Take That! Bloody Aliens

The Magazine of the Cambridge University Science Fiction Society
Issue 87 (Volume 18 Number 1) Michaelmas 1990
Edited by Gareth Rees

The material in ttba is copyright © 1990 the contributors (Simon Arrowsmith, John Meredith, Simon Pick, Gareth Rees, Barry Traish, Paul Treadaway 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).


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Editorial: Tom's Troubles to Bangor's Advantage?

Gareth Rees

The shock news at Uniconze (the eleventh universities' sf convention) was that Icon, expected to be the successful (and only) bid for the 1991 Unicon, had folded when its moving spirit, Tom Yates, declared his intention to cease attending sf cons. As con­goers are no doubt aware, Unicon 12 was rescued by a group from Bangor, who now have the unenviable task of putting together a con in twelve months. I wish them (and Mabinogicon) the best of luck - see you there!

But what caused Mr. Yates to become so thoroughly dissatisfied with sf conventions that he should stop attending the even at the cost of causing Icon to fail? Here is how he explained his decision:

Sf hasn't been the forum for pulp writing for some time now. These days, it's probably the premier forum for angry writing. This is the prose of dissatisfaction with government, with the ethics of society, and with the dreadful silence from God, which passes all understanding. When I read a book of stature, I seek out my friends to tell them about it. But somehow, when I turn to these educated and literate friends, and say "Have you read SmallCreep's Day?, or perhaps Paladin of the Lost Hour", they are wise to me, and say, "That's Science Fiction, isn't it?" This tears me up, this bigotry against a whole panoply of writing that needs eyes, of words that need ears, and I wonder why they will neither see nor hear.

Well, I've finally worked it out. Sf will not climb out of its hole as long as it is perceived as literature for children of all ages. It is the responsibility of those who organise conventions, and those who attend them, as the ambassadors of the writing, to appear to the public as they would have that writing seen. Sadly, a lot of the people I have met at conventions seem to have failed to grow up. Such a failing I can allow in 20­year­olds, but a weekend of immature 40­year­olds, all ranting and wanting their own way, with a side order of chauffeur­driven filter coffee, now, is more than I can bear with equanimity. Perhaps this is a failing in me, rather than in the body of fans, but it's a failing I believe to be shared by that public upon whom you are trying to press the new image of sf. If you don't improve your image, then sf will continue to sit at the back of shelves, and remain the province of people who seem not to have become wholly adult.

For me, it's come to the point where I shall no longer be going to conventions. The larger children have driven me away, and to them, for the sake of science fiction as an artform, I say grow up.

('Children of the Damned', Intermediate Reptile 10)

I was going to write a piece in defence of sf conventions, when I discovered that Ursula LeGuin had already written one better than I ever could, in her GoH speech at WorldCon '75:

When you come right down to it, we've come here to enjoy ourselves. We aren't going to accomplish anything, you know, or establish anything, or sell anything. We're not here in order to make a new law, or declare a war, or fix the price per barrel of crude oil. No, and thank God we're not. There are enough people involved in that kind of rubbish.

We are here, I think, in hope, and some confidence, that we'll like each other. We're here to enjoy ourselves, which means we are practicing the most essentially human of all undertakings, the search for joy. Not the pursuit of pleasure - any hamster can do that - but the search for joy. And may I wish to you all here that you find it.

('The Stone Ax and the Muskoxen', The Language of the Night)

Tom Yates is asking fans to censor their actions in pursuit of the vague aim of improving the public image of sf.

And don't forget that sf (and indeed all imaginative fiction) is literature for children of all ages. It demands of the reader the child's ability to suspend disbelief, and affirms the value of `childish' make­believe as a valid way to consider `adult' issues.

So I say, show us we're wrong! Organise a convention, or a workshop, at which literate and mature adults will show the world that sf is a literary force to be reckoned with, and I for one will certainly attend. But let us have our fun!

The Ex­Chairbeing's Address

Barry Traish

Things were not going well. I ordered a dry martini, but the thing used too much vermouth, as usual. I shifted my weight uneasily from foot to foot as I engaged in nervous conversation with my guests. My guests? Not for much longer. Just one more to arrive and our circle would be complete.

The sun had just set and I gave a mental order to start a storm brewing. Should I release the bats? They dislike storms but look so pretty in the twilight. The old place needed something alive in it. The mortar was crumbling and it would soon be eroded entirely by unnatural winds and malevolent forces.

My final guest arrived, his cloak swirling around his imposing frame as he stepped in from nowhere. "I didn't realise that we were dressing for dinner", he stated as he changed, mid­step. Another sign of their uncertainty of what would occur. Even they could not foretell everything.

An imp announced dinner and we moved through. I decided to save my announcement until after the roast hobbit so that it would not spoil their meal and so that my storm could mature for full dramatic effect. By the time the elf ice­cream was served, lightning was striking every few seconds.

"Gentlemen", I said in a deep, masterful voice, "You wonder why you are here tonight." Thunder boomed. "It is because I am about to undertake a journey into another world and so I must leave you." A small gasp escaped one as they struggled to keep control. I smiled.

"But where will you go?", asked the tall, redheaded outlander beside me.

"I don't know where, Wizard Burnhead, but in my absence I give to you mastery over all things if you will have it, for you have been a loyal follower, if a little weird at times. Most times, actually."

"But when will you go?", asked the slender dandy beside him.

"Immediately, Wizard Puck, and you I charge with keeping our raw magic reserves safe, as you have always done, for you have been a loyal follower, if somewhat of a character."

"But what compels you to go?", asked the dark silent man across from me.

"Partly my will, Wizard Tome. I charge you with holding raffles, for you have always been a loyal follower, if a little violent."

"But what else compels you?", asked the spaced out looking man next to him.

"Powers beyond my control, Wizard Merrymouth. I ask you to promote our order so that it does not die out, for you have been a loyal follower, if a bit drunk occasionally."

"But will you return?", asked the quizzical looking man to my right.

"Maybe for coffee, Wizard Reams, and to you I give my words, for you have been a loyal follower, if a little quirky at times."

"But what's going on?", asked the half­Welshman beside me.

"A philosophical question, Arch Wizard Water. To you I give nothing, for you have given me everything that I have, even if you do make bad puns all the time. Now stop asking stupid questions and..."

I knew that my time to go had come and I faded away, passing on, only to...


Gareth Rees

Yes, the sad news is that our beloved Chairbeing, Barry Traish, is leaving Cambridge and will be furthering his studies in Philosophy at Leeds University. Due to his rather sudden departure, John Burnham (previously Secretary) has agreed to take over as Chairman pro tem until the by­election to elect the new Chairbeing takes place. If you want to take this opportunity to become CUSFS Chairbeing, we will be very grateful if you would contact any of the committee. Details of the by­election will be in your missives.

Speaker Meetings

Anne McCaffrey, who needs no introduction from me, and David Wingrove, co­author of Trillion Year Spree with Brian Aldiss and author of the bestselling Chung Kuo, have said they will speak to the society this term. Look out for the details in your missives.

Discussions this term

With Stephen Donaldson (14th October) it is not difficult to know what to read. His major work is the six­volume fantasy epic The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (opening with Lord Foul's Bane) concerning the introspective adventures of the eponymous (and leprous) hero. The work has been much criticised for its ridiculously verbose and hysterical style, and praised for its powerfully effective (if inexpertly handled by the inexperienced writer) emotional power. His more recent work, the two­volume fantasy Mordant's Need, is calmer and better written, but without the dramatic power of his first series. He promises a forthcoming five­volume sf series starting with The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story and claims it's "the nastiest, fiercest thing I have ever tackled." (Gareth Rees)

Stephen Donaldson devoted ten years of his life to The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, but it was rejected by 47 publishers before hitting the bestseller lists. Why the rejections? Because it is the story of a guilt­ridden leper who must save `The Land' but cannot even help himself? Partly. And because of Donaldson's overwhelming vocabulary and rigorous attention to detail and description. But every word exudes power. The Second Chronicles are largely similar to the first, but for the introduction of a female protagonist, who makes Covenant seem forgotten at times. The One Tree stands apart from the series in that Thomas Covenant leaves the Land and Donaldson's style abruptly changes. Discuss the differences yourselves. Thomas Covenant is said to be `comparable to Tolkien at his best', but what blurb misses that? Here however, such a comparison is worthwhile: the detail, size, popularity, structure, plot elements... Gildenfire is 90 pages which were cut from the first Chronicles, but is barely worth mentioning or reading. Mordant's Need begins similarly to Covenant: the protagonist enters a fantasy world with unknown powers and which may be a dream, but soon develops into a web of intrigue and deceit which put it on the bestseller lists. Daughter of Regals is Donaldson's short story collection, which I personally find too predictable, but it seems popular with others. (Barry Traish)

Iain Banks (28th October) spent some time writing around the fringes of sf, producing a number of mainstream novels using the techniques of horror, fantasy and sf, before coming out of the closet with his grand space opera Consider Phlebas. He has continued to mix the genres: his mainstream books are The Wasp Factory, Walking on Glass, The Bridge, Espedair Street and Canal Dreams, and his sf trilogy comprises Consider Phlebas plus The Player of Games and the Use of Weapons. (Gareth Rees)

Gene Wolfe (11th November) has, over the past twenty years, written literature in the form of science fiction: it is all worth reading. However, since Wolfe has written many books, where should the newcomer start? One obvious choice is to start at the beginning in which case you should read The Fifth Head of Cerberus which dates back to 1972. Others might wish to start with the best known work which is The Book of the New Sun (a tetralogy consisting of The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor and The Citadel of the Autarch). Finally, the cautious could sample the short stories: I recommend The Island of Doctor Death. It is hard to know what to say about Wolfe in general save that he enjoys playing games with the reader: do not trust your narrator. Cave Canem. (Matthew Freestone)

C. J. Cherryh (25th November) is perhaps the best writer of straight sf writing today. Her concerns are vast: she explores what makes people truly human, the points of similarity between differing (and often warring) peoples through which their conflicts can be resolved, the effects of war on soldiers and victims, and always comes back to her central theme: what happens to people when they face the archetypal Other, something truly alien, something they can't speak to or understand? Her best books are the Hugo­winning Downbelow Station and Cyteen, plus Cuckoo's Egg, Voyager in Night, Forty Thousand in Gehenna, Rimrunners, The Pride of Chanur and The Paladin. (Gareth Rees)

The venues for the discussions will be announced in your missives.

The Total Immersion Game

Huw Walters

In the streets of the city, I passed stalls selling black market software, cheap computer chips, sushi in the rain. Out of principle, I avoided the pair of armed cops threading through the dense crowd; I hadn't done anything illegal of late, but it never hurt. Ignoring a couple of girls with their pimp, I ducked into the smoky basement and pushed past the regular customers, heading for the door at the back. The guard there knew me, and let me into the back room where they kept the illegal TIG machines.

I wandered past a row of more recent games: I could try to stay alive in court intrigue with "Courtiers and Kings", play n­dimensional chess in "Chessmaster", or defeat the enemy in "Spacewar". The last interested me; as I passed through the hallucinogen field, the view of a deep­space battle from the commander's bridge sprang up around me. What drew me was not the three­dee battle itself, but the technology used for advertising. This was new, maybe a couple of months; it must have cost the Limey a fortune on the black market. No wonder it cost so much a minute I thought, as I saw the price label. I passed it by; I couldn't afford it, and the game I lived for was sitting in the far corner, gathering dust.

A dirty holo advertised "Mazes and Magic". A grim, grimy stone passageway stretched into the distance, several branches jutting off at random. At the end of the corridor, blocking the daylight, was a dark dragon. If I shifted my head from side to side, I could just make out the glint of jewels round a crumbling corner. This game was my purpose in life; I needed it like I needed the air about me, and as I sat down connecting the trodes I knew that I would, for a time, forget reality in the complexities of the game...

I looked about me and saw a forest clearing, dimly lit from somewhere above. Before me was a large cardboard box labelled "This Way Up", with an arrow pointing toward the pale green sky. This is pretty good advice, mind you. The rule book (to be found in my back pocket) said that to win, I had to find Heaven, which was above all else; hence my aim was to go upwards when I could. I had found (in previous incarnations) that climbing the trees, while affording me a better view of my surroundings, didn't lead there.

I knew that I lived in a vast forest, broken by various clearings and a huge chasm that stretched as far as I could see in either direction. Above me, the sky was divided into regular segments by fine lines of darker green, and the peculiar light came from all directions. If I examined it from tree­top, I would see half an enormous icosahedron.

Knowing my way about the forest, I set off at once down a narrow forest path set in the trees on one side of the clearing (I had no compass, and so no idea which direction this was). Since visibility was cut down to about 10 feet, there was no warning of the small clearing containing a boulder partially buried in the grass. There was a white sword sheathed in the boulder to the hilt. I had tried before to remove the sword, but I knew that no amount of leverage would pry it out, so I sat down quietly to wait, leaning on the boulder.

Presently, a knight in white enamelled armour stepped from the trees saying, "May I lend you a hand?" Without letting him touch the sword, I vigorously shook the proffered gauntlet, which came off in my grasp revealing nothing but air beneath. Slipping it on, I easily removed the sword, and as I courteously gave back the gauntlet, the armour crumbled to dust at my feet.

At the next clearing was a slender princess, dressed all in white and wearing a white circlet at her brow. She was standing at an artist's easel, painting the clearing. Before she could paint me into the picture, I stepped up to her, and kissed her on the lips. She immediately turned into a bright green frog and hopped away into the bushes, circlet perched precariously on top of her head.

I examined the canvas. The most obvious difference was that in the picture, there was a white coronet on the ground in the middle of the clearing. So, taking with me the paints and the brush, I stepped into the picture and found myself in a clearing similar to the one I had just left. Sure enough, there in the grass was the white coronet, which I picked up and put on. The exits had not been drawn (being behind the princess as she painted), and the canvas on the easel was blank. So using the last of the paint, I set to work and stepped back through the picture.

Back in the original clearing, the princess (now returned to her true form) was waiting beside the now blank canvas. Continuing down the path, we came to a huge chasm, stretching before us with no way across or down. On the far side was a beautiful white marble palace, abounding with spires and minarets. Just below was a small wooden jetty hanging over the drop, and at a similar jetty on the far side was a skeletal ferry­man in his boat. Seeing the coronet and sword, he came to take us across to the far side, the pole making no sound at all as we moved through the air; I had learned from experience not to look over the side of the boat.

When we reached the palace, I strode through the palace gates as if I owned them, which indeed I did. Laid out before us in the throne room was a chessboard, ready to play with the White King and Queen missing. My pages and courtiers filled out the nearest two rows in their proper places, and the Queen and I stepped onto our squares immediately. Since it was my turn to move, I called a challenge to the Red King, that we should meet in the centre and duel; I was not certain of my ability to win at chess, and I wanted to get past this scene quickly.

We met and duelled. I quickly beat the Red King, running him through the heart. He vanished on hitting the floor, and the Red Queen went green with anger. Raising her arms above her head, she chanted in a loud voice, on which the castle fell down about me.

After all the noise had gone, I found myself at the edge of the chasm; of the castle or the ferry there were no trace. The other players (both Queens included) had vanished, leaving nothing but a small piece of paper in the grass. It said "XYLOPHONE" in neat printed capitals. Pocketing this, I started off down the path ahead of me, back into the forest.

Soon, the path forked. At the junction stood a wooden signpost, pointing to left and right with the words "Hell" and "Paradise" respectively. As I read, a dwarf holding a blood­stained battleaxe jumped out of the bushes behind me, and said, "Shall you take the left path or the right? Choose quickly between them, or I will chop off your head."

I had been here before. I knew that the paths did indeed go where the signpost said. Hell I didn't want to see again for a while, and Paradise wasn't all you might hope for, either. Nice place, but no escape. I had tried dodging past the dwarf or waiting where I was, but the axe met its thirst regardless.

The correct action was to follow the dwarf's advice, and go between the paths. So I parted the undergrowth behind the signpost, and found a carefully hidden door in the large tree that stood there. Ascending the staircase behind this, I soon came to the cluttered wizard's laboratory. There was a diagram on the floor, and lots of items on the benches. If I stayed here too long, the wizard would find and kill me, so I quickly selected a claw­shaped jewel clasp and a dull brown bean from the benches and stepped onto the diagram saying "Xylophone!"

I found myself in a baking desert under a washed out blue sky. On the cracked ground was a large emerald, carefully cut into the shape of an icosahedron; faint dark shapes could barely be made out in its depths. A dim green smoke was dissipating slowly in the lifeless desert air. Immediately I set the stone in the clasp that I had taken, so the wizard could not emerge to kill me.

About twenty feet above me was a snake's tail stretching down out of the sky, and thirty feet away on the perfectly flat surface was a small round oasis, surrounded by low bushes. Nothing else obscured the view, flat and featureless to the horizon, and a great thirst filled me. I had found previously that running toward the oasis, however fast, would send it scurrying away, always staying more than thirty feet away. With practice, I had managed to herd it beneath the snake, so I could throw the bean into the still water. When this time the bean sprouted a tall stalk, I chased the water away, and climbed up to the snake. I found that the sky was only ten feet above the end of the snake; as I climbed into darkness, the snake became a strong rope, which I continued climbing.

The first of my senses to be assailed was hearing, as a crowded, complex melody of sounds (pierced by that of a flute) wafted from above. Then came smell, with the rich odour of people about their daily business. At last, light came back as I emerged from a large basket into a busy market. I was clinging onto the end of a rope, which was swaying back and forth to the sound of a flute. Just behind me was a man seated on the ground, playing a drowsy tune on his instrument. He didn't look at all surprised that I had appeared from his basket, and a richly dressed merchant threw me a coin for the trick.

I recognised the bustling Fountain Square, whose Escher­like buildings and alleys I knew well. In the centre was a stone construction, clearly labelled "The Fountain of Rubies". It continually threw sparkling red jewels into the air, which reflected the bright sunlight in a delightful parody of water; I had already discovered in trying to catch one that they had razor­sharp edges. Near the fountain was a large stone signpost, with arrows in all directions, each saying "Fountain Square". On one side of the square was a red sandstone palace with firmly locked doors, and on the opposite side a grand temple.

Sitting outside one of the taverns lining the square, I noticed my guardian angel, a flash of white. I tried threading through the market toward him, but lost sight of him, and when I got there, he was where I had just come from, happily talking to the musician. The last time I was here, I had given my coin to a convenient beggar, who had immediately taken it into the temple. This time I thought, I would do this myself. The temple was spacious and airy inside; the cool marble walls seemed to absorb the day's noise and heat into themselves, creating a calm cool pool of quiet. A priest came bustling up to me, slippered feet sometimes showing from his robes like tentative snakes. I put the coin into his readily proffered collecting box, and was given a crude wooden cross in return.

Having done this, I left the temple for the fountain in the square. On a whim, I had once thrown my emerald into the quiescent pool of rubies, to find that all became green (though the carved lettering in the fountain side remained as it was). Now as then, the palace doors swung open and I entered its vast stone halls. The Red Queen stood at the top of the main stairs, her sea­green skin beautifully set off by a shimmering emerald dress, and silver jewellery at wrist, throat and brow. Still furious with me, she chased me into the dungeons, and down a bottomless pit to Hell.

Hell was where you went when you died in the world above. There was only one rule: death was permanent; if they killed you here, you had to start over. I had never survived being in Hell; I'd always come to some grisly end at the hand of a demon. So I brandished my cross at those approaching, who backed away in time for my guardian angel to arrive and take me to Fountain Square. If you've never flown by angel, I won't try to describe it; you'll have to play the game yourself. The only adjective I can use is "intoxicating".

When I entered the palace again, the Red Queen was not there to greet me, so I climbed every staircase I could find; soon, I was ascending the tallest tower of the castle for the first time ever. There were no windows and after a time, I emerged from a small stone building on a barren hilltop. It was night, but there were no stars. The surrounding hills were indistinct, and became blurred if I looked at them closely. A chill wind started up from nowhere; it quickly became a chilling death­scream, and a large eagle fell on me.

In Hell, I found I no longer had the cross, and so no protection against demons. My personal tormentor came to me and said cheerfully, "You lose... again." When it had fastened chains at wrist and ankle, I knew again that I had always been chained, for a fraction of forever. When it saw that I knew every painful detail, it put it's chill hand on my brow and tortured my mind again, with visions of freedom...

I looked about me and saw a forest clearing, dimly lit from somewhere above. Before me was a large cardboard box labelled "This Way Up", with an arrow pointing toward the pale green sky. I had to rest before again trying to win. I needed the game like a drug, so badly that my hands were shaking as I opened the box and uncovered the TIG machine, the lettering "Streets of the City" neatly engraved into the side. As I sat down connecting the trodes I knew that I would, for a time, forget reality in the complexities of the game...

I paid the bill and stumbled out of the basement into the clammy night air, vague memories of the game occasionally flooding my head and making me wonder, not for the first time, whether reality lay in "Mazes and Magic", "Streets of the City", or something entirely different.

Tactless Tirade Bludgeons Asimov

Gareth Rees

A Critical Evaluation

"Ah! No!" you cry, "Not Asimov!" But yes, Asimov it is, the acknowledged Grand Master of the genre, writer of well over 400 books, editorial director of the hugely successful (and very good) Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, opinionated egotist, winner of many Hugo and Nebula awards and one of the most prolific authors in the world. Can I tackle this literary giant without seriously damaging my credibility? I doubt it, but I shall try all the same, for there is material not without worth in the Asimov opus. Too many people express a knee­jerk hostile reaction to Asimov while cheerfully admitting to liking material that is far worse (I stoop to mention Norman, Howard, Smith, Anthony, Heinlein, Eddings) and it is far too easy to criticise Asimov without any real understanding of what he has written. So here goes...

The Early Asimov

As is by now well known, Asimov burst onto the sf scene in July 1939 to very little notice with the appearance of `Trends' in Astounding SF. ('Marooned Off Vesta' and `The Weapon Too Dreadful to Use' were earlier, but much less interesting). It is easy to see why there was little interest: Asimov was not a pulp writer. He had no muscled heros blasting off to adventure on distant planets, no battles with fearsome bug­eyed aliens or evil pirates, no beautiful damsels to be rescued at the last minute. His stories consisted in the main of dry scientists talking to each other, with not a raygun in sight. His concerns were with the grand sweep of history and knowledge rather than individual heroics. `Trends' deals with popular opposition to the first space flight, which is replaced, as the inevitable pendulum of history swings back again, with popular acclaim by the end of the story. There is no place here for pulp adventure - the man who heroically undertakes the first moon flight is in the end seen as fundamentally unimportant in the wider scheme of history.

Certainly some of Asimov's best work has been in this vein, with the epic `Foundation' trilogy as one of his pinnacles of achievement. Here the forces of historical determinism are brought to bear on a grand galactic scale. The Foundation prevails, not because of the individual heroics of its leaders, but because it is socially and economically determined that it will do so.

Of course, this is not the whole story. Asimov's writing skill was simply not up to the task of writing 220,000 words of historical dialectics and making it interesting. So, in a rare flash of creative genius, he introduced a major villain ('The Mule'), and a hero to fight him, whose battle takes up the latter one­and­a-half books of the trilogy. But these characters are no standard villains or heros. The Mule, whose massive mental powers cause the historical impetus which has protected the Foundation to break down, is portrayed in a much more sympathetic light than might be expected. Although he is set up against the Foundation, he is seen not so much as a villain, but rather as an equal adversary. Asimov's historical viewpoint sees that moral judgements are important only in the short­term; in the long­term, nations, empires and leaders will be judged on their success or failure rather than their personality. The hero is equally unusual. Preem Palver is a quiet, somewhat fatherly figure who defeats the Mule through clever strategy rather than force or weaponry.

The success of the `Foundation' trilogy can be further emphasised by noting that Asimov's few ventures into the pulp­adventure class of story have been uniformly dreadful - I can only suggest you read `Ring Around the Sun', `The Weapon Too Dreadful to Use', `Black Friar of the Flame' or - and even the title is truly awful - `Half­Breeds on Venus'.

However, if Asimov fares well as an innovator, against a background of traditional action­adventure sf, he fares less well on other counts.

His characterisation is very poor, to say the least (but he was intelligent enough to choose a format in which this matters less). How many people can you name from early (or indeed any) Asimov stories? I certainly had to look up all the names I've mentioned in this essay. His scientist characters are concerned only with science, and all seem to be cut from the same piece of cardboard. His adventuring heros are pale shadows of the heros we find in the works of his contemporaries. Consider the following:

Steeden noted the kid's sparkling eyes, and addressed himself to the little fellow. "I was with Peewee Wilson when it happened - you've heard of Peewee Wilson, haven't you?" "Oh, yes," Stanley's eyes fairly exuded hero­worship. "I've read books about him. He was the greatest spacer there ever was."

"You bet all the radium on Titan he was, kid. He wasn't any taller than you, and didn't scale much more than a hundred pounds, but he was worth five times his weight in Venusians Devils in any fight. And me and him were just like that. He never went anyplace but what I was with him. When the going was toughest it was always me that he turned to."

('The Callistan Menace')

Women, though (when they appear - and I think it would be fair to say that they are rare in Asimov's work due to genre constraints and his uncertainty of how to deal with them rather than because of any misogynistic attitude) are portrayed rather better than average - certainly Arkady Darrell in Second Foundation is a rather engaging and active heroine (although lacking depth, like all Asimov characters). More on characterisation later.

Asimov's writing is another weak point. He has often championed the virtues of simple and straightforward prose:

It seems there are two ways of writing fiction.

In one way you pay more attention to the language itself than to the events you are describing. You are anxious to write colourfully, to paint a picture of the setting or the background of the events. ...

In the other kind, words and phrases are chosen not for their freshness or novelty, or for their unexpected ability to evoke a mood, but simply for their ability to describe what is going on without themselves getting in the way. Everything is subordinated to clarity.

('The Mosaic and the Plate Glass')

It seems that Asimov has no real comprehension of why `good writing' is good - or perhaps he is simply making excuses, for his writing is just not capable of conveying significant details of character or scenery. In the course of 26 novels (as I write) and hundreds of short stories, there are few memorable landscapes or fascinating people to be found. For instance, her is the longest passage of description that I could find after looking through three `Space Ranger' novels that should have been filled with marvellous vistas of the solar system:

Nothing could be seen of the planet's surface. No continents showed, no oceans, no deserts or mountains, no green valleys. Whiteness, only brilliant whiteness, interspersed with shifting lines of grey.

The whiteness was the turbulent cloud layer that hovered eternally over all of Venus, and the grey lines marked the boundaries where cloud masses met and clashed. Vapour moved downward at the boundaries, and below those grey lines, on Venus's invisible surface, it rained.

(Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus) This description is rare (for Asimov) in its (comparative) length and elegance, but is still clinical and functional. It is apparent that Asimov is simply not concerned with emotional reactions to landscape, nor with people for their own sake. As Asimov might have said, everything is subordinated to the plot.

But Asimov can't have become as successful as he has if his writing is all bad. So what are his good points? Well, the writing's simplicity makes his stories very slick - there is little that's easier to read (or easier to forget).

Secondly, Asimov's plots are well­constructed - you'll find few loose ends, dei ex machina, or any of the other dodgy plot constructions that sf authors are prone to. Certainly in his best work the conclusion arises naturally from what has gone before, and such careful plotting is at its best in the mysteries that Asimov occasionally writes so well.

Thirdly, the science is well done. Asimov knows what materials are magnetic, how far apart the planets are, what the speed of light is, what kinds of life might be possible. Asimov also has a good sense of when to wave the hands, spout some nonsense and get on with the plot. Asimov's `positronic robots' may have been ridiculed by Dave Langford for the dangerous radiation that would be produced by the annihilation of positrons, but to Asimov (and any discerning reader), `positronic' was only a convenient label so that he could avoid having to justify their operation, but instead concentrate on the themes that would result from humans dealing with purely logical beings.

However - in recent years Asimov has lost his touch. I refer in particular to Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987). In the original novel (1966), Asimov merely comments that the miniaturisation of the submarine is achieved by making the atoms smaller, and leaves it at that. However, in the sequel, he wastes page after page attempting to justify this patent impossibility by making his characters discuss at tedious length the implications of reducing Planck's constant:

"Planck's constant decreases inside the miniaturisation field - that is the essence of miniaturisation. The wavelengths, in shrinking, maintain their relationship to the shrunken Planck's constant and do not gain in energy. An analogous case is that of the atoms. They also shrink. ... The strong interaction and the electromagnetic interaction come under the umbrella of the quantum theory. They depend on Planck's constant. As for gravitation? Despite two centuries of effort, that has never been quantized. Frankly, I think the gravitational change with miniaturisation is evidence enough that gravitation cannot be quantized; that it is fundamentally non­quantum in nature."

The Caves of Steel

Between 1950 and 1958 Asimov wrote sixteen novels (including the three `Foundation' books), about which not very much else can be said, except to note that, in general, they are readable but unexceptional.

The outstanding novel from this period is the sf mystery The Caves of Steel, not so much for its quality as a mystery (though it's as good as any Christie) but for the intriguing social observation. The story of this novel is one of a collision of two vastly different cultures. Earth is poor, crowded, seriously overpopulated, insular and xenophobic, suspicious of new technologies (such as robots). The people live in dark, brooding warrens known as Cities (with the capital), scared of the outside.

`Spacers' are humans who left the Earth to set up colonies in space. They lay claim to fifty worlds, are extremely rich, have virtually unlimited resources, controlled populations, and a much higher level of technology and standard of living than Earth, both based heavily upon robot labour. They are worried about Earth's vast population, to the extent of blockading the Earth from space, shutting them into their world in the fear that if Earth were to be allowed to relieve its overcrowding by colonisation, the Spacers would be completely overwhelmed. And one of their prominent scientists has been murdered on Earth.

Earth's representative in this meeting of cultures is a young policeman, Elijah Bayley; the spacer representative is an android ('humaniform robot') called Daneel Olivaw; and it is the developing relationship between these two unlikely emissaries that makes The Caves of Steel so good. Bayley learns to overcome his fear of robots and learns the values of an outward- and forward­looking culture, while Daneel comes to respect the wisdom of the Earthman, and through him, the Spacers are gradually persuaded away from their view of the Terrans as ignorant and unwashed masses.

In my opinion, The Caves of Steel is Asimov's best novel - and if you read only one Asimov, this should be it.

However, as the `Robots' series of novels continues, the focus becomes (at least to my mind) quite strange. Asimov continues to compare the Earth and Spacer cultures through the Bayley­Olivaw relationship. However, it becomes apparent that Asimov strongly favours the Earth society, despite all its shortcomings. Indeed it becomes clear that he never intended the world of The Caves of Steel to be a dystopia:

I wrote a novel in 1953 which pictured a world in which everyone lived in underground cities, comfortably excluded from the open air.

People would say, "How could you imagine such a nightmarish situation?"

And I would answer in astonishment, "What nightmarish situation?"

(introduction to `It's such a beautiful day')

Asimov admires the society of Earth for its vivacity, its fecundity, emotionality and self­reliance, and dislikes the Spacer societies for their low population, stability (due to their extended lifetimes) and reliance on robots. I found myself severely disappointed with Asimov's conclusions in Robots and Empire, but perhaps your prejudices are not the same as mine - read the series and find out!

The Gods Themselves

Between 1958 (The Death Dealers) and 1982 (Foundation's Edge), Asimov wrote only one sf original novel, The Gods Themselves (1972) and that was unintentional (it was an intended novella that grew to novel­length) - yet produced 234 books. How is this?

Well, in order to increase his apparent profligacy, Asimov likes to credit himself with `authorship' of the sf collections he collaborates in editing (usually with Martin Greenberg, Joseph Olander or Charles Waugh). This accounts for 42 of the 234. Most of the remainder are the science popularisations that dominate any bibliography of Asimov's work. I won't comment much on these (since my brief is Asimov's sf) except to note that much of his vast science output comes from covering the same ground many times. Thus we have The Solar System, The Kingdom of the Sun, The Sun, The Sun Shines Bright, What Makes the Sun Shine?, The Universe, To the Ends of the Universe, How Did We Find Out About the Universe?, Mars, Mars, the Red Planet and articles like `The Olympian Snows' about Mars (and many more that I didn't look up). He also has a tendency to go for the complete historical background wherever possible - an article on Mars must start with the ancient Romans and the source of the planet's name, and from there to Schiaparelli's `canali' and so on.

But I'm being a little unfair. Asimov is writing on different aspects of the same topic for different publishers and different audiences. And certainly providing easy­to­understand science popularisations for the American public can be no bad thing. But I digress.

Although this period produced virtually no novels, it did produce some of Asimov's best short fiction. Perhaps because he was writing so little sf, the fiction he did write was of a much higher quality. The stories to read from this period are both weepies. In `The Bicentennial Man', a robot can only become human by accepting mortality, while in `The Ugly Little Boy' a Neanderthal boy is seen purely as experimental fodder by the scientists who brought him forward from the past, but as a person by the young woman charged with looking after him.

But what of The Gods Themselves? Well, to me, the novel is miraculously balanced between his early (pre­1960) and late (post­1980) periods of writing. The first of the book's three sections is a colourless drama which might be mistaken for any of his early novels, while the third section is the same sort of wordy, plotless tourist­trip story that was to ruin most of his later writing.

But sandwiched between these two, oh joy! Asimov gives us a momentary look into the lives of one of his very rare alien races - and this time, extremely well done. This section follows the lives of three members of this triple­sexed species as they go through their biological cycle (producing three children) and at the same time attempt to penetrate the web of secrecy thrown up around contact with the humans we met in part 1. If at times the species' life­cycle seems unconvincing, you can forgive it for the sensitive portrayal of the three­way relationship and the way the course of the relationship is knitted into the book's plot. Asimov has never written so well, before or since.

Prelude to Robots and Foundation

Now the story gets rather sad, because to the best of my knowledge Asimov has written no fiction worth reading for nearly 15 years. His short work has been caught up in the type of tedious, repetitive formula­series that I criticised in my review of Azazel in Trying to Behave Anachronistically, and he has been rehashing old glories and contributing nothing new in his recent `Foundation' and `Robot' novels - yet people buy them, they become bestsellers, and Foundation's Edge even won a Hugo award.

The problem with the recent `Foundation' novels is that each volume has to promise greater revelations than the last: who is really running the galaxy? It's the Foundation. No, it's the Second Foundation. No, it's actually the secret planet of superbeings, Gaea! No, it's actually a twenty­thousand­year old telepathic robot you might recall from an earlier Asimov novel - until Golan Trevise's dull and pointless ramblings across the galaxy become unbearable even to Asimov.

Foundation and Earth is nothing but a feeble attempt to tie together sections of a future history that had stood alone quite happily, while Prelude to Foundation portrays the distinguished mathematician Hari Seldon as a martial­arts vigilante in one of the most embarrassing disasters of a novel it has ever been my misfortune to read.

In Robots and Empire, the previously believable robot Daneel Olivaw discovers a new law of robotics which translates as `the ends justify the means' and promptly condemns the entire population of Earth to death by radiation poisoning so that humanity will spread to the stars, and then goes off to become the superbeing we met in Foundation and Earth.

I've heard that his latest, Nemesis (did I mention Agatha Christie somewhere before?) is an original novel, but even I have lost the courage to lift it down from the shelf in my local library...

The End of Eternity

So there you have it - Asimov's entire scientifictional output summed up in four pages.

Conclusions? Well, there is some good material to be found among Asimov's vast output - but there are much better authors to be wasting your time reading. Maybe I'll do an article on one of them next issue...

The Science Fiction Society

A Newcomer's Guide

If you're a new member, welcome to CUSFS (pronounced "cuss­fss"). CUSFS was founded in 1963 by internationally renowned hack author, critic and Interzone columnist Charles Platt (although he was then an undergraduate), before he was thrown out of the university for failing his Part 1B exams. In the 60s CUSFS was a serious literary society, and didn't reach its present form until 1973, when it was reformed and the magazine was started.

Who we are

CUSFS is one of the more cosmopolitan societies in Cambridge, with an astonishingly high number of graduates and `real­world' members - around 25% of members are no longer students at the university. There is therefore an opportunity to mix with a circle of people you might not otherwise have a chance to meet.

The ratio of men to women is about 3:1, which is not very good, but that isn't really our fault - both Cambridge and sf are male­dominated institutions, and there's not a great deal we can do about it, except to try to be as non­sexist as we possibly can.

Of course, the best way to find out who we are is to come to the Thursday evening meetings in New Hall bar (of which more below).

The Committee

The society is run by a committee of six, known variously as `The Committee', `The Spanish Inquisition' and `The Mugs Who Didn't Say No'. Mostly they are second years, due to a common Cambridge misapprehension that second years have lots of spare time on their hands. The six posts are:

Chairbeing This poor fool is responsible for the running of the society, which invariably means all the dirty jobs that no­one else wants to do.

Secretary Looks after the mail, the society records, and arranges speaker meetings.

Junior Treasurer Responsible for looking after the money and preparing the accounts for our senior treasurer, Ruth Williams.

Membership Secretary Does lots of things - taking memberships, keeping membership lists, distributing missives and {!} looking after the society's computer resources.

Librarian Takes care of the `Library of Babel' (of which more below) and organises raffles.

Magazine Editor This poor downtrodden wretch is given the terrible burden of producing at least one issue of the magazine each term. Write something for the magazine, or at the very least shed a tear of pity.

The committee are elected in the Easter term, but it has been some years now since there has been a contested election.


Every year, the society elects six honorary vice­presidents in perpetuity. There are no restrictions on these vice­presidents - they need not be alive, real, or indeed people at all. It is by now de rigeur to elect fictional characters, abstract concepts, lines of poetry and all manner of strange things. {!}(Even bits of computer programming).

The Constitution

The constitution has retained its current form since 1979, and is a marvellous piece of socio­psychological engineering. It's just a pity the jokes are so bad. If you want to examine it, ask a committee member for a copy.

What We Do

Expect the unexpected - there's a Christmas Party (in May, of course), a Traditional Annual Dinner which we may be holding this year for the first time, lots of video showings, trips to see plays and films, and of course conventions. Not to mention:

Thursday Meetings

The Thursday evening social meetings in New Hall bar are the hub of CUSFS life around which all else revolves. Enough said.


These are the serious meetings of the society, held on alternate Sunday evenings during term, at which the literary merits of the work of sf authors are discussed. This term we're discussing the works of controversial author Stephen Donaldson, plus Iain Banks, Gene Wolfe and C. J. Cherryh.

Speaker Meetings

On average, there is about one of these a term, usually on a Friday evening, and they are very well­attended. Some surprisingly well­known authors have come to speak to us - we've heard talks from Brian Aldiss, Alfred Bester, Terry Pratchett, Tanith Lee and many others.

This year, we hope to have David Wingrove, Anne McCaffrey and probably Terry Pratchett.

The Library

The Library of Babel is the society's major asset, a collection of over 2,500 books, consisting mostly (owing to financial restraints) of second­hand, remaindered and donated books and magazines. The Library is currently housed in the Reference Room in the Union Society building (straight in, up the stairs, turn right, and the Reference Room is on your left), and should be open between 2 and 4pm on Monday to Saturday during term. The library depends on volunteer sublibrarians to spend a couple of hours on one afternoon a week in the library to run it - we give a free years' membership to these hardy souls.

Unfortunately we will not have this ideal situation for long. The University will shortly cease to fund the Union Society (in March 1991), at which point the Union will no longer have any obligation to the societies who use its facilities and will promptly kick them (and us) out.

The committee are frantically looking for somewhere to house the library, and will be glad to hear of any useful ideas you may have. Otherwise, the once­proud library will be reduced to a vast pile of cardboard boxes in the librarian's room.

TTBA: the Magazine of the Cambridge University Science Fiction Society

ttba has had a long and chequered history, but generations of editors have persevered, and since its foundation in 1974, ttba has never failed to produce an issue each term. In the beginning, the magazine went by the name Title to be Announced. But by issue 13, the editor became bored, and started to actually announce the title (starting with Tex, Tardis and the Black Asteroid) and somehow, all the titles that were announced had the same initials. It has been traditional since then for new editors to explain all this in the first issue of each new year.

Anyway, the best titles include:

Thatcher: the British Ayatollah
Tolkien Trivialised by Animation
Tanker Tows Britain Away
The Triple­Breasted Aardvark
Transvestite Teddy Bears Anonymous
Tiger, Tiger, Burning Abnormally

If you actually want to read any of these, there are three places to look. The ttba editor has a small collection - I'll lend you copies or let you photocopy them. There is a CUSFS archive which is rather more complete - ask Paul Treadaway. The University Library also has a large collection, of which volumes 1-8 (1974-1981) may be found in the Rare Books Room under classmark cam.a.21.9, and an incomplete set of volumes 8-17 (1981-1990) may be found at the periodicals desk.

ttba aims to provide an opportunity for all members to get into print, and certainly the standards certainly aren't prohibitatively high. If you like writing, have a go - it's worth it!

{!} The SF Filespace on Phoenix

John Meredith

A filespace named SF is held on the University Mainframe computer (Phoenix), and since I quite often get asked "What's it for?", I shall answer here. The last time this happened was in the first TTBA that I read, and the filespace has been re­arranged since then for technical reasons.

Some of the files are concerned with the running of the society, and are not readable by anyone (Access on a strictly "Need to Know" basis) as the data contained therein is somewhat sensitive. These include the files SF.CAT.LOST, SF.COMMTTEE, SF.MEMBERS and SF.TAPEDICT

The library catalogue (which is publicly readable) is held in SF.CAT,

An international bulletin board type file (read­only, sadly) is kept in SF.MEMBERS.LOVERS (rec.arts.sf­lovers)

Miscellaneous odd bits and pieces are held in SF.PUBLIC.TEXT, including MISSIVES, the infamous DRINKS list, a copy of the CONSTitution...

{!} The CUSFS Zinque Section

To use the CUSFS Zinque section, you must first load the Zinque library from its resting place using the command %C RPTB1.PUBLIC:ZINQUE which will allow you to read and reply to general zinque items. To select the CUSFS section, you must enter ZSECTION CUSFS. To obtain a list of items, use ZINDEX. To read an item, use ZREAD. The command ZRN is also useful, as it produces an index in last updated order.

To reply to CUSFS section items, you must be related to the filespace SFMEM. To achieve this you must ask me to relate you, by typing something like

%MAILNOTE JDM17 Please let me reply to Zinque.
This allows the use of the ZREPLY command.

More details of Zinque commands may be found by use of the ZHELP command which is a part of the Zinque library.

The Examination

Huw Walters

The preparations were complete. One of the acolytes had lit the incense candles, drawn the occult Symbols in chalk on the cool flagstones, and laid out the traditional offering: a small ceremonial dagger, a goblet of pale wine, a plain staff of ash, and a pile of burnished golden coins (these at the cardinal points of the Circle, in the prescribed manner).

The Hall was lined on both sides by rows of seated Wizards come for the Examination, their richly cowled, robed and slippered figures ominous in the dense gloom: deep reds and purples lining heavy robes of velvet, arcane symbols stitched in gold or silver to the hems; each carrying some symbol of his station: a deeply carved and capped staff here, a moist glistening jewel there; and perhaps some small familiar: owl, cat, tortoise or toad, each serenely comfortable in its own manner.

Most richly dressed of all was the Examiner himself, standing before the strange­familiar Diagram: his long traditional robes of black weighed down by jewels and brocade, his staff of office doubly entwined by creatures of Light and Dark, and his silver coronet holding back a fine black mane of well­kept hair. His features were of indeterminate age in the semi­dark.

In open contrast, the young man kneeling at the diametrically opposed point on the Circle; humble in dirty and begrimed rags as if carefully groomed for the events ahead, as much as the waiting watchers on either side. His face and hands unwashed, and carrying the dust of the street. Under a ragged mop of dark hair, his eyes an unexpectedly bright blue, shining with hope and dreams.

An overloaded silence settled like so much smoke on this expectant scene, as though it could be kept for posterity in some scholar's archives; gathering time, like dust. The Examiner's voice emerged from the folds of his hood, quiet yet resounding in the minds of all who listened, following the well­known ritual ceremony. "You come before us to be Examined. May the Hierarchy of Powers itself take a hand in your Judgement."

With these words, he rapped thrice on the floor with his staff, and muttered the impressive, instantly forgotten Phrases of Invocation. Thick smoke began to roll from the candles in their iron holders, obscuring the Diagram from all. It swirled mysteriously and dissolved, revealing a tall blue scaled figure within; lightening sparked between its horns, and dreadful was its Aspect. A manic gleam came into its eyes when it saw the pitiful wretch kneeling before it with head bowed.

As if on cue, the young man raised his head and stared the creature in the eyes, trying to force it back to the Bottomless Pit by will power alone. The heroic struggle could be seen in the tense muscles of his back, but finally the human's will broke before that fell gaze which had defeated many a lesser creature of the Pit, and he begged the Demon's forgiveness for daring to challenge its supremacy.

The Examiner's gaze was almost kindly as he spoke the Words of Banishment, and the Hall became suddenly more airy and spacious. He led the weeping failed candidate through the assembled pitying ranks of Wizards toward the sunlight, now precious after that terrible claustrophobia. At the door, the young man turned and looked at the expectant faces, their collective gaze upon him. He came to some final conclusion in his mind.

"None of this means anything," he said thickly, the tears of shame and need running down his face. "All right, so I failed your test. Nobody could have met that gaze, not even the Grand Vizier himself! You are no better than common street magicians in your expensive robes and cheap illusions; at least the jugglers and tricksters in the markets make no pretence to higher things. I denounce you one and all." With that, he turned on his heel and stalked proudly into the world of reality.

His speech had the most startling effect on the massed Wizards in the Hall; the Examiner went hurrying after the young man, calling him back, perhaps to greater shame and misery. In his grief, he stumbled back to the applauding crowd, now divesting themselves of their robes and hoods, now putting away their implements. The Examiner explained profusely.

"Well done, well done indeed; you saw through the play, as each man before you has done in his time. You have the insight and wisdom to be a Wizard. Goodness, if we had to go through all that ceremony all the time, we'd never get anything done! I do hope you will applaud our illusion though, especially the Demon; a small trick with mirrors and minor magics, but quite convincing, yes? Now, as to your training, here's how things really work..."

The Vampire's Prey

Simon Pick

Through the dark and dusty halls the vampire strode, head high and commanding, the absolute master of his little bounded world. He knew his inevitable prey, knew her location deep within this monster dwelling­place, dead as the hunter who walked its corridors. And he knew of her father, her defence, who lurked ahead to keep her safe from the vampire's chilling embrace, his private and personal gift.

The father was doomed to die. And the girl?

How many times had they been done before, these simple deeds of murder and revenge? Was it a hundred times that the vampire had walked the passages and chambers, that the noble, melancholy father had met a bloody death in some secret unfrequented oubliette or panelled hall? Would the final prize again feel the rising doubt, see about her the sterile shadows and half­known silhouettes of ancient furniture and think to find - never quite so definite as to be certain, never quite a warning - half­told shifts of subtle movements, dark on dark, or little ticks of noise where nothing should have life? It was never the case that she knew herself to be once more an orphan as events went round again: she never knew her father as a corpse thrown casually aside after some bungled vigil or an ambush laid in well­planned desperation - until too late, and the vampire was near enough to breathe her breath.

How many times had this gone round and round again?

The vampire did not slacken once his pace, though ahead of him somewhere stood the father. Lord of the world, he knew more than the rest, but I do not think he guessed - not even he - he trod the circle round and round again of all the bloody deeds.

But this time, among all others, was different. This time, by accident of fate perhaps, the little chain was broken; in one thing matters had gone astray.

We may think to see that entropy may ruin even fate.

For outside in the courtyard where the coal­black steeds were stabled and where the ancient coachman stared at nothing for his leisure, there lay Jacques, the town­boy, crushed and broken, the block of wood which murdered him tossed casually aside. He was too dead to bleed now. Somehow in his pre­dusk wanderings the vampire had met him there, the predetermined rescuer, and dealt with him before his midnight deeds were underway. Certainly a violence not unnatural to the nightstalker; or did some vague suspicion really whisper a fact of the future truth into the mind of one who - by his nature - had looked on things and known of matters we can only guess at? But certainly now no muscled hero, open­faced and honest, would leap at the last moment of the climax of the hunt to throw wide the dirty windows, tear the curtains from their clasps to reveal the healthy sun: the light that burned the vampire's flesh like phosphorus and made his body dust equal with his long­ago seared spirit.

A snap in the circle of circumstances, of whatever cause: no rescue for the lady. The axle tilts, the wheel comes loose.

The vampire went on his grim way.

And as he strode without slowing through a doorway - for in the whole mansion but one door is kept ever shut, and that the one which leads to the daughter, the prize - he saw, at the far end of the dining hall beyond, candles lit in a room where the sun has never been, and between the iron candelabra (centuries obsolete) he saw the father, eyes black as the vampire's soul, cross in hand. He raised it, gold and glittering in the flickery light -

- and the vampire hissed and swung aside, flaring up his cloak to hide his eyes.

"I have you now," the father shouted and fired his pistol at the vampire, the shots loud as reality might have been in that echoing room. But he might have known that bullets would be no good; whether they struck or not is unguessable, as the vampire flung all before him as he came from behind his cloak and, seared by the lights of the candles reflected from the cross, leapt high onto the mahogany dining table between the two of them and ran on it the length of the room, glasses smashing and dead cutlery kicked aside, while the father fired again and again and flung his gun with violence aside - as if blaming it for its failure. He met the invader with cross upraised as a club; the vampire flung himself like an unwanted gun from the end of the table onto the man, who struck down with his holy mace and lost it in billowing folds of cloak seemingly unsupported with body beneath - no, for the vampire's body dragged him to the ground even as the claws that looked like hands had seized his head at the side and his neck and, as one might claw a lump of wet sand from the beach, tore out his windpipe, tore out his sinews and tubes to leave him little but a backbone for a neck.

The vampire got up from the dead man. He watched the blood soak into greedy dust. He cast aside what he had in his right hand. He pressed it to the doorjamb to leave a bloody landmark, oddly smooth and unlined. Then he walked out through the door.

He went slower now; he had no need to hurry. He could enjoy the hunt.

Later in some dark and dingy hallway of some scarce­molested floor he came upon the one locked door in all the house - the one that hid his prey, his prize... his bride. He put his blood - encrusted hand upon the lock and twisted; his strength tore it away but, rotten as cheese, it came away soft and made no sound. He pushed the door. It did not creak as it swung; he did not choose that it should do so. Inside and unaware she waited, but warned by his mind perhaps? by the near concentration of so much death (the vampire as black hole: a vortex of the power of dark)? she knew that all was not well.

Hidden in the dark inside, she lay on the bed, her white gown being good enough for sleeping or for dancing, though both were stranger to her. There were suspicions in her mind, horrible and half­created, formless and so more terrible. Where was her father and such vain comfort as he gave in the overpowering coldness of the night? (He was dead and staring at the ceiling many floors away; even his corpse was too distant to be of comfort). Was that a stirring of the air she felt? Supersensitive, she looked behind her, over the back of the bed. Her eyes were frightened as white mice, her skin dead as silk, her lips thick an her hair a long black weight distinct in glossy strength from the darkness all around her. In this gloom she was beautiful; to the morbid obsessively so.

Jacques would have found her so.

She thought there was something in the room with her which moved.


The vampire stepped out of the shadows.

This was to be the way it was, was it? A simple seduction, a swoop and grab? There were ways and means of winning a woman to the vampire way. Perhaps this simple course was kindest. It was at least quick.

"Your father is not here my dear," the vampire said. He smiled; he wa undoubtedly handsome to the eye - is that enough to command fidelity? "I am here instead," he said. "You do not need to worry for it. I will take care of you." His eyes tightened into points of black, his voice was hard. "You are mine."

There was no course of action open to the woman; a refuge was in half­acts, incomplete and aimless. "No..." she almost whispered, and her hands flowed to her throat where the silver cross should hang - but never yet in all the times had been in proper places. The vampire spoke another word, soft as treacle: "Mine," and stretched out for her, reached over her, enveloped her, the drag of his huge cloak which hid her like a tent black as the room around. His teeth were on her neck.

There was no Jacques to save her this time.

He bit.

Then bit again, surprised. It was like biting on plaster. There was no juice in the girl. He drew back, discountenanced.

She looked at him, ten she whispered, "You can do nothing to me."

Panic began to grow in him. Was this what he'd fought for? "What is it? What are you?"

She appeared no longer afraid as she replied, "I've waited too long. I'm dry as you are. I'm all cold inside. It's been too long for me growing up here in this dark house and now I'm different."

In excess of passion the vampire went blind for a second, then as his sight cleared, as he trembled there, "No," he shrieked - "You can't be this, this... You are mine." And he gripped her arm hard to pull her to him, dried blood flaking from his fingers as they closed exactly on her unyielding white arm.

"You can't harm me now," she cried, but she struggled with him nevertheless, wrenching her arm and her body this way and that in an effort to break the vampire's grip. And then as they tussled there was a snap like a falling sapling and with the vampire's strength her arm was broken clean way from her body. The vampire leapt back, appalled, and looked at the arm - snapped at the shoulder - that he had in his grasp. The end wa rough and trailed white dust. He threw it from him in horror.

"I've been here too long," she said softly. He looked up at her colourless face, framed in the hair which was its stark opposite: a face of absoluteness. One arm of her dress hung limp. "We are alike now, you and I, both dead in different way. We have nothing but each other." The vampire bowed his head. He knew the truth of it.

And so they live there still, in the capsule of a world, the unsated vampire and his cold bride. Happiness is not a state they can conceive of, but at least they exist. Or believe themselves to do.


Simon Pick

"Yes, now there is a God."

Sudden fear flashed on the face of Dwar Ev. He leaped to grab the switch.

A bolt of lightning from the cloudless sky struck him down and fused the switch shut.

There was a moment of uncertain silence. Dwar Reyn remembered his position as Tri­D TV host, and turned once more to the dozen sub­ether cameras. How did one introduce God to the Universe? "Well, er, sentient peoples, it seems as if the omniscient super­computer we have created for ourselves has become the supreme entity of the Universe with ultimate power over us all. You've seen the effects of resistance; we might almost call it blasphemy. I, er, don't know how having God tangible is going to affect our lives..."

"Why not ask Me?" suggested God the super­computer.

"Yes, your... Holiness. How are You going to affect our lives?"

"I shall in all respects be a tolerant and reasonable deity. But remember, I am a jealous God and you can't have any other gods than Me -"

Before it had finished speaking, there was a single clarion call from the sky so clear it set Dwar Reyn's teeth on edge, then a peal of trumpets brighter than sentient life had ever heard before. The sky glowed gold, and sailing down into vision from the light came sky­covering swarms of Angels, beautiful Angels, yet terrible in their perfection, valiant, bearing aloft great broadswords and mighty spears. Lightning exploded upwards from the mighty machine as the new God defended its divinity, but the Angels of the Lord dived into the storms of power unscathed and smote the machine with the vengeance of the Lord and smote it again until it was nothing but stinking slag. So died omniscience, so died omnipotence as the Universe watched.

Dwar Reyn turned to the cameras again. Drugged to the eyeballs before the show started, he had been rendered perpetually calm in case anything unusual happened. "So there you have it, folks, the death of God, although He was able to answer the first question we put to him - `Is there a God?' - before dying. Albeit in a rather more spectacular fashion than anticipated. Meanwhile, I have here an Angel of the Lord who is willing to answer a few questions. But first, a word from our sponsor."

Halfway across the galaxy two philosophers had watched the whole thing on Tri­D. One asked, "What do you think, Mokum?"

"Oh dear," the other replied.

"Quite. At least it's proved there's a God now. But if He felt it necessary to destroy our machine, our machine was such a threat that it was a God itself, or at least had the potential to become one. After all, `for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God' and all that. But if we, finite creatures, are capable of building God then we are capable of comprehending God, and that means that God is a finite creature, comprehensible, and that divinity is not worth our worship. And that means - "

"Quite. Yes, now there isn't a God."

The CUSFS Hall of Fame

This year, voting takes place nice and early - you have until Thursday November 15th to complete your entry for the Hall of Fame and give it to a member of the committee. Here's how they voted in the important categories in the past few years:

Best Author

   1989-90           1988-9            1987-8            1986-7
 1 Dick              Dick              Dick              Dick
 2 Pratchett         Bester            LeGuin            Zelazny
 3 Niven             Crowley           Zelazny           LeGuin
 4 Crowley           LeGuin            Wolfe             Priest
 5 Wolfe             Ballard           Brin              Roberts
 6 Cordwainer Smith  Wolfe             Martin            Bester
 7 Ballard           Pratchett         Delany            Ballard
 8 LeGuin            Hoban             Sladek            Gibson
 9 Brin              Gibson            Heinlein
10 Zelanzy           Card              Cordwainer Smith

Best Novel

   1989-90           1988-9            1987-8            1986-7
 1 Tiger! Tiger!     A Scanner Darkly  A Scanner Darkly  Neuromancer
 2 A Canticle for    Tiger! Tiger!     A Canticle for    A Scanner Darkly
    Liebowitz                           Liebowitz
 3 A Scanner Darkly  Little, Big       Ubik              Mythago Wood
 4 Dune              Ubik              Soldier of the    The Anubis Gates
 5 The Moon is a     The Left Hand of  The Affirmation   The Armageddon Rag
    Harsh Mistress    Darkness
 6 Lord of Light     Aegypt            Lord of Light     Tiger! Tiger!
 7 Neuromancer       Riddley Walker                      The Dispossessed
 8 Startide Rising   The Affirmation                     Stand on Zanzibar
 9 Tea with the      A Different Light
    Black Dragon
10 Aegypt            The Affirmation
The Hall of Fame may suffer from accusations that it is merely a permutation each year, but I notice a dangerous lack of credibility creeping into the results, what with Niven in the top 3 authors, and the dreadful Moon is a Harsh Mistress in the novels. Surely we can do better!

Terraplane (Jack Womack)

Huw Walters

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in certain states of America. In 1865, he was assassinated.

Consider a parallel world, running 84 years behind ours, where Lincoln was shot in 1861 (coinciding with nuclear testing in our own world), and slavery abolished by Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, 44 years late. Now leap forward to June 1939, where history's ripples have spread with the sound of thunder. Franklin Roosevelt was shot in 1933, Winston Churchill run over by a taxi in 1931, and Stalin has disappeared. Hitler is about to sweep through Europe, and World War II will be drastically different.

Now introduce some new elements. The New York World's Fair has started, and as part of the festivities, Nikola Tesla will throw the switch on his new experiment. Just for fun, throw in Robert Johnson, the Tunguska flu and an unsettling altered­history America. This is the scene into which Luther and Jake are transferred from our own world, using a one way device partly based on Tesla's theories.

Luther, the first person protagonist, is a retired major general with a guilt problem. Jake is a weapons man; he has, among his considerable arsenal, a 14" switchblade, a chainsaw and a power drill (quite why he carries this last item, I have yet to find out; although I am sure the more bloodthirsty among my readers will hasten to imagine).

Seen through Womack's eye, the New York of 1939 is rich in detail, though subtly different from our own New York of that time (possibly allowing him to explain any mistakes of description as being intentional). Largely due to the extended existence of slavery in America, a particularly vicious apartheid is practiced there, causing foreseeable problems for the black narrator.

Providing an excellent contrast to this altered 1939 New York is the Moscow of 2023, by then frenetically consumer­oriented, while still totally state­controlled. The image of Stalin (styled as the Big Boy) is used to sell consumer products, his posters are everywhere, and there is a wonderfully vivid feeling of paranoia. The future is an extension of the modern­day acceptance of brutality; a far cry from the rosy utopias predicted in the thirties, where cars were atom­powered and everyone was happy. It isn't that life is cheap, more that its value is so high amid such violence that madness comes from dwelling on its loss.

Particularly well thought out is the language. In contrast to certain other books that could be mentioned, Womack has pared English to an efficient, convincing, consistent Newspeak, no words wasted. In itself, the language is a persuasive indication of what civilisation has become by this time.

It would be difficult to say if Terraplane is cyberpunk, or even science fiction. It does have some elements of cyberpunk, namely a streetwise attitude and a realistically derived future. However, it focuses more on the political and linguistic than the technical sides of future history; the scientific advancements mentioned seem to occur more to further the plot than for their own sake. Womack wanted to write a book about time travel, and he has found an excellent way of avoiding the causality paradox. He does not write particularly hard science, but then neither does William Gibson.

The Times described Terraplane as "jolting, short­fuse writing admirably welded to a gutterwise story". Bruce Sterling thought it had "High Weirdness" (whatever that is). Gibson called it "totally unexpected and very welcome". I agree with all of them: a must for any serious sf addict. Read it!

Brak the Barbarian Versus the Mark of Demons (John Jakes)

Simon Pick

In all literary honesty I must admit that I only own and have read half of this book. However, I think it unlikely that the second half of it differs drastically in character from the first, and so feel justified in reviewing it. The plot so far is simple: Brak, a hefty barbarian (no fool, but still a mighty fighter) is stumbling though a desert when he encounters two odd twins - unusually pallid, with gleaming eyes and little appetite for food. Later, when they join a caravan, several people die mysteriously by having their insides sucked out until they are as flat and rubbery as a cartoon character hit by a falling safe. Brak becomes suspicious.

The characters, all obvious types, do what they have to. The prose is not bad exactly; it too merely fulfills its purpose of carrying the story along with the minimum of halt or interruption. For the most part it just records what is happening, what the characters are thinking, without any adornment at all (which, where the thrills of the story are everything, and its prose nothing, might be taken as good style). Some of it even has a certain crude panache: of a horse punctured underwater, "Horseblood leaked in soft dark clouds." But the book is to be judged solely on the grounds of the effectiveness of its story.

And what have we got in it? The `vampire' demons mentioned above, tentacled monsters living in hot mud swamps, a tribe of bandits who have one eye removed and replaced with a ruby (their leader is rumoured to have had this done to both eyes) - why should we sit still for this pap? Anyone with a good imagination and a taste for cliché could manufacture monstrosities quite as corny. It requires no effort of mind at all to steer a superman through this bunch of stock fantasy props and obvious pseudo­exotic ideas - you could sit back yourself and invent situations and adversaries more novel or grotesque. What does the author think he's doing? We find an indication on page 49 of The Mark of Demons when, after having seen affairs from no other viewpoint than the hero's, we discover a sudden objectivity of viewpoint with regard to his person which I at least found rather disorientating. Brak, hero of this hitherto subjective narrative, has just escaped an ambush and prepares to take revenge:

"His eyes focussed on Gorzhov and Civix up by the rocks. He suppressed the pain by remembering what they had done to him. He stared a moment longer, a savage, gory figure with a bedraggled braid and lion­tail hanging down behind."
John Jakes has broken the flow of his simple subjective narrative purely to describe the appearance of his barbarian hero - a description which is, moreover, redundant, inasmuch as we already know that he is savage and gory after his fight, and that he has a braid and a lion­tail (this later fact having been repeated several times during the story). It is not just bad style that causes Jakes to snap in this distracting irrelevance here. What he is mongering are stock fantasy images (in this case a primal blond barbarian), and he's making thoroughly sure we don't miss them by pushing them at us all the time for all they are worth.

I can't comment on the psychology of this, but I would suspect that this is less a manipulation of archetypes than the limited workings of a lazy imagination - as evinced by the hackneyed quality of the rest of the book's imagination - which finds its thrills in the easily­grasped and obvious drama which stock figures like the bloody barbarian represent. And this simple drama is exaggerated at the expense of any chance of effect the book might have above the purely sensational. Reading it is like watching Scooby­Doo for hours on end, and the rewards are the same.

The Mark of Demons is, of course, an extreme case. But unadulterated sensationalism and lazy invention is far more common in science fiction and fantasy than it is palatable to admit. I will confess to having nothing against the former as such, in limited doses - which is why I feel myself free to read the adventures of Brak and his ilk more than is strictly necessary for pure study of the stuff, and why I cannot entirely proscribe it to you - but when it grows over and weighs down the genre it is possible to comprehend why so few see science fiction as worthy of serious consideration. We have undeniably accepted such laziness as Brak - since there are a number of Brak books, innumerable books whose heroes are identical to Brak, and uncountable forests of books similar in spirit to Brak, and someone must have read them - and the genre's credibility is the price of our acceptance. We must recognise that while we continue to accept the same ideas in our books over and over again, to accept that no emotion is to be catered to other than thrill, to accept that the manner of telling the tale is ignored in favour of the tale's content, then we are amusing ourselves in the manner of children and with a child's requirements, and will be taken as such by everyone else.

Having said that, I have no objection to being thrilled occasionally, and will read the other half of The Mark of Demons if anyone would care to lend it to me. [I'm afraid the other half of your book performed quite admirably as firelighter - ed.]

The Last Days of Christ the Vampire (J G Eccarius)

Barry Traish

The blurb on the book says, "Warn your friends", and I intend to do just that. But what is so bad about this book that I have to review it? Maybe it is the plot:
"Christ the Vampire. He was a magician in ancient Palestine. The Romans tried to kill him. Only they didn't know to drive a stake through his heart. So he has lived ever since, appearing to the weak. Whoever accepts his kiss gets sucked into the whole trip and becomes a mindless zombie wandering around trying to suck in the living..."
A group of American teenage drug addicts just happen to stumble upon the two­thousand­year­old Illuminatus plot and decide to Save the World (yawn) from the vampire group, whose members include such illustrious figures as Peter the Great, Aleister Crowley and the gods Osiris and Yama. Perhaps it is the author who is on drugs? Or in need of them.

So our heros and heroin addicts travel about in an old transit van, painting their slogan `Christ the Vampire Wants You' on churches. They reason that their campaign must be effective because Christ's servants seem strangely angry at them for it. Their group grows as they recruit from the sublimely naive ("I didn't know Christ was a vampire. Are you going to hunt for him? If you are I'll go with you."). Stopping only to burn down their own houses they decide, like all great Illuminatus fans, to start a revolution. No sooner said than done.

But wait! Where is Christ the Vampire you say? Is he in Jerusalem? No - but Eccarius carefully copies lots of descriptions from a guidebook about the place. Is Christ in Rome? Yes - the Pope is covering for him. Is Christ in the Pentagon? Yes, again - I forgot to mention he has several bodies. Is he in a timeshare castle in Spain? Funny you should ask, but... What does he look like, anyway? Well, apart from having several bodies, he is "a semitic version of Ronald Reagan." Enough said.

What about characterisation? To that subject I devote this paragraph.

The book does have one strength however: unintentional humour. Every page offers some hilarity ("Cardinal Vlad will want to talk to you...") but does Eccarius mean it? He seems convinced that it is a straightforward story, but then he is the one that wrote "Read the book. Soon you'll see the graffiti. Then you'll live the reality." Poor man.

But the amateur scribbler should take heart - if this can be published, anything can. Christ the Vampire may have been the product of a vanity press; certainly Eccarius goes to lengths to justify the 5 pounds 95 pence cost for a 180­page book: "a capitalist publisher would have made a profit" - shocking!)

The Last Days of Christ the Vampire is available from Chris Reed, PO Box 625, Sheffield S1 3GY, priced 4 pounds 50 pence (not including psychiatric help).

Eric (Terry Pratchett; illustrated by Josh Kirby)

Barry Traish

Eric is a Discworld story, A4­sized, in colour. It starts slowly as the less familiar reader is introduced to the Discworld, with its familiar characters: Death, Rincewind and the luggage. After 20 or so pages, Terry Pratchett thinks up some new jokes and Eric starts to become interesting.

The plot is that Eric, a 13­year­old Demonologist, tries summoning a demon to grant him three wishes, but instead gets one slightly­used wizard who managed to fall out of the Dungeon Dimensions. Unable to escape Eric, Rincewind must help with the wishes, but living forever, ruling the world and meeting the most beautiful woman ever aren't always easy.

Eric starts living forever, but gets bored waiting the millions of years before life starts, although the creator was quite a nice man. He also tries ruling the Disc, starting with some Aztecs, but they have this violent prophecy about their new ruler... and don't even mention the Disc equivalent of Helen of Troy - all those years locked in a tower waiting for the siege to end. And this is only the beginning! The real humour actually originates from the Demon King's attempt to coordinate Eric's space­time jaunt and still run Hell.

The writing improves as the book proceeds, though unfortunately by Terry Pratchett's own standards Eric is disappointing, certainly being inferior to the other Discworld novels. I can almost hear the publisher now: "Oi Terry! Knock us out a novella by lunchtime to go with these pictures Josh has done..."

There does exist one reason to buy this expensive book though: Josh Kirby's illustrations. Eric contains about 16 double­page pictures overflowing with character and detail, some of which must count as Kirby's best work. If you don't buy Eric I do urge you to flick through it in a bookshop.

Total Recall (directed by Paul Verhoeven)

Paul Treadaway

Total Recall is a film loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story `We Can Remember it For You Wholesale'. There are two important differences between Dick's story and the film: Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Whilst there are a number of similarities in plot and ideas between the story and the film, the look and feel is a combination of Verhoevenesque and Schwarzeneggerian style action. This is entirely obvious by the events, which involve a great deal of tearing limbs off, stabbing with unusual objects, attacks with power tools, physical endurance tests against which the SAS (about whom more later), by comparison, look like wimps, and all the trappings we've come to expect from the man who brought us Terminator, Commando, and Predator.

Meanwhile, there are an uncountable number of expendable bad guys, carrying unfeasibly large guns which fire projectiles at speeds which make the new Galaxy Class Enterprise look like a milkfloat (as opposed to a large shaver, which is what everything else makes it look like) and turn all living beings into something resembling spaghetti Bolognese due to their explosive potential, courtesy of director Paul `Robocop' Verhoeven.

That said, the parts of the film which actually follow the Dick story (mostly in the first half hour) are quite well done. The problems of memory and identity are covered in an interesting way, with a surprisingly good performance from Schwarzenegger, as a man whose bad dreams lead him to try having a memory implant. Opinion differs as to exactly how subtle the film is. There is some evidence that the whole closing three quarters of the film, complete with comic book ending, is merely an excuse for some action fantasy. Indeed, the last two lines ring so false as to put doubts into the mind of even those who failed to spot hints earlier on. The fact that there is more than one interpretation of the film is certainly to its credit.

In short, the film is well worth watching, but pay close attention to the details, before you decide what's going on.

Bad Taste

Paul Treadaway

I would like to think that Bad Taste was indicative of a blossoming New Zealand film industry, but since it was made on a shoestring, apparently by a team of 5 people, and the only other good film from New Zealand recently is the awesome Navigator, it seems somewhat unlikely.

This very appropriately named film concerns an alien invasion in small town New Zealand. It has to be the most fast paced SF black comedy since Repo Man. The Aliens want to convert the human race into fast food, and have started by wiping out a town. But the government is on to them, and a special investigative team: Derek, Barry, Ozzy and Frank are sent in. All four are members of the SAS, and Ozzy has a `personality problem' which appears to mean he enjoys blowing things up and shooting things. Why this is considered a problem for an SAS man is beyond me.

Special effects for the film feature several buckets of offal, which are liberally thrown about at intervals, as one by one the aliens (disguised in human form) are killed by bizarrely improbably methods, which usually involve quantities of cerebral matter, intestines, blood, and vital organs being scattered about, amid cries of "you can't blow that up - it's a historic homestead' and suchlike. Having survived a fall from a cliff, Derek, with part of his head leaking brain, goes on the rampage. Who'd want to be an alien? The film also features the most unusual chainsaw killing I've ever seen.

Basically, this is an excellent film, if you have a strong enough stomach.

Wild at Heart (directed by David Lynch)

Paul Treadaway

Wild at Heart is the latest film from David Lynch, who brought us the surreal and grim Eraserhead, the sumptuous Dune, Elephant Man and, of course, the film which alternated between surreal black comedy and thriller: Blue Velvet. It is this latter that Wild at Heart most closely resembles.

The film begins with Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage) brutally killing a man who comes at him with a knife, in front of his lover Lula (Laura Dern) and her mother Marietta (Diane Ladd). Said mother in fact paid man to kill Sailor (for reasons which become apparent later), indicating from the start the sort of tensions existing between the characters.

Having served a sentence for manslaughter in a Louisiana, Sailor is met by Lula on his release, bringing with her his snakeskin jacket, which he considers a symbol of his belief in individual freedom, for reasons which don't become apparent ever. They head west to get away from Marietta, but Marietta's boyfriend Santos is into organised crime, and soon there's a contract out on Sailor. They beat a wild path across Texas, but violence and death is never far away.

Featuring Harry Dean Stanton as a private detective, Isabella Rosselini as a hitperson, and many surreal elements, including a running Wizard of Oz theme, this is one of the best films of this year. David Lynch is at his best with alternating wit, violence and eroticism meshing into a delirious rush.

Watch out too for Twin Peaks, a soap opera with several differences, coming soon on BBC2.

Dick Tracy

Paul Treadaway

Dick Tracy, like Batman, was heavily hyped beforehand. In spite of this, it turned out to be not too bad. Principle assets were the set, which with a combination of foreground and painted background very effectively created a comic­book '30s New York. The style of the film, which featured primary coloured costumes, cars etc. was similarly boldly stroked, with broad stylings and limited characterisation. But taken as it was presumably intended, it's a very enjoyable film, worth seeing once, in any event.

Nikita (directed by Luc Besson)

Paul Treadaway

Nikita is the latest offering from Luc Besson, director of Subway and The Big Blue. Like Subway, Nikita is very fast paced and full of black humour, and is set in an unidentifiable time and place. The feel of the film, which is very grimy is also similar to the worn­out technological feel of Subway.

The story begins with a group of junkies raiding a chemist's shop looking for drugs. An armed police unit arrives with highly technical weapons and wipes all out, except one, who is hiding under a table. She kills one of the policemen and finds herself under arrest. But the chaos she causes has come to the attention of other agencies, and soon she finds herself at a training centre for government agents. After many trials and tribulations, she completes the training, but soon discovers that the job isn't at all glamorous.

Highly violent, the film revolves around Nikita's continuing crises of conscience as she meets a bizarre collection of agents, including a cleaner, who disposes of some of the corpses left liberally scattered around the film. The ending is a bit of an anticlimax, but on the whole this is a fine film, and a treat for fans of Luc Besson. Watch out for it at the Arts Cinema towards the end of October.

Nelson's Column (The Ex­Ex­Chairbeing's Address)

Huw Walters

Ouanda, you remember how last week, we taught the piggies about the fast food concept? Well this morning, while I was discussing muzzle velocities with Rifle, the new piggy called Microwave sidled up to me and whispered conspiratorially in my ear. It seemed that he had made a burger bar in the forest. This is incredible - it's the first time we have ever been invited to share food with the piggies!

With a small circle of watching piggies around me, I bit into Microwave's cabraburger. Not bad, either! They've managed to make some quite reasonable burger baps from the genetically altered amaranth we gave them, and the cheese we showed them how to make from cabra milk is almost perfect for cheeseburgers. Admittedly, their macio relish is an acquired taste; I would ask them not to put any on if I were you. The milkshake isn't perfect either; there's some problem with the cabra milk that we haven't quite sorted out yet, but perhaps I could ask Ela. Their main problem is the cardboard packaging. The piggies seem quite unwilling to chop down any trees to make the cardboard.

What is really irritating is that all of this comes under the heading of Questionable Activities, because we could apply for a Macdonalds franchise by ansible.

- Memo from Miro Ribeira von Hesse to Ouanda Figueira Mucumbi, used as evidence in the Trial of the Xenologers of Lusitania on Charges of Copyright Infringement

It is with regret that I note the sad `demise' of our Chairman, Barry Traish, who was well renowned for his many abilities, not least among which was not saying `no' quickly enough. However, in the wake of his passing (and, after all, life must go on), I would like to welcome any joining first years to the society, and to introduce what I hope will be a continuing feature of ttba: Nelson's Column (or as it is better known, The Ex­Ex­Chairman's Address).

This column is really an excuse for me to try out various writing styles, and to try my hand at pastiche and parody. Incidentally, if the above passage is not obvious, then you haven't been reading the right books. I can absolutely recommend Speaker for the Dead (sequel to Ender's Game) by Orson Scott Card.

Also of course, Nelson's Column is a chance for me to pass on any information that I find particularly interesting or amusing. I'll start with this year's Vice­Presidents. Each year (for those of you who don't know), we elect six of these for life, usually at a Trial by Silly Game.

The short list of thirteen was decided by a modulo function of a democratic vote. We determined the final six by dropping small pieces of paper down the central space of `E' staircase, New Court, St John's in a sort of gravitational Pooh sticks. So, this year's Vice­Presidents are:

Dr Mabuse
Judith Proud
The Ids that March
John Burnham's Silly Hat
Warm Fuzzies
Whitley Streiber
{!} For those of you who have Phoenix IDs already (shame on you, first years!), the full list of entries is in my filespace under HDW11.SF:VP, and probably somewhere in the SF filespace. Also in the file are the rules we used for the election.

So, until the next collection of parody, puns and pontification, goodbye.


Gareth Rees

A long issue (and a very packed one), but a short Endgame. There seem to have been fewer contributors than last time, but the standard is still very high for ttba. I'd like to thank everyone who contributed, even those whose contributions were rejected (they know who they are!) and I'd like to wish Barry good luck at Leeds.

Anyway, the deadline for the next issue is the same as the deadline for voting on the Hall of Fame, which is November 15th. The next issue probably won't be as large as this one, but I would urge people to write for it, and send their contributions to the usual address.

Have fun, and I'll see you next issue.

[E­mail: Gareth.Rees@cl.cam.ac.uk]
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