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:

  • Inmate Escape Pod
    1980: Fred Caddedu escaped from Millhaven penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario by concealing himself inside an "escape pod" made out of a hollowed-out stack of dirty food trays. The food trays were loaded onto a truck and taken to the unguarded, off-site kitchen to be cleaned. Once there, Caddedu just walked away. He was caught and returned to prison several months later. His escape pod later became an exhibit in the Correctional Service of Canada Museum. Image source: Museopathy The Ottawa Journal - July 14, 1980
  • News of the Weird (March 26, 2017)
    News of the Weird Weirdnuz.M520, March 26, 2017 Copyright 2017 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved. Lead Story A highlight of the recent upmarket surge of Brooklyn, N.Y., as a residential and retail favorite was the asking price for an ordinary parking space in the garage at 845 Union Street in the Park Slope neighborhood: $300,000 (also carrying a $240 a month condominium fee and $50 monthly taxes). That's similar to the price of actual one-bedroom apartments in less ritzy Brooklyn neighborhoods like Gravesend (a few miles away). [DNAInfo, 3-6-2017] Compelling Explanations Saginaw, Mich., defense lawyer Ed Czuprynski had beaten a felony DUI arrest in December but was sentenced to probation on a lesser charge in the incident, and among his restrictions was a prohibition on drinking alcohol--which Czuprynski acknowledged in March that he has since violated at least twice. However, at that hearing (which could have meant jail time for the violations), Czuprynski used the opportunity to beg the judge to remove the restriction altogether, arguing that he can't be "effective" as a lawyer unless he is able to have a drink now and then. (At press time, the judge was still undecided.) [MLive.com, 3-10-2017] Fine Points of the Law Residents in southern Humboldt County, Calif., will vote in May on a proposed property tax increase to fund a community hospital in Garberville to serve a web of small towns in the scenic, sparsely populated region, and thanks to a county judge's March ruling, the issue will be explained more colorfully. Opponent Scotty McClure was initially rebuffed by the registrar when he tried to distribute, as taxpayer-funded "special elections material," contempt for "Measure W" by including the phrase "(insert fart smell here)" in the description. The registrar decried the damage to election "integrity" by such "vulgarity," but Judge Timothy Cissna said state law gives him jurisdiction only over "false" or "misleading" electioneering language. [North Coast Journal (Eureka, Calif.), 3-7-2017] Can't Possibly Be True News of the Weird has written several times (as technology progressed) about Matt McMullen's "RealDoll" franchise--the San Marcos, Calif., engineer's richly-detailed flexible silicone mannequins that currently sell for $5,500 and up (more with premium custom features). Even before the recent success of the very humanish, artificially-intelligent (AI) android "hosts" on TV's "Westworld," McMullen revealed that his first AI doll, "Harmony," will soon be available with a choice of 12 "personalities" including "intellectualism" and "wit," to mimic an emotional bond to add to the sexual. A recent University of London conference previewed a near future when fake women routinely provide uncomplicated relationships for lonely (or disturbed) men. (Recently, in Barcelona, Spain, a brothel opened offering four RealDolls "disinfected after each customer"--though still recommending condoms.) [Forbes, 2-28-2017] Scientists at Columbia University and the New York Genome Center announced that they have digitally stored (and retrieved) a movie, an entire computer operating system, and a $50 gift card on a single drop of DNA. In theory, wrote the researchers in the journal Science, they might store, on one gram of DNA, 215 "petabytes" (i.e., 215 million gigabytes--enough to run, say, 10 million HD movies) and could reduce all the data housed in the Library of Congress to a small cube of crystals. [Wall Street Journal, 3-3-2017] An office in the New York City government, suspicious of a $5,000 payment to two men in the 2008 City Council election of Staten Island's Debi Rose, opened an investigation, which at $300 an hour for their "special prosecutor," has now cost the city $520,000, with his final bill still to come. Despite scant "evidence" and multiple opportunities to back off, the prosecutor relentlessly conducted months-long grand jury proceedings, fought several court appeals, had one 23-count indictment almost immediately crushed by judges, and enticed state and federal investigators to (fruitlessly) take on the Staten Island case. In March, the city's Office of Court Administration finally shrugged and closed the case. [New York Times, 3-8-2017] Ironies A chain reaction of fireworks in Tultepec, Mexico, in December had made the San Pablito pyro marketplace a scorched ruin, with more than three dozen dead and scores injured, leaving the town to grieve and, in March, to solemnly honor the victims--with even more fireworks. Tultepec is the center of Mexico's fireworks industry, with 30,000 people dependent on explosives for a living. Wrote The Guardian, "Gunpowder" is in "their blood." [The Guardian (London), 3-10-2017] Miscellaneous Economic Indicators (1) "Bentley" the cat went missing in Marina Del Rey, Calif., on February 26th and as of press time had not been located--despite a posted reward of $20,000. (A "wanted" photo is online, if you're interested.) (2) British snack food manufacturer Walkers advertised in February for a part-time professional chip taster, at the equivalent of $10.55 an hour. (3) An Australian state administrative tribunal approved a $90,000 settlement after a cold-calling telemarketer sold a farm couple 2,000 ink cartridges (for their one printer) by repeated pitches. [Fox News, 3-8-2017] [Leicester Mercury, 2-23-2017] [The Age (Melbourne), 3-9-2017] Perspective American chef Dan Barber staged a temporary "pop-up" restaurant in London in March at which he and other renowned chefs prepared the fanciest meals they could imagine using only food scraps donated from local eateries. A primary purpose was to chastise First World eaters (especially Americans) for wasting food, not only in the kitchen and on the plate but to satisfy our craving for meat (for example, requiring diversion of 80 percent of the world's corn and soy just to feed edible animals). Among Barber's March "WastED" dishes were a char-grilled meatless beetburger and pork braised in leftover fruit solids. [TreeHugger.com, 3-3-2017] Undignified Deaths (1) Smoking Kills: A 78-year-old man in Easton, Pa., died in February from injuries caused when he lit his cigarette but accidentally set afire his hooded sweatshirt. (2) Pornography Kills: A Mexico City man fell to his death recently in the city's San Antonio neighborhood when he climbed to turn off a highway video sign on the Periferico Sur highway that was showing a pornographic clip apparently placed by a hacker. [NJ.com, 2-28-2017] [Metro News (London), 3-6-2017] Least Competent Criminals Oops! An officer in Harrington, Del., approaching an illegally-parked driver at Liberty Plaza Shopping Center in March, had suspicions aroused when she gave him a name other than "Keyonna Waters" (which was the name on the employee name tag she was wearing). Properly ID'ed, she was arrested for driving with a suspended license. [WMDT-TV (Salisbury, Md.), 3-6-2017] The Passing Parade (1) In his third try of the year in January, Li Longlong of China surpassed his own Guinness Book record by climbing 36 stairs while headstanding (beating his previous "34"). (Among the Guinness regulations: no touching walls and no pausing more than five seconds per step.) (2) The online live-stream of the extremely pregnant giraffe "April" (at New York's Animal Adventure Park) has created such a frenzy (and exposed the tiny attention spans of viewers) that, as of March 3rd, they had spent a cumulative 1,036 years just watching. (Erin Dietrich of Myrtle Beach, S.C., 39 weeks pregnant herself, mocked the lunacy by livestreaming her own belly while wearing a giraffe mask.) (By press time, Erin had delivered; April, not.) [Huffington Post, 3-10-2017] [BBC News, 3-3-2017] A News of the Weird Classic (June 2013) Maryland state troopers stopped when they caught sight of a drummer working out all alone on the side of traffic-packed Interstate 695 near Windsor Mill Road in Baltimore on May 21st [2013], at about 10:30 a.m. As the troopers later reported, the man had run out of gas and, rather than just sit around in his car, had set up his full drum kit on the shoulder and practiced while he awaited assistance. After a utility truck arrived, with gasoline, the drummer packed up and went on his way. [Baltimore Sun, 5-21-2013] Thanks This Week to Kevin Corwin and Alyssa Grosso, and 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).
  • The Ford House of Aurora, Illinois
    1951 article here. Apparently still extant, according to this great set of current pics.
  • Jennifer Bornstein, collector
    In 1994, Jennifer Bornstein appeared on a local LA cable access program that featured ordinary people and their collections. Bornstein showed off her collection of zip-lock bags, coffee bar merchandise, fast-food containers, potato chips, and breath mints. She had carefully framed and archived all of it. It would have been funnier if it was a genuine collection, but I think it was actually intended as an artistic statement on how "any worthless mass-market products can be turned into coveted objects via absurd relations and vice versa" (according to Kadist.org). So she was essentially pranking the show. Although she looks quite young in the pictures, Bornstein was at the time a 24-year-old grad student at UCLA. And she's still an LA-based artist. More info (and image sources): Radcliffe, ingrum.org, Moscow Biennale, "Obsession, Compulsion, Collection."
  • The Glidden Tours
    At the start of the Automotive Age, merely driving from, say, Detroit to Kansas City was a challenge and endurance test. Thus the AAA-sponsored Glidden Tours. Here is a good write-up of the 1909 one.
  • 7 Clicks (March 24, 2017)
    7 Clicks A Weird Universe News Service March 24, 2017 Evangelist Lance Wallnau, emboldened in the current climate, told his 200,000 followers that he "heard about" (therefore: true) a born-again ex-hooker who baked a special cake so great it turned a gay man straight. Case closed. [Dallas Morning News] Nashvillians finally learned who "Fred Douglas" was (as in the city's "Fred Douglas Park"). (Hint: Think "Marty King.") [NPR] Spoiler: Texas A&M researchers, who know their peacocks, concluded via body cams that females do not choose mates based on erect plumage. [Austin America-Statesman] Least Competent Principal: Dude, it's a child's "water snake wiggly"--not a sex toy. Free (12-yr-old) Frances!! [WFTS-TV via WTMJ-TV] Meet Edgard Brito, DVM, Sao Paulo, the surgeon who does facelifts, nose jobs, and junk-dewrinkling--on dogs--making them so adorable that, in a crunch, the uglier pugs are sure to be put down first. [New York Post] Things That Must Be Quite a Sight: (1) "Expert witness" (describing "tests" he conducted) helping a doc on trial for rubbing his stuff against a patient, and (2) the in-development smartphone app (very accurate!) that measures sperm count (No, not from Pornhub, but that does raise the question of how . . ya hold the phone . . oh, never mind). [Global News] [New York Times] Thanks to Paul Music, Bob Stewart, and Joe Littrell.

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!”