Tremendous Terence Bashes Aliens

Simon Pick Special Issue!
The Magazine of the Cambridge University Science Fiction Society
Issue 88 (Volume 18 Number 2) Lent 1991
Edited by Gareth Rees

The material in ttba is copyright © 1990 the contributors (Simon Arrowsmith, John Burnham, Jonathan Coxhead, Kim Foster, Bernard Leak, Simon Pick, Gareth Rees 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(s).



Editorial: Terrific Thespian - Brilliant Author

Gareth Rees

Simon Pick, who has been described by his close admirer Gareth Rees as "one mean mother of a writer" will be 20 on the 20th of February 1991 and we are taking this opportunity to celebrate his almost four terms as a science­fiction writer of outstanding ability and originality. He has not only been a creator, but a poet, critic, actor and all­round Man of Letters. For over a year, Pick has dominated the sf scene in Cambridge - and no doubt will continue to do so for a goodly number of days to come.

An Insistent Humanitarian Voice

This special Pick issue of ttba contains the third major story in the author's `Vampire' series (`The Vampire's Prey' appeared in the last issue of ttba and `The Vampire's Curse' appeared in the Jómsborg Writers' Workshop before that), the splendidly comic yet darkly serious `The NatSci Elves', and demonstrating Pick's wide diversity of talent, yet another comic horror story, `The Werewolf's Transformation'. There is also an interview with Pick conducted by Kim Foster of Garbanzo Creative Media (to whom thanks for making this issue possible)

Kim Foster writes:

"From the very beginning he refused pigeonholing, and we had to deliver missives to his room. `A Rescue on Mars' (1990) glows with the speculative dash, the border­jumping effrontery, the natural tale­teller's voice, that supercharge his work even now, several stories later.

"His stories became more and more dangerous, skewing back and forth across the field and over the fence, violating one definition of sf after another, re­working the form entirely (as in `The Vampire's Prey' (1990), a daring attempt to resolve the struggle between author and subject, taste and cliché), or making mock obeisance to the kinds of sf he could never write with a straight face (as in `The Saviour of the World' (1990) - what other modern author could attempt to tackle the Dan Dare myth in such an insistent, humanitarian fashion?).

"He is a Protean writer, an exploder of the boundaries of the genre, a confronter, a pessimist whose gaiety is sustaining, a bustling solitudinous writer who never hesitates to speak to us person to person."

Wanted: Hack Writers

ttba grows in stature issue by issue, a voice for the members of our society and a creative endeavour in its own right. At the moment we seem to be lacking reviews, artwork, poetry, articles and letters of comment, but as has been said (and demonstrated) so often, ttba will print anything you send us. Our rates of pay may not be competitive, but we firmly believe that the fame and glory of publication is its own reward. Particularly wanted is a cover for the next issue.

The identity of the editor of the next ttba is unclear, but you should send your pieces to me or to any other member of the committee.

The Chairbeing's Address

John Burnham

Hi there, this is John, your friendly shipboard chairbeing bidding you welcome to the starship CUSFS. I'm afraid I'm experiencing a work crisis at the moment so this announcement may be a little short.

Your crew are the biggest bunch of wierdos this side of Maximegalon but for less than 30 Altairian dollars a day what do you expect?

First of all there is me: John the shipboard computer, who is using the personality tape(s) of a long dead psychopathic leader of a strange group. It is rumoured that this truly wonderful person was know as John Burnham.

Next we have the obligatory small furry creature from Alpha Centauri, from it's drunken mumblings we have decided it is called Mork Sat­on and has the undoubted honour of being a sek­retry.

Then we have Arthur (call me Simon Pick) Dent. This creature is from a long dead planet called mud or something... His purpose in life is to turn every cheque he touches into rubber; apparently on his home planet this duty was called `being treasurer'. Hmmm...

Of course, how can we forgot Tim Morley, the paranoid librarian? Library the size of a planet and nowhere to house it. Life, don't talk to him about life.

Then there is Zaphod Meredith; inventor of the Bloody Meredith, rumoured to be more powerful than a Pan­Galactic Gargleblaster. When not indulging in these he is believed to accept money for your passage on this great starship powered by odd drive (a drive which outweirds the universe and so convinces it that you should get where you want to go as quickly as possible, preferably in no time at all) and writing messages to people. These are believed to be called `missives'!

And last (and probably least) we have Gareth Rees (which after years of research he believed would be inconspicuous on Earth (wrong!)). He is an editor of the hoopiest magazine in the western spiral arm of the Milky Way. The title is in large and famously friendly letters on the front cover; it is ttba!

Don't forget now: Share and Enjoy!!

Seriously, folks I hope you enjoy (or even get...) this copy of ttba. A couple of things: I'd really like to thank all of last years committee: Huw, Jackie, Trish, Chris, Simon and Neil, you did a great job which should be recognised.

If a story called `The NatSci Elves' appears in this (or any future copy of) ttba, I would like to stress the main character is not based on anyone at all, honest guv.

Ho hum, work beckons and I must go; but before I do, remember it's be nice to chairbeings year, so if you see me, buy me a drink or something...

News: Discussions this term

Gareth Rees

Philip K Dick (January 27th) breaks the J&oacaute;msborg deadlock on discussions of good authors. See Bernard's extensive critique below.

David Brin (February 10th) is a very popular author of hard sf with ecological concerns. The `Uplift' cycle of books (so far he's written Sundiver, Startide Rising (the Hugo and Nebula award­winner) and The Uplift War, with more promised) tells the story of Earth's turbulent emergence into Galactic civilisation - and the discovery that intelligent species have not evolved but have been `uplifted' using genetic engineering from animals by another alien race who were themselves uplifted, and so­on. Proto­intelligent species (i.e. candidates for uplift) are extremely rare, and so Earth is both tremendously lucky to have so many (we see the uplift of dolphins and chimps during the trilogy, with suggestions that dogs and the rest of the great apes may follow) and tremendously evil to have killed so many potential species (a re­writing of history takes place to conceal the extinction of the whales). Earth, his most recent novel, is concerned with ecological catastrophe. Other novels are The Postman, a post­holocaust story and The Practice Effect, a comedy, and there are short stories in The River of Time.

Robert Silverberg (February 24th) is one of sf's most prolific authors, and there are three noticeable periods in his writing. In the 50s, he wrote a vast amount of pulp, some of which is quite readable. In the 60s he wrote a number f serious and thoughtful sf novels, which I think are his best work. They include Thorns, Nightwings, A Time of Changes, Tower of Glass, Dying Inside and To Live Again, which are all well worth reading. After this period of intense creative output he stopped writing for some years before returning, changed and in tune with the 80s. Recently his novels have been larger, more mas­market, but still, though to a lesser extent, have the marvellous landscapes and thoughtfulness that made the earlier books so good. The best of these are Lord Valentine's Castle, Gilgamesh the King, Tom O'Bedlam, Star of Gypsies and To the Land of the Living.

SF on television (March 10th) is a huge subject which I am unable to do justice to in this small space.

Philip K. Dick - Genuinely Mad, Genuinely Prophetic, Any Offers?

Bernard Leak

Philip K. Dick is at once one of the best and one of the most bizarrely overpraised writers of sf. It's a bit difficult to manage both at once, but (particularly when his death was announced) his fellow sf writers fell over themselves to declare him the one true genius of the genre. On the other hand, outside the ghetto hardly anyone noticed. After the frenzy, sf's own public mourning over a figure made somehow into sf's own Lennon, he slipped slowly out of the general eye. Though his individual works have lost ground in the `best novel' category, the CUSFS Hall of Fame continues to display him at the top of the `best author' list; a mute tribute to the respect still felt to be due to him.

Central pillars of his writing are the subjective roots of what is taken to be objective reality, the endless petty toil of human life within and against a world of neutral things, and a profound desire for a transcendent resolution of a world which Dick defines very largely in religious, but not cultic, terms.

Dick emerged only partially intact from the pursuit of Spiritual Fulfilment by Controlled Substances which overtook large sections of California in the sixties. He denied that he himself took anything more potent than dope, and even then when it was still legal, but his word is not necessarily reliable. Certainly he knew from medication received during his paranoid schizophrenic episodes a great deal about the effects of mind- and mood­altering drugs. He has kept a reputation as a `druggy' author, but his attitude ranges from bitter mistrust (e.g., The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch - what a title!) to an immense, barely­controlled wrath in A Scanner Darkly.

The relationship between one's inner world and perceptions of reality, expanding into human relationships and eventually into definitions of spiritual values, is sometimes rebuilt by other means. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the religion Mercerism is built around the use of an electrical apparatus. Ubik, a book much easier to enjoy than to explain, actually makes its eponymous reality­controller shift wildly and elastically in perceived form and operation from one chapter to the next. The fact that all the characters are dead only partially accounts for this.

Perhaps the greatest of his books, one of my all­time favourite novels, is A Scanner Darkly; a triumph of darkness and disintegration stippled with inky twinkles of black humour. The narrator, an undercover narcotics agent in a near­future United States threated by widespread use of heavy drugs, is driven by a haggard obsessional dedication to wiping out `Substance D'. To this dedication he sacrifices more and more of himself, until the final chapter shows him, broken, stupefied and amnesiac, joining the labour force that harvests Substance D from the fields. At first, I stupidly misread the book as wholly without hope, before assorted CUSFS members put me right. Such hope as there is remains only for the elimination of Substance D: none at all for himself. This book appears as a last island of control and understanding as the darkness closed in on Dick: his most desperate and most convincing effort to recover something from the threat of mental collapse which hung over him, without merely denying it. A Scanner Darkly is terrible in its bitter anti­religious message: the world is not darkened by sin, with the possibility of forgiveness, but destroyed by error, which nothing can undo. I do not have to think this true in order to admire the profound courage with which Dick meets his own dark gods.

The ferocity of Dick's attempt to save not merely his sanity but his integrity from what threatened him produces some strangely warped judgements. He portrays drug users as largely hapless victims of their own ignorant folly, but suppliers as agents of quasi­Satanic evil, mysteries of iniquity which are best exorcised rather than explored. The narrator, giving a public­relations talk about his work to a gathering of citizens, breaks with his prepared speech and with department policy to declare his opposition. Asked what can be done to help his work, he replies "Kill the pushers". Granted that he speaks in character, and that Dick presumably does not share his bitter contempt for the audience, this is a flicker of doubt at the limit of vision, rather than a challenge. Within the closed orbit of paranoia, moral adequacy demands this ruthlessness.

For a great writer, he's managed to generate an indecent number of bad books. Valis I rank as his worst; the central character is too obviously signalled as a self­portrait, although the book is not simply an autobiography, and attempts to generate respect for a Gnostic delusional system housed in a partial schizoid personality of his own. I feel that Gnostic ideas rot the brain, and Valis certainly doesn't persuade me otherwise. The attempt to empathise with the narrator victim is strangled by Dick's self­protective determination to take such notions seriously, even while admitting that they are hopelessly false. Something of the same obstruction gets between me and several novels by Ian Watson, so this may well be my problem rather than his.

There is no clear line between Dick's major works and his potboilers. Different readers will set the limits of readability in different places. I feel that only dedicated completists should be happy to devour The Zap Gun, but others disagree. He needed to eat, and practically nothing he wrote is without at least some rocks of invention and wit sinking slowly from sight into the swamp.

At his best, he grapples with his own fears for himself, his fear of death and insanity, and his fear of false escapes into delusion, isolation and impotence. The dominant tone of these struggles is of unrelenting hardness; he who struggles to the end may (just possibly) be saved. He is weakest when he allows himself packaged escapes, like the Gnostic fantasies of Valis, even though he attempts some critical distance. The struggle appears in the wrestling match (perhaps inevitably reminiscent of Milton) between a sympathy, perceived as debilitating, with human weakness, and a transcendent hardness. If A Scanner Darkly is his bravest book, perhaps Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (packaged these days with Bladerunner writ large across its cover, and a picture of Harrison Ford) is the most disciplined of his attempts at a less costive kind of courage. The strange synthetic religion of Mercerism lurks inside this book; one of Dick's most enigmatic and troubling notions. The question `Are androids human?' has been asked often enough, and often enough in the form `Do androids have souls?', but only Dick manages to rescue the question from the customary shunting of tokens in a matrix of glutinous religious sentiment. The film isn't much help here; read the book.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said seduced me by its title; the first book by Dick I read. On recollection, I note with surprise that I haven't re­read it since, and as usual I've forgotten the protagonist's name. Being rather young - perhaps fourteen - and not yet assimilated into the PhilDickian world­view, I paid rather more attention to the plot (which doesn't make all that much sense, really) than now seems warranted, but even the faded memories of half my lifetime ago seem to justify me in admiring it retrospectively. It can be read as a gimmick inverted amnesia story, in which the central character retains his memory but everything connected with it seems to have vanished. As usual, however, Dick is patrolling the boundaries of self, identity and reality, in a way which has subsequently been absorbed into the literary mainstream (sf got there first, tell your friends).

The policeman of the title is a rare sf instance of a topos found more generally in the roman policier, the policeman as pillar of competent decency. Dick's obliquity appears here at its best. Who else would use a policeman's love of English lute­music as more than incidental character decoration? There is very little the policeman can do, professionally speaking, for the viewpoint character. He stands, nevertheless, at the margins of his own society, looking outwards from what he values in it into the surrounding darkness, taming it and making it intelligible. There he finds the viewpoint character, adrift and terrified, and offers him a cool, confident, professional hand.

Perhaps most famous of all is The Man in the High Castle. Set in an alternative United States largely carved up between a victorious Germany and a victorious Japan after the second world war, it is a strange and subtle book about the relationship between art and life, and the roots of hope and courage in imagination. I am disturbed by its adumbrations of a liberating power in unreason, even in the irrational, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Comparisons with Brazil suggest themselves, though the film is altogether darker and the liberation more private and desperate than in the book.

I could go on ad taedium about Dick's lesser novels - I haven't done justice to Ubik, and an inner voice reminds me that I haven't even mentioned Galactic Pot­Healer. I'm not even going to try to cover his innumerable short stories. These are mostly lighter in tone than the novels, but this gives freer play to his lunatic sense of humour, without which any image of his writing is horribly distorted. Being a gloomy person myself, I've paid too much attention here to Dick's sense of cosmic threat, but his expansive wit is one of the ways in which his sanity fought it out with his fears, and one of the most refreshing to his readers. It never quite deserted him.

Yes, I'm putting Dick down at #1 in the Hall of Fame. Tradition dies hard.

The Vampire Hunter

Simon Pick

You must understand when I say that there are hundreds of vampires at loose in society, but you don't notice them because they're shifty and sly, and can smile and waft their way past you in the street and you never know the difference because they're vampires and they're hunting you and they never warn their prey before they leap on him together and club him to the ground or just sidle up to him and smile again and make him want to be caught - which is the worst thing of all because it means that deep down you're like them really and they know you and have marked you down for it. If you're cold in your soul they know it, and their huge black eyes can spy it out down there, although you've got to hide it from them with your clothes and your frowns and the crust you make inside yourself to hide what you are. The vampires don't have a crust, they have no shame, and so can attack you direct with their force, which is why they see so much and are so dangerous. And it's why they feed on your blood, because they're nothing but a hot liquid themselves inside because they haven't encrusted themselves. But they're greedy and they want your liquid too.

But you can't let them drown themselves in your secret soul. They're alien, this is why, and they'll change you too and make you alien and rip off your crust to drink the red liquid running fire beneath. This is why I hunt vampires, so they don't get me. They're multiplying on all sides, swarming out with every breath they take onto you and me, onto ordinary people they make like themselves, but going too fast so I have to kill them or in time as the clock ticks, as the sun burns, as the earth dries up there'll be none but the vampires and me, and then they'll get me. Mr. Jenkinson tells me it's a straight evolutionary fight for survival, and I can help us, my race, not the aliens, win through as millions of time travels on, as the big clock ticks as the earth dries up, and but I'm new to the game. I didn't know you could fight the vampires and only killed the first two days ago.

I met Amelia at pottery night­school classes. I think it is good to have a hobby and so I went to pottery night­school classes to learn a new craft to broaden my outlook on life and enhance my conversational abilities. I am an interesting person with a wide variety of interests. I didn't know she was a vampire at first, or no, I probably did know but I didn't want to tell myself because she was so pretty when she laughed at me, but that shows you their cleverness and how easily they trap and how much you have to be on your guard so that they don't trap you. This is true. Amelia had laughing eyes that were like broad black V's upside down when she laughed, and she laughed a lot at almost anything; they were big, black and brown like oil floating on water when she was concentrating on something. She had a ripe white face with big lips that were always amused, taking their cue from the eyes, and when you saw the summer sun through the desiccated outermost wisps of her blonde head of hair you lost yourself in an aching moment. Somewhere I am still static in that one moment on the common when I saw the sun through her hair and she was smiling at me, but I couldn't see this when I first met her because we were in the pottery room at the college in the late evening when we were at our first pottery night­school classes. I met her when I dropped clay all over her red tartan shirt which she was wearing with the sleeves partially rolled ip and which was loose and baggy on her; I remember lots about her, which I think is alright because she can't suck my blood now. She didn't mind about the accident and laughed at me. I liked this. No­one laughs at me openly, they do it when they think I'm not looking and pretend to be nice to me afterwards but really when they're being nice to me I know they're looking at each other across the table and setting me up to be laughed at some more which is why they're pretending to be nice to me because it's all a trap. Even the ones who aren't vampires do this and laugh at me. But she was laughing at me openly because she was going to like me - I could see when I looked at her that she was going to like me because she liked everyone - and I wanted to be liked and she was honest. So we got talking and I said hello.

But you know because she was really a vampire it was all done to trap me, it was only a film on her surface. Yet she seemed nice. So only the vampires show that they really like me, and they want to kill me. People don't mean it when they say they like people, they're only lying and everyone's the same. They don't like me so I protect myself from them, I'm clever at defending my liquid soul. And it's the same for everyone else or else everyone'd like me because I am an interesting person with a wide variety of interests but some people are purely vindictive and they poison all the others against me who laugh at me behind my back.

We talked a lot and I walked home with her. Next day after work finished in the library I went to call on her and talk with her because she liked me. She was pleased to see me and by daylight I could see her skin, which had a slight sheen of grease and was imperfect. When I talked to her I only pretended to be talking and really I looked at her skin. I wanted to run my fingertips down her cheeks, but I drank lots of water instead to keep my mind off it. She didn't mind what she talked to me about and we talked about anything, and when she had finished choosing the subject to talk about I talked to her about pottery and went into great detail to keep her interested and to show that I knew a lot and wasn't your average shallow guy who just poses with cars or drinks beer and shouts, but can really care a lot about something and take an interest. I know a lot although I didn't get good exam results when I was at school. But she seemed tired so I went home. But I called again soon.

I didn't want to press her. I did like to call on her and offer to help her and sometimes I went shopping with her, and then we would walk across the common. She was indulgent, but this was just her vampire tricks of course. I know that now: she was trapping me. But everything was going well and I began to think that, you know, I was making headway because all women want to be courted really and once they let you hang around, you know, it's a sign that they're waiting for more from you and they're really keen, but you have to do things properly and so I didn't press her for more because I knew it would come soon enough and we were just being romantic - or that's how it would have been if she wasn't a vampire, and I could have asked her to go out with me anytime but it didn't mean anything really do I never did. In a sudden emergency she'd have clung to me soon enough, you bet, and I was waiting for one. Or a party.

But the odd thing was that there was no party, she never made any effort to introduce me to her friends, which I don't understand. I knew she had some friends because I sometimes saw her with them, but I never went up to her when she was with them because women who don't know me look at me strangely although I try to be nice to them and because they're usually nasty­minded they'd have tried to put her off me. I know. And I know what most women are like really; modern girls have no interest in decency and hobbies, it is with them that vampires breed most, and they have much in common. Sometimes women make themselves into vampires without another one doing it for them, and they do it to trap us. But I only saw her with other people at the pottery classes. But all the people at the pottery classes were also nasty­minded and cruel swines anyway - with what I know now I bet half of them were vampires - and just not charitable to other human beings, although I could never make her see this and she talked and joked with them anyway just as if she was quite as good friends with them as she was with me. This was wrong. I tried to make her see that they were not nice people, which I knew because they were cruel to me for no reason at all, really none, and that what they said were lies. But she behaved to them as she behaved to me: she was probably trying to keep our special friendship secret and didn't want to spoil it. And I know nothing would have spoiled it if Bob hadn't come along.

I hate Bob, he was no gentleman - I'm sure - and you've got to be a real swine to attract ladies, nice guys don't stand a chance any more, not like in the past. He was a maths teacher who only moved here two years ago. And I've lived here all my life. All my life! But if you're a real swine to women they don't take account of anything else. I started finding Bob round there when I called. Later I even found him cooking for her, or sometimes she wasn't in and when I asked she said she'd been at Bob's or out with Bob. And he always pretended to be polite but I could tell he didn't likeseeing e round there much, and when he was there neither did she so he must have been telling her things about me behind my back. And they'd giggle together and insult each other and laugh and he'd do really stupid things like putting the tea­towel down her back or showering her with water, and I've never treated her like that but she never behaved to him as she ought to have done and thrown him out which just shows that women like to be treated rough. And when he was doing these things she'd ignore me. I tried to indicate our special relationship to him, and that we were just waiting for the right moment because she was shy and there was no need for it yet, and I did this by nodding and winking at meaningful moments, but he never noticed the hints which showed me how blind he is. And I really began to doubt myself that things were as they used to be with me and her beacuse she was spending so much time with Bob. He must have said some really unpleasant things about me. I don't know if he fabricated them himself or if he copied them off all the others who like to spoil things for me; for all I know they're all in touch. But I don't think that this is the case; I just believe that people are like that and like to spoil things for others. I'm not like that, which is one of the reasons they pick on me.

So one day I decided to force her to a conclusion, because I hate Bob and when things were settled I could have told her not to see him again. I won't make a lot out of this; I just felt that the time was right. Something had to be done soon and it's up to the man. It's just what we've got to do - that's how it is and when you're a man you know that. So I got a single rose - I'm graceful at love - and decided to present it to her and ask if we could go on a date. That's all, just like that: I'd just ask her straight out, I thought, just the proper way to do it. No more, no less. No hesitation. My savoir­faire would click things into place as smooth as computer chess. That's the play. I knew it all and would go straight forward, believe me I would, and if things went wrong it's not my fault, is it? I'd planned everything through: it was a white rose, to match her (although her freckles meant that she wasn't very like a white rose, but it's the poetry that matters), and it was white because I'd been speaking to Mr. Jenkinson and he'd caused me to have suspicions already. The rose was white as purity, for a test. I'd put on my best clothes and the hat she likes and when I'd finally decided on it it went to see her.

Bob was there.

I could tell this wasn't a good start towards the moment, but I continued anyway in the face of Bob's unenthusiasm. Straight out. "Amelia," I said, "might we speak alone, please. I have something very important to say to you." Amelia said nothing, but turned to Bob and I couldn't see the expression on her face. It must have meant something: Bob glanced at me briefly, said "I'll be in the kitchen," and left. When Amelia turned back to me her face was conspicuously solemn. "What is it, Horace?"

So I stuck out my rose, which was not yet in full bloom - I had planned it would bloom with our love. "This is for you, Amelia." She took it, right up to her face so that her eyes were on it instead of me - she didn't want to look at me, which I thought might be shyness, or a deep passion; I could tell she was bridling hard on something.

"It's... it's very nice, Horace." She turned away from my eyes and her mouth struggled on its own. There was something wrong; my brain could see it but my eyes couldn't. Her V­shaped eyes were wide and tight. Suddenly I became hot and couldn't think: "I thought..."

She interrupted me: "I think you'd better go now."

"Go! What about Bob?"

"What about Bob?" Her hand was over her mouth.

"I can't leave you here with him! You can't trust men like that. They only want one thing. I think he's been around young girls too long at his school, that's what it is. Young girls do things which I know mature women like you are too wise for, they've got bad eyes when they look at me, I mean at anyone." She was laughing at me! She was laughing at me! - incomprehensible. It wasn't the nice laughter of before, but comic ridicule; at me! She couldn't hide it! Why? I could see her trying to trap it behind hand and rose but her shoulders were going up and down with vibration, and then she began to shake her head - not in denial as if I'd accused her of laughter, but simply with the force of her wicked glee. "You'd really better go," she choked out, and then made such an internal effort she began to cough.

"I see." The crust of my face was aheat with my liquid soul! She hated me! Did she want blood? I still could maintain my dignity before an alien world, she'd see. "I thought I'd found something special, Amelia. I thought you weren't like all the other vicious ones. I see your mother didn't bring you up as well as some people's - " It was making matters worse. "I'll leave now. But I want you to know it's for good. You've got to understand that: once you reject Horace Mape, there's no second try, you can't play your women games on me like those school­girls which Bob's with. Oh, it's all Bob, isn't it? Just because a man's got a beard..." Speech was unappetising. I just stood there and watched her - now letting it all gush out without any effort to hide her opinion of my suit. I turned for the door. She wouldn't see me again, I'm on my way out (she's got no sense of gratitude), but as I left I heard her calling for Bob, "Bob!" with the voice of someone who's got something to tell quick.

So I stood outside by the appletree in the front garden. She didn't come and call me back in, she didn't come and apologise, it just got darker. When the streetlights came on I left, watching the orange light on my shoes as I walked.

When I went to see her the next day, she composed her features the moment I saw her, so I knew she was trying not to laugh. How had I ever thought her different from the other viscious people? Bob wasn't there, and she asked me in. She started apologising the moment we sat down. "I'm sorry, Horace, but you caught me by surprise, I had no idea..." She dragged another secret smile off her face. "But it's really very sweet."

"Do you like white roses?" I asked guardedly. This was a loaded question: I hoped she didn't see through my subterfuge. "Yes," she answered, "They're charming really, no really."

It was time for my question: "Was the rose the reason? Was it just because it was a white rose? Wouldn't you have preferred red?" And I sat back with an air of knowing confidence I knew she could only respect.

Something seemed to have amused her again. "Well I suppose red is the colour of love -" She choked on the last word and sniggered away from me.

"That's all I wanted to know, Amelia, all I wanted to know!"

And without another word I saw myself out of the house, because I knew the, you see, what she was: her incarnadine lusts had revealed her at the end. It had been a combat all the way! and I had been fooled, doped up so that you can hardly blame me for any of it. I was the one she tried to trap! I was the one who had narrowly got away, the truth revealed by my hardheaded ploy. And she would pay for the trap. But I can hardly be blamed if she was a vampire, after all. This was her slyness, her danger; this was the revelation of her lusts, her vile alien liquid skill. She was a demon, a pollution, a terror, a terror, a terror.

So I took no chances. I waited two nights until she left her home after dark then jumped her with chloroform. I stuffed the body into a hired car and drove out to the common. We waited, she kept in a stupor, since I did not want to be trapped in the car with this monster, this female, conscious. What were my defences against her rapacity? It wasn't my fault if anything happened in that car - I am not responsible for her constant sly suggestion, her hunting call. It operated even in her doze, it was a power clutched round my soul - she was asking for it, don't you see, and if it was not on her terms then this is only right and fair, the revenge of the prey on the hunter.

I was in any case quick as at midnight I had to do what had been suggested. I dragged her to the common and poured round us a great pentagram of petrol from my petrol can - I knew the satanic forces with which I contended. This woman was a vampire, my foe, and would seize any opportunity I let slip, so I was prepared, so I took the stake and hammer quickly and coldly. It was a duty, but not to be relished.

It was not what I had expected. I positioned the stake below her left breast, just pushing slightly so that I made no puncture but had forced down to a comfortable resistance. I raised the carpenter's mallet above my head. I waited a second. Then pound! I smashed down into her chest and it was as if I had cracked a walnut to reveal the sea, there was bursting from her the force of her evil liquid soul, showering up with more pressure that I had conceived, drenching my hand and face and purity, pouring, pouring, a river of red. No, believe me, I found no relish in this rush, this revelation of her true core, this finding her in an intimacy greater than you can ever know; I drowned in her privacy, and there was more and more of it, more than I could have thought possible in such a small frame, though after the initial burst it was just a drenching flood of her warmth. A powerful vampire she, to have drained all this from so many! I had not finished: one strike had not nailed her to the ground. I pounded again to feel in my arms the smack as I penetrated through her back and then it was no more of a business than knocking a nail into wood.

It was done and I paused. You must comprehend that there was no joy in me for this justice when I say that on a sudden spasm I rubbed my hands, my arms in the blood; it was a job, a necessity, a revenge on all the creeping tribe of vampires who usurp this world, who walk the corners and the walls hunting me, I have to escape, it's a human instinct. It's a tough job to hunt, and there are some who have got to do it, but if I drowned my crust in her hidden liquid it wasn't for the relish, it's not a mark of enjoyment, it's the duty of the hunter, his mark, his propriety. You have to get the rituals right with vampires or they return.

So I left my staked specimen there. I did not need to light the petrol; it was there as a potential ward, and that sufficed. Who would discover Amelia? A dog­walking oldster or partying kids? They needn't worry: the world could be sure they were safe from her now.

But I was careful as I walked back to town (I did not want to dirty the car, for whose cleaning I might have to pay) because if people saw me bloody they might not understand.

Mr. Jenkinson understood. He told me not to worry, that he should see that no­one found me for the moment, because there was much else for me to do and many such vampires for me to stake. Didn't I remember that the pottery class were likely suspects, the way that they had laughed at me and that they were friendly with her. He laughed a lot when I suggested a rest for myself from the hunt, and reminded me that it was really a war. He has very long incisor teeth, which you see when he laughs. When I questioned these, he told me they were a result of eating much steak when he was younger (which also contributed to his height and strength). He told me I should eat more steak, and even undertook to supply the meat. He told me that cooking often spoiled the flavour and the virtue in the meat. He told me I had done very well in hunting vampires, and would learn much as I slaughtered more; and then when I've killed several he'll show me his little secret. He's said that I'll find it very surprising.

Simon Pick

Interviewed by Kim Foster

For some time, I've grouped together people like Keith Roberts, Christopher Priest, yourself and one or two others, as distinctively British writers; who, among your own generation, do you admire?


Much of your recent fiction has been a comprehensive working­out of the vampire motif. Is this an attempt to carry a cliché to its ultimate conclusion?

Yes indeed. I see the vampire motif, essentially, as a comment on the role of the artist in society, a paradigm simile for a social function that feeds off the environment in which it is nurtured but returns nothing. Yet it is very necessary for the artist to exist, as a means of limiting the spread in our diseased society of crime and murder. If we artists did not have outlets for our nervous, apocalyptic talents we'd be out there on the Yorkshire moors slashing schoolgirls to bits with the best of them. Why do you think I wear my big leather coat? It keeps the carving­knives rust­free in heavy rain.

Many people have suggested that your work is primarily autobiographical in nature. Do you have any plans for a full­blown autobiography?

No, I feel that primarily anything I have to say about myself is already an integral part of my work - a man can only draw on the truths kept dark within his soul, after all - and it is to there that one must go if one seeks to quarry my character; alternatively you can buy me a drink and I'll tell you about myself in nauseating detail. But this lack of autobiography is partially as a result of a deal with my publishers, so that they can bring out a series of critical studies taking its place after my death to capitalise on any ambiguities I may have left behind me.

Your death is already arranged then?

Certainly. It's in my contract that I'm to die at 32, after I've written myself out, but just soon enough to convince people that I still had a major work inside me which - due to the tragedy that dogs the beautiful people on this earth - went unfinished on my death. They plan to clean up by getting a hack to produce a set of unrelated notes and market it as the pinnacle of my achievement which my untimely end cut short, and reap in further shekels by getting several respected modern novelists to finish it for me, as they imagine I would have wished it. In some respects my story `A Dissolution on the Shores of Entropy' is a prefiguring of this. The manner of my rock'n'roll style youth hero's death is as yet still under negotiation, but I believe (it's all in the hands of my agent) that the latest word says I will be poisoned by an elephant - whose trunk I happened to have had in my mouth at the time - breathing poison gas into me after itself finishing a chicken vindaloo which was heavily infected with salmonella. The publishers feel that the slightly unusual nature of this death will keep punters intrigued.

Do you think all fiction is about experience?

I have already answered this question to some extent by revealing the breadth of autobiography in my work, but certainly in particular my fiction has drawn on my experiences as a male prostitute in Bengal.

The shocking nature of these experiences would then go some way to explaining the heavy torment of existential angst which impregnates most of your work?

By no means! While it is true that being a male prostitute is not always fun and games, many of my happiest memories come from my time in Indri Khan's Super Sin Den and Bingo Cellar, where I was employed, and most of the men were rather charming and vulnerable once I had got their trousers off. No, the heavy torment of existential angst which impregnates most of my work comes rather from my desire to pose a lot.

Some of your early stories acknowledged the influence of other writers - Edgar Rice Burroughs, E E `Doc' Smith, Michael Moorcock. Do you feel that your more recent stories are also offering variants to, or adding upon, classic ideas of other authors?

This is an unfair comment: my work is more original than perhaps you give it credit for, although to be fair I do take inspiration from where it comes. My forthcoming novel, The Tiger, the Wizardess and the Sideboard I feel has drawn much on Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and I'm only too afraid that people will recognise that I have borrowed certain elements from Donaldson's hero - the central character of my novel being a charming pre­pubescent girl evacuated from London to a big old house during the war - by making her an anguished leper with absolutely no sense of prose style.

After that, what further works can we expect from you?

At the moment, my plans are nebulous as morning mist, but - as shapes loom darkly out on foggy mornings to startle the unwary traveller - several projects are promising to force themselves upon an eager world. Particular ones I might mention are the stories `The Impotent Vampire', `The Space­drive of the Cigar­shaped Starship', `Starship Sextroopers', `Wish­unfulfillment', `The Man who Couldn't Work Miracles', `The Glandless Hero', `The Horrible Murderer Who Never Had Much Luck With Women'. As I say, much of my work is auto­biographical.

Assuming that you manage to avoid destroying the world with your words, where do you see yourself going from here?

Bognor Regis.

Simon Pick, star­dreamer, gazer on the Cosmic Wastes, apocalyptic fictioneer, prose rebel, thankyou.

Thank you. While you're here, do you want to buy a set of encyclopaedias?


The NatSci Elves: A fairy tale for dull people

Simon Pick

Jesting John B. the fabled NatSci tossed and turned upon his bunk, the sheets sweaty with long misuse, the cheery, cheeky features his admirers knew so well now twisted into a knot of unselfconscious pain. He was running with a fever dream. The dim yellow light of his sleazy room (comics tossed trampled to the floor in casual disillusion, the mound of stink in the corner all that remained of his once noble washing) absorbed his murmured words and their vibrations hung in the air, an atmosphere instinct with his torment. "Crystallography, crystallography," his voice came, delirious. "What's the tensile strength of concrete?"

In the bleary light of dawn the day began and Jester John was on the treadmill. The cycle of essays turned, and his brain turned with it. From the towering stack of example sheets on his right they came, questions on ceramics, electromagnetism, rigid bodies (Oh! not for weeks had he felt a rigid body!) ground through his brain and were spat, dry as his mouth, through to the finished pile on the left. Another and another and another crept on this inky pile from hour to hour and all his yesterdays were scoured away in the numbing of the tide of his soul as it beat against the rocks of contemporary physics. The work overcame him as a drug; space and time meant nothing now, his concentration pointed to these chores cast itself loose from reality and let shift the world around him. Perspective, let free from the grip of reality, beat and pulsed, the concrete walls shifted and swung in nauseating freedom. Light solidified, day grew black, jewels fell from the sky but were unheeded. And so it went.

Day went, night came to promise rest. It never delivered; in a world where pizza could have no existence, John's brain was stuck in his hell.

Or was it? What had the drug of work done to his mind, weak and susceptible as he was? Somewhere in the nets of delirium something had shifted, reality had operated into itself, a world crawled into being. As Joking Johnnie travailed still in his sleep, there was a little stirring in the room. Tiny white faces peeped from cracks in the wall, little arms were extended to test the air and chance of movement. From cracks and chipped corners (Churchill, shaken by countless years of mental activity, was in poor repair) they came, stumbling over uneven concrete floors, dancing between the tidelines of dust and grime, the NatSci Elves! Their little anoraks bobbed and danced, their cycling helmets swung with gay abandon - the NatSci Elves were abroad! Fairy forms swung from the light fittings, sprang in multitudes from among the cupboarding, crawled out in clumps of twos and threes from posters of Marillion and hairy Tull. In glee they danced between the inkstains and abandoned, tear­torn example sheets; for NatSci Elves had but one function in their little lives and they lived to fulfill that function - they completed triposes. Pens were seized, question papers straightened, knowledgeable imps scanned the questions. For a moment there was silence and still; then "Away!" cried the chief elf tossed his calculator in the air and then - O! reader - what a scurrying and a busying was there. The NatSci Elves set to their work on papers all across the floor, six of them to a pen to hold it upright, dozens more sitting on the edges of the paper to hold it down, a hundred to call hints and helpful suggestions, and there was activity all that night.

Once more day breathed unwelcome in the room. Once more John the Japer stretched his arms inside his smelly shirt and rubbed the sticky from his eyes. But as he forced their lids apart to let in the light shine in, shock jerked them apart of themselves for the first time in many a morning. "Butter me!", he said, and buttered he was to find that in the night his entire stock of work had been done for him! It lay there, crisp and new on the table where the day before he'd bitten his nails to the blood in frustration at the capacitance of an uncharged sphere, or the elasticity of a constant volume of rope. Stack after stack after stack of frustration was circumvented, his future had been freed, and as he looked closer in bogglement he saw - it was all in his handwriting. Or, at least, in his scribble. Except for one tiny sentence, traced tiny in (he smeared it to see) red blood, on the one unfinished question ("What are the effects of heat tempering on the thermal shock­resistance of glass?") it spelled out "No more ink." It was right - all his pens were drained dry.

Big J B strode head high into the exams. It was done for him, this exam, his first was in the bag, his entire syllabus memorised from perfect worksheets, his record showered with supervisors' praises. He sat at his desk in quiet confidence and then PARTY, secure in the knowledge of a top grade­A degree. The papers were handed out; he lazily reached out to discover which bit of his perfect stock of his knowledge would he have to disgorge?

And then stopped in horror.

All eight questions were on the effects of heat tempering on the thermal shock­resistance of glass.

The Best Seat in the House

Simon Arrowsmith

I really enjoy my work, and there are few who can say that in this day and age. I am a freelance. Do not ask "A freelance what?" - just a freelance. I specialise in theatre work, which I find most enjoyable, not to mention the perks of getting to see lots of shows. I sometimes take along a girlfriend or a boyfriend, providing they know me well enough. But I never let anyone get too close to me. First rule of the game, don't let anyone inside you. You lose your edge, and you gain a chink in your armour. I've seen it happen so many times.

Anyway, tonight I was by myself. It was a strange job - two different contracts from different people - but there was a pleasant irony to it all that lightened my soul. I sat through the first half wishing that I had brought someone along. It was so lonely in that little box, and the show was abysmal. I understood the necessity for both jobs. I watched the writer carefully. He didn't seem the slightest bit embarrassed, unlike one famous playwright who was discovered to be the loudest of those booing a certain performance of one of his own. The cast didn't really deserve it - they were very good, and making the best they could from an appalling script and some stunningly unoriginal music. Indeed, the whole production was the best it could have been, given the material they had to work with.

I digress. I am not a critic. Edward Harris is. His is the column that new shows live and die by in this beautifully corrupt city, and many a worthy production has been forced to close early because he happened to be in a bad mood when he saw it. I was watching him too, and followed him to the bar. He stood apart somewhat, looking around, obviously waiting for someone. The writer stumbled into the bar, hauling a large briefcase with him, and crossed to Harris. I watched as the two talked, and took my pictures. Then the writer left, and a few minutes later Harris also went, staggering with the case. I closed my camera up. I don't know why Harris makes these exchanges look so amateurish. I've seen him do it so many times, and no doubt he's arranged a few while I wasn't looking. I don't know who asked me to take the photographs either. They paid well, and I don't question anybody over a simple matter like that. Their motive remains unexplained, too. If they were trying to get a hook into the writer, it won't do them much good. Pleasantly ironic, as I said before. If they were after Harris, I salute them; but the establishment doesn't like that sort of thing. Make no mistake, Harris is establishment, and you can't safely do that sort of thing to him unless you are absolutely untraceable. I survive by working for both sides.

The second half was better, but only just. I picked Harris out from the audience, and he seemed to be asleep. His review had already been written. In fact, some people found the improvement sufficient to provoke a respectable ovation, which was what I was hoping for, although I disagreed with them. The management's decision to call me in was, in my opinion, totally justified. The show was a clear loser, and they needed either publicity or an insurable way of closing.

A modern blow­pipe can be collapsed into very small segments, and it's a beautiful weapon. I was thinking such dire things at the writer by the end that I almost missed him. I live near theatre­land, it's convenient for work, you see, and walked home in the clearing rain.

The moon drowns in the city lights that clamour at my window. Life is wonderful.

The Werewolf's Transformation

Simon Pick

The Werewolf was appearing on a television chatshow. Werewolves are quite rare so it was not really surprising that he should be asked to appear. This was the first television interview he had consented to. He watched from the wings as the previous guest took applause and left; a man in headphones signalled him on and with a smile on his chubby human face he bounced down the steps to more applause. For want of anything better, the studio band played the theme tune from Animal Magic to cover his entrance.

The host was a greyhaired urbanity in a loud jumper. "Welcome, Mr. Sims," he said as he gestured for the Werewolf to sit down. "I understand you are, I believe, a werewolf."

"Yes, indeed," Sims replied, smiling. There were snorted giggles from the audience.

"Now," said the host, "doubtless some people find this hard to believe so what you've agreed to do is change for us in the studio here. And for you at home I should emphasise that this show is going out live, this is not done by camera trickery." Once more to the Werewolf: "Do you find that many people don't believe you when you tell them?"

The Werewolf was fast becoming hairy. "Well, Bob, it's not something you come across every day so I can understand people being incredulous. But I find that after I've shown them they have to believe their own eyes, you know." He waved a hand to accompany this statement: the fingers had clubbed together to form a paw. Now talons began to extend from it.

"But I should emphasize," said the host, "that we are in no danger here. You are a complete vegetarian, aren't you, Mr Sims?"

"You can really get your teeth into a raw potato, you know? But seriously, I find it galling never being taken seriously. People have to watch the transformation or they just think I'm wearing a hairy rubber mask. I'd like to just come out into the open, let people know what being a werewolf is all about." He seemed to be having some difficulty speaking now, and his voice came raw and clotted. "Also I plan to give up vegetarianism. I'm always laughed at when I mention that." His face was covered with coarse wires.

"So I understand what you're doing here today is that you have some big demonstration planned as a new career move for yourself and to encourage other people to take up werewolfing. Would you like to tell us what it is, Mr. Sims?"

Mr. Sims was completely transformed now. He had got scattered applause when his snout had popped out of his face and he sat forward in his chair to receive it. His paws gripped the armrests. He was breathing heavily.

"You're sure this programme's going out live, Bob?"

"Yes. Why do you ask?"

A Dissolution on the Shores of Entropy

Simon Pick

Artist's Forward

The `New Wave' in sf of the late 60s was a fascinating period of re­evaluation in the field - sometimes re­definition - and of experiment with the limitations and many unexplored possibilities offered both by the genre and by the nature of fiction in general. With the death of New Worlds magazine and indeed with the apparently linked decline of the experimental principle in sf much of this promise is lost and sf remains as hidebound and unimaginative as it was under the worst excesses of the Heinlein era; but by listening sufficiently to Hawkwind it is possible to recreate to some extent the enthusiasm and challenge of past glories. The story below may perhaps mark a renaissance in experimentalism and quality of writing and conception in sf. While not perhaps so naive as previous groundbreaking work has been - since it inevitably has a wider fund of literary experience to draw on - it nevertheless shows many of the same basic concerns. I wish to point out at this time that the story will remain untitled until finished, and the title you see below will have been later inserted in a space left blank for that purpose. By this means I am able to equip the story with a title which will best mirror whatever prove to be the story's most obvious meaning­ciphers.

A Dissolution on the Shores of Entropy

1) Butyl Mercaptan

strolling down entropy strand came Garvin, a faceless wanderer in eternity. space tore ragged storms about him as on little earth international tensions spread violence about the globe. youths with no future rioted through carnaby street, dressed in exotic clothing stolen from looted shops. the police were miles away, guarding the bunkers. Garvin dodges as a teenager attacks him, leaping on him with tooth and claw from off a low concrete wall. his face is drug­crazed, slavering; he wears a thick artificial fur coat, though it is midsummer and the temperature is sweltering. Garvin pulls a luger from inside his shirt, shoots him and moves on.

the colour of the sky is not stable.

2) Quod Erat Destructandem

surfing across the stars, oh oh oh. see the purple lights out beyond crab nebula! a flash of breathy nothingness and you're there -

nothing ness
0 = nothing
ness = 1, a quantity, a definition
0 + 1 = nothing + ness = nothingness = 0

we feed on the stars. we bathe in life
we're drowning by the shores of time.

3) Short Sharp Shock for Local Mum

Clarkson giggles as he shoots the heroin into his veins.

4) The Thinking Man's Boadicea

Garvin reached for the paperback. it was Nova Express by William Burroughs. seizing half the pages in each hand, he ripped it down the spine, then ripped each half again, then set to work with the scissors. when he had finished he had a scatter of confetti paper, each piece its own individual size. he threw them in the air. he spun them round and round. he put them all in a pot and drew them out again, one by one. each piece he withdrew he pasted down inside an album, next to one another so that he was forming new page patterns from the random cut ups of the old.

when all the pieces were used, he read his improvised, randomised book from start to finish.

it made a coherent narrative.

5) Unseemly Desire for Ruminants

in one of the domed cities on the highest platform of the highest tower Clarkson bends low over Garvin's dead body. he has snapped Garvin's neck. he hears a susurration of sound, it washes around and over him from all quarters. he straightens and looks down: it is the inhabitants of the city, their eyes blank and formless as they sigh in exultation at the deed. it is all they have of comfort now.

Clarkson, face mottled in sudden rage, glares upwards. his unbending arm like a lever swings viciously up to point vertically. he screams:

- No, this was not the plan. You knew, you knew all the time.

- We are not gods, mouths the voice behind his shoulder. but no words are spoken.

6) A Dissolution on the Shores of Entropy



The Misanthrope (Molière)

Jonathan Coxhead

The Misanthrope is a sophisticated drama of love and jealousy, drawing on the author's own experiences (which married the daughter of his own mistress, among other things: that sort of thing doesn't seem to happen around here).

The play was written in 1666. However, its age has been largely concealed in a new translation by Tony Harrison, a poet and the author of the controversial poem `v.' (Don't confuse this with either `V' (for Victory), V (by Thomas Pynchon) nor `V for Vendetta'.) `v.', as you may remember, aroused the anger of people like Mary Whitehouse when it was read on Channel 4 a couple of years ago, on account of the unusually high incidence of the word `fuck.' His translation of `The Misanthrope' is deliberately made to be very much of its time, mentioning brand names of mineral water and fast cars to put across the lifestyle of the chic Parisian group that make up the characters. (The posters very wittily described it as "The Misanthreaupe by Molière and Tony Harrison." Clearly, someone associated with this play is going to go on to a successful career in advertising, which they thoroughly deserve.)

The part played by Simon Pick, who is celebrated by this issue of ttba, is at first sight a minor one: however, all is not as it seems.

It is the story of a man, Alceste, who believes himself to be seeking honesty in all things. To this end, he is willing to hurt people's feelings, as long as he feels it is for the cause of the truth. Alceste is the eponymous misanthrope for this reason.

He is in love, and he loves jealously, despite having a constant lover in Celimène. He takes his crusade for truth and honesty to such lengths that his jealousy prevents him from realising that she is true to him all along. Instead he stridently wishes that there were such a thing as true love in the world of distrust in which he finds himself.

Indeed, practically the only way in which the play shows its age is by the alacrity with which the Alceste jumps to conclusions about Celimène's relationships with her male friends - it doesn't quite ring true for a modern urbane socialite in the way that it would have in an age when the sexes were more segregated, and marriage normally preceded sex.

Although the main action of the play concerns Alceste's search for truth and honesty in a world of hypocrisy, self­serving and economy with the truth (not unlike Fleet Street or the House of Commons), the play's success in convincing an audience to believe in his terminal insecurity must rest with the portrayal of those of whom he is jealous.

Alceste and Celimène have have two friends who are an obvious couple from the start (although this seems not to have been intended by the author or the translator); so they are not really in the running for this rôle.

Then there are the two Counts who form a double act - "the tall one" and "the short one," of course - as they thrust and parry with barbed verbal spears in their attempts to impress Celimène with their intelligence and wit. They are not fully convincing as potential lovers either, as they are present mostly for comic effect. In any case, they never seem to believe in their own possible success, so it is hard for the audience to do so.

This leaves Oronte, as portrayed by Simon Pick, as the main rival with Alceste for Celimène's affection. The rôle is played for laughs in the first scene in which he appears, and as Pick takes the part of a local media magnate and gesticulating versifier of bad verse, he certainly gets enough of them. His wildly flailing limbs drive home his sincerity in the enormous respect he feels for Alceste. But as his hero­worship turns to bitterness, his presence becomes more keenly felt, and his desire for Celimène becomes more obvious and eventually reaches a climax as he and Alceste vie with each other in front of her.

This shows a side of Pick for which he is not usually noted: a formidable sexual charisma, which is used in the slow building of this sexual tension. It is all the more impressive because for most of the play he is not physically present on the stage.

In the end, it is Celimène's uncompromising stand for her own vision of the truth that brings about the natural ending of the play, and it becomes less clear to whom the description `misanthrope' really applies.

All in all, a suitably melodramatic part for Pick's talents, reminiscent of John Malkovich in Dangerous Liaisons: but it would be good to see him in a more understated rôle in the future.

Metareview: Old Talent on the Prowl

Kim Foster

The subject of my review is to be the review found elsewhere in this "Simon Pick Commemorative Issue" of ttba, of the performance of Molière's The Misanthrope. This review by Jonathan Coxhead (one of the more important and interesting of the `Old Wave' of ttba contributors whose work appears - alas - far too infrequently) is worthy of review as being a major new step in the course of his development as a writer. Off the cuff, I may say that as a piece of work, I can heartily recommend it: its tone is assured and down to earth and Coxhead - who has evidently seen the play - knows what he intends to say about it and makes the trip interesting for the reader. It's not yet a masterwork, but enthusiasm is always to be commended and it is evident that Coxhead has a great love and appreciation for Pick and all his works. What gives the piece added depth is that for J C it's not blind adulation all the way. His manifest hero­worship turns to bitterness, his presence becomes more keenly felt and his desire for wet fish (manifest in the subtext) becomes more obvious and eventually reaches a climax as he spurts salty prose across the tender page. Coxhead has evidently been seduced by Pick's formidable sexual charisma and has evidently undergone a slow building of this sexual tension to the point where it can only be released on paper, or some similar horizontal surface, in a demonstrative outburst which is the only true release of the exhibitionist. Eventually it is clear that the subject of review is ultimately unimportant: in its daring exposé of hidden desires the piece stands as a masterwork of self­revelatory art, a deeply concerned individual laying bare his soul to the world while pretending to talk about something else. The review is finely crafted and deeply felt; I urge you to read it again and again, and look forward to more from this radical author.

Modern Fantasy: the Hundred Best Novels (David Pringle)

Gareth Rees

Books of this form seem to be proliferating at the moment; there seems to be something fascinating about making lists, and comparing your favourite books with the critic's choice.

David Pringle has restricted himself to fantasy written after 1945, and the list he produces is therefore very predictable: there simply hasn't been enough great fantasy writing in this period for it to be possible to make a very surprising choice. Thus we have The Lord of the Rings, Gormenghast, The Dying Earth, The Once and Future King, Stormbringer, A Wizard of Earthsea, Black Easter, The Last Unicorn, Mythago Wood, Aegypt and so on. You could have compiled this list from the CUSFS Hall of Fame or from the Nebula or the World Fantasy Awards.

What justifies this book, I wonder? In the two or three pages devoted to each choice, Pringle has no room to say anything new or enlightening. Do we really need plot summaries of Glory Road, The Shining and so on?

This book is at its best when considering the more unfamiliar works: Pincher Martin by William Golding, Gog by Andrew Sinclair, Ariosto by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin; but this is probably due to their unfamiliarity than any critical insight on the author's part.

Asimov on Science Fiction (Isaac Asimov)

Gareth Rees

This is a collection of short essays, book introductions and magazine editorials written during the period 1974-1980. The contents are typically Asimovian: chatty; wordy; pedantic; at their liveliest when talking about Asimov himself (his favourite subject) or about writers and editors he has known.

Asimov's reminiscences of Horace Gold, John Campbell, Stanley Weinbaum and others are well done, and his essays on the history of sf are readable and informative, but when it comes to criticism he has nothing to offer. He judges 1984 on its failure to predict the realities of the mid­80s and criticises The Lathe of Heaven on grounds of petty internal inconsistencies while failing to appreciate the metaphorical and psychological content of the stories (or even acknowledge that it might exist at all). Asimov is a literalist and a pedant consistently in pursuit of plot and scientific accuracy at the expense of writing.

Wizardry and Wild Romance (Michael Moorcock)

Gareth Rees

Not only a study of epic fantasy, but also (more or less directly) of Moorcock's considerable and varied prejudices within that field. He approves of the Victorian, the Gothic,, the humourous, the left­wing. He detests the Romantic, the soppy, the right­wing, Tolkien, Dunsany, Lewis. The last two are attacked with considerable venom (the chapter on The Lord of the Rings is entitled "Epic Pooh"). rarely profound, but wide­ranging, iconoclastic and entertainingly opinionated, Wizardry and Wild Romance will be of most annoyance to the die­hard Tolkien fan, and of most use as reading list rather than an in­depth study.

The Marvellous Buck Rogers Poem

Simon Pick

Express yourself in fiery space
The blasters of the stars -
Shearing away from the planet so green,
The lasers fire quick on the first target seen.

Simile into the camera lens,
And flex your biceps tight -
The painful sweet moment, the female lead's here:
Script scheduled for silent non­combat I fear.

Nelson's Column

Huw Walters

Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.

Meanwhile, in a very small room at the heart of the remote Tibetan lamasery, the Mark V computer was humming happily to itself with a firm belief in its purpose in life; it knew 8,999,999,999,997 Names of God.

On his way to the refectory, worried by the anonymous lack of noise from the printer, the lama went in and glanced at the computer screen. A bewildered monk,. sitting amid piles of surplus printouts and floppy disks, was studying the manual assiduously. "Tell me," he said, "what does `out of memory' mean?"

That was a Drabble actually (count the words) and in fact it was written specifically as a Drabble and not as a Nelson's Column. Still, it was sitting on my hard disk doing nothing in particular, and I finally decide to get some use out of it.

Followers of the new (BBC­inspired) wave of thinking which believes that "nine billion" actually means "nine thousand million" - who object to the above can go put their heads in a bucket of water. I am a traditionalist and still believe in the notion of imperial measurements. So there.

No time for a more extensive Nelson's Column this issue, but I am already considering the subject matter for the next. So until next time, goodnight out there, whatever you are.

Mindy and Mork (A lyric for TV dreamers)

Simon Pick

Laugh, laugh, laugh
And you're going to Laugh! laugh laugh -
when you see, how sweet, how sad the run through the grass has made me:

will you ever let life, time or death come to phase us
For we'll ever live again
in the golden gratuitous haze. So

Laugh (laugh) laugh (laugh) laugh
And you're going to laugh laugh laugh
when you see, how sweet, how sad
the run through the grass has
made us.

Robert Downham

"Well Mr. Smith, I'm pleased to be able to tell you that your test results are completely normal for a man of 25. Which is, considering that you are well past middle age and have spent a lifetime abusing your body through smoking, drinking, overeating and general physical neglect, quite remarkable. I'm afraid we'll have to dissect..."


Gareth Rees

With apologies to Robert Frost

My computer screen's still flickering brightly in the darkened room, and there's a page I didn't fill, and there may be two or three stories I didn't use. But I am done with editing for now.

Essence of winter sleep is on the night, the magic of make­believe: I am drowsing off. I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight I got from looking at the manuscript I fetched this morning from my pigeon­hole and read while thinking of last night's news. It blurred; I let it fall. But I was well upon my way to sleep before it fell.

And I could tell what form my dreaming was about to take: magnified words appear and disappear, and worlds of fairy­tale more real than this one, more bright and clear. My arms not only keep the ache, my fingers feel the texture of the keys, and I still hear, (as if from a distance), the tap­tap­tap of story after story typing in.

For I have had too much of editing: I am overtired of the great harvest I myself desired. There were ten thousand thousand stories to read, cherish in hand, and polish to perfection. For all that did not meet the standards (however small) went surely to the slushpile as of no worth.

One can see what will trouble this sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is. Were he not gone, Mr. Frodo could say whether it's like his long sleep, as I describe its coming on, or just some human sleep.

[Up: Title to be Announced]