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:

  • Gardner Dozois Debut in IF Magazine February 18, 2017
  • New Review at LOCUS ONLINE February 17, 2017
    I look at a debut time travel novel:http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2017/02/paul-di-filippo-reviews-elan-mastai/
  • Peter Gunn Visits a Bookstore February 12, 2017
    If you go to this shop and ask for "A first edition of THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS", you will be buzzed through a sliding bookshelf into the illegal casino in the back.
  • Knox Burger on Paperbacks February 11, 2017
    Source:http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1961/01/15/page/121/article/masthead-6-no-title
  • New Review at LOCUS ONLINE February 10, 2017
    I look at the new novel from Norman Spinrad:http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2017/02/paul-di-filippo-reviews-norman-spinrad-2/
  • New Review at the B&NR February 7, 2017
    Here I look at many books about the breakup of the USA.http://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/disunion-visions-of-our-fragmented-future

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:

  • Name That List, #38
    What is this a list of? The answer is below in extended. Scratch face Dead Spaniard Ape's laugh Goose-Turd Lustie-Gallant Smoked Ox Fading Flowing Merry Widow Kiss-Me-Darling Chimney-Sweep Dying Monkey Mortal Sin Love Longing Horseflesh Flybert Soppes-in Wine Maide's Blush
  • Follies of the Madmen #305
    Australia offers the rest of the world its giant mushroom phallus. Original ad here.
  • News of the Weird (February 19, 2017)
    News of the Weird Weirdnuz.M515, February 19, 2017 Copyright 2017 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved. Lead Story San Francisco's best-paid janitor earned more than a quarter-million dollars cleaning stations for Bay Area Rapid Transit in 2015, according to a recent investigation by Oakland's KTVU. Liang Zhao Zhang cleared almost $58,000 in base pay and $162,000 in overtime, and other benefits ran his total income to $271,243. He worked at San Francisco's Powell Street station, a hangout for the homeless, who notoriously sullied the station 24/7 (urine, feces, and needles, especially), necessitating overtime hours that apparently only Zhang was interested in working. In one stretch during July 2015, he pulled 17-hour days for two and a half straight weeks. [KTVU, 2-7-2017] Wrong Place, Wrong Time "Of All The Gin Joints In The World . . .": An Abbotsford, British Columbia, burglar was successful in his February 7th break-in at a home, but his getaway was thwarted by a snowfall that blocked him in on a roadway. He eventually decided to ask a passerby for help--and inadvertently picked out a man (of the city's 140,000 residents) whose house had he had just broken into (and who recognized him from reviewing his home's security camera footage). The victim called police, who arrested the man (and reported that it was the second residential break-in that night in which the snowfall had foiled a burglar's getaway.) [Vancouver Sun, 2-7-2017] Oh Dear! Everyday Hazards: In Portland, Ore., in January, Ashley Glawe, 17, a committed "goth" character with tattoos, piercings, and earlobe holes ("gauges") was, she said, "hanging out" with Bart, her pet python, when he climbed into one of the lobes. She couldn't get him out, nor could firefighters, but with lubrication, hospital emergency workers did (thus avoiding an inevitable split lobe if Bart had kept squeezing his way through). [The Oregonian, 2-1-2017] Iraqi forces taking over an ISIS base in Mosul in January reported finding papers from at least 14 Islamic State "fighters" who had tried to claim "health" problems, asking commanders to please excuse them from real combat (and martyrdom). One (a Belgian man) actually brought a note from a doctor back home attesting to his "back pain." Five of the 14 were initiated by volunteers from France, a country that endures a perhaps-undeserved national reputation for battle-avoidance. [Washington Post, 2-7-2017] Government in Action Legislators in Iowa and Florida recently favorably advanced bills giving women who receive legal abortions up to 10 years (or longer, in Iowa) to sue the doctor if the abortion winds up causing them "emotional distress." (Doctors in all states are already liable, of course, for actual "negligence" in their practice.) In the Iowa version (which the Des Moines Register reported would likely face amendments), even a signed consent form by the patient would not immunize the doctor (but might mitigate the amount of damages awarded). [Des Moines Register, 1-17-2017] [Miami Herald, 2-9-2017] Great Art! German art collector Rik Reinking paid the equivalent of about $138,000 in 2008 for a resplendent, complex drawing by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, but it was one created in ink on the skin of (the still-alive) tattoo parlor manager Tim Steiner--to be delivered only upon Steiner's death, when his skin will be displayed in Reinking's collection. (The deal also requires that, in the meantime, Steiner personally showcase his back at galleries three times a year, and BBC News recently caught his latest appearance.) [BBC News, 2-1-2017] More Things to Worry About Higher Math: The first robots to have survived journeys close to the "core" of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan (which melted down in a 2011 earthquake) returned a reading of 530 "sieverts" per hour. (Some scientists label just 4 Sieverts an hour fatal to half the people exposed to it.) Since the robots stopped short of the actual nuclear fuel, and since they only visited one of the three cores, the true danger of Fukushima remains unknown. (On a more optimistic note, scientists in February said they have developed a computer chip that would survive on the surface of Venus for 21 days, eclipsing the old record of two hours--long enough to send back meaningful data, including the temperature. The current estimated temperature is 878 degrees (F).) [Washington Post, 2-8-2017] [Ars Technica, 2-8-2017] Priests Gone Bad Prominent Tallahassee, Fla., pastor O. Jermaine Simmons, a community leader who ministers to the homeless and downtrodden, was rescued by police on January 17th, naked and hiding behind a fence after making a run for it when the husband of his mistress found the two in bed. The husband, screaming, "I'm gonna kill him," ran for his handgun, and the mistress summoned police, but by January 30th, all involved had declined to press charges. Simmons, married with a son, is highly regarded for good deeds such as running a "cold night" shelter. [Tallahassee Democrat, 1-30-20178] The decidedly-uncelibate Catholic priest Don Andrea Contin, 48, of Padua, Italy, was accused by three women in December of having as many as 30 different lovers over the years, organizing "orgies" on church property, visiting a "swingers'" resort in France several times, making pornographic "home videos" of his trysts, "encouiraging" one woman to have sex with a horse, and "always" carrying a briefcase full of vibrators, sex toys, and bondage equipment. Contin has not yet been charged with a crime but, said a Catholic official, is "finished" as a priest. (Bonus: The boxes for his home videos were labeled by the names of Popes.) [The Independent (London), 2-5-2017] Wait, What? In January, a New York City judge dismissed the original indictment of John Kennedy O'Hara, 55, who had been convicted in 1996 of the crime of "felony voting"--the only person convicted under that state law since Susan B. Anthony, who cast a ballot in 1872 even though females were barred from the polls. O'Hara was indicted for voting in 1992 and 1993 after registering in Brooklyn elections from a "bogus" address--a basement apartment that was considered uninhabitable. (A judge in 2017 determined that the apartment "could" have been habitable.) O'Hara paid $15,000 in fines and did 1,500 hours of community service. [New York Times, 1-13-2017] Least Competent Criminals Recurring Themes: Once again, in January, curiosity got the better of a perp. Adriana Salas, 26, allegedly stole a truck in Jonesboro, Ark., and drove it to Fort Smith, 260 miles away, but then could not resist stopping by the local sheriff's office to ask whether the truck had been reported stolen. (It had; deputies, taking a look outside, read Salas her Miranda rights.) [KFSM-TV (Fort Smith),25-2017] The Passing Parade (1) Belgium's federal parliament decided to keep supplying free beer and wine during legislative sessions (over the objection of its ethics committee) because, since drinkers would continue to drink off-premises, anyway, serving the items on-premises would at least improve attendance. (2) On January 30th, as police, with a search warrant, approached the front door of child-porn-possessing suspect Brian Ayers, 57, they spotted him inside, hatchet in hand, pounding away at his tablet computer. Ayers, of Florence, N.J., was free at the time, pending sentencing in another New Jersey court on earlier counts of distributing child porn. [Politico.eu, 1-20-17] [NJ.com (Burlington, N.J.), 2-1-2017] A News of the Weird Classic (April 2013) Those Clever Toddlers of Finland: A University of Kansas professor and two co-authors, in forthcoming [2013] Journal of Finance research, found that children age 10 and under substantially outperformed their parents in earnings from certain stock trading. A likely explanation, researchers said, is that mom and dad were buying and selling in their children’s accounts if they had illegal insider information--because they feared getting caught by regulators if they used it for their personal accounts. The kids’ accounts (including those held by babies) were almost 50 percent more profitable than their parents'. (The study, reported by NPR, covered 15 years of trades in Finland, which, unlike the U.S. and most other countries, collects traders' ages.) [NPR, 4-9-2013] Thanks This Week to Anthony Yeznach, Robin Daley, Michelle Jensen, Michelle Collier, Mark Lillicrap, and Mel Birge, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.
  • Who Gets the Beanie Babies?
    November 1999: After filing for divorce, Frances and Harold Mountain proved unable to agree on how to split up their Beanie Baby collection. So Family Court Judge Gerald Hardcastle instructed them to bring the entire collection into the courtroom, spread them out on the floor, and pick one each until they were gone. The judge remarked, "This isn't about toys. It's about control. Because you folks can't solve it, it takes the services of a District Court judge, a bailiff and a court reporter." Frances Mountain said, "I don't agree with the judge's decision to do this. It's ridiculous and embarrassing." Nevertheless, she got down on her hands and knees and started picking out Beanie Babies. Santa Cruz Sentinel - Nov 6, 1999
  • Giant Gown Folds Flat
    Original article here.
  • The famous rhyming will
    In 1830 Mr. Wheatstone, a solicitor of Chancery Lane died and left the following will, which was admitted to probate: As to all my worldly goods now or to be in store, I give to my beloved wife and her's, for evermore; I give all freely! — I no limit fix! This is my Will, and she's Executrix. As far as I can tell, this is the first time anyone ever used this rhyming will, but it definitely wasn't the last. It caught on, and many other people subsequently used the exact same poem as their final will (slightly updating the language to make it more modern). It continued to be used at least up until the 1950s. I'm not sure if anyone has used it since then. The London Observer - Apr 18, 1830 The New Bloomfield, Pa Times - Sep 27, 1870 Altoona Tribune - Nov 16, 1912 Battle Creek Enquirer - Mar 3, 1928 The Greenwood Index-Journal - Oct 16, 1950 The Louisville Courier-Journal - Aug 6, 1954

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!”