yet born, as a grown man: and the dream becomes a nightmare. She sees him in armour, sword drawn, and he leads an army to conquest. His strategies and tactics are ingenious, his men love him, and his diplomacy is skilled; he gains an empire. But those he conquers do not love him, those whose husbands fall in battle gain nothing and lose much, and his fine words are founded on threats. Phoebe dreams of him, riding a pale horse at the head of his army, and it seems to her that his sword trails fire that burns everywhere he passes. Phoebe sees the world sacrificed to Alexander's ambition, to his boredom, and to his quest to be remembered. Although she is dreaming, she sees too clearly the lives ended and the lives twisted by his urge to fill the gap in his impatient soul. And, still asleep, still dreaming, she twists beneath her satin quilt. Still asleep, still dreaming, she licks her lips, and just once she cries out: "No!"

The word echoes out into the courtyard of the silent castle, where the guards have not moved or spoken, have barely breathed, for eighty years. The silence returns.

Phoebe breathes more deeply for a while, and does not dream, till her breathing evens out once more. Then she dreams of the future again. She dreams of the court of Alexander's father, at a feast in celebration of his nineteenth birthday. A minstrel is telling stories, and though it is not the one who tested the thorns outside Phoebe's kingdom, she has already dreamed of how two players met and swapped tales one night. And indeed, one of the tales the minstrel tells of of Phoebe, and of the curse laid both on her and on the entire kingdom. He embroiders the legend somewhat, but Phoebe's beauty not at all, although he thinks he does. Nevertheless, the details are there, and Phoebe's land is named. Alexander listens to the tale and is intrigued by it. Phoebe, dreaming, focuses on Alexander and hopes he will act. He asks the taleteller questions, probes for specifics, and then asks his father leave to seek out the kingdom, to see if he is the prince who will wake this princess with a kiss. Phoebe, dreaming, waits on the father's answer: but he can refuse his heir nothing, and he knows how much Alexander needs purpose and interest. Alexander shall take his hundred cavalrymen with him as escort, but he may go. Already the tale and the challenge appeal, and he is half in love with the unattainable princess.

Phoebe, although asleep, knows the importance of this night that is yet to come, and knows she will dream of it often.

Phoebe dreams once more of the further future, after she has awoken. She is older, and she is standing beside a new­filled tomb, weeping quietly but with all her heart. A strong man is beside her, holding her tightly. He will be king now, but both Phoebe dreaming and Phoebe bereaved can tell that he cares less for that than for the sorrow King Aurelius' death has caused her. Phoebe's mother is also there, wearing a black robe and veil, and looking older: much of her beauty has faded. She has announced that she will retire from court life, and live in a set of rooms in an upper tower, as her mother had in the past.

Outside, in the kingdom, the people are mourning, for Aurelius was a good king. But Phoebe is beautiful, and she has brought a handsome young prince who will rule well in his turn, and this makes the people of the kingdom glad. They find that the future is not so dreadful once it has arrived safely, and so they are also ready to celebrate.

Phoebe dreams of a traveller: Alexander, his imagination alight, riding ahead of his mean towards the thorn trees. He dismounts at their foot, draws his sword, and walks forward, but Phoebe, dreaming, knows they will not open for him. Now a strange thing happens: Phoebe, dreaming, dreams of Phoebe in her fine bed at the centre of the kingdom, and dreams that she dreams of a passage opening in the briar hedge. Dreaming, Phoebe faintly remembers having dreamt of this before, and that each time this happens: and a path does open up in the thickets, lasting just long enough for Alexander, marvelling, to enter, and closing in front of his men.

Alexander moves through the hedges, his cloak never quite catching on any thorns. He passes through them, and looks over Phoebe's kingdom, seeing an early summer and a silence that must have lasted a hundred years. Phoebe, dreaming, sees his wonder at the magic here, and his determination to reach the prize for which all this was set. Two days he walks through the still lands, drinking from a brook, but eating nothing that he did not bring himself: for he sees how even the flowers do not close at night, and he does not wish to risk such a fate.

He comes to the castle and enters, saluting the guards ironically. He listens carefully, and seems to hear the faint sound of true breathing far above. Phoebe, dreaming, wills him to the right path, and he follows the sound up, up, up towards her room. Phoebe, dreaming, sees the black pillar and the white, sees the green satin quilt, sees the silver hair, fine­boned face and delicate hands. She sees all these things as he sees them all, fresh for the first time and long sought after, and she dreams and sees his heart burn with love. He treads softly over towards Phoebe asleep, and kisses her gently on the lips.

Phoebe dreams that Phoebe awakes. She still looks sixteen, but she is older by a hundred years of dreaming. For the first time, awake or asleep, she smiles at him, and the hole in Alexander is filled.

Phoebe, dreaming, dreams of a month later than that smile, and of her wedding to Alexander. He is dressed in golden court finery, having put aside his soldier's uniform: she is wearing a bridal gown of white, and her face is veiled. Her father and mother are there: they have welcomed Alexander as their own son. Aurelius' face is filled with joy, for he no longer needs faith, and his daughter has brought him an heir. Selene is smiling quietly, for she knows her daughter's burden, but also knows of its necessity and its certainty of success. She is tired: her magic has been spent, and she begins to feel old.

Phoebe, marrying, swears her vows with certainty and without hesitation, and the ceremony is complete. Alexander lifts her veil, and finds her face still veiled, by reserve. Phoebe, dreaming, sees that he thinks of this as nerves, and when he smiles, Phoebe wedded smiles freely back as if with all her heart.

Alexander takes Phoebe into his arms and kisses her once again, and Phoebe, wedded, kisses him back and holds him, binding and fulfilling him. Both Phoebe dreaming and Phoebe wedded know that Alexander loves her, and that this completes him, without his needing power and fame to satisfy himself. The people will love him, as a peace- loving king, but Phoebe, who has dreamt of him in bloody conquest, will never love him at all.

Phoebe, bound, has only her dreams and the knowledge of her success to sustain her, all the days of her life. She has dreamt that it will be enough.

A Moment's Thought

Huw Walters


The second hand advances one notch, an eternity in microcosm, the clock's face forever reflected in a statue's eyes, in the clock, an infinite tunnel of deceit and double­meaning.

Pan round. Break away (almost audibly) from that subtle entrapment of soul, to view the scene outside. Strange shapes loom from the fog, leviathans lumbering in the deeps, pondering their own existence. Draw a blank; nothing there. Carry on.

The door, hinting at further possibilities of outside. Plain white finish, brass handle. Continue, growing restless now.

Ah! In the corner a television, the meaningless jumble of silent images pouring forth from its bottomless well. Stay here and watch as a drama unfolds, or the news from some remote part of elsewhere arrives, both events equally fictional.

Look up and down, exploring the potential of a third dimension. Quickly dismiss it; a bare light bulb hangs down from up there, feet start up from down there. No life here, no imagination.

Scan back to eye level, to view... self. A large mirror hangs on the wall, showing ordinary features, average build, and beyond, a perfect inverted image. Prominent is the statue, its eyes filling (and in turn, filled by) the world. Turn away.

Pause briefly at a print by Escher, hands of an artist in motionless struggle for creation, captured timelessly by the unseen observer. No escape there.

Finally come full circle in this small prison. Observe the statue more carefully now, zoom in. A girl, 17 maybe. Pretty, but blank. Remember the salesman.

Whip round at that sudden noise, a surreal intrusion into this world of monochrome stillness. Scan the instant, unforgettable message scribed upon that suddenly blank screen, some unseen announcer's explanation. Confuse bleak sans­serif script with bleak announcer's script.

"Time is becoming non­sequential. Your ideas of past and future, history and prediction, are now obsolete. There is only here and now, and the world is radically different. The travellers are your guides now."

In the mirror, a twitch of sudden motion; a statue's gaze focuses. Somewhere, memories fall neatly into place, meanings alter, and a clock becomes strange.


She Swallowed the Spider to Catch the Fly

Julian Todd

An extremely large ark ship carried the embryos of a hundred million species stored and catalogued by robot and computer. It was a profitable enterprise which sold and bought species from the planets it visited.

During the five year interstellar night, the captain of the ship said one day, "You know, I would really fancy a nice juicy steak."

The engineer said, "It would be no trouble to take one out of the store, grow it into calf and let the cook butcher it for you."

"What a great idea!"

The engineer fetched the relevant packet of specimens from the freezer by remote control and slotted it into the 0.5 metre­cubed artificial womb. And five days later there emerged a 0.5 metre­cubed litter of live rats who all started running around the place.

"I don't want to eat rats," said the captain.

"It must have been a computer error."

There were rats in the bedrooms, rats in the study and rats in the control room zinging around like tennis balls with no gravity and nothing to stop them. The trouble started when they each became hungry and gnawed at everything they could get their tiny teeth into. Fortunately, though they hurt, they didn't carry any nasty diseases.

"Why did you supply them with Calcium?" the captain said. "If they hadn't grown up with so much Calcium, they wouldn't have such sharp teeth. It would have been alright for the calf to have been born with no bones, we were only going to eat it."

"I was going to grow it into a fullsize bull and surprise you with it."

"For that you would have needed acres and acres of fresh grass. Now sort this problem out and get some rats poison."

"We haven't got any rat poison."

"Then get us a cat."

The 0.05 metre­cubed womb delivered forth three baby hyenas.

"Oh well, it'll have to do."

The hyenas shrieked in he night when they were hungry and no one could walk around the ship without their armour on. All likely weapons were travel­locked away for the duration of the trip because otherwise by now the captain would have killed his stupid engineer.

"Someone has either got to feed these beasts, or get something to kill them."

"I know, how about a nice juicy steak with razor blades embedded in it?"

"We don't want your rats all over again," said the captain. "Maybe the reptile section doesn't have such a mixed­up catalogue."

"Lizards, dinosaurs, alligators?"

"Snakes. A well trained cobra would do the trick."

Fortunately, this item had too been miscatalogued. They only had to contend with a venomless boa constrictor.

A year later the captain was reported to have said, "I've had enough of this farce, my ship is turning into a big stinking zoo with corpses of things littering the corridors. We must have re­established all of the carnivorous food chains from three separate worlds out there. What we need are some more crew members to help clear this mess up - some organisms whose sole intention is not to go out and join the fray."

"I'll see to it immediately," said the engineer who had lost his arm somewhere along the line.

He came back with some tribal natives, but the captain had already escaped in an emergency pod.

Haiku for an Alien in Love

Kim Foster

Nictating membranes
Slide across your orange eyes
Filter out the light.

A Man Must Have a Hobby

Simon Pick

I was with my good friend Everton in the park when he was scattering poison for the birds. "It all began a couple of years ago," he said, in answer to my question. "I was walking along, minding my own business when someone zipped past me on a bike. He was closer to me than you are now; I would only have had to stick out my hand and I could have pushed him right off. He was going at quite a speed too - it would have been a nasty accident for the poor kid. I didn't, of course, but I saw no reason at the time why I shouldn't."

He paused. "No, that's not quite true," he said, and mournfully upended the last of the poisoned seed onto the path. Already some pigeons were taking an interest. "I wanted to push him off. Quite badly, as a metter of fact. I don't know why; I still don't know why. Heaven knows it wasn't to harm the poor kid. I don't want to cause harm to anyone. And I've always hated practical jokes. I don't do this for a laugh. Come on." We walked off. Everton didn't once look back at the pigeons. I did; some of them had commenced hopping rapidly on the spot or wildly fluttering their wings to the point of half­flight, as if mere action could free them from an internal agitation. I trotted after Everton to catch him up.

"Your poison's starting to take effect," I told him. He shrugged; he wasn't interested.

"Anyway, I didn't push him off, and the desire to left me as soon as it was too late - leaving me rather appalled at the whole idea, let me tell you. I tried to put it out of my mind. But the next day I was sitting in the cafe where I have my lunch and I had got up to go when I passed a table where a fat woman had got up to reach the salt, which was way down the other end of the table. I had an instant, a single point, to pull away her chair before she sat down and all of a sudden it seems the only thing in the world to do, a most natural and inevitable action. There seemed no point in not removing her chair; it was just an act like any other."

We had reached the flowerbeds in front of the park railings; Everton stood actually in the earth, in front of a very fine rosebush whose flowers he began to pull off (it was a half­unconscious action, done much as you or I might snap an elastic band around our fingers). "Again I fought the feeling, and walked quickly on, but you must understand it seemed unnatural to fight it. I could not believe that there would be any real consequence to my precipitating that fat lady onto the floor. I kept telling myself that it would be very unpleasant for her, that she might even hurt herself, but I couldn't bring myself to really feel any of this." He stopped and looked at me. "I'm not actually selfish, you know, I've as much empathy as the next man." He turned back to his roses. "I just have these urges to do things."

"What happened next?"

"Well I sat wondering about it all afternoon, not getting any work done, and decided to put it out of my mind, forget about it. But I couldn't help feeling that that afternoon things were coming together for me - like I was on the crux of new thoughts, or a new thing. Everything seemed more real just then." He sighed. "I think that was just that afternoon lazy feeling. Anyway, when I was walking home I had just turned into our road when another boy rode by me on a bike, standing up in his saddle to get some speed up. I didn't need to think about it much; I just reached out and pushed him over. He hit the ground hard, the bike's behind skidded from under him towards me. It was a very clumsy fall; he wasn't expecting it. I instantly ran over and apologised, said I'd suddenly slipped sideways, helped him up, asked if he was hurt. He looked at me darkly, recovered his bike and went on his way without saying a word. After all, it wasn't as if he could believe I'd done it on purpose, could he?

"As for me, I wasn't particularly elated, or anything. It seemed no more of any consequence than making a cup of tea or putting my tie on; just a normal event in the day. The boy just seemed to have been there at the wrong time, that's all. I went out the next morning and broke everyone's milk bottles with a brick when they weren't looking. It was just something I wanted to do."

We wandered on. "I didn't want to tell anyone, of course. I've only told you because you caught me slashing your tyres. But I've got a bit worried about it now. You know Muriel's left me. Well, it was because I started hitting her. I'd just walk up to her and hit her in the face, or I'd call her into the room and kiss her and then slap her across the ear. I did love her, you understand, and I'm miserable without her, but my God I don't blame her for leaving me. I'd have left her if she'd started hitting me." His eyes were full of pain as he looked at me to make sure I understood him. "I'd have done anything in the world for her. I just wanted to know what it looked like to hit someone. I couldn't tell her the real reason, so she thought I'd stopped loving her. I wish I hadn't made her so miserable. Somehow I couldn't explain. I think it's because I didn't want her to think badly of me." He gave an unhappy snort of a laugh and blew his nose, then turned away. "There's a joke." There was a pause. "Look out for the park keeper for me, will you? I'm going to put this barley­sugar in his motor mower."

He rejoined me after a couple of minutes. I was concerned. "Aren't you worried about all this?" I asked.

"That's what I've been meaning to tell you, old boy." His voice was quiet. "There's an old woman down the road... No, no that's not it. I've got another compunction, one for another outrageous deed. I keep on wanting to confess it all. Don't lets just stand here; I've got some pliers and I know where the kids leave their bikes; we can go and cut their brake cables. It's just that I want people to know what I've been doing; it's not enough to just do something. Anyway, it can't do any harm. What'd you do if I pushed you off your bike and then came up to you and apologised and confessed? You'd hardly go to the bother of taking me to court for pushing you off your bike, would you? It'd never be worth it. After all, you never did anything about your tyres, did you?"

That was the last time I saw my friend Everton. Three days later he murdered the old lady down his road by hitting her repeatedly on the head with a cricket bat, then he went and confessed it to the local police. They put him in a mental asylum; he sent me a letter which was most indignant about it. He never struck me as being insane.

A Fantasy in Motion

Huw Walters

It was a clear day in a magical foreign land. The sky was a deep crisp blue, with the texture of a fresh­bitten apple. The sun bathed an alien landscape with a warm glow (of course, it was filtered; unprotected, no­one could survive it for long).

The screens above diffused the light, and poured it (like honey) slowly over the surface below. A small lake nestled like a liquid jewel in the hollow, and caught a portion of the light within its depths. A picturesque bridge arched delicately over the water, with an elegance not possible on Earth.

Behind the lake, a short walk away, a small cluster of dwellings thrust up from the ground, some short and stubby, some stately or grand, some reaching elegantly for the sky.

All about, peaceful fields soaked up the sun's energy. A few lazy hang­gliders hung in the air like the hawks imported from Earth. One, going too high like Icarus, did a curious half­loop and twisted in the air, its pilot a faint speck in the blue.

Far to the north and south, the rolling contours were confused in the foothills of mountains. East and west, the horizon seemed lost in a haze. Above, more hills and lakes, set between the huge sky panels.

Bridges, Chief Construction Supervisor for the L5 community, stood atop a small mound and surveyed his cylindrical domain, eyes shaded from the blue. Behind him was one of the sky­panels, filter turned off now for the splendid view.

Of course, this was all in the future, and Bridges ran a well­practiced eye over the plans and drawings of the interior, as he floated near the recently installed sky­panel. The filters were not operational yet, so he had to rely on his pressure­suit to shield his eyes.

Yes, he thought, we'll put some buildings there, and a lake there. We'll run a stream down from the Far End waterfall. All of that will be hills and fields, maybe even a vineyard. The shell's interior started to form in his mind as a skeletal vision of what was to be.

In fact, fairly soon, they would be putting the spin on. All the structural work had been completed, and they could start landscaping when they had gravity and atmosphere. Centrifugal force was an old misconception, but one that Bridges thought would endure. It must be odd to live with nothing below but nothing.

Indeed, even now the surface seemed to be moving below him. The giant rockets welded to the outside would be straining to create some semblance of specific gravity. He could almost (but not quite) imagine the slow rumble of motion, the ponderous creak as ancient gears and levers came back into operation after millenia of disuse, and the cylinder came alive.

Slowly, too slowly, it picked up speed, and finally, a tinny imp­like voice sounded inside his helmet. "OK Chief, we've finished. We have one half gee on the inner surface. Wanna take a stroll?" That's not a bad idea, thought Bridges. He glided forward with a brief burst of power, and having matched the rotational speed of the hull, landed lightly on his feet with another small burst from the jets.

He was the first against the wall when the revolution came.

The Saviour of the World

Simon Pick

A man in his office: Sir Andrew Mandelay, head of the United Nations' Space Fleet. In walked his chief pilot, Captain Adam Action, DSO. "You wanted to see me, Sir," he said, but did not salute; despite the thirty­year difference in their ages, the two had long been firm friends. They had been through much together.

But for once, Sir Andrew did not seem glad to see his ablest pilot. He stood awkwardly away from Adam, looking out through the window which formed the whole west wall of his office and gave a high view of the runways of Space Fleet Central. He did not turn round. "Adam, sit down would you?" he said, and then he turned, and Adam was surprised to see the pain in his eyes. "I've got something to tell you."

"What is it, Sir? You seem unhappy about something," said the cheery space pilot as he complied with his superior's wishes. "Has something come up?"

Sir Andrew stayed by the window. "You know, don't you, that our psionics research workshops were doing some particular work on space travel."

"Yes, as a metter of fact they did some tests on me. I'm not sure I believe in it, though. Mental powers seem a rum go to me; give me a spaceship and the stars in my face any day."

"It's about those tests that I wanted to see you, Adam," Sir Andrew said. "They've come up with something." He walked forward from the window to stand in from of the captain, who noticed that he held his hand in his pocket in an odd fashion. As never before he seemed very old and tired. "Adam - " He paused, then began again. "Adam, has it never occurred to you that it's rather odd - the way Earth keeps getting invaded? Alien forces have tried to take over our planet countless times in the past ten years since you first went up in a spaceship and landed on the moon."

"Not really, Sir. It's only natural that evil space invaders should wish to add a healthy young planet to their empires. For the first time we've drawn attention to ourselves with space travel. Besides, it isn't just aliens. There was Actaeon, the giant defence computer which went mad and which I had to sneak into and deprogram before it started nuclear war. And you yourself helped me to defeat Elmo Suggs and his army of miniature assassins - "

"Adam, the Mekon has tried to invade seventeen times in the past decade, and keeps getting away in a secret space capsule to try again. Don't you think he'd want to give up having his Treen armies shot down by you?"

"No, Sir, he'll never learn, but we'll get him next time, don't worry."

"Why must there be a next time? Each invasion or peril from deep space ravages the Earth still further. We can't take many more calamities. Do you know the cost of the rebuilding programmes we have to keep instituting again and again?

The young captain did not quail. "We'll give them the best we've got. They'll never make Earthmen bow down, by Jiminy! Is that why you wanted to see me? Do we need to fight again?"

"Adam, the psionics boys looked at your tests. It isn't Earth the aliens are after - it's you."


"I don't pretend to understand the science of it. But you give off what they call a Dramatic Adventure Field, or DRAMAD. You're an immensely powerful psychic. It's you who're causing these things to happen. Your mind is creating adventure for you to take part in."

"I don't understand." Adam stared in amazement up at the face of his friend.

"I'm sorry, Adam. Earth cannot pay the price for your mind. I've been ordered special powers." With his duty to be done, Sir Andrew had strengthened himself; his head was high, but his eyes were still sad. His hand, still inside his jacket pocket, was raised so that it projected towards Adam's chest. "We will build you a statue when you are dead."

"Dead?" With the threat imminent, Adam fast lifted himself half from the chair, but Sir Andrew fired and two bullets crashed through Adam's chest and were stopped in the horsehair chair behind. He fell back, dead and bloody, his eyes still open in stupor. Sir Andrew wanted to say he was sorry, but his eyes just filled with tears.

Later that day, they found that all of the spaceship drives no longer worked.

An Asimov Fan Joins CUSFS

Robert Downham

A putative member
that nobody knows
In order to join,
to a pub meet he goes.

There he meets Gareth
and Richard and Huw.
There were many more
though I've named but a few.

All friendly and smiles,
As nice as could be.
They talked and they chatted
Quite pleasantly.

But then (and I know
For I was that member)
they started on subjects
I now can't remember.

Stapledon, Kubrick,
Aldiss and Gunn -
What I want to know is
What they've all done.

They discuss and dissect
and debate mightily.
I sit in a corner -
They've surely lost me.

And when they talk glibly
Of Wyndham or Vance,
I'm sorry to say that
I haven't a chance.

Now, I like the Lensmen
and E. E. Doc Smith.
What I want to know is
What's wrong with this?

I'd like to know better,
If truly I can,
But is there no hope
For an Asimov fan?

So pity this member,
This literary wreck,
I'm trying so hard­
To the Library next!
"Ah, yes. A superficially humorous account of a new member's experiences at a CUSFS pub meeting, but on a deeper level it takes a gentle sideswipe at the intellectual prejudices within the society etc etc blah blah waffle waffle."

Downham's autobiography My Creative Genius (Penguin pbk 12 pounds 95 pence 545pp) states that this masterpiece was almost entirely written between 4 and 5 am, 28th May 1990. Hard to believe, but the author claims "I just woke up, a verse popped into my head and then I couldn't stop." Critics have also found this poem amazing as this period was one of great activity for the author, since he was also busily studying for his NatSci IA examinations in which he eventually got a glorious first.

A Woman in Space (Sara Cavanaugh)

Simon Pick

It is probable that you have never heard of this book or this author, since the book in incompetent and the author patently deranged; were it not for the fact that the book is in the CUSFS library it would never have forced its existence onto my consciousness. The book is, it proclaims, a Tiara novel; the first sentence of the blurb reads, "She's young, she's lovely - she's an astronaut." Carol Collins is sent on a mission into space to find lost astronauts, in the course of which she makes a stand against the ubiquitous male chauvinism and finds true love. We are not, then, dealing with science fiction but merely (as it appears for the first hundred pages) with a standard romance which has a space opera plot as scenery for the main business of the love story. It's grasp of actual science is easily mocked; in this scene Carol and her co­pilot have been sucked into space by a mysterious force:

"`I kind of rule out a magnetic field,' Carol continued musingly, `We aren't subject to G­forces... My guess would be a force­field of some kind. An electronic beam, or perhaps some kind of cosmic ray?' `Do you think the Commies are behind it?'"

The characters are no more than a set of perambulating obsessions, each with one attribute to distinguish them from the others. The dialogue is trite and absurd; the prose is embarrassing. Why then am I drawing this apparently average piece of rubbish to your attention? Because it is not simple Mills­and­Boon offal, though it is well camouflaged as such. The book's claim to future notoriety appears with the sudden appearance of some `space­bunnies' - five beautiful and nubile alien girls who have not seen a man bar their fathers for fifteen years. At this point the book at last reaches the core of the story, and it proves to be very weird indeed. The plot becomes no more notable or elegant, but the attitudes implicitly espoused become frankly extremely worrying. For we are treated to a catalogue of pornography and vice as would surely leave the casual romance­hunter flabbergasted. We have prostitution (both forced and willing), orgies, voyeurism, infidelities, nymphomania, an extraordinary and disturbing psychopathy which everyone seems to accept as normal, corruption of minors, jingoism, condoned sexual harassment, promises of rape, homophobia, adultery, seductions, manipulations, misogyny (a medieval attitude towards women which is even considered desirable by the book's one supposed feminist character - and the author has some extraordinary ideas about the nature of feminism), basic apathy to appalling crimes, and - quite the worst of all - a cheery simplemindedness which accepts the shallowest whims of the human mind as governing the deeds of the world. This is ids in space.

Yet on its own, apart from the pseudo­feminism, this still would be little worthy of comment. There is little wrong with lashings of outer­space sex, as readers of Norman Spinrad will tell you. What renders the book's convulsions unhealthy is the sheer prurience of the pornography. It is all the time exhibiting its wares as peek­a-boo titillation in a way even Gor never stoops to. The author tries to glory in shock­tactic exhibitions and leer at them as well. It is this double­standard that sets the seal on the book's inner rot. This book is a little death of quality, of morality, of thought, of feeling; it is a celebration of degradation and slavery; I urge you all to read it immediately - know thine enemy.

TekWar (William Shatner)

Huw Walters

James T Kirk looked up at the seethru plasglass viewscreen, a big window in the side of the spaceship. The Klingons were bombarding him with energy beams, and the control room lurched as if the camera was being tilted.

"She canna take any more of this, Captain!" came a crackled voice from the engine room, as various bits of equipment around the room exploded in a shower of dust and cardboard, and Spock died horribly on the floor. Kirk managed to tear his shirt to show off the manly chest beneath, as the Enterprise met its final...

Jake Cardigan ripped off the electrodes, and lay sweating on the bed. Damn it, this Tek stuff is realistic, he thought. His illegal Tek setup lay on the bed beside him: a pocket calculator connected to the headset, a Z80 chip and some 1.5V batteries. It was partly Tek that had got him into the freezer in the first place.

Jake snatched up his lazgun as a gleaming broad­shouldered robot entered the hotel room, wearing a poncho and whistling the theme tune from some 20th century spaghetti western. "Go on punk," it said, trying for an appropriate idiom but getting the wrong movie; "make my day." Jake fired a crackling beam of purple light at the mechanical man; he had to find Professor Kittridge and his lovely daughter Beth before time ran out.

Their anti­Tek device worked on high­frequency radio waves, and could render every single Tek chip in the universe useless. He had to find the Kittridges before Tek lord Sonny Hokori did.

At this point, the wall became an intense sizzling orange, and fell away to gritty dust. Insane IDCA (International Drug Control Agency) official Kurt Winterguild made a dramatic entrance, and started shooting from the hip...

William Shatner ripped off the electrodes, and lay sweating on the bed.

TekWar has been described as a cross between Star Trek and T J Hooker. I do not think this assertion fair; the book doesn't owe a lot to Star Trek. There are rumours that TekWar was not written by William Shatner, but that it was ghost­written. I find this hard to believe; he may have had a little help with it (he says as much in the acknowledgements), but the basic ideas could not have come from anyone else.

So, what about the plot? Framed policeman Jake Cardigan is paroled from the orbiting freezer colony (They put people in suspended animation, as punishment) after 4 years of his 15 year sentence to find that his wife has left him, and a private detective agency wants him to find Professor Kittridge and daughter, after their disappearance in Mexico.

Shatner says "Tek" (misspelt as "Trek" on page 65) stands for technology. Tek is an electronic drug, in the form of computer chips (this isn't explained too well); it lets "tekkies" escape from reality by connecting electrodes to their heads. Professor Kittridge has invented a machine that destroys Tek chips by emitting high frequency radio waves (I'm not kidding; that's what it says in the book!), so it is vital that Kittridge be rescued.

Jake meets a string of sordid characters (shooting most of them) and follows a trail toward the bad guys, much in the linear style of a Mickey Spillane novel. Okay, so much for the plot.

Shatner has invented lots of phrases, such as seethru, plasglass, skycar, aircab, lazgun and neodenim. It's an attempt at the evolution of language over time, but it just comes over as cheap. He also mentions legal marijuana cigarettes (oh no not again, I hear you cry; Spinrad did it better).

The other main way in which the book fails is in its treatment of robots; they are all humanoid and speak idiomatic English or Spanish. Although in a bordello this is understandable, it seems that Shatner does not really think of them as machines, but as manufactured humans (and yes, he really does use the phrase "mechanical man", dreadful though it is).

In short, this book is awful, but well worth reading. The characterisation is almost non­existent (no prizes for guessing who plays Cardigan in the film), the plot simplistic and the science fiction cliched.

I should mention at this point (before you go away thinking "I will do my best to avoid this book") that a sequel is on the way, entitled TekLord. Well, you can't win them all. I may even do a review of that too.

Stark (Ben Elton)

Huw Walters

Stark is a deeply depressing book. It would be hard to describe complete "eco­doom" (a phrase used generously by Elton, up there with "avalanche effect", "vanishing point" and "total toxic overload") and not be so. The one excuse for this morbid theme is the blasé attitude with which it is treated; one is at once involved with and detached from the Earth's downward spiral.

Nor is it light reading (I measure it at 1.18"), and having waded through its ups and downs (though mostly downs), I found myself disappointed with the ending. I had, through the final chapters, been wondering how they could get out of that, and with what miraculous device the plot could be saved, but I came to the sad conclusion that perhaps it couldn't.

The real problem I had with this book was its protagonists. They are either two­dimensional, irritating or pathetic; the main characters include a total prat and a weird psychopathic hippy. I cannot sympathise with these people; in fact, I felt more at home with the bad guys. I kept reading mainly because I wanted to know what Stark were up to, and how the self­styled EcoAction group would stop them.

Do not be put off. Inside its shiny and embossed cover, the book is enjoyable, if perhaps over­speckled with colourful verbs and adjectives. It has rich and varied descriptions, inventive metaphors and cunning double­takes.

Also, if Elton's proposals are pessimistic, at least he's done his research well. He makes out the Earth's ecology to be more fragile than it probably is, but the situation is plausible and well­presented. A warning, then, in which the Earth dies not with a bang, or a whimper, but with a belated slump, and a final gurgle.

Islands in the Net (Bruce Sterling)

Gareth Rees

The future portrayed in this impressive and powerful novel owes a lot to cyberpunk but attempts to go beyond the merely technical to look at the political implications. By the mid­twenty­first century, nuclear weapons have been abolished and the world is apparantly at peace, policed by a strict and powerful international organisation. Nations no longer seem to be important (why is this a feature of cyberpunk novels?) and the dominant forces seem to be the multinational corporations, the global data net, and the police.

But there are countries outside the cosy insularity of the First World, places which are cut off from the Net and have to survive by being outside the law. Data havens, they are called, peopled by ruthless data pirates. Grenada in the Caribbean is one such island in the Net, Singapore another and Africa a third, left to wallow in tribal war, a global dumping­ground for the outdated weapons of the cold war.

Opinions are divided on how to deal with the data havens. The Japanese multinationals want to declare war and usher in a new order of corporate world­rule. The Americans prefer to negotiate, attempting to tempt the pirates into legitimacy with the promise of trade.

The heroine, Laura Webster, belongs to the US `corporate democracy' Rizome Industries, and as the novel opens she is only concerned with her family and career, gradually advancing her popularity and power in her company (to which she directs her loyalties rather than the US). However, when a data pirate is assassinated during the delicate negotiations she is hosting she is forced to expand her horizons. She journeys as a diplomat to Grenada, to Singapore and finally to darkest starving Africa as terrorism and war break out all around her.

Who are the villains in this story? The multinationals are greedy and power­hungry, yes, but on the other hand Rizome is a model of democracy and consensus. The data havens of the third world are ruthless and unafraid to use violence and terrorism, but Sterling is not so quick to condemn. The Grenadians explain that they have been systematically ignored and marginalised by an inward­looking and contemptuous First World who have now forfeited all right to impose their standards of judgement.

By the close of Islands in the Net, Laura has been shaken out of her complacency, determined to fight for a better world. The book ends with war and a global power struggle looming on the horizon, and nothing resolved. There are no glib resolutions or easy answers here.

Rimrunners (C J Cherryh)

Gareth Rees

Another novel in Cherryh's extensive `Merchanter' future history, taking place soon after the events of Downbelow Station as the Alliance takes on the task of hunting down the remnants of Earth's defeated fleet.

Thule station is a decrepit outpost in the Hinder Stars, bypassed by newer ships and newer routes, peopled by refugees from the Union­Alliance war desperate for a place on a ship going somewhere prosperous. Bet Yeager is one such, once a marine with the Earth fleet, now destitute on Thule docks, hoping for a crew berth on a ship, terrified of revealing her identity to the Alliance authorities, and prey for violent men.

Then Loki docks, obviously an Alliance spy ship, but it takes Bet (though it must first rescue her from police trying to account for two bodies). On board, she befriends a young man, Ramey, called NDG (for "No Damn Good") and victimised by the rest of the crew. She is forced to confront Loki's officers for his sake, even as Loki hunts her old comrades.

The questions mount as the book goes on. Where are Bet's loyalties, with Loki, or with her old ship? Where are Ramey's? And what is Loki's true purpose?

Finding the answers is satisfying, and though the novel seems to lack substance compared to some of her other work, Cherryh's writing is at her most tense and exciting, and that's enough to keep you turning the pages.

The Folk of the Fringe (Orson Scott Card)

Gareth Rees

Folk of the Fringe consists of five loosely linked stories set following a nuclear war which left the Mormon community in Utah as the only coherent civilisation in the US.

"West" is a science­fictional re­telling of the original Mormon pioneering journeys, following a group of Mormons fleeing from persecution in the East to the promised land of Utah. "Salvage" is a slight story about the Mormon Tabernacle, drowned by the rising waters of Salt Lake. "The Fringe" tells the story of a brilliant young disabled teacher battling corruption in a frontier farming community, and is quite a moving tale. "Pageant Wagon" is another Card story about a close family with deep problems that are healed by a wise stranger (reminiscent of Speaker For the Dead or Seventh Son).

"America" is the best of the five, and rather different in spirit. A young (North) American man and an older Brazilian women fall in love, becoming the parents of a brilliant general and demagogue who unites the Indian peoples of America against the European descendants. There are strong hints that this has been brought about by the Indian god Quetzalcoatl in order to rid the land of the foreign settlers. Card is quite adept at evoking the mystery of the old Indian religion and of the Amazon jungle, although the superstitious nature of the story sits oddly with the rational sf of the earlier four stories.

Two main themes link the stories in The Folk of the Fringe. As the title suggests, they are concerned with people on the fringe of society; outsiders and outcasts. They also seem to be an affirmation of Card's own Mormon faith, expressed through the medium he is most proficient with.

The Barsoom Project (Larry Niven & Steve Barnes)

Gareth Rees

This novel is a rather disappointing sequel to Dream Park, mostly because it uses the same formula plot that the earlier novel, offerring very little novelty: a live role­playing game is taking place with espionage and murder behind the scenes. There are no surprises, and the characters are even more cardboard than is usual for Niven.

The only saving grace is the interesting and unusual setting for the game: an arctic spirit world based on the legends and traditions of the Inuit. But this is a credit only to the writers' research and not to their writing skills.

The Ex­Chairman's Address, or, The Quivering

Huw Walters

Warning Some readers may find the next paragraphs offensive, sick or disgusting.

The victim's final, gushing scream of agony was muffled by the mis­shapen thing straddling her face, feeding on the tasty morsels already shredded by its cruel claws. An eyeball burst, flooding the ravaged flesh with viscous fluid. The other eye stared mindlessly into a jumbled collection of parts borrowed from previous meals. Further down, two more of the creatures were fighting over the more choice remains; the breasts and soft inner thighs had gone, as had the entrails, and what might have been a liver waited patiently in a selection of grisly remains. The chest heaved once in a parody of life, as if the lungs had drawn breath for a hopeless plea of denial, and another distorted head burst from beneath the ribcage, sated from its feast. One of the fingers beckoned spastically in reflex action, as the nerves were severed (like worms in a clod of earth suddenly exhumed).

At the top of the cellar steps, the insane megalomaniacal Chairman looked down into the slowly churning pool of muscle and organ, patrolled by the salivating monsters. Several nervous tics jumped on his face, as he cackled at the fate of his most recent victim. "Once, they laughed at me. They sneered at my collection of L Ron Hubbard, and made jokes behind my back. Well they haven't heard the last of me! Wait 'til I unleash my pets on the world! Ha ha ha!" As he spoke, a new creature pulled itself together out of the flesh remaining, and started mewling like a new­born child. Soon, it began to feed.

Right. Well, that was an experiment in a different style of writing. I wanted to see if I could do it, and next issue (if the Editor doesn't ban the idea entirely), you will have something completely different. I would like to use this column partly to force my insane gibberings on a captive audience, and partly to print any snippets of information that I find interesting. For instance, last year's Vice Presidents (don't ask me to explain them) were:
Miss P Bordes
The Ex­Chairman's coat
Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians
$h - $h$+G$­$h$o$­M$+$h$gpi$crm
Severian the Torturer
This year (after the exams), I shall be running the Vice President elections myself (results to be printed in the next issue), so I would like members to be ready to put forward up to six candidates each, and I will put together a voting form.


Gareth Rees

Funny how traditions start, isn't it? ttba editors have nearly always written a piece at the back of the magazine, if out to pad out the final page, or to round off an issue they put hard work into, but only in the last couple of years has it become traditional to put a distinctive title on it (Julian Todd had `Exit Ramp', Simon Arrowsmith `Way Out' and you can see my feeble choice above). But Cambridge is necessarily tradition­riddled, and even a forward looking society like ours is bound to become infected - or why else has this magazine retained its silly title for so long?

Anyway, I'd like to thank Simon for doing such a marvellous job of editing ttba this past year (I can only hope to build on his achievement). I'd also like to thank Huw for providing much­needed help with Teenage Turtle Brainwashed Assassins.

Those of you who don't come to social meetings and haven't received newsletters (John Meredith assures me he has the distribution system perfected by now) will be wondering who the new committee are. Well, what more encouragement do I need?

The Chairperson is Barry Traish, a first year NatSci from Catz, shortly to become a Philosopher for no very good reason. Between CUSFS and work he manages to be a hack journalist at the Weekly Revue and a Don Juan Extraordinaire.

John Burnham (Churchill, NatSci) is our Secretary. A man with a tragic but secret past, John's main hobby is waving large knifes at people at threatening to remove their extremities.

The Treasurer is Simon Pick (Anglo­Saxon, Norse and Celtic, Peterhouse). A lone artist in a society of scientists, he has the last laugh, for he can read the Jómsvikinga Saga in the original Icelandic. Thankfully for me, he is also a prolific writer.

The Membership Secretary and Custodian of the CUSFS filespace is John Meredith, a second­year NatSci from Downing, renowned for his dry wit and consumption of vodka.

Tim Morley (Sidney Sussex, NatSci) is Librarian, and currently rather annoyed at the prospect of having to take care of 3,000 books in his room when the Union Society kick us out of their building.

And finally, er... there's me. Gareth Rees (Christ's, Maths). If you want to find out about me, buy me a drink sometime...

The outgoing committee decided this year to hand over responsibility immediately following the elections, rather than at the end of term, as has been customary in the past, in order to give us a couple of months' experience in running the society before we get faced with hordes of freshers next term.

Records department: as I mentioned in the editorial, there doesn't seem to have been any real attempt to keep records of the history of the society. There are therefore a whole host of unanswered questions about the history of CUSFS: Is it true that the society was founded by Charles Platt in 1963? Why was ttba started? And why couldn't anyone think of a good title? Who was Nick Lowe? Why did he and Walter Rothschild run for the CSU (as it was then) executive? Did CUSFS really have a voting majority on the committee of the Graduate Union? Why does Douglas Adams hate Cambridge so much? Why did someone persuade Barry Traish to become chairperson? Perhaps these questions should remain unanswered, but I'm asking them anyway...

What I would like to do is to put together a comprehensive history of the society in time for the next ttba, or perhaps the one after. So if your memory goes back further than last week, write a piece for the history, whether it be trivial or important. Discussions, elections, people, places, fish­fights, conventions and waffles - the story needs to be told!

Even if you are not much of a historian, your contributions are still needed. ttba will print anything: serious fiction, light fiction, appalling puns, articles, political commentary, news, views, reviews, letters to the editor, cartoons, illustrations (and these don't have to have titles with a certain set of four initials) and indeed truly anything else. Although previous editors have set standards high enough that material has been rejected (believe it or not). I have a small folder of rejections containing, among other things, and anarchist newsletter, a truly dreadful piece entitled `Standing at the Edge (of Time)' and a description of a physics practical...

So if you want to apply for that rare and valuable item, the ttba rejection letter, you can write for the next issue, which is planned to come out at the start of next term, in time for the societies' fair, so it would be an appropriate time to submit your views on the society, or to write an article explaining why new members should be reading Orson Scott Card instead of Isaac Asimov (or whatever).

[E­mail: Gareth.Rees@cl.cam.ac.uk]
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