The Secret History of ansible

[ more or less as delivered at Tropicon/ FanHistoricon, November 2000, chaired by Joe Siclari ]

by Dave Langford

Hello, everyone. Just for a change, instead of exciting scandal and cheap jokes, I'm giving a boring backward-looking talk about my fanzine Ansible, and it's all Joe Siclari's fault. Before I move on to telling any elaborate historical lies, I h ave to say it's great to be a guest at Tropicon, or FanHistoricon --whichever one I'm talking to at the moment -- and I'm still pretty stunned to be here. I feel the way I did years ago when the committee of the British Science Fiction Association approac hed me and said ingratiatingly, "Dave, we can't find an important writer to give a speech at this month's London meeting, so will you do it instead?" When the BSFA meeting came around the fans were muttering "Who's this Dave Langford? What' s he going to talk about?" and in a very loud voice a certain fan called Greg Pickersgill said: "HIMSELF. AS USUAL."

Unfortunately, Pickersgill was right. This autumn I realized with terror that it's 21 years since I started publishing Ansible, the fan newsletter best known for Chris Priest's famous insight that it's an anagram of "lesbian." On An sible's 21st birthday, it's clearly time for me to look back over its lurid history, moan a lot, and start making rapid excuses. My main excuse is that it was all Peter Roberts's fault. Peter had been publishing Britain's previous fan newsletter Ch eckpoint on and off since 1971. In 1979, the year of my first British Worldcon, Checkpoint was coming up to its 100th issue and Peter reckoned that he was now an old fan and tired. He needed a break in which to finish his 1977 TransAtlantic Fan Fund trip report, which as we now know occupied all his fannish energies for the following 20 years. So Peter decided to retire Checkpoint and find some eager and energetic sucker to take over the subscription list. As he subtly put it to me, &quo t;Hello, Dave, you look young, gullible and easily led..."

Thus I made my first editorial mistake, which was to say Yes to Peter Roberts. The second mistake happened because I'd foolishly said Yes to Chris Priest when he told me that I was volunteering to be in on the ground floor of a new fan fund --GUFF --th at would transport fans between Australia and Europe. Chris's visionary concept was that while he sprawled idly on a golden throne as the illustrious founder, I was hereby appointed first administrator and could do all the work. So in 1979 I was already b usy producing GUFF newsletters, and for some now totally forgotten reason Ansible number one was stapled up with one of these. That is, with my rare talent for publicity, I launched a fan newsletter whose front cover appeared inside on page seven. At the very end of the text, this first Ansible also made one of those wild, rash promises which older and wiser newsletter editors have learned to avoid. "Future issues," it claimed, "will contain news."

Checkpoint was a pretty good role model, through. Peter liked to run bizarre and unlikely stories rather than boring old "Author Sells Book" listings. For example, a front-page item in Checkpoint number one, dated April 1971, wa s about the unmasking of the Rare SF Mail Order Company of New York, which had placed an ad in that year's British Eastercon programme book. The ad was a jigsaw which when you cut it out and put it together revealed a fan wearing a propellor beanie in the toilet, holding a copy of Amazing magazine and wiping his bottom with torn-out pages. Just a bit of fun at the expense of the puritanical con committee, explained the Rare SF Mail Order Company, which turned out to be British fandom's famous misch ief-maker Charles Platt.

Meanwhile Ted White, who was the editor of Amazing in those days, was Not Amused. There was obviously a fannish tradition here, though, because 20 years early in his legendary fanzine Slant the great Walt Willis had printed a claim that f rom October 1951, "Amazing will be published on tissue paper, with a hole right through the top left-hand corner . . . for the convenience of readers." But I digress.

Another good thing about the Peter Roberts editorial style, which I struggled hard to imitate, was the way he'd liven up routine news items with nice turns of phrase. Walt Willis had already explained that if the letters people send to your fanzine are n't interesting or entertaining enough, you should damn well rewrite them until they are. When Peter had
previously got tired of Checkpoint and let less witty fans like Ian Maule edit it for a while, it became increasingly dull until he made his comeback with a announcement that began: "Alerted by strange signs in the heavens and unnatural noises in the wardrobe, former CP editor Peter Roberts was able to unmask Ian Maule's miserable scheme to turn Checkpoint into an annual one-page listing of recent Perry Rhodan reprints."

I blame Peter's influence, and his habit of improving the news, for the fact when I had to type up a Ansible Hugo nominations list that included Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, this title was accidentally misprinted as Nuk e 'Em Till They Glow, Then Shoot 'Em In The Dark. A more recent award report seemed terminally boring until rearranged to read, "Greg Egan the Kurd Lasswitz Prize for Distress, as 1999's best foreign novel in German translation published, won."

Even the space left at the end of Checkpoint for the mailing label was worth looking at, since the return address would be introduced by some cryptic phrase or saying. "Kill the fatted beetroot!" it said on one issue, to the bafflement of fan s who didn't know Peter was a vegetarian. Other examples were "Klaatu Borada Nikto! But never mind, here's CHECKPOINT 82." "Need help and advice? Tough. Here's CHECKPOINT 85." "Come out, Neville! It's CHECKPOINT 88." And of c ourse, "The Gostak distims the Doshes! --but we don't care, we've got CHECKPOINT 96." When, for reasons which even at the time seemed deeply stupid, I subtitled one of my own 70s fanzines "The Journal of Eschatological Morphology", Checkpoint responded by briefly becoming "The Journal of Ecclesiastical Necrology (incorporating Dead Vicars' Monthly)."

Of course I stole the idea of peculiar taglines, and the mailing label spaces in early Ansibles were decorated with all sorts of odd quotations like this gem of wisdom from British fandom's homespun philosopher Greg Pickersgill: "Fandom is a damn sight better way of life than pushing peanuts up the Pennines with your penis." It's hard to argue with that.

After a while these quotations evolved into another deeply irrelevant Ansible department, "Hazel's Language Lessons." Besides being my wife, Hazel is a qualified Egyptologist who collects exotic dictionaries and used to sift through do zens of languages for useful words which Ansible readers needed to know about. My own favourite Language Lesson featured the Kikuyu word komaria, which according to the dictionary means "to touch someone reprovingly or threateningly wit h a stick and say 'wee! '" This needs to become a fan tradition.

Another indispensable word comes from the Sesuto language: malito, "something which a person lets fall and which his cousin can pick up and keep if the owner does not say ngaele." I'm guessing that ngaele must be a pretty strong word, since it was too hot to be listed in the Sesuto dictionary. Then there was the very political Nupe language, with a phrase I won't even try to pronounce that's defined as a salutation for the rank of Prime Minister, with its literal meaning being "a bat's stomach." Sadly I never had a chance to try it on Margaret Thatcher.

Of course the Language Lessons have practically nothing to do with science fiction, although they might help some people understand C. J. Cherryh novels --but it added variety, fans liked it, and it used to be Ursula Le Guin's favourite part of Ansi ble. Over the years, though, Hazel started running out of languages and found it hard to come up with new lessons. Instead, we have a much more science-fictional feature which is now Ursula Le Guin's favourite part of Ansible, Thog's Masterclass . . . our showcase for the wondrous sentences which sf and fantasy writers produce in their dogged ye t somehow heartwarming attempts to write English.

I'll try not to say too much about Thog's Masterclass just now, since that's a whole nother programme item that I'm apparently doing tonight [and so it came to pass], but its roots go back to the fifth issue of Ansible dated December 1979. Under the much less snappy heading "Great Moments of SF Prose," I reverently quoted a moving poetic moment from Alan Dean Foster's novelization of The Black Hole: "Dimly they/it perceived the final annihilation of a minuscule agglutinatio n of refined masses . . . "

Decades later, Thog still has a special fondness for authors who show us how to do science good like sci-fi should. One recent discovery was Desmond Wilcox's 1941 story Into Existence, whose brilliant inventor hero comes up with a new space driv e: "Two years before, Brock had invented a perfect form of perpetual motion, and now he had invented a magnet which, filled with certain machinery and worked by electricity, would pull towards the nearest gravity with the force and speed of a rocket. " It must be a bit difficult to launch one of these from Earth's surface, considering where the nearest gravity is. Next, for no apparent reason, a messenger arrives shouting "Jupiter's gone crazy!" and warning that this planet will soon co llide with Earth. Our hero naturally says: "You did right in coming and telling me." Days later, as the doomsday impact approaches, Brock shows his cool by going to bed for a nice snooze. He wakes to find the morning mysteriously dark:

"Switching on the searchlight, Joseph Brock saw, caught in its brilliant beam, Jupiter. It was hovering a few thousand miles up. He had reckoned that the planet would come with an extra rush as it drew within the gravity of the Earth, or vice-vers a. But the gravities of both planets seemed ineffective."

Enough! I stole the idea of Thog's Masterclass from a wonderful 1930 poetry anthology called The Stuffed Owl, which collects ghastly lapses by poets, like this deeply solemn epitaph for Queen Victoria: "Dust to dust and ashes to ashes, Into the tomb the Great Queen dashes." Then I found that old-time Irish fan George Charters had been collecting Thoggisms long before me, in his 1960s fanzine The Scarr --that's Scarr with two Rs, so the whole title is an anagram of Charters. He a ctually bought the legendary Badger Books as they came out, and quoted their awful prose with a kind of delighted horror, not knowing that all these dreadfully similar writers like Leo Brett, Pel Torro, Lionel Roberts, Karl Ziegfried and the rest were pseudonyms of Britain's supreme hack Lionel Fanthorpe --the number one author in Thog's Hall of F ame.

You know, it does start to look as though the ingredients in the Langford recipe for cooking up a newsletter have one thing in common. They're all stolen. The word Ansible, of course, was boldly lifted from Ursula Le Guin's SF novels. Ever since the fourth issue, the general news round-up section has been titled "Infinitely Improbable," pinched from the title of a track on the LP version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: a friend had insisted on playing this to me although in my deaf way I couldn't understand a word of it and ended up memorizing the record label. This phrase is in fact the part of Ansible that I stole twice. Since it's obviously deeply uncool to quote Douglas Adams, I've taken to claiming that the words are from one of Austin Freeman's 1920s crime stories, in which scientific detective Dr Thorndyke really does say a bout a bit of evidence, 'It seems infinitely improbable that we shall learn anything from it . . .' That seemed a highly suitable motto for Ansible.

In the same way I've annoyed my friend John Grant, whose fantasy novels first introduced barbarian hero Thog the Mighty, by tracing the name to James Thurber writing in the 1950s about not being able to tune his radio set, which kept going compl etely dead after first saying: "thog, thog, thog." I think it's important to spread confusion and muddy the waters of fan history like this, since our heroic fan historians like Rob Hansen and Joe Siclari could become bored or irritable if we ma ke their work too easy.

Here is where I should quote another of Ansible's mottoes, extracted from Philip E. High's sf novel Come, Hunt an Earthman and published as A Statement Of Editorial Policy. The High book was full of exotic weapons, including one called a Zine as in fanzine. I quote: "A Zine is classed as a terror weapon. It rends and distorts, twisting the structure of the target completely out of shape." Well, sometimes it's the only way to make a news story interesting . . . .

Another useful technique for keeping fan historians on their toes is to follow my example and publish 168 issues of a newsletter, numbered 1 to 160 but including one double issue and nine bonus issues with half numbers like Ansible 53-1/ 2 [figu res correct in November 2000, but no longer]. I'd love to hear my explanation of how this happened, because it still baffles me. Lots of other editors have played tricks with numbering, of course. The George Charters fanzine I mentioned earlier helpfully changed its notation to base 3 after the tenth issue and continued with 102, 110, 111 and so on. Kevin Smith did a fanzine called Dot and after publishing a number of issues produced a one-off whose title was Ellipsis; then Dot came b ack with an issue number that didn't make sense until you worked out that Ellipsis had been three Dots. The 1980s British fanzine Second-Hand Wave made it tough for bibliographers by numbering every single issue 42 . . . more proof of the baleful influence of Douglas Adams, and indeed Lewis Carroll. I've even heard faint rumo urs of a newszine whose every issue is numbered 770, but surely no one would be that silly.

Meanwhile another traditional part of Ansible that's been blatantly ripped off from elsewhere is the little bit in the masthead that says this fanzine is available for stamped addressed envelopes or for something else very peculiar and hard to f ind. One day I got tired of asking for boring old stamped addressed envelopes and remembered a fine American fanzine of the 70s, Terry Hughes's Mota, whose back page tended to claim that it was available wherever feminine hygiene products are sold and could be obtained for such things as nuclear weapons, rare ice cubes or --after a certain famous space accident --"pieces of Skylab that have been formed into boomerangs."

My imitation of Terry Hughes's gag started out by asking for easy trade goods which any true fan should recognize from our favourite literature, like ten-point steel, used sevagrams, or the ichor of the Sons of the Bird. Then slowly I began to realize I had a solemn duty to drive my readers insane, and started putting in more obscure literary references such as "the secret of the old custard" or "a strategy suit with a jelly pocket." I remember cackling evilly as I made one issue av ailable for a COPE LIGHT device, which is the code name for an incredibly secret piece of electronics in John M. Ford's spy thriller The Scholars of Night. I was prepared to bet that no one but Mike Ford himself would recognize it. Of course I imme diately had e-mail from the general direction of the New England SF Association, saying roughly, "The official maintainer of the NESFA website's John M. Ford bibliography is amused by your pathetic attempt to baffle her."

One last way in which Ansible slavishly imitated Checkpoint was that the editor got bored and gave up for a while. Peter Roberts handed over to other editors after 46 issues and didn't make his comeback until number 72. Being made of ster ner stuff than Roberts the mere vegetarian, I struggled on beyond 46 to Ansible 50, which came out at Conspiracy, the 1987 British Worldcon . . . after which the whole newsletter went into suspended animation for four years.

One problem, though it's not usually regarded as a big problem in fandom, was that Ansible had just won its first Fanzine Hugo, and I found myself simultaneously gloating and thinking "Oh God! This means more subscribers!"

Somehow, over eight years, what had started as a zippy little monthly newsletter had become a great lumbering thing that oozed steroids from every pore. The print run was up to 600 and the frequency had slipped badly --indeed, Mike Glyer gleefully anno unced the statistic that Ansible was the first Hugo-winning newszine to publish only three issues in the year of its triumph. Because my old stencil duplicator had broken down, those last issues were all done in teensy reduced litho by a printer wh ose prices made my credit card wilt like one of Dali's soft watches. There was a lot to cram in: besides heaps of news, a vast letter column, and a long boring Langford editorial, issue 50 contained two complete convention guest speeches. One was by some unknown called Terry Pratchett, and I like to think I gave him his first big break.

So Ansible had become hard work, the very thing I'd gone freelance in 1980 to get away from. The last straw was that I didn't really fancy the obligatory chore of reporting the 1987 Worldcon, because of a rather embarrassing incident towards the end of the con. This needs a bit of background explanation:

Conspiracy '87, some aged fans will remember, was L. Ron Hubbard's Worldcon. There'd been a lot of muttering about the wall-to-wall Hubbard promotion and sponsorship at Conspiracy, starting with the Mission Earth cover artwork on the pocket prog ramme book plus pages and pages of further ads inside. Some of us developed totally libellous theories about how Hubbard's novel Black Genesis had got on to the final ballot for the Hugo, which is supposed to be for good stuff rather than rejects f rom Thog's Masterclass. Many fans became more irritated when Algis Budrys came on stage at the start of the Hugo ceremony to hold things up by making some tedious and remarkably off-topic announcement about Writers of the Future. This is probably why, whe n Gene Wolfe read out "Black Genesis by L. Ron Hubbard" as a Best Novel nominee, a fair portion of the Hugo audience booed. "Shame on you," said Gene, but with a twinkle in his eye.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"What's all this about sexy potatoes?"
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

When it was all over and I was clutching an unbelievable two Hugos and gibbering uncontrollably, another official announcement from the stage summoned Hugo winners to a photo call in the Brighton Conference Centre's Skyline Restaurant. So we all trotte d dutifully upstairs, and there were muted cries of "Bloody hell!" as it turned out that as well as the cameras, the Skyline Restaurant contained the Scientology party. I'm sorry, I should have said the Author Services Inc. party. "My God,& quot; said Brian Aldiss, "we've just won the L. Ron Hubbard Awards, formerly the Hugos!" Jokes like this didn't go down well with the Author Services people, who all seemed to have had their sense of humour removed along with the engrams.

Jokes like this didn't go down well with the Author Services people, who all seemed to have had their sense of humor removed along with the engrams. Years before, when I published a review of Battlefield Earth that made jokes about its awful sci ence and worse prose, Fred Harris of Author Services had phoned all the way from Los Angeles to complain very earnestly that I'd failed to understand the book's intellectual subtleties. I couldn't imagine anybody else in the SF world being so weirdly exci table as to phone Britain from California just to denounce me --but then, years later, Ansible published a snippet about Harlan Ellison, and the phone rang . . . .

Returning hastily to the 1979 Worldcon, I managed to make a polite escape from the L. Ron Hugo event. My downfall came on the following night at the SFWA party, where the big mistake wasn't so much drinking gin and tonic as trying to keep pace with Bob Shaw. Time passed and things got blurrier. Inevitably someone mentioned L. Ron Hubbard, and having heard quite enough of him during the con that was now finishing, I'm afraid I said fully and frankly, "Oh, expletive deleted L. Ron Hubbard." Ins tantly Fred Harris appeared, stamping his little feet in wrath! "YOU'RE ALL WASHED UP, LANGFORD," he cried. "YOU'LL NEVER WORK IN THIS FIELD AGAIN!" And he hurled the dregs of his drink over me, which was a tiny bit silly since he was wearing a lovely new white suit and by that time I was holding a pint of beer.

You can imagine the rest. I had to imagine the rest, because my memory wasn't working terribly well first thing next morning, and for a while I got quite worried about why British fandom was strewing rose-petals in my path and crowning me with w reaths of laurel.

After a while I came to two important realizations. The first was that I really didn't want to write up the sordid details of this Worldcon for Ansible, whose publication schedule became officially synchronized with The Last Dangerous Visions . The second was that on the whole, I'd probably blown my chances of becoming a well-paid judge for L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future.

Over the next four years I wrote tons of book review columns, sold a few stories, and spent a lot of time hurting my brain by being the programming division of a small, doomed software company called Ansible Information. The sales and telephone support division consisted of Chris Priest. There weren't any other divisions, although we had a few imaginary employees named after dead SF authors like Captain S. P. Meek, who were there to get fired whenever a customer complained. "Your order was deliver ed late? Stanley G. Weinbaum of the packing department will suffer demotion for this!" It was all very distracting, but once in a while --whenever a pig flew past my window by the light of a blue moon --I thought about reviving Ansible.

It would have new ground rules, I fantasized. Every issue would be a single sheet of paper, eliminating all those hours of collating and stapling. The paper size would change to European A4, because the old British quarto standard that I'd inherited fr om Checkpoint had been officially abolished and was now maddeningly hard to find. Looking after tiny sums of subscription money had always been a nuisance, so under the new utopian system all those tiresome subscribers would be taken outside and sh ot . . . or perhaps, just perhaps, it would be easier to make Ansible a free newsletter. Ideally funded by an eccentric billionaire.

My eccentric billionaire failed to materialize, but Ansible Information Ltd must have made some money since one day I woke up and found I'd bought a laser printer. One thing led to another, and in October 1991, the crowds of fans at the monthly London Circle pub meeting were totally unmoved by the appearance of Ansible 51. Whose opening paragraph, mostly stolen from an older Langford fanzine, announced the comeback like this:

"Once again we live amid Signs and Portents. Something is stirring in British fandom, something ancient and very terrible, dimly remembered only by those wrinkled fans in convention bars who swap their wheezy reminiscences of the bad old days. Fro m its grave the age-old horror rises, no longer a mere phantasm of darkness but a tangible form revealed in leprous morning light, a ghastly revenant whose existence can no longer be denied. Yes . . . we have another British Worldcon bid . . .

"Meanwhile," the editorial went on, "it's been a long time since Ansible 50."

By the next issue I'd proudly discovered a whole new way to cheat, since Ansible was now twelve years old and could start pillaging its own past by reprinting quaint historical snippets from Ansible itself under imaginative heading s like "Ten Years Ago." After stealing wholesale from Checkpoint and other sources, I couldn't work out whether it was more or less ethical to steal great mouldering lumps of my own stale news.

In 1991 the master plan was to produce twelve monthly issues and then check myself carefully for signs of bankruptcy, falling armpits or fur growing in the palms of my hands. Then something unexpected happened. I was handing out Ansible at a pub lisher's launch party, enjoying the look of pain on John Clute's face as he peered into his review copy of Roberta Rogow's Futurespeak: A Fan's Guide to the Language of SF and muttered things like "This entry has more mistakes than words." He hadn't previously known that the term "slan" came from a series of SF stories beginning in 1925 with Galactic Lensman. John's fateful mission was to review this book for Interzone magazine, whose edito r David Pringle emerged at that moment from the drunken party crowd and said: "Dave, why don't you do an Ansible news column for Interzone?" I said yes, reckoning I could give it up any time I liked, and I e-mailed him the 102nd column this month.

So a heavily disguised version of the eccentric billionaire had turned up after all: the British National Lottery makes millions of pounds, some of which goes to our Arts Council, which provides a tiny pittance to help support Interzone, whose e xtremely modest payment for my monthly news column based on Ansible just about covers the cost of photocopying the next Ansible. I feel as though I've invented a kind of perpetual motion machine. This arrangement is probably all terribly unf annish, and I'm trusting you nice people not to tell the Hugo voters.

Now that Ansible is old and almost respectable, fans have a nasty habit of asking about the most embarrassing episodes in all those years of erratic publication. This is where, in a spirit of total honesty and openness, I try hard to change the subject --since the worst moment featured a very unfunny letter from some people we will identify only as the Attorneys of Witch World, and I'm still terrified that even mentioning what happened will cause lawyers to come from the woodwork out and shower me with writs.

The second worst trouble I got into was with Brian Aldiss. You probably know that his short story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" was optioned by Stanley Kubrick, who spent years and years trying to work it up into the script for a m ovie called AI, eventually taken over by some guy called Spielberg. At first Brian himself had worked on the script; then he got the boot and Bob Shaw moved in. The way Bob told it, Kubrick said very earnestly "You're the science fiction exper t, Bob, and I want you to be completely frank about this story treatment. If it's rubbish, I want you to tell me." So Bob said, "Well, Stanley, I'm afraid it's rubbish," and Kubrick replied: "Right, you're fired."

The next writer drafted to work on the script was Ian Watson, who occasionally used to feud with Brian in the pages of Ansible. As a rule it was Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison versus Ian Watson and John Brunner. As Ian wrote in Ansible 29: < /I>"Not so pleased to see Aldiss's court jester, the vulgarian of the universe, H. Harrison Esq, being abusive about the decent Mr Brunner . . . ." Brian Aldiss does not love Ian Watson. Hence the reported Aldiss quotation in Ansible 53, "Not only did that ******* Kubrick fire me, he hired my enemy to adapt my story!"

Oh dear, I did get into trouble for printing that. Brian had sixteen tantrums all at once and informed me with considerable intensity that although Stanley Kubrick was a great and good friend, he would nevertheless have Brian killed by hired hitmen if he ever read those terrible words. Which is why that issue of Ansible was reprinted with cuts, and even now the website version is censored, as is the quotation above. Shameful, isn't it? Especially since the ****** stands for a mild, almost affect ionate epithet rather than the fiery oath one might imagine from all the fuss.

Fantasy author Robert Holdstock was also suitably embarrassed at being correctly quoted in Ansible. At a 1986 Christmas party in a London pub, the very attractive lady publisher Jo Fletcher presented him with his World Fantasy Award for Mythago Wood. This trophy is a rather grisly-looking head of H. P. Lovecraft. Rob stared at it for a timeless moment, and then blurted out, "This is going to be an amazing day to write up in my diary! Got up --went to the pub --had a great time --was given head by Jo Fletcher . . ."

Which somehow reminds me of the small British convention last year whose chairman got all tongue-tied while thanking guests at the closing ceremony, and said very distinctly that he'd like to spank Stephen Baxter.

The Ansible piece I'm most pleased to have published wasn't news at all but a convention speech by our British critic Nick Lowe, titled "The Well-Tempered Plot Device." This introduced the idea of plot coupons, those things that fantas y characters have to collect from various far-off places on the map until after three volumes they have enough coupons to send off to the author for the ending.

Nick's talk also gave us Clench-Racing, an exciting action game designed to highlight Stephen Donaldson's vocabulary. Up to six people can play. The rules are simple: each player takes a different volume of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, ope ns it at random, and leafs feverishly through the text. You win by being first to find the word "clench," or "clenched," or "clenching" . . . It's a fast, furious sport, and a round rarely lasts a full minute. As Nick said, i t's a great way to get thrown out of bookshops. When players become too skilled at locating "clench," Nick suggested switching to (and I quote) "other favourite Donaldson words like wince, flinch, gag, rasp, exigency, mendacity, articulate, macerate, mien, limn, vertigo, cynosure . . . "

Time's running out, though, and I ought to come up with a dazzling summary of all my babblings. One piece of advice to newszine editors that I really meant to include is: Always remember to cover the fan funds and their races, or the Spirit of Trufando m will punish you by transforming you into Charlie Brown. Otherwise, the Ansible formula seems to boil down to about three commandments, or at any rate guidelines, for newszine publishers: Steal ideas shamelessly. Keep it short by editing out the b oring bits. And make the news funny if you can, but with careful exceptions, because not everyone appreciates a hilarious, rib-tickling obituary.

I think I've totally failed to keep this short or edit out the boring bits, so it's surely time to stop. Everything else you could possibly want to know about Ansible can be found in the complete set of back issues on the websites [see www.ansib] --all my old embarrassments preserved forever, like flies in ointment. Thank you all for listening so long.

Data entry by Judy Bemis
Hard copy provided by Geri Sullivan

Data entry by Judy Bemis

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