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:

  • 1952 Ad for FANTASTIC September 30, 2014
  • New Review at LOCUS ONLINE September 25, 2014
    A fine debut novel:http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2014/09/paul-di-filippo-reviews-david-shafer/
  • Wonder Woman, Fairy Tales September 23, 2014
    There's an amazing article in the New Yorker about the creation of Wonder Woman, which apparently involved feminist utopian fiction, polyamory, the suffragette movement, woman working during World War II, and the connection between Wonder Woman's magic lasso and the lie-detector test.  I learned all kinds of things I'd never known or even heard of, like the fact that Margaret Sanger was related to the man who came up with the idea for Wonder Woman -- though I did wonder how, if this was supposed to be a secret, the author of the article managed to discover it.On another topic entirely, the anthology Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears, in which I have a story, is now available as an ebook.  The anthology features retold fairy tales, a series that started with Snow White, Blood Red.And there should be a third thing here, for symmetry, but I can't think of anything.Edited to add:  And I just remembered a third thing!  My books are now available to pre-order as ebooks, though they won't be out until October 21.
  • New Review at LOCUS ONLINE September 17, 2014
    A look at Jay Lake's last book:http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2014/09/paul-di-filippo-reviews-jay-lake/
  • Two Good Books September 16, 2014
    Two of my favorite authors, Sarah Waters and Tana French, have books out this month.  Both books go in unexpected directions, and both are filled with delights and surprises.The Waters book, The Paying Guests, is especially good.  It starts slowly, which frustrated me -- I like her for her novels of mystery and suspense and betrayal, and I felt impatient, waiting for the good stuff .  Two women (slowly) fall in love.  They have a few problems -- one of them is married, and, this being the 1920s, they can't admit their relationship to anyone who is not a lesbian herself -- but despite that things seem to go fairly well for a while.  I began to think this was going to be a book like Waters' earlier Tipping the Velvet or The Night Watch, about lesbian relationships and everyday life.  Which is fine, of course, but not what I was reading for.Then, more than halfway through, something happens that turns the whole thing into a Hitchcock movie.  The twist is so far along that I can't say what it is, only that it's one of those plots that makes you wonder what you yourself would do in that situation, how flexible your own moral code is.  The tension ratchets up, the suspense accelerates, and you begin to turn the pages with apprehension, almost fear, hoping that nothing worse is going to happen to the protagonists.I had more problems with French's new mystery, The Secret Place -- but first, the good stuff.  A teenage boy was killed on the grounds of a private girls' school, and his killer was never found.  A year later one of the girls at the school, Holly, goes to the police with a postcard she'd taken from a school bulletin board, a postcard that says, "I know who killed him."The police return to the school and begin asking questions.  It becomes clear that only two groups of girls could have put up the postcard in the time available, Holly's own friends and a clique of mean girls.  The story is told in alternating chapters with different timelines, one showing the events of a year ago and one set in the present, with the police interviewing the students.  The whole thing is plotted out so neatly that we will first learn some fact in the police timeline and then, in the next chapter, see it being played out among the schoolgirls.I loved Holly and her group, their friendship, their almost claustrophobic closeness.  At one point they vow to have nothing to do with the students at the corresponding all-boys' school, and I loved seeing the boys' confusion and frustration at their indifference; the idea that girls might not defer to them had never even crossed their minds.   I liked the two cops who come to question the girls, one of whom wants desperately to join the Murder Squad.  I liked the complex plotting -- as it turns out, pretty much everyone has an idea who killed the boy, most of them wrong, and some of the characters are expending a great deal of energy covering for someone else.The mean girls, though, seem a bit stereotypical.  Maybe it's wildly optimistic of me, but I'd like to think that no one can be that mean all the time, like Joanne, or that stupid all the time, like Orla.But my main problem with the book is that there's a supernatural element.  I'm really sort of embarrassed to admit this -- I like to think I don't divide books down strict genre lines, that I can live with some fantasy in my mystery novels.  There's something about this fantasy, though, that doesn't sit right with me.At one point a boy sends Julia, one of Holly's friends, a photo of his penis.  The girls are so squicked out by this and other schoolboy outrages that they make the vow I mentioned earlier, to have nothing to do with men until they get to college.  There's a sense that something hears this vow -- I got the impression of an ancient, vengeful goddess, but that might be just me.  So far, so good -- I can handle this part.Then, though, the girls become able to do magic.  Simple things, like turning a light on and off or moving a bottle cap.  My problem is that this ability is used as a way to illustrate the girls' closeness, or maybe the goddess's approval, but it isn't at all integrated into the story.  Surely teenagers with these abilities would use them against their enemies, in this case the mean girls.  What would happen if a lightbulb blew out every time Joanne entered a classroom, or if Orla's pens began to move slowly across her desk?  Wouldn't adolescent girls, despite their vows, start experimenting with love spells?  And of course this opens the possibility that the murder might have been a supernatural event -- something that, if it had happened, would have made me throw the book across the room.I guess what I'm saying is that fantasy can't be used as just a symbol.  It's dangerous stuff -- once you allow it in it begins making its own demands.  I wish it hadn't been there -- the story works just as well without it
  • New Review at LOCUS ONLINE September 13, 2014
    The sophomore novel from Messr. Parzybok:http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2014/09/paul-di-filippo-reviews-benjamin-parzybok/

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:

  • Ugly Notes
    Ugly Notes is a company that sells greetings cards for "horrible people." They bear messages such as, "If you spoke your mind you'd be speechless," and "You brighten up the room with your absence." The idea for marketing antisocial messages isn't new. It goes back at least to the 1960s, when entrepreneur Charles Hollis started selling stickers that bore messages such as "Kick a puppy today" and "Stamp out whooping cranes." I've written about Hollis over at the Hoax Museum. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have organizations such as Love For The Elderly, which "collects anonymous letters of kindness and distributes them to elderly citizens throughout America." I'm guessing Love For The Elderly and Ugly Notes won't ever do a partnership.
  • Quacks and Nostrums
  • A spoon made of tiny spoons
    This is one of the "nonobjects" featured in the book "Nonobject" by Branko Lukic and Barry Katz. The book description says it's about objects whose design "started not from the object but from the space between people and the objects they use." I think this means it's about objects whose design is useless but whimsical. Other Nonobjects include "a 'superpractical' cell phone with keypad, speaker, and microphone on every surface," a square motorcycle, and an umbrella that sends rain rushing through the handle from an upturned top. More at the site nonobjectbook.com.
  • The Clover Club
    Original ad here. Isn't this the exact ad that pimps today use to trick women into becoming "escorts" on Craigslist? What exactly was the purpose of the Clover Club? Answer after the jump.
  • Alvaro Franca’s Typewriter Art
    I've posted before about a typewriter artist, but here's another one — Alvaro Franca of Rio de Janeiro. But I noticed that Franca uses a computer image to guide him. Isn't that like the typewriter art version of paint-by-numbers?
  • The Art of the Diseuse
    Not sure these recorded performances capture whatever unique brilliance these performers were reputed to exhibit. In the December 21, 1935 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette an entertainment columnist wrote: “The English language does not contain a word which perfectly describes the performance of Ruth Draper, who comes to the Nixon next Thursday for the first time in several years to give a different program at each of her four performances here. “Speaking Portraits” and “Character Sketches” are the two terms most frequently applied to Miss Draper's work; and yet it is something more than that. “Diseuse” is the French word, but that is more readily applicable to an artist like Yvette Guilbert or Raquel Meller. Monologist is wholly inadequate. The word “Diseuse” really means “an artist in talking” so that may be the real term to use in connection with Miss Draper.” Actresses who have been called noted diseuses over the years include Yvette Guilbert, Ruth Draper, Joyce Grenfell, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Lucienne Boyer, Raquel Meller, Odette Dulac, Beatrice Herford, Kitty Cheatham, Marie Dubas, Claire Waldoff, Lina Cavalieri, Françoise Rosay, Molly Picon, Corinna Mura, Lotte Lenya. Source of quote.

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!”