5 July 2014 Jonathan Clements has posted his 2014 London Worldcon schedule, including the "Evolution of the SF Encyclopedia" panel (Friday 18:00-19:00) which is my one and only official appearance. My original low-stress plan was to have no programme items at all, but I got beguiled by that silver-tongued John Clute. Otherwise, expect to find me in the bar.
3 July 2014 I'm fond of the Inquisitor crossword in the Independent each Saturday, but don't always finish the tougher challenges. Recent ones that gave me a quiet thrill of satisfaction were #1336, the first time I've ever found it useful to know the value of e to twelve decimal places, and #1339, in which my secret powers as an editor of the SF Encyclopedia – see the entry for Stunner – enabled me to guess the gimmick from the preamble and pencil in the unclued THOMAS A SWIFT'S ELECTRIC RIFLE before tackling any actual clues. That doesn't happen every week, or indeed every year.
26 June 2014 Recent reading (courtesy of a charity stall at the canalside Reading Water Fest) included a late example of Amanda Cross's Kate Fansler mysteries, Honest Doubt. From the title I guessed that the Big Literary Theme which often pervades these academic stories was to be Tennyson, which was indeed the case: the hated Tennyson-obsessed head of a US Eng Lit department has been murdered, presumably by a colleague. Surely, I thought late in the book, it must a major clue that one of the suspects, another purported professor of Eng Lit, should quote and discuss a famous line from Coleridge ("Ancestral voices prophesying war") as a famous line from Tennyson? Clearly an impostor! But no one ever follows up this "clue", which the author apparently failed to notice, and it is decided that all the suspects dunnit in unison as in Murder on the Orient Express, a conclusion reached not so much through deduction as by watching the film and thinking "Yes, that's how it must have been." Good grief.
Maybe, I wondered, Amanda Cross (in real life Carolyn Heilbrun) was pulling the reader's leg with that attribution? Chapter-head quotations in Kyril Bonfiglioli's Charlie Mortdecai thrillers tended to include a spurious item ("The epigraphs are all by Alfred, Lord Tennyson except one which is a palpable forgery" – After You with the Pistol). Perhaps Cross/Heilbrun also liked to slip in a booby-trapped citation? Unfortunately I haven't memorized the writings of James Joyce throughly enough to spot any possible ringer in The James Joyce Murder, and although I think I know my way around the works of W.H. Auden he's such a voluminous poet that it was no surprise to find unfamiliar quotes (misquotes?) in the Auden-themed Poetic Justice. But I note with a certain thrill that "Misquotation is the pride and privilege of the learned." can be found in several places online, attributed to Amanda Cross.
I should insert a SPOILER WARNING before venturing on a quick synopsis of another recent detective indulgence: Jill Paton Walsh's latest Lord Peter Wimsey spinoff novel, The Late Scholar, set in a fictitious Oxford men's college called St Severin's. This involves a series of murder attempts using methods or scenarios cribbed from Dorothy Sayers mysteries, including Unnatural Death, Strong Poison, Murder Must Advertise, Have His Carcase (jolly good luck finding a haemophiliac in the cast of available victims!) and The Nine Tailors (even better luck – a convenient bell chamber!). All of which daftness is slightly distanced by the pretence that in this, ahem, alternate version of the 1950s the published novels are by Harriet Vane, based on Wimsey's cases. So Harriet the ingenious creator and conscientious researcher is reduced to Harriet the mere chronicler of her husband's career? I very much doubt that Dorothy Sayers would have approved.
3 June 2014 Nikolai Hamel, the chap who hopes to film my 1988 story "BLIT" as a graduate thesis project (this is code for "Langford doesn't get any money") begs me to tell the world about his Kickstarter page for the film. Here it is. Later: this didn't reach its target – only £1000-odd pledged out of £6000 wanted – so I assume the project is now cancelled. Later still: in fact it's going ahead on a shoestring budget.
28 May 2014 A sciencey moment today after coming in from the rain: it seemed curiously difficult to clean my glasses until I realized the mottling that wouldn't wipe off was a pattern of raindrops "remembered" by the photoreactive lenses....
18 May 2014 I was not prepared for the starkly probing question, "Why doesn't the SF Encyclopedia donations page accept Bitcoins?" Probably this was for much the same reason that despite catering to fans of Eric Frank Russell, Cory Doctorow and Philip K. Dick, we hadn't actually arranged donation channels for obs, Whuffie or rare truffle skins. However, it's best to keep up with the bleeding edge, and I'm experimenting with a Bitcoin option for the Ansible tip jar. If this proves to work, it'll appear on the SFE page too. Thus I spend my days....
16 May 2014 I don't often plug commercial ventures here, and I'm not going to start with Prospect Estate Agents of Reading, who phoned early this morning to ask Hazel whether she's still interested in selling her late father's house through them. These calls, along with further nagging by post, have been a repeated annoyance of life ever since the house was successfully sold, through Prospect Estate Agents of Reading, in December 2011. The air of gormless amazement with which their cold-callers receive this information has ceased to entertain, and the promises that this will never happen again invariably prove to be lies. For fear of legal consequences I won't speculate on the hypothetical incompetence, lack of internal communication, botched record-keeping and general ineptitude which may or may not be key business strategies of Prospect Estate Agents of Reading.
13 April 2014 Once again the dread Langford Vigilantes hit the streets ... that is, Hazel and I went walking in our local cemetery and (entirely without official authorization, which for all I know is now a high crime) picked up whatever junk we found. Mostly beer cans and bottles thrown over the wall, but today including a box of hypodermic needles and a laptop case stuffed with several dozen now extremely soggy iPad screen protectors. Presumably someone thought they were nicking a lucratively resellable computer and threw away the actual haul in disgust. But the drinks cans are the most copious and most annoying. We dream of setting M.R. James on to the perps, haunting them with an apparition having a horrible, an intensely horrible, face of crumpled lager cans. Below is a photo I took in "our" cemetery a few years ago, and used as an ebook cover.
10 April 2014 It's my birthday, but not an interestingly (i.e. alarmingly) numbered one. As a timely treat, Amazing Stories has published its interview with John Clute and myself, conducted by John Dodds in March. I see this post is tagged "Academics" ... we fooled them!
9 April 2014 More magic numbers: the SF Encyclopedia Picture Gallery image archive count reached five figures today, after a pause at 9999 while John Clute thought long and hard about a suitably inspirational choice for our ten thousandth cover scan (below). Meanwhile, the SF Gateway blog likes the Gallery slideshows; and while I was there I noticed that The Unseen University Challenge ebook has appeared at last as their New Book of the Week.
31 March 2014 While I struggle to complete Ansible for tomorrow (or shall I wait another day to avoid relentless scrutiny of every item as a possible April Fool jape?), feel free to distract yourselved with our latest effort to add tasty eye candy to the SF Encyclopedia.
4 March 2014 Here's Ansible 320 for March, which I'm afraid contains a discreet reminder that the 2013 Algis Budrys collections from Ansible Editions are also eligible for Hugo nomination as Best Related Book should you happen to be a Loncon 3 member (the nominating deadline is 31 March, so I won't be saying this again). Also recently posted: a report on the latest SF Encyclopedia progress.
4 February 2014 I'm never comfortable about trailing one's coat for awards, but since it's the late Algis Budrys (and his widow Edna) rather than myself, here goes. Readers who enjoyed the 2013 Ansible Editions critical collections Benchmarks Revisited and Benchmarks Concluded can now register appreciation by voting for them in the online Locus Poll, nonfiction category. By the way, ebook editions of all three volumes were released this month at Ansible Editions.
1 February 2014 Oh no! I have succumbed to the very great evil that is Twitter ... mainly to announce new issues of Ansible. Ever so pleased that, though they were deemed ineligible for the BSFA Award (whose nonfiction shortlist ended up with a miserable three contenders thanks to such relentless exclusion), the second and third Algis Budrys collections from Ansible Editions are on the latest Locus Recommended Reading List. Whoopee!
31 January 2014 Why, asks the keenly attentive reader, does Ansible 319 – the February issue – appear on 31 January? Mainly because the printers (yes, Virginia, there is a print edition still) don't open on Saturdays.
18 January 2014 Uploaded today: another four SFX columns. I lost track of these for a while because SFX seems to have dropped me from the complimentary list again, so I haven't been seeing the copies of the magazine that would have reminded me....
1 January 2014 Happy New Year, everyone! Interesting activities in our front garden today. When Hazel first drew the curtains, there was half a bicycle out there (frame but no wheels). About ten minutes later this had vanished. Later still it returned ... and presently disappeared again. "World War 2 Bomber Found on Moon Vanishes".
24 December 2013 Favourite Christmas card this year: the great Bryan Talbot's design for the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Click the image for a larger version, posted with Bryan's blessing (many thanks, boss).
21 December 2013 Happy solstice, everyone! Lots of people predicted that the Great Internet Firewall of David Cameron – intended to prevent young people from viewing porn online – would be a shambles of unintended consequences. Now one UK provider, O2, has put up a page where you can check the status of sites: http://urlchecker.o2.co.uk/. From this I learn that the notorious full-frontal filth of Ansible is blocked by default "parental control". Likewise the SF Encyclopedia and the website of its host publisher Orion. Likewise the very disgusting London in 2014 Worldcon site. Casting around for the most ridiculous possible example, I find that – presumably for fear of young innocents soiling their minds with sordid tax and VAT – hmrc.gov.uk is blocked too. Good grief. Cheryl Morgan's researches indicate that access to the horrors of bookshops is also Parentally Controlled, but with some (Amazon.co.uk) being more equal than others (Waterstones and everyone else). Here's our post at the SF Encyclopedia site. Later: A New Statesman piece about all this.
11 December 2013 A pre-Christmas treat in today's mail: The Complete Uncle, being the result of Marcus Gipps's Kickstarter project to reprint the classic Uncle books by J.P. Martin as a single omnibus volume, with all the original Quentin Blake illustrations and much more. With reviews and appreciations by Neil Gaiman, other pundits and fans, and even me. (Me!)
22 November 2013 Well, it's taken me a long while to get over the post-Novacon symptoms of coughs, sniffles and blasphemous ichor – the natural consequence of exposing oneself to the germ pool of SF fandom. This month I launched an almost imperceptibly low-profile campaign of promoting books for awards ... not my own efforts but the very worthy Algis Budrys collections published this year by Ansible Editions (click link for more). Please think about it.
29 September 2013 Two garden snapshots. The grapes, one of more than half a dozen bunches, are the latest from the vine in the back garden. The watermelon, weighing some 20 pounds, mysteriously appeared in the front garden this morning – already sliced, exactly as shown. Is it a Fortean phenomenon? The vegetable equivalent of a horse's head in the bed? ("Tonight, you will sleep with the cucumbers. ") Bafflement reigns.
28 September 2013 After years of accumulating "connections" and "endorsements" which never seemed even remotely useful to me, I've deleted my LinkedIn account. Please don't invite me back.
13 September 2013 Antique Bookmarks Dept: this old London tube ticket fell out of a 1936 edition of A.P. Herbert's Honeybubble & Co. The blurry cancellation on the back seems to read 26 JLY 1938. This, according to the archives of the SF Encyclopedia, is a date on which absolutely nothing of SF interest took place.
2 September 2013 Once again (where does the time go?) it's Ansible Day, and here is the September issue. As the poet wrote, "With many a weary step, and many a groan, / Up a high hill he heaves a huge round stone ..." Today I got my personal stone, called Ansible, to the top of that hill for the 314th time. And again "The huge round stone, resulting with a bound, / Thunders impetuous down and smokes along the ground. " Soon it'll be time to start the next long push, but not before I've had a drink and a night's sleep. (Remembering uneasily that Kingsley Amis's most alcoholic character in The Old Devils quotes the first of those couplets as suitable commentary on getting up in the morning ...)
28 August 2013 Far away in San Antonio, Texas, the World SF Convention is revving up. No, I'm not attending, for a variety of uninteresting reasons. See you all, or some of you, in London next year. Thanks to everyone who bought the ebook edition of The Leaky Establishment, still in virtual print. I may yet summon up the energy to convert other Langford works to this format. But where to start?
7 August 2013 Kim Huett sends a clipping from Ambrose Bierce's column, "The Passing Show", in the December 1905 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine – reacting not wholly reverently to the death of Jules Verne. Always interesting to see one SF Encyclopedia subject writing about another:
5 August 2013 Farewell to our local loan sharks. "Loans for Logbooks" has been operating just up the road in large premises that used to be a car accessories supermarket and a succession of furniture shops. Just saw, on my way to the post office, a notice on their door saying that the holding company "Tough Times Ltd" went into administration on 31 July. My only contact with them (not being one of the satisfied customers who regularly smashed the windows) was trying to cash a Western Union transfer. They claimed to be a special sort of Western Union branch where you can pay in but not collect. Somewhere I hear the playing of the world's tiniest violin.
26 July 2013 For those who wanted an ebook edition of The Leaky Establishment (the most popular of my few novels, with a fan base practically into double digits) – it's here! There was a slight delay while a volunteer proofread the whole thing on her Kindle and reported a few horrors, like an unforgivably missing space after a comma in Terry Pratchett's introduction, that had lingered since the 2001 print edition. Buy a copy and, as Spike Milligan used to say, Help This Man Become A Capitalist. Yes, ebook editions of the Algis Budrys critical collections will follow soon. And other Langford titles too, if anyone is incautious enough to show interest.
17 July 2013 Since the last post here I've been working on ebook editions of the Algis Budrys critical collections and also (just for fun) my own The Leaky Establishment. Initially I thought of marketing these through Smashwords, but that outfit's inflexible submission requirement of MS Word document format is just too depressing – so ebooks will be available directly from Ansible Editions. Whose front page currently records another Lulu.com discount offer: 20% off any purchase until 19 July.
4 July 2013 It's been a busy week. On 1 July, after several days of frantic preparation and website updating, we finished publishing the Algis Budrys critical trilogy and announced this in Ansible 312. Details at Ansible Editions, whose front page currently reports a 25% discount offer for any purchase from Lulu.com on 3-5 July only (one use only). Go on, buy the books.... Today I had another of those terrifying visits to the Royal Berkshire Hospital's Eye Block, to learn whether cataract surgery awaits me in the near future. Well, no: the medics originally expected that this would be necessary in July 2012, but the July 2013 message is simply "Come back for another check in nine months. " Also another bottle of bubbly arrived on Tuesday: June was the first month ever in which I won the Independent's "Inquisitor" crossword twice. It was quite a simple puzzle really.
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