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December 23, 2005

Christmas is looming and sf news seems thin on the ground. Hunting through Thog's files for some seasonally appropriate quotation, I fear I could find only this: 'Vienna, in that perfunctory way of hers, has sighed and spread her legs to be shagged by the winter solstice.' (Adrian Mathews, Vienna Blood, 1999)

As Others See First Fandom. 'Science fiction, or sci-fi as it became known (the new phrase purportedly coined by Forrest Ackerman himself), swept the world, no longer the diversion of a quixotic (or risible) few.' (George Pendle, Strange Angel, 2005)

R.I.P. Kenneth Bulmer (1921-2005), old-time UK fan and prolific author, died fifteen minutes after midnight on 16 December. He was 84, and had spent several increasingly unhappy years in a Tunbridge Wells nursing home after suffering a stroke just before Easter 1997. Ken loomed large in the Langford map of sf as the guest of honour at my first convention, Novacon 1973; the first editor to buy one of my stories (for New Writings in SF, the original anthology series he took over after its founding editor John Carnell died in 1972); one of the most genial and encouraging presences at the UK Milford workshops; and the first TAFF winner actually to make the trip, in 1955. The fan-published instalments of his TAFF report finally appeared in one volume as TAFF Tales (1998); his own fanzines included Star Parade (1941) and Steam (1954-1959). Besides much sf and fantasy under his own name, Ken wrote novels and novelizations in many genres -- his personal favourite being the 'Fox' series of Hornbloweresque naval adventures, as by Adam Hardy. His longest-running success was the 'Dray Prescot' or 'Kregen' sequence of science fantasies in the vein of Edgar Rice Burroughs, written under the pseudonyms Alan Burt Akers and, later, Dray Prescot. Although Ken lost his US publisher (DAW Books) after #38 in this series, it continued in German translation until #53 in 1998. His total output was enormous; Steve Holland calculates that the just-published The Steel Claw: The Invisible Man (collecting his 3-issue stint on a Valiant comic strip in 1962-3) is his 189th book. Robert F. Newmyer (1956-2005), independent film producer whose credits include the Christmas fantasy The Santa Clause (1994) and its two sequels, died on 12 December; he was 49.

Greg Pickersgill also remembers Ken Bulmer: 'HKB was definitely a Right Guy, both as a fan and as a writer who produced some work of genuine charm that was actually memorable, which is a damned sight more than can be said of very many other authors. He was a fan back in the days when it was a Proud and Lonely Thing, with a small but entertaining and readable bundle of fanwriting and fanzines to his name, including a real issue of Nirvana in 1949, a fanzine that had become the stuff of legend even before a stencil was cut. He never did much fanwriting after the 1950s, but he did from time to time show up in such as Peter Weston's Zenith/Speculation, where he often had something to say that was quite outside what might have been expected from a self-confessed hack writer. He may have written to order and by the length, but he actually knew a lot about what makes fiction work. I'm slightly surprised, thinking about him now, at how much of his stuff sticks in my mind, especially from my earlier days of sf reading. Some of it was just memorable because it was new to me, like the space war stories in New Worlds of the early 60s, but there's also really good stuff that's worth going back to -- some fine little pieces in Science Fantasy, for example, including a real favourite in "Strange Highways" (S-F February 1961). Also in the frame for me is The Demons, one of the first sf novels I ever read, way back in about 1965, which is memorable for more than just the bizarrely rodentlike photo of Ken on the back cover of the Compact edition. And then there's the almost forgotten, except by me and Rog Peyton, short novel The Golden Age, published under the pseudonym Rupert Clinton in New Worlds in 1961 -- a really effective alternate worlds story that certainly deserved the book publication it never ever got. It's a real shame that Ken sort of became the forgotten man of British sf and fandom. He really was a good all-rounder -- not fantastically brilliant at any or everything, but a lot better than most. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but I'd be bloody happy if someone were to say that about me, and I think Ken, a realistic guy, would have been delighted by the idea. He was also, beyond all the above, a thoroughly decent fellow, and I wish I had had more sense and time to get to know him better when I had the chance. Too young and stupid though.'

Miscellany. The Economist discovers the Uncle fantasies. More Guardian obits: Holland on Bulmer, Priest on Sheckley. Aslan Shrugged. British rocketry. Stalin's mutant ape army.

Small Press. The Runcible column traditionally doesn't run book announcements, but just this once ... Roger Robinson's Beccon Publications has produced Black Dust & Other Tales Of Interrupted Childhood by Graham Joyce (with contributions from Jeff VanderMeer, Jeffrey Ford and Mark Chadbourn): 62pp, £24.95 limited hardback, £9.95 paperback (plus P&P, £1.50 or £1). Everybody involved has worked for nothing, and all proceeds will help 'establish a bursary for students at the Nqabakazulu School, near Durban in South Africa'. Order enquiries to books at thetalkingdead dot fsnet dot co dot uk.

Thog's Masterclass. Dept of Complex Mapping. 'However erroneous the theory upon which the cartographers evolved their maps, mine were not entirely useless; though they required considerable mental mathematical gymnastics to translate them into usable information ... the actual and the apparent measurements of distance can be reconciled by multiplying each by the square root of minus one!' (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Escape on Venus, 1946)

 


He Do the Time Police in Different VoicesDavid Langford is an author and a gentleman. His newsletter, Ansible, is the essential SF-insider sourcebook of wit and incongruity. His most recent books are The SEX Column and other misprints, collecting ten years of columns and essays for SFX magazine; Different Kinds of Darkness, a new short-story collection of horror, SF, and fantasy; Up Through an Empty House of Stars: Reviews and Essays 1980-2002, 100 pieces of Langfordian genre commentary; and He Do the Time Police in Different Voices, a short-story collection that brings together all of Dave's SF parodies and pastiches. (This is a scary thought. Are you ready to laugh that hard?)

Dave lives in Reading, England with his wife Hazel, 25,000 books, and a couple of dozen Hugo awards. He continues to add books and Hugos.

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