Reviews, interviews and articles by and with Paul

The Inferior 4+1 is a Livejournal community maintained by Paul, lizhand, Paul Witcover, lucius-t and ljgoldstein.

Recent posts:

  • Over-confidence and Other Stuff October 30, 2014
    1. So I had to go for jury duty yesterday and one of the questions on their questionnaire was "What languages do you speak?", and for some reason I had a burst of over-confidence and wrote, "English, Spanish."  Fortunately when I turned in the questionnaire they told me they'd filled their quota and I could go home, so my proficiency (or not) was never tested.2. This week The New Yorker has a story by Tom Hanks.  Man, I miss Lucius -- he could have taken care of that story in half a heartbeat.  It's about four people who build a rocket and orbit around the moon -- I mean, didn't Robert Heinlein write something like this about a million years ago?  And it's told in a dull, deadpan voice, completely wrong for someone who wants to describe the wonders of space.  The voice is so deadpan, in fact, that at first I thought the main character was that staple beloved of beginning writers, the unreliable narrator, but I don't think Hanks is that clever.3. And Bonnie killed another squirrel.  I know it's something dogs do and it's natural and all of that, but it was heart-rending to hear the squirrel squeal, all the while I was shouting, "No!  Leave it!  No!  Leave it!"  She didn't pay any attention, of course.
  • New Review at the B&NR October 28, 2014
    My thoughts on the new Gibson novel:http://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/the-peripheral/
  • Costa Rica 3 October 27, 2014
    More things I liked about Costa Rica:I liked the Spanish school itself, the Costa Rica Language Academy, which I would recommend highly.  My teacher was enthusiastic and a great confidence-builder, and she had a way of teaching the difference between "ser" and "estar," and of explaining the subjunctive, that got me to understand them for the first time in my life.  She also had a lot of terrific expressions.  "Todo tuanis" means "Everything's cool," though she said it might be a little out-of-date.   A song like "Besame Mucho" they called a "cortavena"  song, one so sad it made you want to cut your veins.   She swore with the German word “Scheibenkleister!”, which sounds like the worst swear word in the world but which she said had something to do with corner windows.  (Though Google translates it as “disk glue needed.”)Another teacher there reads fantasy, and we discussed El Señor de los Anillos [The Lord of the Rings] and other books.  He liked El Nombre del Viento [The Name of the Wind] but agreed with me when I said that it sometimes seemed slow and that very little happened.  (I have to say I was pleased to find that this opinion wasn't just confined to the United States.)  And the third teacher looked up Spanish songs for us on his computer, even though he said his friends, heavy metal fans, would make limitless fun of him if they saw him now -- especially when we asked for Shakira.The other students were great, hardly a bad apple in the bunch.  They were mostly older and mostly women, people who had raised families and now wanted to travel, who had interesting lives and knew a lot about a lot of things.The weirdest part was being the best Spanish speaker in the group -- though this says more about the level of the group than my abilities.  I'd expected an immersive experience, where we would all speak Spanish all the time, but we spoke English outside the class and sometimes even within it.  Still, my Spanish improved a lot.  Even better, I now know I can talk to native speakers and be understood, which was a huge boost to my confidence.  So I'm thinking of this as a good first step, and the next step will be another class somewhere else, one that's harder and more immersive.Arenal volcano.  Note the car parked facing outward: this was the first step in the hotel's evacuation procedure.  They didn't have a second step because, as a lecturer told us, once a volcano blows there's very little you can do.I actually walked on this suspension bridge.  Then I had to walk back over it, in a thunderstorm, while holding up my umbrella.  And yes, the bridge is made of metal.Iguana grande
  • Ebooks! October 22, 2014
    My backlist becomes available as ebooks today.  Here are the covers -- I like the way they have them as a sort of matching set, and the way they manage to evoke magic and strangeness in real places.Also, today is the third anniversary of the day we met Bonnie and took her home.  In celebration, she gets a liverwurst dinner tonight.
  • Costa Rica 2 October 21, 2014
    Some things I liked about Costa Rica (in no particular order):Staying at Selva Verde Lodge near the Sarapiqui River.  This is a place with cabins inside the forest, so that when you walk on the paths you see frogs and toucans, geckos and iguanas, and when you wake up you can hear everything peep and cheep and croak and buzz and ring all around you.  The best was a coatimundi, which wandered up near us as boldly as you like.  (The picture isn't very good because I was so startled it took me a while to get to my camera.)  We also saw monkeys and caimans on a trip down the river itself.Raised walkway, so we don't disturb the jungle.  Though there were paths through the jungle as well.A visit to a chocolate factory, where the guide made chocolate the way the Aztecs did (though with sugar, which the Aztecs didn’t have).  We got to drink a cup after it was made, and it was some of the best chocolate I ever had.  (The guide was named Willy, like Willy Wonka.  Really.  People in Costa Rica have names like William and Frank and Justin, though of course there are Spanish names too.)Zip-lining.  For some reason I wasn't afraid doing this, possibly because I trusted the lines and the guides.  It's a fantastic way to see the jungle.This guy is actually holding me up with his feet.  (You can see his untied shoelaces, which I was terrified he'd trip over while walking on the platforms.)  Before we'd gone out on a single line I asked, "Can we scream?" and one of the guides said, "You can do anything you like as long as you don't pee in your pants."  This was the trip where I screamed, startling him, I think, because I'd been so quiet on the other ones.
  • New Review at LOCUS ONLINE October 20, 2014
    A horror novel of a different sort from Fowler:http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2014/10/paul-di-filippo-reviews-christopher-fowler/

The Weird Universe explores a human and natural cosmos that is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine. The usual suspects are Paul Di Filippo; Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes; and Chuck Shepherd, purveyor of News of the Weird.

Recent posts:

  • How to make a roller-skating witch
    Instructions from Humpty Dumpty Magazine - Oct 1954. via And Everything Else Too (which has full-size scans).
  • Happy Nutcrack Night!
    Original article here. Who knew that Halloween used to be a time of divination for romance? LOVE TESTS OF HALLOWEEN tells of other forgotten customs. Whether you are roasting your lover's nuts, or going door-to-door for candy, have a swell night!
  • Real or Fake?
    Would you drive by the above and keep going thinking it was fake? A man beheaded his mother and kicked her head around before stepping in front of a train. Passers-by said they thought it was a Halloween prank.
  • Doomsday Flight
    The Doomsday Flight was a 1966 TV movie written by Rod Serling. The plot involves "a disgruntled aerospace engineer" who phones in a threat warning that he's planted a barometric pressure bomb on an airliner set to explode when the plane descends below 4000 feet for landing. He demands a ransom in return for instructions on how to disable the bomb. There isn't really a bomb, but the pilot nevertheless figures out how to defeat the scheme by landing at Denver, 5000 feet above sea level. The movie is apparently pretty good. So good, in fact, that it soon earned an odd place in film history as The Movie Too Dangerous For The Public To See. Whenever it was shown, it inspired a slew of copycat bomb hoaxes, eventually leading the FAA, in 1971, to send a letter to TV stations, requesting that they never show it again. The FAA's letter warned that "the film may have a highly emotional impact on some unstable individual and stimulate him to imitate the fictional situation in the movie." TV stations honored the FAA's request, and to my knowledge have never aired it again. It eventually was released on VHS (Available on Amazon), and there may be a DVD of it available (though not on Netflix). But you won't see it on TV. You can find a fuller version of this movie's history here and here.
  • Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp
    The tour for squares. The tour for hipsters. Their home page.
  • Dr. Bouchaud’s Flesh-Reducing Soap
    "Will absorb all fatty tissues from any part of the body." I wonder if Dr. Bouchaud was related in any way to Dr. Anton Phibes? From The Australian Home Journal, June 1926 [via Vintage Ads]

by Charlie Dickinson

(Originally published online on Dec 8, 1998)

Irrepressible humor, a stand-back imagination, a wondrous facility and control of the English language are qualities often assigned to science fiction writer Paul Di Filippo. Native to Providence, Rhode Island, Di Filippo, along with others of his generation, reinvigorated SF storytelling with a cyberpunk ethos during the 1980s (an early Di Filippo story, “Stone Lives,” appears in the definitive cyberpunk anthology, Mirrorshades).

By 1995, Di Filippo had published nearly 100 short stories when a three-novella volume, The Steampunk Trilogy, came out. Never one to give his imagination a rest, Di Filippo took the cyberpunk attitude back to Victorian times.

Subsequent books were two story collections: biotech-themed Ribofunk (1996), and Fractal Paisleys (1997) with the SFWA Nebula award-winner, “Lennon Spex,” and a novel: Ciphers: A Post-Shannon Rock-n-Roll Mystery (1997).

Di Filippo’s most recent release is Lost Pages (1998). Although paying homage to a number of modern writers, Lost Pages lets the reader consider some very alternate realities: What if novelist Franz Kafka worked a day job as a columnist for health-faddist and publishing magnate Bernarr Macfadden and moonlighted as a superhero? And that’s only the first of nine stories.

Savoy’s Charlie Dickinson caught up with Paul in cyberspace to pose the 20 Questions.

1

Your short story “Anne,” included in Lost Pages, is a great, imaginative read. You take the Holocaust icon and let her escape from Holland to Hollywood. Any trouble publishing this story?

My record-keeping for the submission of “Anne” indicates that it journeyed to a mere four recalcitrant editors before finding a home with the munificent and perspicacious Scott Edelman in the first issue of Science Fiction Age. I must have had high hopes for mainstream acceptance, since the first two zines I tried were Playboy and Esquire. Only the response of Alice Turner at Playboy sticks in my memory. She accused me of dishonoring the memory of Anne Frank in a particularly scandalous and trivial way. My written response to her: “When I play God, Anne Frank gets another fifty years of life.”

2

“Anne” seems a pretty obvious collision between Jewish moral earnestness and your quite valid postmodern esthetics. Can we have both, ethics and esthetics, and not have one trump the other?

I always like to keep in mind a quote from the work of Thomas Pynchon that one member of the online Pynchon list uses as his signature sign-off: “Keep cool, but care.” I think that one line puts the whole esthetics/ethics rivalry in perspective. The Buddhist goal of wise compassion does the same: wisdom, the intellect, balanced with heart. If it’s possible to be some weird mix of Flaubert and Gandhi, that’s my goal.

3

Without doubt, Lost Pages pays homage to some twentieth-century writers that matter to you. They’re the protagonists in your stories. We’re seeing more historical figures in contemporary fiction. I’ve read T. Coraghessan Boyle sits down with original source materials to compost his fictive imagination. What was your approach with Lost Pages?

The stories in Lost Pages quickly proved to me what SF writer Howard Waldrop had already ruefully discovered: it’s possible to devote an elephant’s worth of research time to produce a mouse of a story. (A very witty and charming mouse, to be sure.) To me, employing a writer as a protagonist involves becoming intimately familiar with his work and his life, as well as the era in which he or she flourished. Obviously, this is a potentially infinite amount of research. In many cases I fudged, garnering just enough details to convey a larger authoritativeness. I had wanted to do an original story for the volume, one in which D. H. Lawrence lived to randy old age and became the dictator of a sex-based, Dionysian U.S. government, but felt daunted by the amount of reading that would have demanded. Maybe when I reach my own hypothetical old age, I’ll buckle down and write that one!

4

One story I especially loved in Lost Pages was “The Happy Valley at the End of the World,” where Antonie de Saint-Exupery meets Beryl Markham. How did that story take off?

The kernel for my Saint-Exupery story was actually reading the script of Wells’ Things to Come. I began conjecturing how in reality the airmen Wells was relying on as saviors of humanity were really a raffish, selfish lot, and probably wouldn’t have gone along with his plans at all. From there, it was a simple matter of choosing the two standout aviators of their time as protagonists. I avoided Lindbergh, since one of my rules of writing is to focus on the secondary or lesser-known personages of history. They offer so much more in the way of fresh tales!

5

You’re having a My Dinner with Andre evening with one famous, or infamous, living person. Whom and why?

I think I’d like to sit down with Neil Young and find out his secret of not growing old.

6

Reading about your formative years in the Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, I was struck by one defining moment for you at age eighteen. You’d graduated from high school in Providence and you’d spent the summer working at a tough physical job in a spinning mill. While your former classmates were off to college, you took your savings, packed typewriter and a small book collection, and were off for Hawaii. You were a writer. Okay, once there, you didn’t write your first publishable story. Nonetheless, how did this experience change you?

Striking out on my own at age 17 proved to me one indelible truth: I wasn’t a prodigy. The science fiction field is famous for its brilliant youngsters. Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Samuel Delany, Michael Moorcock. I think I had some notion back then that I was one of them, and that stint proved that I surely lacked the chops at such an early age to follow in the footsteps of these teen geniuses. My path would not be identical to theirs.

7

Now, flash forward a few years. You’re almost twenty-two and boom! you’ve set up housekeeping with your life’s companion, Deborah, and you’ve sold your first story. Two decision biggies — whom to live with, what to do for a living — that plague many people through their twenties, and beyond. Do you feel your early focus and decisiveness gave you more time to produce what many consider a respectable body of work by someone who’s not that far into his forties?

As mildly disillusioning as my first foray into the dedicated creative lifestyle was, it had a paradoxical confirming effect. This was what I wanted to do, but I just wasn’t ready yet. So a few years later, making certain major decisions once and for all did indeed free my energies to flow into a channel that had been at least shallowly scraped in the sands of Hawaii five years in the past. Richard Feynman’s famous anecdote about deciding to eat only chocolate pudding for dessert for the rest of his life in order to free up a few decision-making neurons for more important matters has always resonated with me.

8

Your writing has loads of humor and none of the neurotic drearies. So if you don’t write as therapy, why do you write?

Writing humor has always come naturally to me, although in times of personal crisis the stories do emerge somewhat grimmer. Consider “Mama Told Me Not to Come” in Fractal Paisleys, which begins with the narrator’s attempted suicide. In any case, I think I write for the same reason many writers do: to replicate through my own prose some golden hour of reading of my youth. Haven’t quite done it yet, though!

9

Public imagination thrives on the idea of SF visionaries like Verne whose boldly speculative worlds come true decades later. Power of the imagination aside, I suspect you read loads of articles about biotech, cybernetics, nanotechnology, and such. Care to comment on how you go mining for SF ideas?

I keep abreast of science mainly through journals for the self-educated lay person such as Scientific American, and through pop-sci books. Although some writers such as Fred Pohl and Bruce Sterling delve into esoteric professional journals and visit actual labs, I find that most of the time I can get enough insight into up-and-coming trends and gadgets and waves of paradigm-shifting through standard sources. What counts in making a fun story is the twist. Given transgenic animals, for instance, will you find them waiting on you at your local McDonald’s, or being illegally served on a bun at some black-market dive? Or both?

10

Here’s a question we ask everyone: What are you reading now? Why did you pick it?

As a full-time reviewer, I read so much that this question would have a different answer almost every hour! [Could Savoy agree to refresh these lines accordingly? (Grin.)] This morning, however, I picked up something very different: a work in manuscript, sent to me by Jonathan Lethem. Titled Doofus Voodoo, it’s written by a friend of Lethem’s named Tom Clark, and so far has managed to intrigue me. Clark is a poet, and his weird tale seems on a par with something like Steve Aylett’s Slaughtermatic, another fine book I commend to one and all.

11

You still write on a Commodore 128?

My Commodore, alas, has been put out to pasture. In line with Bruce Sterling’s Dead Media Project, an ongoing chronicle of obsolescence, I now maintain the faithful C128 as a shrine, and keep electric incense perpetually aglow before this fine old piece of hardware on which I wrote five novels and scores of stories.

12

So I take it you don’t do Windows?

[Editor’s note: Paul opted for a Mac.]

Five hundred years from now, Bill Gates will have entered the ranks of the minor deities. Whether as Zeus or Lucifer remains to be seen!

13

Your favorite pizza and where?

This important question deserves a three-part answer: a) any pizza purchased in Italy, because I’d have to be in Italy to eat it; b) Deborah’s caramelized onion-and-garlic white pizza on homemade wheat dough; c) Caserta’s on Federal Hill in Providence.

14

Anyone who has read your novel Ciphers: A Post-Shannon Rock-n-Roll Mystery realizes that your R & R knowledge is both encyclopedic and reverent. You’re on a desert island and have an entertainment choice. Either the CDs or the videos go. Which will it be and why?

I doubt I’ve watched more than two hours’ worth of videos since the birth of MTV, and that amount’s been in ten-second snatches. Videos are to music as film adaptations are to novels. No contest here on which to dump!

15

Tell us about “pronoia.”

Pronoia is the irrational belief that someone somewhere is trying to do you good. Whether this belief is as harmful to one’s mental well-being as paranoia, and whether the notion of someone trying to do you “good” is a scarier prospect than that of someone trying to harm you, both remain unanswered questions.

16

What bumper sticker(s) is on your car, or what would you compose to tell other motorists what’s on your mind?

Our 1981 Cressida sports a colorful “Free Tibet” injunction and also one of those black-rimmed, white oval place-abbreviation stickers, in this case “BI”. The latter stands for Block Island, a beautiful resort we love to visit, although its shady alternate meanings tend to raise motorist eyebrows.

17

One of the things you’ve done to survive as a fiction writer was a stint at the refreshment counter in a stag movie house. You gain any special understanding of human nature from this work? Any of it of value in writing stories?

I learned that it’s possible for the average person (not the actors and actresses on-screen, but the owners of the theater) to utterly divorce their feelings about the product they peddle from the paycheck it delivers. A useful marketplace reminder of how anyone can slide into becoming a merchant of the dubiously valuable, and a lesson every writer should keep uppermost in mind.

18

You’ve also had a gig writing computer code and with your SF eye on the future, what’s your best guess on how the Y2K Millennial Bug is going to play out? You stocking up the wine cellar, you ready to plant potatoes in the backyard?

I wrote in COBOL plenty of Y2K code, and am indelibly grateful I am not now in charge of cleaning the mess up. But I will take the absurdist stance that dealing with the Y2K glitch will boost the global economy into new stratospheric levels, as businesses are forced to invest in up-to-date hardware and software and modernize their procedures. Already, Y2K has earned millions of dollars for consultants and old hackers.

19

About a year ago, in doing its annual roundup of hot books for ‘98, Publisher’s Weekly discussed at length Fractal Paisleys, your previous short story collection. The reviewer said you deserved to be better known, but your primary work in the short story form kept you from reaching a wider audience. What’s on tap in the way of novels?

My first novel, Ciphers, has received some encouraging reviews that allow me to believe readers might be ready for more. In Spring 1999, Cambrian Publications will release a picaresque comedy — no fantasy or speculative elements! — titled Joe’s Liver. And a manuscript titled Fuzzy Dice is currently seeking a home. That one’s a Ruckeresque romp across dimensions. But I’ve yet to choose what longer project surfaces next from a pool of several new ideas.

20

You ever entertain the notion that it’s time to move on to a bigger state than Rhode Island?

Wasn’t it William Blake who urged us “to see Texas entire in ev’ry minuscule Rhode Island”? Something like that keeps me here in the land of my birth, happy and productive, and like all good Yankees I say, “Don’t fix what ain’t broke!”