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:

  • Food and Words October 12, 2015
    I tend to reference food a lot in my writing, so it’s no surprise that I’m a big fan of cooking shows and therefore, ipso facto, TV’s The Food Network. I don’t have much time for TV, so I have to cherry-pick what I watch and have mostly honed my choices down to Chopped (where like everybody else I have fun imagining what I would do with those baskets o’ culinary surprises), Worst Cooks in America (not the current celebrity version), and The Next Food Network Star. The problem with that last one is that it takes place in the summer, when I’m away from home teaching at a low-residency graduate program in Genre Fiction. Sure, I can DVR the episodes and wait to watch them when I get home, but by then the contestants have been winnowed down and perhaps even the winner declared. It’s like watching a sports event tape after the victorious team has already been announced.So as much as I can, on TNFNS evenings I hie myself to the dorm lobby and try to stake out the one available TV. A few summers ago I got an excellent writing lesson from, of all people, superstar chef Bobby Flay.This was the test/task that TNFNS competitors were assigned that evening: Flay cooked a number of identical plates of the same entrée. Then one at a time each of them was presented with a plate, ate the food, and had to extemporaneously describe the dish.I sat up straight on the dorm lounge sofa. This was interesting! The contestants were going to have to use their words! Right around then one of our graduate students, Chris Barili, happened to wander by, the poor sod. I made him come and sit down with me (such is the power of teachers) and watch what unfolded.Which turned out to be fascinating. The criteria for describing the food were:#1 -- The contestants were given just a very short amount of time. I can’t remember exactly how long, but it might have been either 30 seconds or a minute.#2 – They had to describe the food accurately and in such a fashion that anybody watching would then want to eat the dish.#3 – But here’s the kicker: They couldn’t use default general descriptors like yummy, delicious, fantastic, scrumptious, etc. Whenever they did, Bobby Flay had a horrendous “BRACK!” klaxon he’d hit, signaling a failure of words. They had to really describe what the food looked like, smelled like, and tasted like.Of course much hilarity and humiliation ensued as we watched, fascinated. I felt a lot of sympathy for those contestants, and as a writer I had to wonder how I would have fared. It’s made me pay a good deal more attention to my use of details. And it’s a great exercise for writers to assign themselves. The next time you sit down to eat a nice meal, think how you’d describe it in a way that would really bring it to life for a reader, yet without using even a single generalized word. It’s harder than you might think, but fun.
  • Short Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley October 11, 2015
    The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley is a delight nearly all the way through.  Thaniel (short for Nathaniel) works in a telegraph office in England in 1883, and one day he discovers that someone has left him a watch.  The watch leads him to the eponymous watchmaker, Keita Mori, who, he learns, is a little strange.  For one thing, he's made a clockwork octopus, which sidles about the house stealing people's socks.  For another, and more seriously, he seems to know things before they happen.What would it be like if you had a friend who could tweak events to work out to his advantage?  What if that friend disliked your fiancee?  How could you oppose him, if he knew everything you were planning to do?  (Or in this case, how could your fiancee oppose him, since Thaniel doesn't seem to see the danger?)The Victorian London setting is wonderfully done.  The author introduces us to a Japanese show village in the middle of London, something I'd never heard of but which apparently was a real thing.  The characters are fun to spend time with, and Mori's ability to see probable futures, and to choose from them the future he wants, is carefully worked out -- though some of his schemes did seem a bit overly complicated.The Watchmaker is so charming that at first it seemed in danger of becoming twee.  And sometimes, for example with the octopus, it goes right up to the country of twee, but it never crosses the border.  As the story progresses, in fact, we learn that things that seemed merely incidental are really parts of the whole, that no action exists by itself but leads somewhere else.  Even the octopus has a part to play.
  • The End of an Era: Locus Magazine Is Moving October 8, 2015
    Locus is moving out of the Oakland hills and into San Leandro.  If you've ever visited the house where they had their headquarters (or even if you haven't) you should check out these staged photographs from the realtor, with their weird retro-sixties furniture and some really ugly-ass chairs.When Charles Brown lived there the house was very different.  The living room had wide, comfortable Morris chairs, art from nearly every major sf artist on the walls and shelves, and a battalion of Hugo rockets over the fireplace.  The bedrooms had been turned into offices, and the bathroom was a postage station.  The basement had been carved back into the hillside to house the massive book collection, with rolling shelves like the ones libraries use.  (The books I remember most were a first edition of The Lord of the Rings and some autographed Heinleins.)  Charles was a first-rate cook, and the house always smelled like a combination of books and the delicious meal he had just prepared.We used to talk long into the night about science fiction.  (Another thing he had was an excellent selection of drinks.)  He loved to explain things and give advice, some of which was even good.  And there were parties when guests came to town, or for holidays, or just for the hell of it.It was weird to visit after he'd died.  He used to joke that he wanted to be stuffed and put in a corner so he could continue to oversee everything, and in fact his presence was still felt -- some people said they could almost see him.And now they're moving.  Will Charles's spirit go with them?  I guess we'll find out.
  • Ad for Ace Doubles, 1953 October 6, 2015
  • Short Reviews of Books of Interest: Europe in Autumn, by Dave Hutchinson October 4, 2015
    Europe in Autumn has a terrific premise.  Flu has ravaged Europe, killing between twenty and forty million people, and most countries have broken up into smaller pieces, polities or duchies or city-states.  There is even a country located in four buildings of an apartment complex, which shrinks to two buildings when half of it secedes and goes to war with the other half.  Also, there's a train line that runs straight through Europe, from Lisbon to Chukotka in eastern Siberia.A courier system has sprung up to take people and things across borders, and a man named Rudi is recruited to join it.  He completes his trial mission easily enough -- it consists of going to another country and bringing back the message "Fifty-seven" -- but after that he runs into difficulties.  He's arrested on his next mission, and even worse things happen to him on some of the others.  At this point I began to wonder if the tag-line on the cover -- "No border can hold him" -- was somehow meant ironically.Then he's double-crossed, and he turns against the couriers.  Suddenly he becomes super-efficient, stealing funds, recruiting others to help him, and, yes, slipping through borders undetected.I liked a lot of this book, and disliked almost as much, which is a weird feeling to come away with.  I liked that most of it took place in Eastern Europe -- Rudi is Estonian, working in Poland, initially -- and away from the more usual settings.  I liked the tours through various countries, which seemed realistic if a bit ultra-violent, and I liked the train across Europe.  I liked the author's voice, which delights in pointing out the Kafkaesque absurdities of the system, and I liked the family of mapmakers at the end.But I never got a strong sense of Rudi, or of any of the other characters, and there are only two women in the entire book, one for Rudi and one for his brother.*  And I'm still unsure as to how much Rudi screwed up and how much was part of a conspiracy against him, or why there was a conspiracy to begin with.  There's a sequel, of course, so more will probably be made clear later.* Whoops -- forgot about the woman who trains Rudi as a chef, Pani Stasia.  Okay, three women.
  • Short Reviews of Books of Interest: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, Salman Rushdie October 2, 2015
    So I've been reading more science fiction and fantasy lately.  I blame Mike Glyer's File770, which I started reading to keep up with events around the Hugo Awards, and which has turned into, among other things, a place to recommend novels and short stories, especially those eligible for the Hugo this year.  So… have a review.  Have a few of them.  Here's the first one.I liked Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights to begin with.  It has Rushdie's idiosyncratic writing, funny, thoughtful, sometimes profound, along with his seemingly effortless way of integrating magic within the real world.  A philosopher in Al Andulus, Ibn Rushd (or Averroes), takes up with a jinnia, a female jinn, named Dunia, and together they have dozens of children.  Descendants of these children scatter all over the world, all of them with traces of their ancestor's magic.  (The New Yorker ran the first chapter, about Ibn Rushd and the jinnia, as a short story, and I was delighted to learn that the narrative continued from there, because The New Yorker version had absolutely no plot, just set-up.  I'd been starting to think that The New Yorker has no idea what a story is, and this just confirmed it for me.  Of course thousands of their subscribers, not to mention critics and professors all over the world, would disagree with me.  I'm okay with that.)After this the novel shifts to the present, or a little after.  The doors between our world and Peristan, where the jinni live, reopen, and a storm awakens powers within Dunia's children.  Then other jinni, Dunia's enemies, slip between the two worlds.And here's where the novel lost me.  It turns simplistic, a war between good and evil, with Dunia's children fighting Dunia's enemies.  (I was about to say that it's comic-book-like, but there are any number of comic books more complex and nuanced than this.)  And despite the fact that the world is being destroyed by these battles, Rushdie never shows us any of the ordinary people affected, just those with powers.  It all seems to be happening at one remove, a sanitized version of the end of the world.

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:

  • Kurvon Breast Enhancement Pills
    [Click to enlarge--ha!] There's a great story behind this pill, wherein an ex-employee tried to rip off the formula and sell it as "Charm-on." Read it here. Did you know breast-boosting pills are still for sale? Original ad scanned from this magazine:
  • Personalized Dolls
    Introduced in 1965 by New York toy manufacturer Jet Party Favors. "Customers mail in a photograph of the person to be modeled, specifying hair and eye color. The photo is reproduced on a strip of photo-sensitive linen, which is put through a pressure-molding process to suggest facial contours such as noses, eyes, and dimples. The hardened, mask-like shell is then dolled up by artists, attached to a blank head, and mounted on a standard doll boy, girl, or baby body. Price: $9.95." The dolls were said to be popular with "grandparents who desire reminders of grandchildren living in other cities, ... narcissists who want dolls depicting themselves as youngsters, necrophiles who want dolls of deceased relatives, and teen-age girls who mail their doll-like images to boy friends stationed overseas." Source: Newsweek - Feb 22, 1965
  • Laura the Nazi-Saluting Parrot
  • Caffeinated Peanut Butter
    And now, yet another caffeine delivery system. Because what our over-caffeinated world clearly needs is more caffeine. So you can get your caffeine fix via an inhaler, a body spray, as you lather up in the shower, and now in your peanut butter. I think I'll stick with my morning cup of coffee.
  • No-Arms Golfer
  • News of the Weird (October 11, 2015)
    News of the Weird Weirdnuz.M444, October 11, 2015 Copyright 2015 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved. Lead Story The bold, shameless leering of David Zaitzeff is legendary around Seattle’s parks and moreso since he filed a civil complaint against the city in September challenging its anti-voyeurism law for placing a “chilling effect” on his photography of immodestly-dressed women in public. Though he has never been charged with a crime, he roams freely (and apparently joyously) around short-skirted and swimsuit-clad “gals” while himself often wearing only a thong and bearing a “Free Hugs and Kisses” sign. Zaitzeff’s websites “extol” public nudity, wrote the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and explain, for example, that a woman who angles her “bod” to offer a view of “side boob” is fair game for his camera. Zaitzeff’s complaint--that the law criminalizes photography of a person’s “intimate areas” (clothed or not) without explicit permission--is distressing him. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer via, 9-17-2015] Democracy Blues Randy Richardson, 42, vying unopposed for the Riceville, Iowa, School Board (having agreed to run just because he has two kids in school) failed to get any votes at all--as even he was too busy on election day (September 8th) to make it to the polls (nor were there any write-ins). To resolve the 0-0 result, the other Board members simply appointed Richardson to the office. Riceville, near the Minnesota border, is a big-time farming community, and registered voters queried by the Des Moines Register said they just had too much fieldwork to do that day. [Associated Press via U.S. News & World Report, 9-20-2015] Medical Marvels Researchers recently came upon a small community (not named) in the Dominican Republic with an unusual incidence of adolescent boys having spent the first decade or so of their lives as girls because their penises and testes did not appear until puberty. A September BBC News dispatch referred to the boys as “Guevedoces” and credited the community for alerting researchers, who ultimately developed a drug to replace the culprit enzyme whose absence was causing the problem. (The full shot of testosterone that should have been delivered in the mother’s womb was not arriving until puberty.) [BBC News, 9-20-2015] Leading Economic Indicators The serpentine queue extended for blocks in September in Lucknow, India, after the state government of Uttar Pradesh announced 368 job openings (almost all menial)--eventually resulting in about 2.3 million applications--200,000 from people with advanced degrees (even though the equivalent-$240/month positions required only a 5th-grade education, according to an Associated Press dispatch). About 13 million young people enter India’s job market each year. [Associated Press via Yahoo News, 9-18-2015] New World Order At a September convention on ethical issues involving computers, a researcher at Britain’s De Montfort University decried the development of devices that might permit human-robot sex. Though no human would be “victimized,” the researcher warned that such machines (some already in service) will exacerbate existing “power imbalances” between men and women and pave the way for more human exploitation. One critic challenged, offering that such robots would be no more demeaning to women than, say, vibrators. However, the researcher ominously warned that there may someday be robots resembling children, marketed for sex. (A September USA Today dispatch from Tokyo reported that the company Softbank had banned sex, via its User Agreement, with its new four-foot-tall human-like robot--even though “Pepper” features nothing resembling genitalia.) [Washington Post , 9-15-2015] [USA Today, 9-29-2015] Thailand’s “Last Resort Rehab” at the Wat Thamkrabok Temple about 100 miles north of Bangkok resembles a traditional drug-detox facility (work, relaxation, meditation)--except for the vomiting. At the “Vomit Temple,” Buddhist priests mix a concoction of 120 herbal ingredients that are nasty, according to the Temple’s methamphetamine addicts interviewed for a recent Australian TV documentary. Said one, of the rehab agenda, “Vomiting is at 3 p.m. every day. Foreigners must vomit for the first five days. The vomiting is intense.” [International Business Times (London), 9-29-2015] Finer Points of the Law People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a federal lawsuit in California in September on behalf of an endangered crested black macaque that wandered up to an unattended camera on a tripod and clicked a “selfie.” The camera belonged to photographer David Slater, who claimed copyright to the photo even though “Naturo” actually snapped it. The shot might be valuable to Naturo since it has become “viral” on the Internet. (Though the photo was taken in Indonesia, Slater’s publisher is based in California.) [CNN, 9-23-2015] Jose Banks, now 40, filed a $10 million lawsuit in 2014 against the federal government because jailers at Chicago’s high-rise Metropolitan Correctional Center failed to guard him closely enough in 2012, thus enabling him to think he could escape. He and a cellmate had rappelled 17 floors with bedsheets, but Banks was re-arrested a few days later. Still, he claimed that the escape caused him great trauma, in addition to “humiliation and embarrassment” and “damage to his reputation.” (In September, the U.S. Court of Appeals turned him down. Wrote the judges, “No one has a personal right to be better guarded.”) [Associated Press via Fox News, 9-26-2015] Recurring Themes Many in conservative Jewish communities still practice the tradition of Kaporos on the day of atonement, but the critics were out in force in New York City’s Borough Park neighborhood in September to protest the ritual’s slaughter there of 50,000 chickens. (A synagogue raises money by “selling” chickens to members, who then have butchers swing the chickens overhead three times, thus transferring the owners’ sins to the chickens. Ultimately, the chickens are beheaded, supposedly erasing the humans’ sins. Protesters ask why not just donate money.) A judge refused to block the ritual but ordered police to enforce the sanitation laws governing the beheadings. [New York Daily News, 9-18-2015] Recent Headlines from the Foreign Press “London Zoo Monkey-keeper and Meerkat-keeper ‘Fought Over Llama-keeper’” (a British human love triangle, September, The Guardian). “Man Suffering from Constipation for 10 Years Has 11-pound Stool Removed” (Chengdu, China, August, Central European News). “Naked Spanish Clowns Anger Palestinians” (a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Jerusalem backfired, September, YNet News). “Swedish Porn Star Jumps into Spanish Bullfighting Ring to Comfort Dying Bull” (Malaga, Spain, September, The Local). [The Guardian (London), 9-25-2015] [Central European News via Fox News, 8-31-2015] [YNet News (Tel Aviv), 9-17-2015] [The Local (Stockholm) via Fox News Latino, 9-22-2015] Readers’ Choice (1) In August, Che Hearn, 25, who police said had just shoplifted electronics items from the Walmart in Round Lake Beach, Ill., was picked up while on foot near the store. Police found that Hearn had actually driven his car to the Walmart but that while he was inside shoplifting, a repo agent (who had followed him to the store) had confiscated it. (2) Astronaut Edgar Mitchell (the sixth man to walk on the moon) told a reporter in August that “My own experience talking to people” has made it clear that extraterrestrials are trying “to keep us from going to war” with Russia and that U.S. military officers have told him that their test missiles are “frequently” shot down “by alien spacecraft.” [Lake County News-Sun, 8-7-2015] [Fox News, 8-15-2015] More Things to Worry About Peter Frederiksen, 63, a gun shop owner in Bloemfontein, South Africa, was detained by police in September pending formal charges after his wife discovered 21 packages labeled as female genitals in their home freezer. There was no official explanation, but one officer called them the result of “mutilation of private parts of a woman, cut out and kept as trophies.” One was marked with the name of a woman, “2010,” and “Lesotho” (a kingdom within South Africa). [Associated Press via Huffington Post UK, 9-22-2015] A News of the Weird Classic (November 2009) New Zealand's Waikato National Contemporary Art Award in September [2009] (worth the equivalent of US$11,000) went to Dane Mitchell, whose installation consisted merely of the discarded packaging materials he had gathered from all the other exhibits vying for the prize. Mitchell named his pile "Collateral." (Announcement of the winner was poorly received by the other contestants.) [Waikato Times, 9-8-2009] Thanks This Week to Gerald Sacks, Maria Nilles, Dave Kanofsky, Robin Daley, Chuck Hamilton, and Gary Goldberg, 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.


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.”


“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.


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!


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!


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.


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.


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.


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!


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?


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.


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.


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!


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!”