Previous Contents Next

wot I red on my hols by alan robson (pluvissima)

Alan And The Weather Bomb

"Weather bomb! Weather bomb! Watch out for the weather bomb!"

The newspapers and the television were full of dire predictions for the next day's weather. Torrential rains and 150kph winds were forecast. Everyone was advised to hunker down and not travel anywhere unless it was absolutely essential. The weekend promised to be stormy.

On Saturday morning the weather bomb exploded. Robin and I awoke to howling gales and torrents of rain smashing furiously against the windows. The whole house was shuddering under the impact. Bess tied a knot in her bladder and refused to go outside. Harpo said, "Ha! It's only weather," and pranced out into it. His fur streamlined itself as the wind hit him and he staggered slightly under the impact. Then he vanished bravely into the bushes.

"Lunatic!" said Bess, and she tucked her nose firmly under her tail and went back to sleep.

"Alan," said Robin in worried tones.


"There's a big pool of water in the kitchen."

I wandered into the kitchen. A large puddle looked at me. I looked at the large puddle. My first thought was to blame Harpo, with Bess a close second. "I wonder if it's cat pee?"

I squatted down next to the puddle and sniffed. Then I dipped a finger into it. Then I sucked my finger.

"Yuck!" squealed Robin.

"Watch closely," I said. "I'll do it again."

I did it again.


"You weren't watching closely," I said. "I'll do it slowly."

I dipped my first finger into the puddle, raised my hand towards my mouth and sucked my second finger. "See? It's just a trick to disgust the audience. Works every time. Nobody ever notices you change fingers."

"So what's the verdict?"

"I don't think it's cat pee." This time I sucked the proper finger. "No, it's just water. I wonder where it's coming from."

As the words left my mouth, something went Plop! on my head.

"I saw that," said Robin.

We both looked up to the ceiling. Slowly, a drop of water formed and then dripped down to the floor.

"Damn!" I said. "Looks like the weather bomb might have broken the roof."

Robin cleaned up the puddle and I fetched a bucket. We ate breakfast to the accompaniment of a rhythmic plinking sound as, one by one, drops formed and fell into the bucket.

Robin went towards the room where her computer lives. She wanted to play Skyrim. She had monsters to kill. But on the way there, she walked into trouble.

"Alan! There's another puddle outside the bathroom."

Water was dripping down from the trapdoor that covers the loft entrance. I got the stepladder and climbed up to the ceiling. The trapdoor isn't hinged, it's a box which sits in a little well. I lifted it up, turned it slightly and slid it out of its housing. Water poured out of it all over me. I climbed down the ladder and showed it to Robin.

"Water's been dripping into this for quite some time," I said. "Look, the weetbix board that it's made of is absolutely saturated. And once it couldn't absorb any more, the water started dripping out onto the floor below. I wonder if I can see where it's coming from..."

We put the loft trapdoor into the bath to drain and dry and I climbed up the ladder again with a torch.

The loft stretched out before me, dark, gloomy and cobwebby. The torch cast small circles of light on the huge silver tubes of our dehumidifier system which snaked hither and yon, looking for all the world like alien caterpillars exploring the dark and hidden recesses of the roof space. The cold water tank, a tall copper cylinder, lurked just to my left. I examined it carefully in case it was the source of the leak, but it seemed sturdy and watertight. I shone the torch up towards the roof. Two damp tracks traced their way across the ceiling beams. Even as I watched, a drop of water formed at the base of one of them.


I climbed down the ladder. Robin placed another strategic bucket beneath this second leak.

Plink! Plink!

Stereophonic drips. One for each ear, each drip slightly out of sync with the other, just for maximum annoyance.

"It's definitely coming from the roof," I said. "We'll have to get a roof man. It could be expensive..."

"Well there's no use calling anyone now," said the ever practical Robin. "The weather bomb is booming and it's Saturday. Nobody can do anything until things calm down, and even if they could they'd charge us several large fortunes to come out after hours. It will have to wait until Monday."

I resigned myself to two days of plinking noises. However by the next day the wind and the rain had died down. Small streaks of sunshine peeped shyly from behind thick, grey clouds. The drips from the ceiling died away. Dry silence descended on the house. On Robin's advice, I replaced the trapdoor into the loft even though it was still quite damp.

"It's really hot in the loft," said Robin. "That and the dehumidifier will dry it out a lot faster than anything else we can do."

Them there interweb tubes proved to be very helpful when it came to identifying people who fixed roofs. And so, on the following Monday morning, I rang a local firm and spoke to a nice man called Simon.

"You were lucky to catch me," said Simon. "The phone's been ringing off the hook."

"I'm not surprised," I said. "I'm sure that I'm just one among many. Though I am, of course, the most important."

"Indeed you are," he agreed gravely. "I'll pop round in an hour or so to see just what the damage is."

He was as good as his word.

"Come in," I said. "Let me show you what happened."

First I showed him the buckets with a derisorily small amount of water in them. "A lot of it has evaporated over the last couple of days," I said somewhat shamefacedly.

Simon nodded wisely. "It happens," he said.

I picked up a torch. "Let me show you what I found in the loft," I said.

I climbed up the stepladder and removed the trapdoor. It was bone dry. I shone the torch on to the beams that the water had been dripping from. They too were bone dry. There was not a trace of water in the loft.

"There's not a trace of water in the loft," I said to Simon. "This is embarrassing"

"Let me have a look," said Simon. He climbed up the stepladder and looked around, but he had no more success than me. "Nope," he said. "Nothing there. I'll have a look at the roof. It's probably loose nails or something."

He went outside and got his ladder. The cats and I listened to him clomping about on top of the house. "That sounds like a bloody big bird up there," said Harpo. "Can I go on to the roof and kill it?"


Eventually Simon reappeared. "The roof is in quite good condition," he said. "But they've used lead nails to attach it to the beams and the nails have reacted with the roofing iron and it's started to corrode."

"Galvanic corrosion," I said. "I know about that. We studied it in my physical chemistry courses at university. Two metals in contact with each other generate small electrical currents which can accelerate corrosion."

"Simon looked surprised. "Most people have never heard of galvanic corrosion," he said. "They accuse me of making it up just to pad the bill. Anyway, you really should have the nails replaced with more modern screws which have an insulating layer on them to minimise the ion migration. The corrosion is particularly bad around the area just above where you saw the water coming in."

"How much will it cost to fix?" I asked.

Simon made a face. "Well, it's quite a long job," he said. "It will probably take most of a day. We'll have to extract the old nails, treat the rust and then put the new screws in. Hmmm..."

He did calculations in his head and came up with a final total that was somewhere between 'wow' and 'boingggggg'. I did a double take. "Can I have a discount for knowing about galvanic corrosion?" I asked.

He rounded down to the nearest dollar. I decided to put the 40 cents I'd saved straight into my piggy bank. "When can you start?"

"March 15th, weather permitting," said Simon.

Rudy Rucker writes some of the oddest books it has ever been my pleasure to read. My first exposure to him was a novel called White Light in which the hero has an out of body experience that might have been induced by too much booze and pot. In this state he gleefully explores aspects of various Cantorian infinities while staying in a hotel that fully implements Hilbert's Grand Hotel paradox. He has many interesting conversations with Hilbert himself and also with Albert Einstein, Georg Cantor, a beetle called Franz Kafka and many miscellaneous mythical beings. I strongly urge you not to read the novel unless you've studied transfinite mathematical concepts, preferably at university level. By a strange coincidence, I was studying these things at the time I stumbled across the novel. Nevertheless it still bewildered the bejesus out of me. Definitely not a straightforward book, but not untypical of Rudy Rucker's somewhat peculiar way of looking at the world and transforming it into literature.

And now he has written an autobiography called Nested Scrolls and much of what was previously obscure has become much clearer.

Rudolf von Bitter Rucker, to give him his full name, was born in 1946. He grew up during the time when the beat poets and novelists were at their most influential. There was a revolution taking place in literature. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs were writing amazingly experimental poetry and fiction which was beating down the walls that surrounded traditional thinking and venturing off beyond the walls into strange new territory. Rucker was enormously excited by the experiments that the beats were performing and he adopted their style and tone and world view for the things that he was writing about. However while he was philosophically a beat(nik) he also had a foot in the camp of the sciences. Eventually he ended up with a day job as a lecturer in mathematics. The combination of these two aspects of his life made him uniquely qualified to be one of the first (and arguably one of the best) of the beat novelists of science fiction, something which would probably have greatly puzzled Jack Kerouac. Fortunately Kerouac was dead by then and didn't need to worry about it.

White Light turns out to be a very autobiographical novel. Rucker was a lecturer in maths, so was Felix Rayman (the novel's protagonist). Rayman indulged in too much booze and too many drugs. So did Rucker. Both were fascinated by the Cantorian infinities. In many respects White Light and Nested Scrolls are two sides of exactly the same coin.

Rucker likes doing this kind of thing. Seek is a huge collection of Rucker's non-fiction wherein he muses on maths, microchips and mysticism. Its companion piece Gnarl is a huge collection of Rucker's short fiction wherein he muses on maths, microchips and mysticism...

Rucker describes this kind of fiction as transrealism. This wayward and transcendentally weird way of thinking has taken him into some very odd areas indeed. It is probably quite legitimate to say that he was writing cyberpunk novels long before William Gibson et al. had ever set finger to keyboard.

There's no doubt that Rudy Rucker's books are an acquired taste. Books by writers such as Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut can seem quite ordinary and straightforward, not to say mundane, when compared to Rudy Rucker's outrageous and bizarre creations. But if you have acquired the taste for Rucker, then Nested Scrolls is definitely the book for you! It is full of fascinating insights into just what makes Rudy Rucker tick, and it is also an invaluable companion to his novels in general.

Since I mentioned William Gibson, perhaps now is the time to point out that he too has a non-fiction book on the stands. Distrust That Particular Flavor (sorry for the American spelling, but that's what it says on the cover) is a collection of essays dating back over almost the whole of Gibson's writing career. According to the blurb, these essays have never been collected together before. Indeed, some of them have never even been published before. And when you read the book, you'll find out why. Despite his reputation as a cutting edge writer, these essays show that Gibson has a disturbing shallowness and naivety in his thinking about the technology and sociology that occupies his literary world view. His fiction has broadly hinted that he is a technological ignoramus and these essays simply reinforce that view. I've always felt that his fiction was dull and (dare I say it?) derivative. These essays simply reinforce that opinion and give me some concrete reasons for holding it. Distrust That Particular Flavor has no flavour, no spice at all.

Two of my very favourite books by Jane Lindskold are Changer and Legends Walking. They are stories of the athanor, ancient creatures of legend — shape-shifters, satyrs, fauns etc. who live amongst us but who have sworn to keep their existence hidden from us for we are prone to kill what we do not understand. In Changer we meet perhaps the oldest of the athanor who is currently spending time as a coyote. He has a family, one of whom is a very special person indeed. His coyote family is massacred – only the one little puppy is spared. And so the changer reverts to human form and seeks out the person who is currently known as Arthur Pendragon to help him with his revenge. The novel tells of this revenge and of his first inklings of just how special his daughter Shahrazad might be. In the second novel, Legends Walking, we learn more about Shahrazad's upbringing and of a crisis in West Africa which threatens both human and athanor alike.

The novels are clever and spellbinding, full of humour and wit and life. They tell exciting stories and you simply can't help falling in love with Changer and Shahrazad and the rest of the athanor.

And both books have been out of print and unobtainable for many years, damnit!

However they are now both available again as ebooks. Legends Walking has been republished as Changer's Daughter (which was it's original title before the publishers messed with it). Furthermore, Changer's Daughter also includes a short story called Witches'-Broom, Apple Soon which is the only other piece that Jane Lindskold has written about the athanor. It was originally published in an anthology that vanished almost as soon as it appeared and I'd never been able to track it down. The story tells of another incident in the life of Shahrazad when she intervenes to protect a threatened dryad.

So now, the republication of Changer and Changer's Daughter makes the complete chronicles of the athanor (as they currently stand) available once again. Trust me, you really do owe it to yourself to buy them. They are truly superb stories.

Trail Of The Spellmans is the fifth instalment of Lisa Lutz's chronicles about the extraordinarily dysfunctional Spellman family of private detectives. It's just as twisted and just as funny as its predecessors and I recommend it unreservedly.

To begin with, the book just noodles around through various set-piece Spellman scenes. There are little domestic mysteries – why is Rae up a tree and has she got a bucket? Why does David's daughter keep demanding a banana and then, upon being given one, says "Apple!" and bursts into tears? Why has one half of the parental unit filled all her days and all of her nights with hobbies that she obviously hates? You might start to think that there's no plot at all. Exactly when is the story going to start?

Lisa Lutz is absolutely brilliant at disguising her plots. Just when you are quite sure that nothing at all is going on except for domestic bits and pieces, the plot rears up, belts you round the ears and says, "Look at me!" in a big brown voice. And suddenly you realise that it was there all along, only you hadn't noticed it before.

This is a laugh out loud funny book and I loved it to bits. You will too.

The weather permitted and Simon knocked on my door early in the morning of the 15th.

"Can I plug this cable in somewhere?" he asked, proffering a dirty orange cord with a three pin plug on the end.

"Of course," I said and headed off to the laundry where there is a spare power socket and a small window to feed the cable through. Simon gave it the Simon seal of approval and clambered on to the roof, his body festooned with complex roofing tools. Soon the sounds of banging and power screwing began to echo through the house.

Harpo, the cat who isn't afraid of anything except the things that he is afraid of, ran out through the cat flap never to be seen again until tea time. Bess, the cat who isn't afraid of anything at all, stared curiously at the roof and then went back to sleep.

One by one, Simon pulled out each roof nail, cast a magic spell on any corrosion that he found, and then screwed a screw into the hole the nail left behind. On and on and on...

What a mind-numbingly tedious job.

There was a knock on the door.

"There you go," said Simon. "You've probably got the most securely fastened roof in the whole of New Zealand. I've never seen so many nails in a roof before." He showed me the box he'd been putting the nails in. At a rough estimate there were at least umpteen and three of them. "The original roofer must have been really worried about the high winds."

"Well this is Wellington," I said. "It's a notoriously windy city. And I do live on top of a hill."

"I suppose you are a bit exposed," said Simon. "Do you get the northerly winds or the southerly winds?"

"Yes," I said.

Rudy Rucker Nested Scrolls Tor
William Gibson Distrust That Particular Flavor Putnam
Jane Lindskold Changer Obsidian Tiger Books
Jane Lindskold Changer's Daughter Obsidian Tiger Books
Lisa Lutz Trail Of The Spellmans Simon and Schuster
Previous Contents Next