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:

  • 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/
  • Pura Vida! October 19, 2014
    Just got back from Costa Rica, where I spent ten days studying Spanish.  Some thoughts:Costa Rica hasn't had a military since 1949.  Twenty-eight percent of the country is protected and kept in its natural state by the government, and about 10 percent more is protected privately.  They don't mine their mountains.  They get 90 percent of their energy from renewable sources, water and wind and volcanoes, and they're on track toward 100 percent.  If you're poor and you qualify, you can go to the university for free, and maybe even get some extra money for books and transportation.  The rest of the students are charged on a sliding scale -- my Spanish teacher got a 30 percent scholarship, which means that she only had to pay 30 percent of her costs.  They have universal health care.It isn't a utopia, of course.  San José, the capital, is crowded and undistinguished.  Very few poor people make it to the university.  You can wait for months to be seen by a doctor; you can even wait for an appointment to get an appointment.  There's a ring road in San José that's been under construction for forty years.Still, there's something about the spirit of the place.  When they pass a law saying you can't cut down palm trees in the jungle no one complains about the government trying to take away their freedoms; they just get on with planting trees on farms.  When Nicaraguans come into the country to take advantage of the health care, no one is there standing at the border telling them to go back where they came from -- they know this is what happens when you have the best care in Central America.  I met a fairly poor man, a security guard at night and a car mechanic by day, whose son wants to study eco-tourism. They understand that we're all in this together, that if we don't stop destroying our environment we're going to end up destroying everything.All of this seems to be what they mean by "Pura vida."  It means "pure life" -- but you can also use it to answer "How are you?" or "How was dinner?" or just to say "Everything's cool."  It all made me obscurely hopeful.More personal stuff later...Arenal volcano seen through clouds
  • New Review at LOCUS ONLINE October 18, 2014
    What's the new Peter Hamilton like?http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2014/10/paul-di-filippo-reviews-peter-f-hamilton/
  • 1953 Ad for Mystery Book Club October 15, 2014
  • New Review at the B&NR October 14, 2014
    I look at a novel by David Cronenberg:http://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/consumed/
  • In Which I Answer a Question about Words October 11, 2014
    I took part in a Mind Meld at sfsignal.com, about interesting words I've come across in my reading.  I even managed not to rant about inappropriate words in epic fantasy novels.  My two least favorites are "lifestyle" and "mind-boggling" -- for some reason I've seen these more times than I want to think about.

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:

  • Pee Pocket
    The Pee Pocket is yet another device that allows women to pee standing up. (I'm pretty sure I've posted about several other such devices.) It was designed by a heart surgeon. But what caught my eye were the possible plans to come out with a camouflage version of it marketed to hunters. Says the inventor in an interview with Local News 8 of Idaho Falls: "Hunters have all this garb and warm gear on, and they can't get it off. When they go to the bathroom, it's not just unzip. Sometimes it's cold, and it doesn't reach, so they put this inside the clothes to give them the extra length they need to pee without taking off all the garb." I guess it's important that the hunters stay fully camouflaged while relieving themselves.
  • Follies of the Madmen #232
    Existential candybars, as only David Cronenberg could direct it. For more weirdness, try his new novel.
  • Breaking Bad Toys
    Toy'sR Us is going to carry Breaking Bad action figures and accessories which include bags of pretend crystal meth. I think the pretend crystal meth should be pop rocks!
  • Feces by mail
    In the past, if you wanted to send someone a package full of a pile of feces, you had to collect the feces yourself, put them in a box, and take it to the post office. But now the internet can take care of all that messy work for you. The website shitexpress.com offers "a simple way to send a shit in a box around the world." Right now, it looks like you can only send horse manure. But options will surely expand as the service becomes more popular.
  • Octagon Houses
    For a brief time in the USA, eight-sided houses were a thing. Based on the crackpot theories of one fellow. The example above can be found in my native Rhode Island. I used to marvel at it all the time when I was younger. Read the history here. Order a book here.
  • News of the Weird, August 19, 2014
    News of the Weird Weirdnuz.M393, October 19, 2014 Copyright 2014 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved. Lead Story "Selfie fever" has begun to sully the sacred Islamic pilgrimages to Mecca, according to scholars who complained to Arab News in September. What for centuries has been a hallowed journey intended to renew the spirit of Islam (that all Muslims are called upon to experience at least once) has become, for some in the so-called “Facebook era,” more resembling trip to Disneyland, with visitors to the Sacred Mosque texting friends the “evidence” of their piety. (Another scholar complained in a New York Times opinion piece in October that Mecca is often experienced more as a packaged tour by marketers, centered around Mecca's upscale shopping malls rather than religious structures.) [Arab News, 9-30-2014; New York Times, 10-1-2014] The New Normal Just in time for California's new law requiring explicit consent for students’ sexual activities is the free iPhone/Google app, Good2Go, which the developer promises will simplify the consent process (and even document it). As described in a September Slate.com report, Good2Go requires the initiator to send the prospective partner to at least four smartphone screens, wait for a text message, provide phone numbers (unless he/she is a multiple-user with an “account”) and choose accurately one’s sobriety level--all before “the mood” evaporates (ending the app’s usefulness). It took the tech-savvy Slate writer four minutes to navigate the process--and she was still unclear which sexual activities had been consented to, since those specifics aren’t referenced. (Update: Good2Go was pulled from the market a week later.) [Slate.com, 9-29-2014] [Slate, 10-7-2014] New York Giants tight end Larry Donnell manages his own "fantasy league" team by “drafting” NFL players for virtual competitions based on their real-life statistics of the previous weekend. Donnell lamented to New Jersey's The Record in October that he had benched virtual “Larry Donnell" on his fantasy team the week before because he thought his other tight end (“Vernon Davis”) would do better. In reality, real Donnell had a career-high game, with his three touchdowns leading the real Giants to a 45-14 victory. However, Donnell's fantasy team lost badly because virtual "Larry Donnell" (and his weekend statistical bonanza) was on Donnell’s bench. [WCBS-TV, 10-2-2014] A Perfect World In August Tampa Bay Times reported a dispute in Dunedin, Fla., between 12-year-old lemonade-stand operator T.J. Guerrero and the adult neighbor (Doug Wilkey) trying to close him down as an unlicensed entrepreneur, despite T.J.'s business plan for assisting his favorite animal shelter. Of course, T.J. was quickly inundated with donations, media praise, and more lemonade sales. Wilkey, however, is under investigation by the city after a tipster revealed that Wilkey himself might operate a home-based financial-services business not properly licensed. [Tampa Bay Times, 8-28-2014] The Campaign Trail "My Friends, I Am a Man of Action!": Roger Weber, running for a Minnesota House seat in November, is now being sued by a neighbor over a property-line dispute near Nashwauk, Minn. Rather than working with an arbitrator or mediator or letting the legal process run its course, Weber in 2013 took a chain saw and sliced completely in half the large, two-car garage that Weber says sat half on his property and half on the neighbor's. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 9-22-2014] Sensitive in Vermont (1) Lianne and Brian Kowiak of Waterbury, Vt., complained to Ben & Jerry's in September that its new ice cream flavor, "Hazed & Confused," was "shock[ing]" and "upset[ting]" and should be changed immediately. Though most customers recognize the name only as a play on the 1993 cult movie "Dazed & Confused," the Kowiaks insist that they never be reminded that their 19-year-old son died in a college hazing incident. (2) In Winooski, Vt., in August, the local eatery Sneakers Bistro earned public advertising space by beautifying one of the city's flower beds, and managers used it for the quixotic ad, "Yield Sneakers Bacon." After one woman complained that the sign disrespected those who do not consume pork, Sneakers took it down. [WCAX-TV (Burlington), 9-22-2014] [WPTZ-TV (Plattsburgh, N.Y.), 8-25-2014] The Foreign Press Medical Marvels: (1) In October, workers at a clinic in Honda, Colombia, reported helping a 22-year-old woman who came in several days earlier with vegetation growing from her vagina. She said her mother had told her that inserting a potato (now sprouting) was effective contraception. (2) An 18-year-old woman was admitted to Bishkek Hospital in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, in September with severe stomach pains, which doctors discovered was due to her long-standing habit of chewing both discarded hair and her own. Doctors removed a hairball that weighed 8.8 lbs. (and a Yahoo News report had a photo). [United Press International, 10-2-2014] [Yahoo UK News, 9-29-2014] The family of Kai Halvorsen of Lillestrom, Norway, planning a holiday in Thailand, feared that their bulldog, Igor, would be traumatized, having never been left alone. Halvorsen and a friend arranged with Labben Kennel to make a replica of the family living room to calm Igor’s anxiety. The two men painted walls the same shade of gray, brought in the family couch, built a replica coffee table, and moved in Igor’s bed, carpet, pillows, and blankets. (However, according to the friend, Igor spent most of the holiday cavorting outside with his new friend, Helga, the St. Bernard.) [United Press International, 9-8-2014] Perspective Prosecutors in Killeen, Tex., are seeking the death penalty for Marvin Guy, who in May shot one SWAT officer to death and wounded three as they conducted an unannounced (“no-knock”) drug raid on his home at 5:30 a.m.--leading Guy to believe hoodlums were breaking in and thus provoking him to grab his gun and start firing. (The tip given to police was bogus; no drugs were found.) However, in December, 90 miles away in another Texas county, a mistaken SWAT-raid victim, Henry Magee, also killed an officer under similar circumstances (except that Magee actually had some marijuana) but was cleared in the shooting by a grand jury’s acceptance of self-defense. Guy is black; Magee is white. [Killeen Daily Herald, 9-22-2014] [KBTX-TV (Bryan-College Station), 2-7-2014] Creme de la Weird Harmonic Convergence of Perversions: (1) Palm Beach County, Fla., sheriff’s deputies searching the home of child-pornography suspect Douglas Wescott, 55, stumbled upon about 50 dead cats stored in four freezers. Wescott’s computers were seized, but he seemed to protest more their removal of his 30 to 35 live cats. (2) In September, following a months-long trial in Canada’s Nunavut territory, defrocked Catholic priest Eric Dejaeger, 67, was found guilty of 31 counts of raping children and one of raping a sled dog. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9-10-2014] [Agence France-Presse via Yahoo News, 9-12-2014] Least Competent Criminals Not Ready for Prime Time: (1) William Dixon, 21, was arrested in Brentwood, Tenn., in August fleeing a Best Buy store after arousing suspicion. According to the police report, Dixon, on foot, ran across all lanes of Interstate 65, but the chase ended when he collided with a tree. (2) In October, a man unnamed in news reports snatched a bottle of wine from the shelf of a Sainsbury’s supermarket in East Grinstead, England, and dashed for the door. However, he ran into a shelving unit and knocked himself unconscious. [BrentwoodHomePage.com, 8-21-2014] [East Grinstead Courier, 10-9-2014] Walter Morrison, 20, a United Parcel Service baggage unloader at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport, apparently intended only to swipe random parcels but inadvertently came upon, in one package, a diamond (later found to be worth about $160,000). Police charging him in September said he took the diamond to his apartment, where he traded it to his roommate for a gram of marijuana (around $20, retail). [The Smoking Gun, 9-26-2014] A News of the Weird Classic (Novemebr 2010) Surreal Estate: Sixty-two percent of the 12 million people of Mumbai, India, live in slums, but the city is also home to Mukesh Ambani's 27-story private residence (60,000 square feet, 600 employees serving a family of five), reported to cost about $1 billion. According to an October [2010] New York Times dispatch, there are "four-story hanging gardens," "airborne swimming pools," and a room where "artificial weather" can be created. Ambani and his brother inherited their father's textile-exporting juggernaut but notoriously spend much of their time in intra-family feuding. A domestic-worker neighbor told the Times that she makes the equivalent of about $90 a month. [New York Times, 10-29-10] Thanks This Week to Steven Lobejko and Ken Wilkens, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

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!”