Tergiversation Transmogrifies Blanket Assumptions

The Magazine of the Cambridge University Science Fiction Society
Issue 92 (Volume 19 Number 3) Lent 1992
Edited by Robert Wilson and Gareth Rees

The material in ttba is copyright © 1992 the contributors (Robert Downham, Matthew Freestone, Philippa Hogben, Siobhan Murphy, Simon Pick, Gareth Rees, Matthew Reid, Helen Steele, Barry Traish, Huw Walters and Robert Wilson). The material in this file may be freely copied for private enjoyment or research but may not be republished (e.g., in printed or CD­ROM versions), distributed in modified form, incorporated into other works, or quoted out of context without the express written permission of the copyright holder(s).



Editorial: Two Tired Blunderers Announce

Gareth Rees And Robert Wilson

CUSFS has 156 members at present, of whom 40 or so turn up to Thursday evenings in New Hall Bar or to Sunday evening discussion meetings, leaving another 110 of you who interact with us only through missives and ttbas. Not that this is a bad thing - there's only so much time in the week, after all, but the editors do sometimes wonder what you make of this magazine that turns up in your pigeonhole once a term. We have no illusions that ttba contains material of professional quality, but we still feel that it is a worthwhile endeavour: almost unique among UK university fanzines, it supports a strong stable of student writers; and while (like any other fanzine) we are at the mercy of our contributors, we are in the unusual position of receiving sufficient submissions to be able to exercise some choice about what we print.

But perhaps you disagree. Perhaps you throw ttba in the bin without reading it; perhaps you think our contents are childish and amateurish; that the whole activity of writing for a fanzine is pointless.

Do you think that you could do better? CUSFS needs a new ttba editor, someone with dynamism, enthusiasm and a mission. Send your stories, articles, reviews, poetry, artwork, criticisms, praise and nominations to Robert Wilson or Gareth Rees.

The Chairbeing's Address

Philippa Hogben

Time for just a short Chairbeing's Address this issue. This is probably also the last one I will write because elections for the new committee will be held at the start of next term. More details of the actual voting will be provided nearer the time.

The Committee

The committee consists of the Chairbeing, Secretary, Treasurer, ttba Editor, Librarian and Membership secretary. There isn't really that much work involved and it can be a rewarding experience (CV points).


The Chairbeing's job is to oversee the day to day running of the society (or to delegate such tasks to the rest of the committee depending on the actual preferences of the particular Chairbeing). Most of the time, however, the society ambles along of its own accord so this does not involve much work. The only real jobs are persuading people to allow their rooms to be used for discussion meetings and organising the Annual Dinner and the Christmas Party (usually held in May to avoid clashing with anybody else's Christmas parties).


The Secretary's main responsibility is to arrange speaker meetings. There should be at least one of these in the year and preferably two. The secretary also has to take minutes at committee meetings of which there is one per term.


As the name implies the treasurer looks after all CUSFS's money and keeps accounts. Also takes money from people when they join.

ttba Editor

Another committee post with a self­evident workload. The ttba editor typesets and edits the society magazine - a job which usually involves chasing people for promised articles.


... is in charge of the library and of saying `ook'. The librarian has to organise sub­librarians to open the library (and this year appears to have got away without actually opening the library himself), buy new books and keep the computer catalogue up to date.

Membership Secretary

The membership secretary is probably the only person who knows who is a member of the society. The job involves keeping the membership list up to date and producing missives approximately every fortnight. I am told that the membership secretary ought to be somebody generally liked by computers as a lot of the work involves talking to them.

Anybody who is interested in standing for any of these posts should contact the appropriate committee member to find out more information. They should then give their name, along with that of a seconder, to the Chairbeing or Secretary by 24 hours before the election. Since the election date has not yet fixed, people have until the start of next term to make up their minds. The date will be announced in plenty of time for last minute candidates to enter.

Letter to the Editors

Barry Traish

The Terrible Time Bomb Affair was a fairly typical issue of ttba, especially in that it lacked excitement and was uncontroversial. Where is ttba going? Is it really edited? It is understandable that the editors cannot be too choosy in what they print, because material for a clubzine is normally limited, but why not edit what is there? A Chairbeing's Address should never be two and a half columns long (I always struggled for one column). It is not Philippa who has done too much, but the editors who have done too little. Anyway, it is far too sensible.

Before I move on to the fiction, I would like to see more creative articles, like the one on world building by Simon Arrowsmith (or is it by David `porn king' Wingrove?), but much less drab and boring. You want people to read ttba, don't you? The reviews were excellent, approaching the authors with a thesis, rather than just saying what happened in the book. Matthew Freestone's piece on Gene Wolfe actually makes me want to read the Soldier of the Mist series.

Fiction seems to dominate ttba, which is refreshing from other fanzines even if a lot of it isn't very good. The highlight of the issue was Simon Arrowsmith's report of the University being rebooted. Unfortunately it was spoiled by being next to the abysmal Nelson's Column. Sorry Huw, but why not stick to stories and articles. I liked `A Sense of Belonging' a lot, but these stories whose sole purpose is a bad pun at the end are a waste of paper. Now I must turn my attention to the not considerable talent of Simon Pick. `Cyberhack' was a brilliancy, just what cyberpunk needs: someone who just cannot take it seriously. Colin Greenland said that every cyberpunk story was a ripoff of Neuromancer. Now meet the real thing! `Starship Sextroopers' was in Mr. Pick's usual sad, warped tacky style and so was quite enjoyable, apart from his gratuitous use of the word `fuck'. I am appalled that a respectable fanzine like ttba would lower its standards. Admittedly, one use is not exactly on a par with `Platoon', but ttba has standards to uphold. I expect a full printed apology and am writing to the Junior Anti­sex League immediately.

This fall in standards is probably to be expected when one sees what CUSFS is reading these days. How can authors like Gibson and Niven appear in the Hall of Fame? It seems that the only people missing are Asimov and Clarke. What is this recent Cambridge obsession with Orson Scott Card? My personal belief is that the Cambridge reading interests have narrowed and people are voting without having read or watched anything else (or even some of the things they have voted for). Gor, Hubbard and Heinlein usually feature in the Trash list, but how many people have actually looked at these writers instead of just broadly dismissing them? A vote for late Heinlein as Trash perhaps, but early or mid, never! Hubbard also wrote a lot of good stuff, not just the abysmal Battlefield Earth. And where was Simon Pick for best vampire?

The editors reply: we are grateful to receive criticism and comment, as too often ttba, written, typeset and photocopied with love and dedication, disappears into the black hole of its readership, never to be heard again. However, with respect, you're talking rubbish.

In God's Book

Matthew Freestone

I have finally found the passage that I sought, which will give me guidance - or freedom if not guidance - in the decision I will soon have to make. Let me explain.

It was almost forty years ago when Lucifer visited me. I had graduated from University and gone on to work in information science. I lived alone in a small, pleasant house on a housing estate near Lincoln. The evening was fine and warm, and I had been reading a novel in the lounge when I heard the knock at the door. "Mr. Hume?" inquired the man who had knocked. He was slight, with wavy fair hair. He was dressed in a fashionable suit. "Yes, who are you?" I replied. "I am Lucifer, Mr. Hume, and I have something for you." He indicated a package under his arm, then glanced upward significantly. "May I come in?" he ventured. My first thoughts were that he was either a madman or a salesman and since I had no wish to speak to either of these types I was about to tell him to go when he said, "let me in, Mr. Hume" in such a tone of voice that I could not but obey.

I went back into the lounge and he followed. He sat down in my favourite chair and put his package, which was a brown paper and string affair about the size of a large book, down on my coffee table. I sat down in the chair next to him. "Well Mr. Hume," he began, "I owe you an explanation. I was not lying when I said that I was Lucifer." He broke off, drew out a large, white handkerchief, then mopped his brow with it. "Might I have a drink, Mr. Hume?" he said. I rose and got him a glass of whisky. Then I got one for myself. I passed him his glass, he downed it immediately and then continued. "I want you to look after this for me Mr. Hume." He unwrapped the parcel, which was indeed a book. It was large, and bound in fine, red leather. The block of page edges, visible along the top of the book was a Jovian storm of swirling colour. "Those are interference patterns Mr. Hume, this book doesn't fit properly into your world. This is God's Book about humanity - everything that is known, or ever can be known about you is in here. The Book has an infinite number of pages - the swirling is where the quantum mechanical nature of your world is interfering with the transcendental continuum of the Book." Now I was lost. Lucifer's tone was impossible to disbelieve - I supposed that if he was a god then that was natural, but at the same time my brain was trying to cling to lifelong cherished beliefs; materialism and atheism. I wanted to ask questions, to raise issues, to be convinced rationally, but all I could say was, "Why? Why? Why me?" Suddenly I was close to tears. "Calm yourself, Mr. Hume," said my guest. "This is, as they say, going to hurt me a lot more than it will hurt you. I have stolen this Book from God to free you from Him. You are the ideal subject to keep it, for several reasons. After all, I could hardly give it to a Christian now could I?"

"I still don't understand," I said. "How does stealing the Book help us? Why are you stealing it?"

"You are seeing me now Mr. Hume, before the Fall. All God's knowledge of your people is in that Book - God knows about the Book of course but He has actually to question it for specific facts - it is, in a sense, a part of God's memory. By stealing it I have erased your race from the sight of God - given you your freedom. That is my eternal crime. As the Seraph responsible for your race, I have dared to think that I know what is good for you better than God does." I was now somewhat recovered, though perhaps it was only that I was totally numb, stunned by events.

"But wasn't the Fall a long time ago? Won't God know what you've done?" I said.

"The Fall is happening all the time. You mustn't think of the eternal spheres existing in time like you know it. This event, this time in your world, triggers a transcendental event in the higher spheres. I say words like transcendental and event, but it's really quite impossible for me to explain how it works - anymore than I can explain to you how I fitted that Book into this world. Your second question is much easier - yes of course He'll know. You can't steal from God and get away with it. But, and this is important, God can't know that you have the Book because that knowledge is in the Book. He'll know the Book has gone - that's omniscience for you; but He can't know where. He'll have to come here to get it back, and the descent will be difficult without the Book. It's difficult to predict just what will happen; as I've said, transcendental events and temporal events connect in a very strange way. Now let me explain a few properties of the Book, then I really ought to go." He paused again, and I noticed that he looked extremely frightened. "Go and get the bottle Mr. Hume," he said. We read, much of the night, as Lucifer tried to explain some of the Book's subtleties to me.

At last he rose, swaying slightly after having drunk so much of the whisky. I also got up, feeling very drunk. Lucifer stumbled, and I let him lean on my shoulder. "I'm sorry Mr. Hume," he said, "while I take a human form I am subject to many of its biological peculiarities." It occurred to me that I was supporting the Lord of the Flies on my shoulder, and alcohol prompted me to ask, "you don't seem evil to me, how did you get that reputation?"

"Ah, Mr. Hume, you of all people should know that such values are relative, surely - and history is written by the victors is it not? And besides, after I am cast into the abyss I shall become as you imagine me - Satan, the Fallen Angel." We had talked as we walked to the door, and now he stepped outside. "Don't let me down Mr. Hume," he said. I caught a sudden impression of argent light, of a storm of multifurled wings, of a sound like thunder and then he was gone.

I awoke to find that I'd put myself to bed, that it was half past eleven and that I had an excruciating hangover. I called in sick from my bedside phone, then I showered and went downstairs for a coffee. I took my mug into the lounge and that was when I saw that the Book was still there. My heart sank as I saw the refutation of my hope (though I had known it to be vain) that I had dreamt the previous evening. I collapsed into a chair, put the coffee down near me, then I took up the Book.

Closed, it was like an ordinary hardback, save for the irridescent page edges. I also noticed the profusion of tape markers sticking up from the tops of the pages. I vaguely recalled Lucifer working at great speed to put these translucent tabs in.

I opened the book at random, the pages seemed to flutter like wings before settling. The page was, of course, incomprehensible. It consisted of a page of text in a script which looked somewhat like Arabic. I closed the Book and drank from my coffee. As I drank, I began to remember some of the things Lucifer had said.

The Book had what Lucifer called an uncountable infinity of pages; he'd tried to explain how there could be different sizes of infinity, but I hadn't really been able to grasp the idea. The pages I could read were also infinite in number, according to him, but they formed a set "of measure zero". I supposed I would have to read some mathematics. In order that I'd be able to find pages that I could read, he'd marked "a good many of them" with the tapes that now stuck out of the top of the Book. "That's not everything," he'd said, "but you'll never read all of even these. You can start at any page I've marked and turn pages for ever without ever reaching the next tape. If you take a tape out and close the Book then it's gone for ever. Use that gift with care."

I opened the Book at the first tape. Before me lay the title page of Borges' Labyrinths. Lucifer evidently had a sense of humour. I reread `The Library in Babel' and received the shocking insight that even that world­filling archive would take up almost no space in the Book. I began to grasp, intuitively, the size of the object before me, and the meanness of the territory open to me. I put the Book down and drank from my coffee again. It had gone cold.

I took a holiday from work in order that I could read the Book more thoroughly. It only took a few days before I could think of it as an ordinary object (at least most of the time) and I soon began to find many interesting things in its maze of pages.

One of the first things I noticed was that Lucifer seemed to have selected the marked pages with me in mind. Wherever I opened the Book I found something of interest. I took to attaching numbered sellotape labels to the ends of Lucifer's labels and in that way I began to build up an index. Lucifers labels themselves resembled translucent sellotape, though they were much stronger, and also much tougher than normal tape. I found I could remove them from the Book only with some effort, but that I could stick them down again easily.

The pages themselves were thoroughly resistant to damage. Over the years I've had the Book now, I've found I cannot tear or cut them, mark them or soil them, either with liquid or with heat. I can mark new pages with a simple bookmark, but there is little point since I've never found an unmarked page I can understand.

During my second week of study I came upon a chronicle of newspapers. The marked page picked out the cover page of the Times for January 1st of that year. Tuning back took me further into the past, forward took me nearer to the present. I began to turn the pages eagerly. I had found early on that pushing across the block of pages from right to left brought up the next page of the Book. At least, the page was next in the sense that prose read naturally from one side to the other; I was never sure that there were not more pages furled within the thickness of the one I had lifted. Any attempt to skip forward through the Book led into unknown territory.

Thus I wearily turned through several thousands of pages before I reached the Times of that day. It was of course correct in every detail. By now I was excited and not a little fearful: could tomorrow's newspapers really be in? I had to look, and the pages were indeed there. I read through that day's papers, then put a bookmark into that page and pressed on. After a while, the stories looked as meaningless as those in the newspapers of a year ago. Two things occurred to me about the chronicle: firstly that it could make me rich, and secondly that it was dangerous. The riches were easy, I simply filled in my Pools coupon using the results of matches yet to be played. Waiting to win, knowing that I had already won, was very strange - like waiting for exam results when you know you've done well, but want to be sure - yet I did win, and thus I became a millionaire. I invested the money prudently, and I've lived comfortably ever since.

The danger was the knowledge of the future. Since the Book transcended our world, it made sense that it should hold this information. What was paradoxical was that I should know it. Knowing a prediction in the Book I could set out to change it. In practice this would be difficult - the chronicle contained only National, British newspapers (again leading me to wonder if there were pages within the pages) - but if I did so, what would change? Would the Book alter to reflect the new world, or would I find myself in a world where the Book was wrong? Perhaps all these possibilities were already inscribed, somewhere in the Book. Whatever the case, I didn't want the responsibility. Though I held back several times, eventually I removed the marker for the chronicle.

As that strange first year wore on, the Book took over more and more of my life. After my pools win, I left my job in order to study the Book in earnest. I became obsessive about cataloguing what I found. I made indices which grew almost to rival the Book itself in length and complexity. As time passed, I saw less and less of my friends and family.

But as these outer parts of my life grew smaller, so the inside of the Book seemed to grow ever larger. I found, in several places, histories of events in our past. These would recount the event from the view of an important figure, then from another, then another until the history reached those whose lives were hardly touched at all. I found maps, in seemingly infinite descending sequence - once I even found one which converged on my town, my street, my house - in ever more obsessive detail.

There were galleries of portraits, each picture had a photographic realism; I had the feeling that the most powerful microscope could never exhaust the resolution of these images. There were libraries in every subject, exhaustively indexed within the Book. I read all I could hold of lost works of great literature, and later, of mathematics, as I sought to understand the concepts needed to describe the Book.

There were also dark things in the Book. There was a catalogue of crimes and their perpetrators. Each crime - many were quite vile - was analysed closely. The list seemed to have no end. There was pornography in the Book. Every possible act was described, and graphically pictured. I treasured this for some time, even after (perhaps especially after) I began to recognise some of the women pictured. Later, I removed the marker, with a mixture of sorrow and relief. The potential for blackmail only struck me several years after that. Christmas brought me to my senses. I noticed, at last, that my friends had gone, that I did little but eat, sleep, and read the Book, and that though I had resources of money, my life had become a shambles. I resolved to improve myself, and I made a new start. I moved to York, a city I had always loved, and bought a large house there. I became involved in the work of several charities and societies (initially to make me stay away from the Book, later purely for the happiness it brought me) and gradually made new friends in these circles. I re­established contact with my family and life slowly became more normal again.

I have continued in basically that manner for nearly forty years. Of course, I am somewhat less active now, as the years begin to take their toll of me. For at least two decades I was perfectly happy in my life, but as the years passed, one problem worried my mind ever more seriously: what if God wanted the Book back? At first I thought there was nothing that could be done - if God wanted the Book then He would get it from me, by one means or another. But with more consideration, I came to see that, if the Book was truly what it said it was, then I was in the Book, and that, if I knew God's plan for me then I would no longer be constrained by it.

Thus I began a search for the records of my life, a search for my future history. This proved to be difficult. I had a rough idea where in the Book I might find such a record, since over the years I had come to associate certain parts of the Book with certain types of knowledge. Unfortunately, the markers accumulated about a point close to where I wished to search - these points of accumulation were a necessary consequence of the fact that Lucifer had marked infinitely many pages in the Book.

It took me over fifteen years of diligent work to find the marker that I needed. Even then, I resolved not to look more than a day ahead of myself, lest I alter the facts of my future in such a way that I would no longer be forewarned of God's time of action. Last night though, after three agonizing years of living in my own shadow, I found the page I sought. It read, "After the lights failed, Mr. Hume rose, fetched a torch from the kitchen and began to descend to the cellar to investigate the fusebox. As he went down the cellar stairs, the torch broke, plunging him into darkness. He lost his footing in the dark, and was killed by the impact of the fall onto the cellar floor." This was the last entry; it had to be God's way of getting me out of the way. Even if it wasn't, I had nothing to lose since the article foretold my death. The next night - the fatal night - came, and I found myself sat in my lounge, reading the Book and waiting for the lights to fail.

Suddenly they died, I felt the usual sense of surprise that the Book was true (the constant prediction of the future still astonished me, even after three years) and then the thought struck me that I should go and check the fusebox. I had never tried to kick against my future before, but I knew that if I got up now then I would die in the cellar. I sat still. Time passed; I was frozen in my chair by the sense of danger in any action save inaction.

I heard the key turn in the front door, I wondered briefly who was there, then there was a tremendous crash as I heard the it flung open. I turned to see brilliant light shining through the chinks around the door leading to the hall. Then that door too banged open and I saw a shining man enter the room. The light emanated from all around him, throwing the room into sharp relief, black and white. He was tall, and handsome. As he moved his head to look in my direction I got a sense of every face I had ever known being contained in that one face. He was beautiful and terrible, young and old, male and female. Even if I had been able to move (for I was quite frozen with fear), I could not have looked away from that face. Then he spoke, and the voice was much more than just waves in the air. "Mr. Hume, I have come for my Book." I picked it up from the table and began to pass it to Him - I felt that I could not do otherwise - when I remembered that I had escaped death only minutes before. I snatched the Book back towards me. I rose and shouted at Him, "You would have killed me for this Book!"

"I would have allowed your tendencies to put you in mortal danger. There is a distinction. I am no longer allowed just to kill you. It is part of the agreement." A wave of pain flashed across the holographic face. He walked across the room and sat down on the settee, His light became less bright as He spoke again. "I shall state my position to you clearly Mr. Hume. You have brought your world to a crisis by not dying just then. I cannot take the Book from you by force, because it violates the agreement I made with Humanity - you included, Mr. Hume - on a cross two thousand years ago. I cannot take it by fiat, because I limited my omniscience to give your race free will. Suggestion failed a moment ago, and it will not work now if it did not work then. I am left with only one option; I will allow you to decide what you want to do. But let me first explain the consequences. If I take the Book, things will fall back into their proper order. Your universe evolves according to a grand plan. It furthers my ends. If I take the Book, your race will prosper - I guarantee it. If I take the Book, every being in these myriad worlds will eventually come to know me and to love me. There will be life eternal for all, love eternal for all. If, on the other hand, you keep the Book, what do you gain? A troublesome burden of knowledge for you and your race - there is much in there that is deeply dangerous to you all. Even if you guard the Book well, Mr. Hume, how do you know your successor will do so? Worse than that burden though, is that I will cause myself to forget your race and that Book. You will be alone. Your universe will have only a dark, mechanical future as it slowly winds down towards maximum entropy. No­one will be remembered after that final death." His words rained down on me like hammer blows to the soul, yet I had made a decision and even He could not dissuade me. "No," I replied, I will not give you the Book."

"As you wish, Mr. Hume. I see I cannot move you." He rose and walked out, into the garden; I followed on behind. As we reached the middle of the lawn, He turned. He looked sorrowful now, and pitying. "Farewell, Mr. Hume," He said at last. We embraced then, as father and son. He departed quietly, shading gently into the textures of the garden around Him, until He had disappeared.

Momentarily, I was sad for what we had lost. But, as I walked back to the house, I felt the ineffable joy of the freed man rising within me.


Simon Pick

This is all that remains of an early Old Low Saxon poem relating the heroic adventures and death of one Cedrick, one of the heroic chieftains who formed the staple of common Germanic heroic legend. The sole text is in a fourteenth century Old Saxon manuscript identifiable on palaeographic grounds as coming from Wilmersbach; in the seventeenth century it passed into Kappersen's possession and was rebound by him in a volume also containing a partial text of the Old Low Saxon Platypus and Nightingale and three early redactions of Ermarnius Stercor's treatise on patrician computistics - the manuscript is therefore of uniform interest throughout and its neglect has obviously been keenly felt by students of comparative Germanic literature. In the seventeenth century the poem is known to have been complete - in his Notitia Kappersen refers to the ending as "hoblich ond maeneregeschaft" - but because of the accidental neglect already mentioned no transcript was ever made. The manuscript was rediscovered by Hoten in the early nineteenth century and turned over to study at the Bonn Museum of Altgermanische­Artkunsthistorischschrieben where on arrival an undercurator spilt his coffee over it and in the subsequent cleaning procedure roughly 14,000 lines were erased. The tragedy of this loss cannot be overemphasized. As to the story, we can only conjecture. Kethrikr, his Old Norse counterpart, appears in the Poetic Edda in association with Heremothr and Sigemundr; he appears to have been their contemporary and appears to have received presents from them, but was never invited to their beer­drinkings for obscure reasons. He is mentioned in Bandifots Saga. In the Old English Widsith he rules over the Sceaftings and is killed by a worm, one of three such heroes. It must be admitted his name is a philological puzzle. By reference to Germanic linguistics alone it cannot be etymologised, but a Cerdic son of Elesa is attested as one of the early invaders of Britain in the Anglo­Saxon Chronicle and this name is cognate with the well­attested Old Welsh Ceretig. When was Germanic legend infected with Celtic heroes? Dumezil has suggested that he could be common Indo­European, citing as evidence the Vedic god of sibling rivalry, Kanitichayama, but his arguments are too complex to be summarised here and have anyway been stringently attacked by K H Jackson in Études Celtiques 14 for 1978. Interested parties can look this up for themselves.

Obviously in this translation I have made no attempt to reproduce the cadences of Old Low Saxon verse, which is rigidly formulaic, sometimes to the point of obscurity. I have rather attempted clarity, but nevertheless the translation is worthless if some of the vigour and spirit of the poem has not been retained. Any rendering can - inevitably - only be a pale shadow of the fine original. I only hope my poor efforts will inspire the reader to reach for an Old Low Saxon grammar, an edition of the poem, and from there make his own advances. I have myself derived many hours of pleasure from the poem and do not doubt that the effort involved will bring its own reward.


... lashed to the mast.
Hard in battle became the war­fired spume­leader
Mighty in excellent vigorousness to the folk of the leaf­tree
When hateful ones became storming.
With iron­girt thighs he bent to the battle­bow,
Lifted the war­tree
Ripped from the earth the shaking over­branch,
Brandished it in the air, made a speech,
Podbod's son, mighty­man of stoutness and vigilance,
Sent fine graces to the the demon­enemies, uttered this word,
"Lo, while adorned in battle­trappings I stand here,
And am not at all much afraid,
I will not render you a hair's width of the gleaming earth
But rather with my mighty battle­strength,
Which is famed among far lands and among my people
And also among my wife, gold adorned and eager for wine,
Will defend and protect from you, hairy and over­zealous carrion­feeders
Who are not­much welcome in the homeland of the Shaftings.
I will get you ale­sorrow in the large cities of your friends,
But not more than it is necessary
For the open­armed burrower of wave tidings."
So mightily said the gold­adorned one
As he gaped with words before the battle­drawn war­array
And his spirit surged altogether very much
When it became necessary...
... indeed...
But not without...
... which astonished his enemies to a great extent
And left them with little help,
If the truth be told, as I have heard men say often and frequently
And not without considerable thought. For when the poet
Lifts up the hero's thunder to the pleasure of many
In the antler­adorned hall of the people's defender,
Then many are pleased and stop
In the beer­taking for the pleasure of their senses
And also for their ears from the black­thighed old man of great lettering.
So Cedrick said as he shook the war­tree. And this was not all...
... with much...
[Here the fragment breaks off].


Matthew Reid

The camp in the valley was cheerful with the light of the fire, and the smell of pheasant cooking. It was a pleasant evening, a needed respite from the terrible events of the last few months. The prince had gone far, through dangerous wilds and many perils, and now felt his mission might just succeed. The tyrant lord's forces were far behind now, and barring evil chance he should now be able to reach his country's hope, and then it would be his task to win these strangers as allies.

The prince sat by the fire and talked with the six picked men of his house­guard, six of the twenty that had started on this journey. On the other side of the fire, alienated by his power and his aura of independence and self­sufficiency, was the greatest wizard of the light. Nerlam, he called himself, but wizards rarely give their true names.

Night fell and they went to the tent. The first two watches passed without incident. In the next watch, one or two hours after midnight, a shadow was seen moving along the path from which they had come. It grew closer, until at last it said in a firm, yet strangely inhuman voice, "I am a servant of the one true lord. Give up your prince and the ret of you may depart. Refuse and I shall blast you into dust with my sorcery."

The whole camp had been awoken by then, and Nerlam it was who answered the challenge. "You do not know to whom it is you speak. I am Nerlam, and if you want to remain on this earth at all, you must swear by all the gods of light, and all the gods of dark, and all the gods of this world, and all the gods of the next, never to have any dealings with men again. I charge you to surrender your powers and to go and hide in some dark hole until your death, else I will fight you, and I will destroy you as I have destroyed so many of your kind before. Now swear."

"I will not go. I have looked towards this day for many years. I shall fight you, and destroy you unless you yield to my master."

"I will not fight you here and now. It would do me little good killing the prince in the backwash of magic unleashed by your destruction, as it would do you little good to have the victory against me, only to be slain by the release of those magics held bound to my life. Instead, I offer you a bargain. If you promise the prince and his men to leave freely, and never to hinder them again, then I will promise that you will not be harmed by my magics after my death. You may also take all my belongings not destroyed in the fight. It will take some time for me to unbind the magic, so I ask that you wait until dawn before we begin our duel."

"I swear by all the gods of the dark, and all the gods of the light, and all the gods of this world, and all the gods of the next, that as you keep your part of the bargain, so shall I keep mine."

"I swear by all the gods of the light, and all the gods of the dark, and all the gods of this world, and all the gods of the next that I shall keep to this bargain. Now go, and leave me quiet to perform my magics."

"I will meet you here at dawn, wizard." On that, the shadow withdrew, though it remained in sight of the camp.

"My prince, you must make all haste to strike camp and continue your journey. You must be at least a mile away by dawn, else the magics are likely to kill you. Take this scroll. On it is a map of the route you must take. I have marked on what I know of the hazards along the way. Go with fortune, my prince."

"You fear that this one might defeat you?"

"There is an element of lottery in all such battles, and prudence is a virtue." The prince thought he heard a catch in Nerlam's voice with those words. He turned and signalled his men to leave ahead of him. "What is this thing? What makes it mightier than all those others you have defeated?"

"What is mightier in it. The courage to call a bluff, that is all. It is only courage."

The wizard turned away. "What is the matter?" asked the prince, catching Nerlam's shoulder, and was shocked to see a tear running down the cheek of one who seemed so far from such things.

"Go away. Just go and leave me."

"What is wrong?"

The wizard turned and in an angry voice snapped, "I said leave!"

There followed a silence, then in a soft, sad voice, "I am not strong enough. I should not speak, but I find I must," and in firmer tones, "Promise that you never tell anyone or anything what I shall reveal."

"I promise," and then, feeling something more was required, "By all the gods of the light, and all the gods of the dark, and all the gods of this world, and all the gods of the next, I promise."

"I am nothing but a joke by the wizards of the light. It takes at least seventy years to learn to be a really good wizard, and the spells that keep you young and healthy are, are too corrupting to use. So all those best able to do good are physically incapable of walking a mile, or running up a flight of stairs, while the people who can travel on missions such as this can all be slaughtered by any half­way competent enemy wizard. So what do they do? They make me. A man comes to them with ideals and a desire to learn, and finds he can't manage the simplest conjuring. He then suddenly seems to get the hang of it, and progresses at an unprecedented rate, because, known only to him and a very few others, all the magic is being done for him. They let him fight a few illusions in very public places, and spread tales of other deeds of his in far off lands, and in a while he becomes their weapon. He learns maps, and politics, and goes out on quests, defeating hordes of monsters without fighting at all. I have helped this world as best I am able, and as that is what I asked to do, I should not feel bitter. Yet it hurt to have to carry the weight of my persona around. It hurt never to be my true self, to never be close to anyone, to always be the perfect wizard. At first I walked in constant dread of this day, then I started almost to believe in my own invulnerability as monsters melted away before me, like shadows in the sun. And now, at last, one fights. Farewell, my prince, and walk with luck."

"Farewell, bravest servant."

With that, the prince turned and walked off into the night, while the wizard prepared for battle.

The Vampire Desire

Simon Pick

Dirk was watching late­night TV with the sound turned down so that he heard the faint scratching at the window which he dreaded, but when he finally dared turn his head to test the living room window it was a shock to see Jenny, white­faced, staring back into his eyes from the darkness beyond. She was scraping on the window­pane with her fingers. He couldn't turn away from her stare, but from the edges of his eyes he could see that outside there was nothing but shades of black and white. The violent nail­polish she had worn had somewhere been flaked off.

Jenny scraped some more. Her mouth moved. The window's glass did not frost before it.

Dirk sat in his chair. He stared into her eyes. He appeared to have no reflection on the window.

Dirk got up from the chair, eyes still transfixed, never aware of the shivering in his muscles as he stepped towards the moonface outside, her eyes fathomless, like two great craters, like the blank surfaces of puddles. He was frightened across and athwart the structure of his whole body, as if he had been bodily dropped to land flat on concrete, but he now stood before her at the window, stood without responding to the scrape, scrape of the long fingernails on the glass, looked away from the stiff eyes to the mouth. His body was tense. Speech was impossible.

He wanted to run, but he did not dare move further.

He looked at the fingernails. It was horrible to see the fingers squirm, each shift shadowing the clefts in her knuckles into a new and occult pattern. He looked at her face again. Her expression had not changed.

"Let me in, Dirk," she said. "It's very cold."

The size of the living room and its yellow lights made it seem a very cold place too. He shivered, and still could not speak.

"I've been out here a long time, since you left me on the common," she wheedled, her hands now going to clasp over her crotch. "Let me in, let me in."

"Let me see your teeth, Jenny."

"Open the door and let me in. I'll make you a cup of hot chocolate. I just want to sit and watch television."

"Show me your teeth." Dirk's breath caught. His voice started on a squeak. "You have to let me see it."

She opened her mouth. Her long canines shot out like missiles from a silo, the pure white gleaming bright against the muddy shadowed blood­red of the mouth in her poor face sullied by the night gloom. Her eyes flexed and flared strangely, her hands were at her sides, were banged like paws on the window, were at her cheeks. Suddenly she stretched in her splendour, white gown flapping, arms wild, mouth clawing for something to bite on in the insubstantial night air - a vampire's bride revealed, she was beautiful and glorious, with eternal life embodied in her sterile power; a promise of ecstasy, of extremity, of an uttermost plunge into desire and Dirk wanted her more than anything in the world, for her to own him and taste him and plunge teeth into his gushing vitality and drain and drain and drain until he was nothing left and was like her too: a vampire, a hunter, a night­walking blood­feeder thrown off from Death's oblivion like jetsam shot out from an impenetrable incomprehensible spinning maelstrom; but he did not dare, because he wanted to live and he feared murder and death and everything was still within his lit sitting­room. He began to tremble; by an effort of will he stopped.

Jenny was calm again.

Her moon face was placid, her fangs the subtlest of enticements on her lips, her fingers white blobs on the glass.

Then they twisted to claws and again, soft, soft, they began to scrape.

"I can't let you in," said Dirk, "I can't let you in, please go away, please, oh please." His arms shook again and he wanted to cry. "Go and take someone else."

"Don't you want me, Dirk? You always did, you know" - she leaned further forward - "and now you can have me, Dirk, if you let me in."

Suddenly Dirk leapt up and pulled the curtains to, one then the other skating along the curtain rail to hide the vision outside. He leapt back, appalled that he had had the nerve to lessen the distance between them. What could she have done to him? but smashed with her vampire arms through the brittle window when he was in reach? passed intangible through the wall, a jellified breeze, and continued perhaps to mesh her filthy atoms with his own and settle in his soul that way? If he had trembled before, the sudden action had left him shaking now, his arms weak and head dizzy, his watery muscles jiggling sweat from out their pores. He couldn't move closer again. He couldn't move away, in case she could sense it, in case it would stimulate her to action. He stood where he was. Fear tensed his body for action, but terror of the result - any result - made it impossible for him to move.

To his right were the French windows. He had drawn no curtains over them.

He almost howled as he lunged in terror for the curtains to the french windows. He yanked the first halfway across, then leapt to pull the second, never daring to look out to see if she had shifted her position to stare in through the wall of glass, always with his eyes on the aluminium floor runnel in the terror of uncertainty. If he looked and saw her, the horror would strike him dead, he felt. If he looked into her eyes, wouldn't this transfix him with death's secret dart?

Now he stood by the french windows in a pool of cold air felt even through the curtains. The sweat on his body breathed away. He could feel the pumping of his heart as it battered contrariwise against his own pained panting. Vampires didn't pant. Vampires didn't breathe, the still night did it for them. They shaded seamlessly into the dark. There was a vampire out beyond, though she was cocooned from him by curtains. The room's artificial light seemed all the more yellow for its isolation in there with him, the furniture not warmed in its low glow. Dirk was still panting, still weak, still agonised. Where was she? What was she doing? She wanted to get in - had she moved from where he had first seen her, or was she still at the side window, willing him to let her in, drawing strength into her immobility against his weak will? Was that her plan, to wait until he had to let her in, the own terror of his will working on itself on her behalf? That would be the most awful plan of all. That would be the worst.

If it was the worst he had to know.

He grasped one curtain on the french window. The hammer of his heart drove harder and harder as he inched his face forward, trying to mask is movements by their imperceptibility. When his cheek touched material, he held there for a moment in his last security, then with a quick flip pulled it back enough to peer out into the dark with one eye.

He stared straight into the eyes of the vampire, two inches away on the other side of the glass.

He screamed and leapt back, stumbling into the sofa and half kicking further into the room. With remarkable leg extension he scrambled over the sofa, always looking at the shut curtains, fearing lest in an orgy of waving arms and broken glass dead Jenny should come bursting into the room and seize him, kiss him, kill him. Would she come? Would she knock? Was she still there, looking, seeing through the curtains as if they were no more than the clothes of a man indicating his underlying shape and presence, seeing from outside in the darkness his light­bulb targetted heart. The whole lit room was a shining target for vampires.

He stood in the middle of the room, his hands twisting in fear. He stood on one leg, ready to run. His foot rubbed up the back of his other leg, then down. He could not think for terror. What should he do? Where was she? If she was by the french windows, could he look out of the side window and not see her? If he saw her out of the side window, waiting, would he die? Or would it be worse if he did not see her out of the side window, if he did not know where she was? Or would it be worse if he looked out of the side window and did not see her and then she came round from the french windows, round the corner, gliding perhaps, supported and drifting on the breath of the breathing night, coming round the corner to claim her own? Were there worse things than dying instantly on seeing a vampire immediately when you opened the curtains of your side window? There were.

"Where are you?" he tried to scream, but his mouth didn't move and it came out a whisper.

He waited in the middle of the room.

Where was she?

Waiting made him more terrified. He had to find a plan. He turned and ran for the sitting room door, opened it onto the unlit hall. In the darkness he ran for the stairs, upstairs. He ran the paces along the corridor to his mother's bedroom. In the darkness of his mother's bedroom he lunged over the bed and pulled open the door of the chunky wooden bedside cabinet, the one with the carvings he'd thought he'd seen moving at night when he was a child. Inside was a cardboard box. He pulled out the cardboard box and sat with it on the bed. His eyes adjusted.

The knowledge of her presence downstairs - waiting by the sitting room shut out from the light - was the nag in his mind that made his throat dry and his hands tremble as he fumbled with the contents of the box. He did not dare switch the light on in here, or anywhere in the house. The curtains were not closed in here. If she should show at this second­story window, peering in from the air, he felt he would die. That would be to kind of her. She would wait for where she knew he was - the sitting room. And vampires couldn't levitate.

The darkness of the night and the darkness of the room were one. Above the black horizon, stars floated in it. Moonlight and foreknowledge helped him recognise the objects in the box. Out came his mother's hand­held hair dryer from the seventies in it's own decaying box; when he threw it aside it fell out onto the floor. Out came a box of old curlers. Out came a solid sheaf of useless magazines featuring country houses, and at the bottom of the box among the real junk was his mother's crucifix, huge and plastic, a heavy relic of ancient enthusiasm. When he pulled it out, it was heavy in his hand like a club. The plastic was smooth textured, but at the finials and at the wide, ridged base decoration disturbed it into a surf of curls and curlicues, agitated ornamentation to match its aggressive sanctity. He ran his fingertips up and down it. He hefted it. He was still frightened. He turned and made his way out into the corridor and downstairs.

With every step he took down he felt his heart in his breast jolt harder. He held the cross out rigidly before him in case uninvited vampires leapt out from the swaying shadows. His arm wavered with the weight. He trod down, step by step, to the bottom of the stairs and there stopped. He could not conceivably carry on. He would stay there all night - or for as long as she would let him. He would stay here, in fear, crucifix up, for the rest of his life.

It was her fault. She had gone off with the tall man.

He willed his stubborn legs to stump onwards to the door to the sitting room, under which he could see shining the tell­tale light. Once at the door his fear became unreal - its magnitude was too great to perceive. He burst open the door and leapt into the middle of the room. "I've got a crucifix," he shouted. "You can't catch me." He jammed it down in the centre of the coffee table, not breaking the glass top but sending an ashtray skittering. He rubbed it to and fro on the glass table, emphasizing its presence. "Do you hear me? I'll never invite you in and now I've got a crucifix you can't bother me any more. You know that's the way it is." Oh, she'd see the last of him now. Now he'd got her measure. Nothing was happening. He yelled again for the release.

In the room he could see nothing but the furniture. The curtains were as he'd left them, closed.

She would be out there somewhere, waiting.

Now he had a crucifix.

Was she round the back of the house, at an unlit part where he couldn't see what was happening? Was she climbing in an unmarked window? Would she seize him from behind, sudden and strong, giving him no chance to raise his protection but heaving him into the cold hall away from the light and there suck blood, feed on him, do as vampires desired?

He didn't know.

He noticed his sweat was sticking his jumper to his back. His mouth went dry yet again, his chest was tight yet again, he needed to scratch his right armpit. Where was she?

He couldn't stay like this all night.

In a moment of tense daring he nipped round the side of the sofa to the curtains of the french window. The movement was more horrifying than standing in indecision, for standing, agonised, he was not calling her attention. She would wait. Movement provoked.

He stood by the curtains of the french windows.

Heart pounding, he took hold of them at the join (would she reach through the glass to bite his fingers?). Suddenly he pulled them apart.

He did not die instantly. She was not waiting. She was not there, there was only the black night - the huge black breadth of the cold windows.

She must be by the side window! She would know he had pulled back the curtains of the french windows and would glide round to stare in at him again, and that would be the most terrifying thing of all, to see her move, to see uncountenanceable her levitate without effort on the breath of the breathing night to confront him who she wanted and would get, move in body in the infinite black world beyond to stare and stare and stare, most terrifying of all; and so, incredibly fast, he leapt panicky to the side window and seized the curtains, pulling them apart so hard he ripped one halfway from the rail to expose her in her terrible presence before she could move round to see him - he pulled apart the curtains -

And there was nothing there. Again the black window spilled cold into the lit room, there was no vampire in the night.

He backed into the middle of the room. He stared from one window to the other - no vampire in one, no vampire in either: two black windows in a yellow lit sitting room. In a panic leap, not looking, he leapt back and slammed shut the door he had come in by and not closed. It banged. He was backed up against its shut security, looking from one window to the other, waiting for her to appear at either and kill him with a single look, but please God, just to appear and not glide into view, because seeing her move would be most terrifying of all. She did not appear.

Would she elsewhere break into the unlit and unprotectable house? Was she even now stealing up on the door his body was moulded to, to smash it in and smash him in with it, and then leap on his shattered body and gorge in the blood from its multiple gushing wounds, a veritable orgy of unassuageable hunger gulping satisfaction from his ever­giving fount? That was not fair! She could not be haunting another side of the house, a window where he was not. She was drawn to the light like a night­moth. She was magnetised to him, she could not go anywhere else. She should be here! She should be here!

He went to press his face against the waiting windows - stood up against the night french windows as if to ease into their cold blackness by osmosis, breath painlessly clouding on the glass. (Was she waiting round the corner?) Up this close, the room's lights did not drive the blackness deeper, he could see out to greater depth. What could he see? A rustling garden, hidden trees, screened bushes all under an ignorant sky and down there, at the bottom of the garden by the compost heap where scraggy roughage half hid the gap­toothed boggy fence which didn't quite block off some unknown corner of next door's arbour - a flash of white, dirtied by the gloom, a tentative half­figure moving one way or another; and then she was gone, and he could see her no more. She had deserted him.

At the heart of the small, vital maelstrom of life the beast of dead love screamed for its own regret.

"Jenny," his mouth moved against the pane, "Jenny." The low priestess of the tall man on the common was gone, and he had been cheated of his haunting. "She should have waited. I could have waited her out. In the morning I would have been free." He returned to the table and the hated cross, more solid than ever. "This would have saved me." Why had she gone when she was so menacing? Now he was fumbling with the lock on the french windows, now sliding them back, now shifting out into the cold night - on the patio his heart half apprehending that it was a trap, that she would leap out from behind the ornamental tree­pot and seize him, murder him, terrorise him with the threat of her living death. "Jenny, you've gone?" he called softly. "Jenny, am I safe from you?" He abandoned the sitting­room, light redundantly still streaming from its windows, spurned crucifix hidden on the table inside. He moved out into the night, shadows gathering around him. "Jenny, I wouldn't have struggled much. I had to protect myself against you, but you needn't have worried. Jenny... come back." His voice drifted off, carried away on night's breath. "Come back." Now he was beyond the range of vision, out of the light, and - not swallowed by vampires, not visited by screaming terror but silently absorbed - his voice and figure vanished into the black.

Poetry Corner

Simon Pick

Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser
Robin of Sherwood and Friar Tuck
Bucky and Captain America
Batman and Robin, Wilma and Buck
Elric and Moonglum
Sarah, the Doc
Catherine and Una
James Kirk and Spock
John Carter and Tars Tarkas
Sherlock Holmes, Watson, Digby and Dan
Dale and Flash Gordon, Noddy and Big Ears
Merry and Pippin, Frodo and Sam
Gorund and Cro
Will Scarlet and Much
Regan and Carter
Starsky and Hutch


Gareth Rees

Roger's bedside comp played a tinny but cheery tune at him and Roger groaned, rolled over, stretched, and sat up, his head spinning in twenty different directions.

"Good morning, Roger­babes," beamed the cheery comp, "It's another beautiful day in Barbie City, the sun's shining, the temperature is a balmy twenty­two degrees and the humidity is seventy­three percent! Rise and shine, sleepy­head, you're due for work in eighty­five minutes, the byways are projected at one hundred and twelve percent of capacity by eight­thirty three this morning, and you have six thousand five hundred and twenty mail messages. Netnews reports on its morning edition that ninety­three percent of Citizens would rather eat a donut than have sex and the Minister for Offspring has once again urged for calm..."

Roger let the machine babble on, poured some nutra­gloop from the pot beside his futon and sipped. The drug helped to clear the fuzz from his brain. "Give me the run­down on my mail," he said.

"Five thousand nine hundred and twenty six junk messages eliminated on a simple junk scan at level one," said the comp in its manly Biz voice, "two hundred and seventy­four passed the syntax check but were caught by the semantic analyser at level two, three hundred and twenty­nine messages are subscribed newsfeeds and have been filed for later perusal. And there's a message from Michelle."

"Gimme," said Roger. It was so rare that he - or anyone - received a real letter from a real person. He suddenly remembered that he hadn't seen Michelle for two weeks, and felt an instant pang of guilt.

"My dearest Roger," said the comp in it's Michelle voice, "I got your message last Kayday. How nice to hear from you again! I would have sent this sooner, but you know how things are, it didn't seem, well... Anyway, I was wondering if... well, perhaps you would like to come out for dinner next Emday? I thought that we could go to the Bistro Novo out on Four thousand nine hundred and seventy­sixth Boulevard, I went there a month ago with Ella, you remember her? Anyway the Bistro Novo has full mechanical service and private booths, and the food is utterly fabulous, the pancakes are just scrumptious, and the avocado marzipan - it just explodes off your tongue! And it's really affordable. So let me know - "

"Stop!" cried Roger. The bastards, he thought, the bastards. Not content with deluging me with crap, day in, day out, they have to ruin everything they touch with their slimy commercial hands, they have to get at Michelle as well.

"There's only one language these people understand," he said. "Comp, get me the mail address of the Bistro Novo."

Convention Report: Pentacon (Cambridge, 25th January 1992)

Barry Traish

It only took me 15 hours to get to Pentacon, so I was just in time for the bar to open at 11am. Well, it wasn't actually a con bar but the pub next door to the site. The University Centre (Gradpad) itself did have a bar, but it was down a couple of floors and looked too expensive. Being so close and so well stocked with real ales, The Mill next door was the far better choice.

The con itself was small, probably due to the lack of publicity, but I was asked, at the registration desk, to bring a team, just like Uniconze; possibly this would swell numbers. The programme was surprisingly well attended because the programme items were refreshingly interesting. Sex in zero­g was perhaps the most novel (apparently it has now taken place but it involves velcro - kinky!) and Ken Campbell (the GoH) was the most amusing. The programme was obviously aimed at everyone having a good laugh and it succeeded, although it was a little tiring by the end of the end of the day. After a long, fun day I didn't particularly need the programme items to expand into one and a half hour slots and I couldn't stand any more of the "Who's banana is it anyway?" game.

Finally 7.30 came around and we were kicked out of the con site and I moved to the pub for more Old Growler. Apart from wondering if my lift back to Leeds had fallen into the Cam and died of Camfever, I had fun and overall the con was a success for those that were there.

Convention Report: Lucon IVy (Leeds, February 21st­23rd)

Gareth Rees

Lucon was very small, smaller even than Pentacon after the Live Role­Players had gone off to play Lazertag in the lecture theatres. And perhaps this was all to the best - the gamers had their own space for their electric water pistols, rubber swords, laser guns, chainmail bikinis, fur cloaks, camouflage jackets and balaclavas, leaving the twenty of us who were left in peace and serenity.

Consequently the programme was somewhat ill­attended, and after a few abortive attempts the serious items gave in to necessity and took place in the bar. Some of the items were reasonably successful discussions, others wandered about in search of a point - par for the course I suppose.

The guest of honour, Gwyneth Jones, was an enthusiastic and perceptive attender of panels and gave an excellent talk about the feminist thinking behind her new novel, White Queen; Tom Shippey, Professor of Literature at Leeds University, gave a half­serious, half humourous talk about the New Wave; Colin Greenland was unable to attend for the second year running (due to illness this year) and was replaced by the cheeky, chubby features of Charles Stross, boy author.

On Sunday the role­players and fans finally got together to watch Mary Gentle and Dean Wayland of the Fight School (a group set up to teach a method of fighting competitively but safely with replica medieval weapons) give a lecture and demonstration.

In summary: quiet but fun nonetheless.

The Kindness of Women (J G Ballard)

Gareth Rees

Only a science fiction writer could have written this book. That statement is a little controversial: the conventional wisdom is that the semi­autobiography of Empire of the Sun and The Kindness of Women is a radical departure from Ballard's sf novels. But it seems to me that Ballard's concerns have not changed. His writing has always told us that Earth is the alien planet, that the disaster has already happened, that `sanity' is simply a fragile defense against an insane world. A reader of Ballard's sf will recognise the neuroses in this novel, the careful mapping of the catatrophes we are living through and the narrator's attempt to find a kind of fulfilment.

The Kindness of Women is described on the cover as "the sequel to Empire of the Sun" but that is not really the case. The story begins with Jim's childhood in Shanghai before the war, and tells a different story of his imprisonment in the Lunghua concentration camp by the Japanese: about his friendship with the English girl Peggy, about his identification with his Japanese captors: "There was something about the Japanese, their seriousness and stoicism, that I admired. One day I might join the Japanese Air Force."

In the event it is the Royal Air force that he joins - following his identification with the disaster of the second world war Jim becomes fascinated by the nuclear bombers of the third "which had already started at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and whose first installments were the Berlin crisis and the Korean war. Somewhere over the skies of Central Europe armaggeddon would wake from my dreams."

Jim crashes out of the Air Force and returns to England where his life is shattered when his wife dies in an accident. The remainder of the book describes his search for stability and happiness for himself and his children, or a least (it is suggested) as much stability and happiness as the twentieth century will allow.

Two themes run through the book. The first is Jim's obsession with the nature of the catastrophe. His identification with the Japanese military and with the coming atomic holocaust I have described; later he organises an extraordinary exhibition of car crashes and (inevitably it seems) is involved in a car crash himself; he experiments with LSD in a scene remiscent of Ballard's novel The Crystal World: "Colours were floating free from the surfaces around me. The summer air had become a translucent prism and the blades of uncut grass were touched by a layer of emerald light"; he documents the takeover of reality by the media: "In many ways the media landscape of the 1960s was a laboratory designed specifically to cure me of all my obsessions. Violence and pornography provided a kit of desperate measures that might give some meaning both to Miriam's death and the unnumbered victims of the war in China."

The other theme is, of course, the kindness of women. Jim seems to evoke protective, mothering feelings in every woman he meets: Peggy in the prisoner­of­war camp in Shanghai; Olga, his childhood governess whom he meets at the premiere of the film of his novel about his childhood in Shanghai (carefully, the film is never named); his wife Miriam whom he met when he took part in a psychology experiment; the junkie Sally; the neighbour who helped him through his depression after his wife's death. There is a lot of explicitly described sex, but it all seems somehow mechanical, as though Jim could never get over the woman he had dissected during his first year as a medical student at Cambridge: "During my first term at University I saw her naked every day, and I knew her more intimately than any other woman in my life."

How much of this book is accurate autobiography, how much invention? Yes, Ballard was interned in Shanghai during the second world war but he was not separated from his parents. Yes, his wife died, but not while they were on holiday in Spain. Ballard has said that he wrote the novel in this way because the changed events were psychologically right, and perhaps this strange mixture of fact and fiction is the only appropriate way to chronicle Jim's journey through the neuroses of the twentieth century.

Dracula Unbound (Brian Aldiss)

Gareth Rees

What a contrast this novel makes with Frankenstein Unbound (1973). That earlier unbinding was a return by Aldiss to the earliest, and one of the best sf novels (so Aldiss describes Frankenstein in his Trillion Year Spree) to find that the scientist and his monster remained a powerful metaphor for scientific folly, and that Mary Shelley's gothic prose was the perfect way to describe the fracturing of space­time and the narrator's personality. "Though you seek to bury me," says the monster at the last, "yet you will continuously resurrect me! Once I am unbound, I am unbounded!" Marvellous stuff.

But the new novel has none of the qualities of its prequel. The fatalism of the war that caused the breakup of time and space is replaced with the enthusiastic American technological can­do of Joe Bodenland, inventor and millionaire tycoon. The discovery in the Utah desert of two fossilised human skeletons sixty­five million years old and contemporaneous with the last of the dinosaurs is followed by the appearance of a `ghost­train' which Bodenland boards. This turns out to be a time machine controlled by vampires who evolved from flying dinosaurs and who now are massing in the past and the future in preparation for the destruction of humanity with the aid of the `F­bomb'.

Bodenland ends up at Bram Stoker's house in 1896 and he and the author hit it off immediately and determine to set off and destroy the vampires, which they do without much difficulty. Science triumphs over superstition, and without the slightest hint of irony Bodenland destroys the time machine so that it can never endanger humanity again.

It seems that Dracula does not carry the same metaphorical meaning as Frankenstein and his monster did; and while it is suggested that Dracula represents the Victorian fear of sex and in particular syphilis (of which Stoker died), Aldiss makes little attempt to develop this theme.

The plot suffers from inconsistencies, almost as if Aldiss was writing faster than the speed of thought. Joe Bodenland "once claimed he had gone back in time to shake hands with Frankenstein," yet Dracula Unbound is set 21 years prior to its prequel. No doubt this is another of the time paradoxes that scatter the plot - according to Dracula, "time paradoxes are cancelled out by expenditure of energy, just as energy can cut through the thickest metal." And certainly there is a good deal of energy to the writing, but no amount of zippy plot could prevent the book from being a disappointment. Aldiss can do better than this.

Tehanu: the Last Book of Earthsea (Ursula Le Guin)

Gareth Rees

Readers might have seen Helen Steele's admirable review of Tehanu in New Chronicles volume 17 number 2. With luck, this review will cover slightly different ground to Ms. Steele's, and will contain some material of interest.

Bearing a clever subtitle indicating firmly that Earthsea will not be a gold mine for sequel­hungry publishers, Tehanu comes to us twenty years after A Wizard of Earthsea won the Hornbook Prize and The Farthest Shore won the National Book award in children's literature. It is the work of a more experienced, more mature writer, but it is not, I think, meant to be a sequel in the conventional sense, but more of a commentary on the earlier work. If its concerns are different, this is because it reflects the change in priorities and perceptions of its author. Tehanu is filled with resonances to its ancestors: characters from the earlier novels return - Ged, Tenar, Ogion, Lebannen - but they are changed, or our perception of them has changed.

One major change that has taken place in Le Guin's writing between The Farthest Shore and Tehanu is a development of her feminist consciousness. In her articles about her early, un­conscious­raised fiction, there seems to be a regret over the mistakes she made, but an unwillingness to revise old work. She regrets using the masculine pronoun to describe her androgynes in The Left Hand of Darkness ("I dislike invented pronouns less than the so­called generic pronoun he/him/his, which does in fact exclude women from discourse"), she regrets her acceptance that men are leaders and doers and movers, and I think she regrets her unthinking use of a male­dominated society in the Earthsea novels. Early on in A Wizard of Earthsea, we get:

"There is a saying on Gont, Weak as woman's magic, and there is another saying, Wicked as woman's magic. Now the witch of Ten Alders was no black sorceress, nor did she ever meddle with the high arts of traffic with Old Powers; but being an ignorant woman among ignorant folk, she often used her crafts to foolish and dubious ends. She knew nothing of the Balance and the Pattern which the true wizard knows and serves... Much of her lore was rubbish and humbug, nor did she know the true spells from the false."

In Earthsea, men are wizards, wise and powerful, and women are witches, ugly and ignorant. Men are concerned with the great matters of politics and wizardry, and women are shut out. Only on Atuan do women have power, and there the priestesses are ignorant followers of a false religion, under the control of their king. Terry Pratchett was incensed enough by this to use Earthsea as the inspiration for his Equal Rites. How, Le Guin now wonders, could she have been accepted this, been an unwitting collaborator in such misogyny? Tehanu is suffused with a great anger; anger that women can be treated like this, and worse, that they can collaborate in their own marginalisation. "I am often very angry, as a woman," she has written, "My feminist anger is an element in, a part of, the rage and fear that possess me when I face what we are all doing to each other, to the earth, and to the hope of liberty and life." Tehanu is, then, a chance to redeem the mistakes of A Wizard of Earthsea, or (better) a chance to say the things she didn't know how to say in the earlier books.

Thus the protagonist is a woman, Tenar, ex­priestess of Atuan, the White Lady who had brought the ring of Erreth­Akbe to Havnor. She has married a farmer on Gont, and while Ged became Archmage and saved the world, she has farmed the land, raised two children, and is now a prosperous widow. The background is one of growing evil and lawlessness, the effect of Cob's opening of the door to the land of the dead (in The Farthest Shore, which Tehanu follows without a break). Tenar's life is disturbed when she rescues a child, Therru, who has been raped, thrown into a fire and abandoned, and then by the arrival of Ged, borne on the back of a dragon from his last triumph, weary and stripped of his power.

When compared with the previous Earthsea novels, the change in focus is dramatic and complete. Tehanu is concerned with simple things, ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives in the face of hardship and adversity. Trying to live well, trying to protect a child from harm, these are as important as, and as difficult as saving the world. This is the wisdom that Ged learns, not without difficulty, from Tenar: how to be human as well as mage. Tehanu is a mature book, though its philosophy seems at times even more hopeless even than The Farthest Shore, but in the end redemption and hope are offered. This is Le Guin's best novel yet.

The Bone Forest (Robert Holdstock)

Gareth Rees

In this story collection Holdstock continues to develop the mythos expounded in Mythago Wood and Lavondyss, a deeper and darker, more primitive mythos than most contemporary fantasists are willing to envisage. Holdstock's myths are full of shamanistic magic, of masks that take the wearer into a spirit world, of cave­painting, or the relationship between humans and the beautiful and terrible power of nature incarnate, and hints of the struggle to survive during the Ice Age: a particularly North European mythos.

The title novella is the third of the author's Mythago stories, and even at the shorter length the fascinating power of the wildwood and the obsession of the characters enter it are powerfully done.

I do fear that if Holdstock continues to add to this series, he will eventually produce a story that is a lifeless imitation of his previous successes. But `The Bone Forest' is not that story.

The other stories in the collection are stories of the mythos itself, signposts in Holdstock's quest for the ur­myth of the collective unconscious, with one exception, `The Time Beyond Age'. This last is a chilling story of the dehumanising potential of science, and of the obsession of a scientist who has lost his way.

Secret Harmonies (Paul J McAuley)

Gareth Rees

Paul McAuley is one of the emerging `generation' of young British sf authors who have been nurtured in the pages of Interzone (Ian Lee and Greg Egan are other names to watch out for). His first novel, Four Hundred Billion Stars, was lauded in the magazines at the time, and won the Philip K Dick award, but I cannot recall any comment on this, the author's second novel.

The reason for this is evident on reading: Secret Harmonies is a competent work of hard sf ("In the great tradition of Arthur C Clarke and Bob Shaw," exudes the blurb), but lacks any spark of brilliance that would make it stand out from the myriad of other competent hard sf novels.

The background is a few hundred years hence. Elysium is an earth­like planet populated by `aborigines', primitive tool­using aliens whose sentience is doubtful and with whom meaningful contact has been impossible; there is resentment between the original colonists who rule the planet tyrannically, and the later settlers from Earth; there is a super­intelligent computer with obscure motivations and abilities. When the expected spaceship from Earth fails to arrive, these tensions erupt into planet­wide war.

The background is nicely done, with convincing details of technology, and the oppression of the computer­assisted police state is a well­portrayed ominous presence, but the plot elements completely fail to come together to make any kind of coherent whole. The lack of cohesion is not helped by the rather drab set of characters, who seem to wander purposelessly through the predictable plot. The novel follows the fortunes of two men: Miguel Lucas (many of the names suggest Latin American roots, but there is no sense of a Latin culture (in fact Elysium is supposed to have been settled by Australians, and there is no suggestion of Australian culture either)) is a settler who has `gone dingo', living outside the repressive laws, and shows promise, but his mind gets taken over by the computer at an early stage in the plot. Richard Florey, a university lecturer, wavers between loyalty to the state and support for the rebels, and his love affairs are peculiarly passionless.

Secret Harmonies is disappointing precisely because it lacks passion and conviction, in the background, the plot, and especially the characters. Nor is the choice of title ever explained (in the US it was published as Of the Fall, which is almost equally inappropriate).

City of Truth (James Morrow)

Gareth Rees

Veritas is the City of Truth, and its citizens are `brainburned' early in adolescence to make them incapable of telling a lie. Worse than that - the treatment produces a compulsion to tell the whole truth - no lying by omission.

This is a wonderful background for comedy, and Morrow takes full advantage. The narrator, Jack Sperry, drinks `Donaldson's Drinkable Coffee', eats `Murdered cow sandwich' at the `No Great Shakes' restaurant, and on meeting a female writer:

"`I'd like to read some of your doggerel,' I asserted. `And I'd like to have sex with you,' I added, wincing at my candour. It wasn't easy being a citizen."

The book takes on a serious tone when Sperry's son contracts an incurable cancer, and Sperry becomes convinced that his son can be saved only if he can be convinced that he is sure to get better, thus invoking the healing power of his immune system. But how can Sperry learn to lie, when lying is not only forbidden but impossible?

Comparing City of Truth to Morrow's earlier This is the Way the World Ends and The Continent of Lies, it seems that Morrow's essential theme is a father's terrible struggle to keep his child from harm.

I thought this an excellent book, at 104 pages just the right length for the story. The portrait of the terribly bleak society of Veritas (deprived of art, decoration, privacy, humour and other `lies') is both funny and telling, as is the mechanism by which Sperry learns to lie.

One final point. I like the novella format - an excellent antidote to the idea that good books must be long - and I also liked Century/Legend's earlier novellas Heads (Greg Bear) and Ruins (Brian Aldiss). But is 4 pounds 99 pence really worth it for 104 pages?

Wise Children (Angela Carter)

Helen Steele

Wise Children is the most recent (and possibly the last) of Angela Carter's `mainstream' novels. Narrated by Dora Chance, one of the illegitimate twin chorus girls, the Lucky Chances, it traces their life from Brixton to Hollywood and back again, and the life of their family through seventy five years - culminating in the amazing one hundredth birthday of their real father, Sir Melchior Hazard - head of the `Royal Family of the Theatre'.

The story itself is both wonderfully constructed and told. Though often bordering on the absurd, its vivid, well­paced and well­judged narration ultimately makes it believable. However Carter does not give us an easy ride - rather a rollercoaster of emotions: black humour, pleasant reminiscence giving way to the sharp shock of the terrible, or the exhilaration of the unexpected. She shows us peoples lives and she makes us believe - we can see the people growing and changing, interacting within the framework of the family, learning to accept past mistakes, and present circumstance, beginning to know themselves - becoming wise children.

Indeed it is the portrayal of the characters within the book that provides its force - many of them are larger than life - Sir Melchior Hazard, Uncle Perry, Grandma, `Wheelchair', and the ghastly twins, Saskia and Imogen - and some of them are thoughtless, selfish, petty and greedy - yet ultimately, through the writing we can at least understand them and perhaps even sympathise. Most important of all we see then through the unflinching eyes of an old woman and it is the characters of the twins, the Wise Children, Dora and Nora that Carter writes best - through the length of the book we can always believe in them, and their (not always blameless) lives.

Wise Children is a fine book, and is thought­provoking as well as entertaining. A well thought­out story, captivating characters, the convincing backdrop and the message behind it make Wise Children thoroughly recommended.

Editors' note: Angela Carter died on February 16th, 1992. A great loss to literature.

Everyone's a Critic

Robert Downham

"... and this is our AI - artificial intelligence - research unit. Some of the most exciting work in the field right now is being done in this very lab. Dick, I wonder if you could show our guest an example of what you do here?"

"Sure thing - this is the computer's latest attempt at poetry", and he produced a folded sheet of printer paper, which read:


Lord Laurence looked at it for a few moments with a frown on his face.

"What do you think?" asked Dick.

Lord Laurence paused for a moment before replying. "It's gibberish. It doesn't mean anything. And if this is all we've spent 10 megacredits on over the past year I think a serious re­evaluation of your funding is in order. This is complete rubbish."

A previously unheard voice chipped in. "Oh, I don't know - I quite liked it", replied the computer.

Nelson's Column: The Molesworth Mythago

Huw Walters

The mythagos cluster at the edges of my vision. I glimpsed the Molesworth form this morning, at the woodland edge. He had a packet of cigs, and seemed to be hiding from something. Why won't he appear in the fore­vision? Alas, I am too old. The equipment helps, but it's so hard to get the lubricant these days. Perhaps someone younger - but I dread the thought. I think Jennifer suspects something, but it's hard to tell. I wish I could explain it to her! Wynne Jones arrives tomorrow.

Today's training with Wynne Jones: test pattern 37: ii, LSD trip, pink neon environment. The flow was the most powerful I have ever known; I've started seeing little green mythagos, and it's really weird. J is getting worried. I dread to think what she'd do if she found any of the equipment.

Molesworth is back, and he's getting bolder. I tracked him to the hogback glade, but he threw an old bungy and a protractor at me. This is becoming alarming!

The mythagos are generated from the primal woodland, by the combined emotions of a whole generation. Just as Hood was created to help the Saxons against the Normans, and Arthur helped the Britons against the Saxons before him, I think the Molesworth form (so long dormant!) is emerging once more to defend the new generation. Wynne Jones thinks he may pre­date the neolithic; I'm not so sure, but he does have a face like a squished tomato. The earliest reference I can find is from 1576; could he be Kurdling's "ignorant lout"?

The boys glimpsed Molesworth by the mill­point yesterday; they said he was trying to convert the old rowing boat into a spaceship. Christian was more rational about it, but I hope they will both associate what they have seen with one of the locals: the Grimley village idiot perhaps. In any case, I have invented stories for them, and told them not to go off with strange men.

Molesworth came into my study today. I watched him emerge from the woodland, this time accompanied by a low beast, of feral and manky appearance. It appeared to have a deflated football between its jaws, which it chewed occasionally. Molesworth explored my study with the curiosity of a child. W J believes his mind (so close to that of its creator) may be receptive to education, but I find it difficult to communicate with him. He seemed especially fascinated with my desk, and carved some railway sidings on the top. Also, was fixed to my chair when I saw him; he seems to be using glue of some sort. J came into my study, and became hysterical. She probably thinks I've started fancying boys again.

Have learned to communicate with Molesworth! He painted himself green (in homage to the Pukon?) and told me the story of how he came to Ryhope. It seems he was on a botany walk, and got separated from the crocodile, chiz chiz chiz...


Simon Pick

Snorri was trying to break Caxton out of the giant metal egg.

"Will it be alright?" asked Caxton nervously.

Snorri picked up the hammer morosely. He held its head in his two hands for a moment, examining it for cracks as though it were the hammer which would break on the egg and not the other way around. "We don't want to hurt me, you know," said Caxton, and gave a little laugh as if the idea was impossible anyway, so hardly worth warning against.

"I don't want to hurt you," said Snorri.

"Because, after all, ha ha, I mean, you might as well leave me in the egg, rather than break me to pieces getting me out, eh? I'd rather be immobile in an egg than a hospital bed."

"This isn't going to hurt you," said Snorri, and he hefted up the hammer to strike. "Perhaps we'd better call it off," said Caxton with urgency, but it was too late, Snorri couldn't hold the hammer up any longer and down it fell to clang and shiver on the impenentrable egg. Snorri dragged it to the ground and looked at the sheer surface.

"You aren't very strong, are you?" said Caxton.

"No," said Snorri. He lifted it to try again.

"Put some vim into it this time," said Caxton. "I couldn't even feel that last one rattle my bones." Snorri let the hammerhead have its own way and down it smashed again with no more effect than the last time. His hands ached with vibration.

"Don't think I'm not grateful, you know, but if this goes on I might as well wait to be hatched or something."

Snorri said nothing. He wasn't having a good day.

The Woe of Youth

Simon Pick

Blood & Fire & Hell & Thunder
Let us tear the world asunder
Toes & Toast & Milk & Bed
Let's have a cup of tea instead

[E­mail: Gareth.Rees@cl.cam.ac.uk]
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