Monday, 20 November 2006

langford's skrapbook

Some extracts from a miscellany, called skrapbook, compiled by Dave Langford for the UK magazine The Skeptic, first published in The Skeptic vol 18 no 3, Autumn 2005:

• Terry Pratchett reminisces about strange encounters in the days before he reached best-selling fame:
"I remember, as a journalist, patiently investigating the claims of some apparently perfectly normal people who had, once you worked out the details of the glowing hemisphere that they had seen, watched the sun set."
(In correspondence, 1991)

• Diana Wynne Jones, a leading children's fantasy author whom genre insiders rate much higher than J.K. Rowling, sings the praises of Alternative Medicine:
"I don't think I've ever been so ill so long and so bizarrely. I mean, I know ridiculous things are always happening to me, but who else in your acquaintance gets themselves poisoned by a homeopath? My agent kept ringing me up and protesting, 'But they mix it with water so many times that they don't give you enough to poison you!' Yes, they did. Did you know that in the back-to-front world of homeopathy, the more times you dilute a given poison, the more potent it is said to be? The one I went to kept bleating that she knew I was likely to react strongly, so she only gave me a very low potency -- in other words, she gave me quite a hefty dose of some obscure poison, and my body, being unacquainted with Looking Glass World medicine, promptly went on the blink for three months. I feel quite sorry for it."
(In correspondence, 1991)
-- Which reminds me that after an uncritical BBC programme on homeopathy in the 1980s, the SF author Bob Shaw (sadly no longer with us) sent a wide-eyed letter to the Radio Times asking whether, by the theory of Dilution Is Strength, you should give children twice as many pills as you would take yourself. He was severely dealt with in the letter column. Any dilution or addition made by a layman, it seems, would not be a true homeopathic process and would not count; and the kids should get a half pill just as in real life. The logic of all this is elusive.

• Again in the world of science fiction, I've been hearing about the Seattle-based rock band Blöödhag which promotes books, and whose lyrics are all about SF authors. For example, this haunting couplet from the song "Alfred Bester":
When Campbell fell under L.Ron's spell
Alfred said, "[something awful]."
Of course Bester, an author with a living to earn, said nothing of the sort when John W. Campbell -- the incredibly influential editor of Astounding SF magazine -- fell for Dianetics in the 1950s and started babbling things like "It was discovered by L. Ron Hubbard, and he will win the Nobel Peace Prize for it." Bester describes the embarrassing lunch with Campbell that followed:
"Suddenly he stood up and towered over me. 'You can drive your memory back to the womb,' he said. 'You can do it if you release every block, clear yourself and remember. Try it.'
"'Now?'
"'Now. Think. Think back. Clear yourself. Remember? You can remember when your mother tried to abort you with a buttonhook. You've never stopped hating her for it.'
"Around me there were cries of 'BLT down, hold the mayo. Eighty-six on the English. Combo rye, relish. Coffee shake, pick up.' And here was this grim tackle standing over me, practising dianetics without a license. The scene was so lunatic that I began to tremble with suppressed laughter. I prayed, 'Help me out of this, please. Don't let me laugh in his face. Show me a way out.' God showed me. I looked up at Campbell and said, 'You're absolutely right, Mr. Campbell, but the emotional wounds are too much to bear. I can't go on with this.'
"He was completely satisfied. 'Yes, I could see you were shaking.' ..."
(Alfred Bester, "My Affair with Science Fiction", 1975)

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