|SFX magazine column by David Langford: issue #96, October 2002|
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One of the cruel ironies of writing a regular column is that the perfect news snippet for the topic of the month always arrives after the article's been delivered. For SFX 94, I wrote about dodgy science in SF and discovered too late that Kevin J. Anderson's new space opera Hidden Empire contains a marvellous insight into why deep-space vessels aren't smoothly streamlined: "In the vacuum of space no one could see beautiful lines or shiny hulls anyway."
Back in 1996, my SFX 10 column gloated that my name and one of my SF ideas had got a mention in Greg Egan's novel Permutation City. Funnily enough, Ken MacLeod later referenced the same Langford story in The Cassini Division, calling the idea (of fractal images whose information content crashes the human brain) "the Langford visual hack".
Ken's heroine goes on to think: "And yes, I know the Langford hack is just a viral meme in its own right, replicating down the centuries like an old joke, wasting resources every time we act on the insignicant off chance that if someone could think of it, somehow it could be done. What kind of twisted mind starts these things?" Er, thanks a lot ...
Now a colleague gleefully reports a spot of name-dropping with an implausibly respectful context in a 2002 Dr Who spinoff novel, The Suns of Caresh by Paul Saint: "He'd read the greats, the likes of Ursula Le Guin, Greg Egan, Gene Wolfe and David Langford, and he admired them ..." OK, who's this Paul Saint whose true identity my pal is not permitted to reveal? Do I know any Pauls who read SFX and write Dr Who novels? Perhaps I should have a word with the knowledgeable Mr Cornell.
Speaking of namedropping within SF stories ... in SFX 31 I mentioned several authors, including the great Gene Wolfe, who have settled private scores with US critic Greg Feeley by cruelly writing him into their books. Now comics man Grant Morrison seems to have joined the bandwagon, changing the unfortunate Feeley's name by just one letter. Morrison's comic The Filth offers such tasteful dialogue as: "Greg Feely's just a para-personality [...] That's him running out of your nose." Later, from the same female speaker: "I'm washing Greg off my tits. Para-personas corrupt fast outside the bloodstream." Man: "Smells awful." Woman: "Well, that's 'Greg Feely' all over." Ouch.
Onward! Soon after my contribution to our recent special about space opera, I was warned of one major omission by a huffy Simon R. Green: "I read the entire SFX Deep Space special, and Not One Word about the best-selling Deathstalker books! I shall take umbrage. Twice daily, in water." Obviously I have to make up for this terrible lapse, so let's turn to a random page of Simon's Deathstalker Destiny (1999), which introduces a fascinating and sympathetic new character:
"At his side stood the acerbic social columnist Dee Langford, purveyor of unsuspected truths and assassin of reputations, whose pieces everybody read, if only to be sure they weren't in them." Next page, just as I was getting interested, there's a firefight in which "Langford cried out as bullets slammed into him, over and over, his body jerking and shuddering under the impact ..." No more character development for him.
Tom Holt is more subtle about these things. He names no names. It merely happens that in his fantasy Only Human, the punishment of a damned soul amid hell's flames is to spend eternity rereading – 75 million times so far – an unnamed novel in which, early on, a tourist meets a wizard. Terry Pratchett subsequently declined to comment.
Then there's the Native American author Russell Bates, who sold a story to a certain famous SF anthology in 1970, and celebrated his 60th birthday in 2001 by withdrawing it from the still unpublished book. Also he's written a vengeful tale about a sinister writer/editor called "Elias Halloran" who vampirically feeds on the creative juices of authors lured into writing for a never-published collection. As Bates insists, "Elias Halloran" is not an anagram of any real person's name.
By curious coincidence, my column for the very first SFX in June 1995 discussed a legendary anthology that had been acquiring stories since 1969, was first scheduled to appear in 1972, and decades later remained in mysterious limbo: The Last Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison. No change there.
David Langford thanks the CIX on-line SF conference for help with SFXperts homework, and (dammit) for correcting his temperature units in SFX 94 ...
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