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 August 28, 2014
    What's up with the newest from Peter Watts:http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2014/08/paul-di-filippo-reviews-peter-watts/
  • Translations August 27, 2014
    My Spanish class is reading Soñar en Cubano (Dreaming in Cuban) by Cristina García.  We'd thought it was written in Spanish and then translated into English, but unfortunately (for us, anyway) it turned out to be the other way around, and we are reading a translation by someone named Marisol Palés.  The translation is fairly good considering that García uses a lot of U.S. idioms, but there are some very weird things here.  Specifically, Palés has made up a few things that aren't in the book.This paragraph, for example.  In English, the original, it says, "After Ernesto died, Felicia learned from his mother that they'd been born minutes apart, on the same day, of the same year."  And the Spanish: "Después de morir Ernesto, Felicia aprendió de su madre que todos volvíamos a nacer a los pocos minutos de haber muerto, en ese mismo día de ese mismo año."  Which means, more or less, "After Ernesto died, Felicia learned from his mother that we all come back to be born a few minutes after death, in the same day of the same year."I mean, what the hell?  The English shows how close Felicia and Ernesto were, that they might have been soul-mates.  The Spanish comes out of nowhere and seems to set up some plot line based on reincarnation that can't possibly be followed up on, since the translator isn't, you know, writing the book.  And I don't think there's any way this can be a misreading on her part, not when she's translated other, much harder, passages.Elsewhere she turns dawn into dusk, and has someone lying face down in the bathtub instead of on her back.  Nothing that changes the meaning of the novel, but there's just no reason for any of it.I think it's the fact that I've had books translated into other languages that makes me so queasy about this.  How many of my books contain parts I've never written?  How would I ever know?  I've had translations into Spanish, but I haven't seen them.  And if I had, I'd probably be too apprehensive to read them.Anyway, all this has made me want try my hand at translating stories from Spanish to English.  At least I'd know enough not to change the author's own words.________This is probably as good a place as any to mention that I've signed up for a ten-day Spanish intensive class in Costa Rica, for near the end of the year.  I'm getting more excited (and a bit frazzled) as the time gets closer.
  • Weekend August 24, 2014
    We were showing some out-of-town friends around Lake Merritt, a beautiful lake where people have picnics or rent paddle-boats or go to playgrounds -- but for some reason my attention was drawn to this part...It's a little blurry (sorry), but if you can't make it out, it's a dead tree with a flock of crows roosting in it.  I don't know, maybe the morbid imagination is part of being a writer.  That's what I tell everyone, anyway.
  • Wildcat August 23, 2014
  • New Review at LOCUS ONLINE August 22, 2014
    I look at the new Varley novel:http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2014/08/paul-di-filippo-reviews-john-varley/
  • New John Hiatt August 20, 2014
    Fine new song off his latest CD.

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:

  • Is Space Travel Covered?
    Russia sent 5 geckos, amongst other small creatures, to space in order to study the animals sex habits in zero gravity. The satellite was recently brought back and the geckos were all dead, possibly due to freezing. Ok, first, if you are studying sexual activity why send an odd number of participants. Second, who did not know it is too cold for geckos in space? Yeah, yeah, they knew, but they sure didn't prepare for it sufficiently. Thirdly, were they insured by Geico??
  • Double Throat
    The Ventriloquist Journal explains that this ad used to run in the back of comic books. What you got, if you sent away for it, was "a capsule-sized metal whistle thing you were supposed to put in your mouth... it was useless for anything except making whistle sounds."
  • “Infinite O’Clock” by Ken Nordine
    More on the artist.
  • News of the Weird (August 31, 2014)
    News of the Weird Weirdnuz.M386, August 31, 2014 Copyright 2014 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved. Lead Story All War Is Weird, But This ISIS War--: As summed up by a Vox.com writer: “The absurdity runs deep.” America uses American military equipment to bomb American military equipment that ISIS captured (captured from inept Iraqi soldiers, inept in part since America disbanded Iraq’s professional military in 2003). America’s Kurdish allies, fighting ISIS, uses inferior Russian weapons they captured in the 1980s. ISIS has a so-far-safer haven in Syria because America declined to arm moderate Syrian rebels, largely out of fear that radicals like the future ISIS would capture weapons America provided. “So now [America is] bombing the guns that [it] didn’t mean to give ISIS because [America] didn’t give guns to their enemies because then ISIS might get guns.” [Vox.com, 8-8-2014] Compelling Explanations Thomas Clark, 28, of Crawley, England, beat one of society’s most foreboding charges in July when he was acquitted of voyeurism even after admitting that he had installed that video camera in a workplace rest room, and even despite evidence that he formerly worked in the pornography industry. Clark persuaded a Horsham Magistrates Court judge that he suffered an extreme phobia of diarrhea and vomit and that, by installing the camera, he was thinking only of ascertaining that the rest room was clean before he entered. [Crawley News, 7-25-2014] In America, We're All Great Parents: (1) Kayla McKenzie, 22, was charged with DUI in Bismarck, N.D., a condition that led her to crash into six separate vehicles or structures on August 12th--while, according to police, three unsecured children were in her car, including a month-old infant riding in her lap. Nonetheless, said the 0.252 blood-alcohol driver, "I look like a bad mother, but I'm not. I'm actually a really good mom." (2) Rayvon Campos, 22, pleaded guilty in San Antonio, Tex., in August to first-degree felony assault of his 1-month-old daughter that resulted in brain hemorrhaging. Nonetheless, he reassured the judge, "This is the first time I've ever been in trouble. I'm a real good dude." [Bismarck Tribune, 8-13-2014] [San Antonio Express-News, 8-14-2014] Suspicions Confirmed A fire hydrant at 393 University Avenue has brought in more parking-ticket revenue (since 2008) than any other hydrant in Toronto--$289,620 on 2,962 violations, according to an August Toronto Star report. While hydrants are usually located at curbside to facilitate fire-engine access, the one at 393 University Avenue was placed about 20 feet from the curb, in the middle of a sidewalk, and obscured by a tree in a planter about eight feet long. (Nonetheless, the law's wording treats the hydrant, for illegal-parking and revenue-earning purposes, as if it were curbside.) [Toronto Star, 8-11-2014] A woman hiking in Down Valley Park near Placerville, Colo., told Denver’s KUSA-TV in August of her narrow escape from a mountain lion that had stalked her for a half-hour (crouching menacingly each time she attempted to retreat). At the closest point, recalled Kyra Kopestonsky, it was about eight feet away. At that point, she told the reporter, “I don’t know why,” but “I just started singing opera really loud.” The mountain lion “sort of put its ears down and . . . backed away.” (Only then was she was able to call a friend, who alerted rescuers.) [KUSA-TV, 8-5-2014] Police Report Arrest Him at Your Peril: In July, a jury in Brooklyn, N.Y., awarded Kevin Jarman, 50, $510,000 from the city for the broken ankle he suffered during his arrest for shoplifting in May 2011 (a charge to which he eventually pleaded guilty). Among his other New York City income: a $20,000 settlement for false arrest on a drug charge in 2013 and another, for $15,000, in 2005. [New York Post, 7-17-2014] I Know the Feeling, But--: (1) Gloria Baca-Lucero, 48, was arrested in Albuquerque in July after allegedly holding a Comcast cable installer at gunpoint in her home. She said she believed that her service call was free, but the installer told her otherwise, and she apparently decided to detain him while negotiating on the telephone with Comcast. (2) German truck driver Michael Harry K, 58, went to trial in August in Wurzburg, Bavaria, charged with firing his gun in the direction of drivers more than 700 times in five years out of displeasure with their poor road habits. He never actually hit anyone (but police said he caused at least one serious injury by frightening a driver into a collision). [Albuquerque Journal, 7-30-2014] [Agence France-Presse via Yahoo News, (London), 8-11-2014] Immature: (1) Princeton University professor John Mulvey, 67 (who teaches financial engineering applications), was charged in July with stealing 21 yard signs around the town of Princeton--signs for a computer repair business with which he was feuding. (2) Nathan McCoy, 21, sought by police near Boise, Idaho, in July on a probation violation, took off running, forcing officers to chase him onto the Eagle Hills Golf Course. McCoy sought “refuge" in a pond, standing waist-deep as deputies tried to coax him out, but even with the pond surrounded, it still took McCoy a half-hour of standing there to conclude that he did not have a Plan B. [Daily Princetonian, 7-14-2014] [Idaho Statesman, 7-23-2014] The Boy Who Wasn’t Bullied Enough in School Walker Harnden, 19, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, was recognized in April for a Guinness Book record for the highest note ever whistled (B7). Harnden, who told the Raleigh News & Observer that he has “irritated his parents and friends for years,” admits that he whistles “all the time”--up to “four or five” hours a day. [News & Observer, 4-18-2014] The New Normal In 2010, the village of West Lafayette, Ohio, barred residents from keeping fowl and farm animals, but Iraq war veteran Darin Welker, 36, believes his post-war depression and trauma seem unusually-well-assisted now that he has befriended 14 pet ducks that he keeps at home. The Department of Veterans Affairs, which paid for Welker’s back surgery, stopped short of providing physical therapy and counseling, causing him more than ever to rely on the ducks, which he says motivate him to get out of the house and provide them caretaking services. Village officials, however, cited him in June for misdemeanor fowl-housing. [Associated Press via KOMO-TV (Seattle), 7-20-2014] Perspective “Streamers,” according to workers at the state-of-the-art solar plant in California’s Mojave Desert, are birds that cross the path of the 300,000 garage-door-sized mirrors that magnify the sun’s rays on their way to producing steam to power 140,000 homes. Those birds, instantly fried, vanish in plumes of smoke at the rate of perhaps one every two minutes, according to an August Associated Press dispatch from Ivanpah Dry Lake near the Nevada border. According to federal wildlife officials, the plant’s bright light attracts insects, which then attract even more birds. The operator, BrightSource Energy, said there is no feasible way to protect the birds. [Associated Press, 8-18-2014] Least Competent Criminals Questionable Decisions: (1) Ryan Mullins, 22, was arrested in Swansboro, N.C., in August when he came to an officer’s attention at 5:30 a.m. Police said he had broken into a pharmacy, had stolen the 100-lb. safe, and was dragging it behind his car when the officer routinely pulled in front of him. Nonetheless, Mullins decided to try and pass the officer. (2) Robert Haight Jr., 42, was captured after a high-speed chase through Burlington, Mass., in August, with police recovering “stacks” of stolen credit cards and suspected-stolen high-end electronics from the car. Haight had attracted police attention by parking his car (with a mismatched license plate), unattended, with engine running, in a handicaped parking spot. [WCTI-TV (New Bern, N.C.), 8-12-2014] [WCVB-TV (Boston), 8-12-2014] A News of the Weird Classic (May 2010) Briton Robert Dee, feeling humiliated at being called the "world's worst tennis pro" by London's Daily Telegraph (and other news organizations) sued the newspaper for libel in 2009. After taking testimony in February 2010, the judge dismissed the lawsuit, convinced by Dee's having lost 54 consecutive international tour matches (each in straight sets). Fearful of an opposite result, thirty other news organizations had prematurely apologized to Dee for disparaging him, but the Telegraph had stood its ground (and was, of course, humble in victory, titling its story on the outcome, "'World's Worst' Tennis Player Loses Again.") [The Guardian (London), 4-28-10] Thanks This Week to Craig Cryer, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.
  • Follies of the Madmen #228
    The cliche is: Swedes know everything about coffee--and sex. So that household should be a happy one, with busybody Mrs. Olson supervising the kitchen and, offstage, the bedroom.
  • Potato Peeler
    I'll give the makers of this video credit for trying really hard to make an industrial potato peeler seem exciting. But in the end, it's just a potato peeler. Wait for the epic zoom-in at around 1:10.

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!”