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.

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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:

  • Buttered Flip
    In an old American medical journal, The Philadelphia Medical Museum (1811 - Vol 1, No.4), Dr. Richard Hazeltine of Berwick, Maine shared a traditional yankee recipe for "buttered flip" cough medicine: Often in the imbecile age of childhood, after I had gone to bed have I sip'd, and with no great reluctance, the steeming, salutiferous "buttered flip;" administered by the careful hand of an affectionate mother, to several, perhaps, of her tender offspring, who were affected with various catarrhal complaints, brought on by wet feet, and exposure to sudden vicissitudes of the weather. The "buttered flip" was composed of recent urine, obtained from some one of the children, hot water, honey, and a little butter: and it generally removed the complaints for which it was given. Exhibited in this manner, it never puked; but it promoted expectoration and sweat. image source: gracious rain
  • Turtle Clapping
    The only source that I can find for this supposedly ancient and semi-legendary practice is a single article in FIELD AND STREAM. Was the reporter getting his leg pulled? Did the practice exist, then die off? Inquiring minds want to know!
  • News of the Weird (August 28, 2016)
    News of the Weird Weirdnuz.M490, August 28, 2016 Copyright 2016 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved. Lead Story The phenomenal Japanese singer Hatsune Miku (100 million YouTube hits) is coming off of a sold-out, 10-city North American concert tour with high-energy audiences (blocks-long lines to get in; raucous crowd participation; hefty souvenir sales)--except that "she" isn't real. Hatsune Miku is a projected hologram on stage singing and dancing (but her band is human), and her May show in Dallas (according to a Dallas Observer review) typically ignited frenzied fans who know the show's "every beat, outfit . . . and glow stick color-change." Her voice, a synthesized "vocaloid," is crafted in pitch, timbre, and timing to sound human. (The latest PlayStation brings Hatsune Miku into the home by Virtual Reality.) [Dallas Observer, 5-16-2016] The Finer Points of Law Make Up Your Mind, Feds: On August 11th, the federal government's Drug Enforcement Agency famously refused to soften the regulation of marijuana, leaving it (with heroin) as a harsh "Schedule I" drug because (citing Food and Drug Administration findings) it has "no medical use." However, as the Daily Caller pointed out, another federal agency--Department of Health and Human Services--obtained a U.S. patent in 2003 for marijuana-derived cannabinoids, which HHS pointed out have several medical uses (as an antioxidant and for limiting neurological damage following strokes). [Daily Caller, 8-17-2016] Priorities: (1) "[P]ets are better protected than young kids under Oregon abuse laws," lamented a prosecutor in May because, unlike the pet law, the "child abuse" law requires proof the victim experienced "substantial" pain--which a young child often lacks vocabulary to describe. (Simply showing welts and bruises is insufficient, the Court of Appeals has ruled.) (2) That same Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in June that Thomas Wade, 44, was not guilty of a crime when in 2013 he unzipped his pants, reached inside, and at that point cursed the woman he had confronted in a public park. "Distasteful," wrote the Court, but it was an exercise of Wade's free speech right. [The Oregonian, 5-21-2016] [The Oregonian, 6-10-2016] Texas! In August, Houston defense lawyer Jerry Guerinot announced his retirement from death-penalty cases, leaving him with a perfect record (for that area of his practice): He lost every single time. Twenty-one clients received the death penalty, and 10 have been executed (so far). He made no excuses, pointing out that "gang members, serial killers, and sociopaths" were entitled to representation, too, and that he has taken more than 500 non-capital cases to trial (with, presumably, more success). [Associated Press via Fox News, 8-13-2016] Tourists Gone Wild (1) Tourism officials in Iceland recently posted "hundreds" of signs at visitor attractions showing a squatting person in silhouette, with a small pile on the ground underneath--and the familiar diagonal line (indicating "don't"). (Critics of the signs reluctantly admit Iceland's chronic shortage of public restrooms.). (2) In a July-released YouTube clip, a Disney fan posted shot after shot of "rude" Chinese tourists at Shanghai Disneyland, coaxing their small children to urinate in public rather than in restrooms. (3) The Tourism Bureau of Japan's Hokkaido island recently rewrote its etiquette guide for visitors to underscore the inappropriateness of "belching or flatulence" in public. [Daily Mail (London), 7-20-2016] [Daily Mail (London), 7-19-2016] [Agence France-Presse via Yahoo News, 4-28-2016] Leading Economic Indicators Suspicions Confirmed: (1) A New York Times reporter, describing in June the rising prices of prescription pharmaceuticals, noted that a popular pain reliever (probably describing oxycodone) was available on the Paterson, N.J., black market for $25 a pill, while heroin was going for $2 a baggie. (2) The economic growth rate in Ireland for 2015 was revised--upward--in July. Its gross domestic product was originally estimated as 7.8 percent, but subsequently--adding the paper value of several "inversions" (U.S. companies "moving" to Ireland to reduce U.S. taxes)--Ireland found that it was actually growing at 26.7 percent. [New York Times, 6-14-2016] [New York Times, 7-13-2016] Awesome! (1) Investigators revealed in July that an off-duty Aurora, Colo., sheriff's deputy had justifiably fired his gun to resist a parking lot mugging--and that, furthermore, one of the bullets from Deputy Jose Marquez's gun had gone straight into the barrel of one of the handguns pointed at him. (The investigators called the shot "one in a billion.") (2) Matthew Lavin, 39, drew Internet acclaim in July after he was gored through his left thigh while "running with the bulls" in the annual spectacle in Pamplona, Spain. Interviewed in his hospital bed by Madrid's The Local, he called it "the best time ever" and said he looked forward to another run next year. [Denver Post, 7-13-2016] [The Local (Madrid), 7-13-2016] Ironies Gary Durham, 40, was shot to death during a heated road-rage incident in Plant City, Fla., on August 10th. Durham had served 10 years in prison after an aggressive road-rage episode in 2001 in which he pursued another driver and knocked him to the ground, causing the man to hit his head, fatally, on the pavement. (Included in Durham's 2002 sentence was an order to take anger management classes.) [Tampa Bay Times, 8-11-2016] Wait, What? The Borough Council of Pompton Lakes, N.J., was surprised to learn in June that, because of an existing local ordinance, dogs were not permitted in its brand-new Pompton Lakes dog park (created with great fanfare in an area of Hershfield Park). The Council vowed to fix the problem. (2) In June, a police watchdog agency in Dublin, Ireland, asked officers ("gardai") across the country to try to carry out house raids at "reasonable hours" so that they do not disturb the occupants. (In one complaint, gardai staged a 3:15 a.m. raid to search for evidence of stolen vehicle accessories.) [The Record (Hackensack), 6-13-2016] [Irish Independent, 6-12-2016] A 9-year-old girl named Irina won a contest in Berezniki, Russia, in August for letting mosquitos bite her more often that they bit other contestants. It is the signature event of the annual Russian Mosquito Festival, and her 43 hits were enough to earn her the title of "tastiest girl." The annual Great Texas Mosquito Festival in Clute, Tex. (south of Houston), apparently has nothing comparable. [Washington Post, 8-15-2016] The Passing Parade (1) The Elanora Heights Public School (a primary school in Sydney, Australia) recently banned clapping during student assemblies in an effort to help pupils with noise anxieties. To show audience approval, students are asked to "punch the air," "pull [on their] faces," or "wriggle about." (2) In July, The Nairobian newspaper reported the remarkable career of "Rosemary," reputed to be the Kenyan capital's oldest prostitute--still going strong at 64 after more than 5,000 clients. She said she could make it through 40 on a good day, but never missed church on Sunday. [Sky News (London), 7-20-2016] [The Nairobian, 7-16-2016] Least Competent Criminals Didn't Think Ahead: (1) In July, Joshua Jacobs, 30, accidentally knocked down a traffic sign at 12:45 a.m. in Vero Beach, Fla., and, spotting a sheriff's deputy, sped away. The deputy gave chase--especially, he said, given the fully-grown marijuana plant resting in the bed of the pickup. Jacobs was arrested. (2) Jeremy Watts, 30, and Jessica Heady, 24, were charged with aggravated burglary (a PlayStation and other electronics from a man's home) in Clarksville, Tenn., in August. The pair later offered the haul to a Cash America Pawnshop but did not realize that the home they had burglarized was the pawnshop manager's. [TCPalm.com (Stuart, Fla.), 8-2-2016] [Leaf Chronicle (Clarksville), 8-3-2016] A News of the Weird Classic (October 2012) Researchers writing in the journal Animal Behaviour in July [2012] hypothesized why male pandas have sometimes been seen performing handstands near trees. They are urinating, the scientists observed, and doing handstands streams the urine higher on the tree, presumably signaling their mating superiority. A San Diego Zoo researcher involved in the study added that an accompanying gland secretion gives off even more “personal” information to other pandas than the urine alone. [Live Science, 8-28-2012] Thanks This Week to the News of the Weird Senior Advisors (Jenny T. Beatty, Paul Di Filippo, Ginger Katz, Joe Littrell, Matt Mirapaul, Paul Music, Karl Olson, and Jim Sweeney) and Board of Editorial Advisors (Tom Barker, Paul Blumstein, Harry Farkas, Sam Gaines, Herb Jue, Emory Kimbrough, Scott Langill, Bob McCabe, Steve Miller, Christopher Nalty, Mark Neunder, Sandy Pearlman, Bob Pert, Larry Ellis Reed, Peter Smagorinsky, Rob Snyder, Stephen Taylor, Bruce Townley, and Jerry Whittle).
  • Anti-Aging Mouthpiece
    Searching for that youthful look? Forget expensive surgery or dangerous therapies! Japan has the answer and it is as simple as it is, well, unusual. Just pop the colorful Pupeko gently into your mouth, clench your jaw and breath in and out. This will then start training and tightening your cheek and jaw muscles, helping to offset the signs of aging and bringing a fresher, youthful look back again to your cheeks! This easy-to-use beauty and skincare product was developed by an ordinary housewife. Chikako Hirama was simply concerned about her own age and wanted an easy way to combat those telltale lines. Just try the yellow or pink Pupeko daily using such techniques as puffing out your cheeks or sucking them in while breathing through the mouthpiece. Then you can try it while keeping your head upright to give your neck and other muscles further exercise training. Buy yours here for $36. via Book of Joe
  • Go Topless Day:  August 28, 2016
    Needless to say, bare chestal areas of XX-chromosome carriers in video and at homepage.
  • Unfazed By Fire
    People who ignore fires burning around them, even as firemen battle to control the flames, seems to be a recurring theme in weird news. For instance, in addition to the case below, we've also seen the Thurlow family who wouldn't let a fire cause them to miss the latest episode of St. Elsewhere. The Sikeston Daily Standard - Feb 19, 1959 Crocks of Granite. In Detroit, while fire blazed in the kitchen of Frank Collins' Bar, while the building filled with smoke, while firemen dragged hoses through the barroom and water sloshed on the floor, seven steady customers refused to budge from their bar stools.

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!”