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:

  • 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.
  • Yay, Hugos! August 18, 2014
    I was hoping Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice would win the Hugo, but for some reason I felt certain that the Wheel of Time series would stomp on all the other novel nominees with a giant Monty Python-like foot.  Amazingly, though, Ancillary Justice ended up winning, and by what looks like a pretty big margin.  Before the voting deadline I was going to post something about how great the book was and urge people to read it, but all I could think of to say was, Hey, read this, no, really, right now, why are you still sitting there? Having gotten my thoughts more together, I can say this: Every review I've read of Ancillary Justice makes a big deal about the fact that the default pronoun in the novel is female -- she, her -- and while this is a terrific stylistic choice and means you can't take any character's gender for granted, it's only a small part of the whole.  What Ancillary Justice is, is a terrific space opera, of the kind I haven't read in a long time.  The main character is a giant warship, for example, a ship that once had an enormous sensory apparatus but is now in a more-or-less human body.  Well, just go read it.  Right now.  No, really.I'm also glad Sofia Samatar won the John W. Campbell Award.  Usually I end up grumbling about something after the awards are announced, but this time I agreed with nearly everything.  Maybe it was just a good year, or maybe the voters were especially discerning -- and by discerning I mean, "have the same taste I do."
  • New Review at the B&NR August 15, 2014
    The newest from William Vollmann, examined:http://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/last-stories-and-other-stories/

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:

  • Two Gordon Ramsays
    A clipping from an old Australian newspaper (via Weird History — unfortunately no date provided for the clipping, but evidently from the early 20th Century). There's probably an entire line of foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsays stretching back through history, with the current celebrity one simply the most recent manifestation.
  • Mipples (Male Nipples)
    Who knew these useless appendages cause such concern. Continue at your own risk....
  • Disney’s VD ATTACK PLAN
  • Heidelberg Beer Club
    I came across this in the Washington Post (Mar 27, 1892). I like the idea that the ability to drink a gallon of beer in one sitting makes you "beer honorable".
  • Canadian Anti-smoking PSA
  • Last Week in Weird (August 25, 2014)
    Last Week in Weird datelines 8/15/2014--8/23/2014 (this week, in 1 Part) [Links, chronological, on Extended page] Copyright 2014 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved. [Ed. Note: There’s no coding here. I hate to code. However, Links to each story are on the Extended page, in chronological order. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s failing to exploit the blogging technology. Tough.] The Money Fact that teaches South Carolina’s fascination with rehabbing domestic-violent relationships (i.e., with few exceptions, men beat down women): (1) Maximum penalty, first offense, 30 days; beating a dog, though, maximum, first offense, 5 yrs. (2) State Sen. Tom Corbin’s solution to domestic violence: “There needs to be a lot more love for Jesus [to] curb a lot of violence.” Rene Lima-Marin, sentenced in 2000 to 98 yrs in prison in Colorado for crimes that sound worth about 10 yrs’ max, was mistakenly released after 8, lived productively and in plain sight for 6 yrs, then the error was discovered. They dragged him back in, with a new release date of 2104. “Herbert O,” 54, willingly embraced mega-embarrassment (wife, testifying in court: “I’m sorry, darling, but your penis is too short to hang out of your trousers”) (“willingly” because a woman had accused him of flashing her, and this was his best defense). (The judge says he wants photo evidence.) Meet Rolf Buchholz, a German with the Guinness Book record for most body piercings. (You can either click the link or take Yr Editor’s word for it that Rolf makes Danny Trejo look like Brad Pitt.) They won’t let him into the United Arab Emirates because of over-piercing--either that or because of his implanted forehead horns. (Bonus: In Hampden, Mass., the vowel-intensive Mr. Caius Veiovis, 33, is preparing for trial with a similar burden, striving for reasonable doubt that he is a vicious triple murderer. Horns!) The local council in the north London town of Barnet cracked down on a landlord, who after two yrs’ warning, was still offering to rent out an apartment that could only be entered by crawling through a dog-door-type opening (well, almost--28 inches’ clearance). (Bonus: London hipsters still showed interest in the place.) Chutzpah! So a car with three people hit a man, leaving him bleeding, then drove over him 3x in an effort to dislodge his caught-clothing from the axle, then split, but neighborhood surveillance video capture the driver yelling at the victim, “Look what you did to my car!” Incorrigible: N’awlins judge Yolanda King is already under indictment for lying on her election papers about where she actually lives, but, reported the Times-Picayune, when she filed papers last week for re-election, she swore to three different addresses on three forms. She was confused, said a member of her entourage. Even America may not be ready for the new reality TV show Sex Box (but then that’s what everyone said about [fill in any of a couple dozen shows]. Rundown: Couple has sex in a box (on stage, but obscured), then emerge, pre-cigarette, to discuss their feelings with a panel of Simon Cowell wannabes. America still has several months to prepare before it debuts on the We cable channel. A Human Zoo! The town of Te Kuiti, New Zealand (on the North Island, south of Hamilton), is too small for spending on a new municipal building, apparently. Thus, the waiting room for everyone booked for any crime or any regulatory violation is a large, open-air barred pen--ideal for people-watching.

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!”