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:

  • Conehead Sumo Wrestlers
    1994: The Japan Sumo Association finally got around to banning the practice, apparently quite common among young sumo wrestlers, of implanting lumps of silicone beneath their scalp in order to meet the minimum height requirement of 5 feet 8 inches. The Association probably wouldn't have done anything if they hadn't become embarrassed by media reports of conehead wrestlers. Before the silicone technique became popular, some wrestlers used to hit themselves on top of their head to raise large bumps before being measured. Morristown Daily Record - July 13, 1994 Sumo wrestler Mainoumi, before and after scalp implant
  • Blind Man’s Penis
    The full story here.
  • The Land of Bottle
    Musician and composer Robert Rohe worked with the New Orleans symphony for 25 years. His most famous composition was "The Land of Bottle," which he wrote in 1958. It was a piece for 8 Coca-Cola bottles. As the musicians blew into the bottles, a narrator described "a rocket ship trip to the other side of the moon where all of the people are bottles." The composition enjoyed a few years of popularity, but has since fallen into obscurity. You can find the sheet music for it at Boosey & Hawkes, and a brief bio of Rohe at legacy.com. Dec 1962: Honolulu Symphony Orchestra performing Land of BottleHonolulu Star-Advertiser - Dec 1, 1962 April 1959: The "bottle section" of the Liverpool Music Group, Philharmonic Hall, LiverpoolThe Guardian - Apr 15, 1959
  • Mystery Gadget 50
    Purpose of this device revealed here. And after the jump.
  • News of the Weird (June 25, 2017)
    News of the Weird Weirdnuz.M533, June 25, 2017 Copyright 2017 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved. Lead Story Update: Three weeks ago, News of the Weird touted the "genderless," extraterrestrial-appearing Hollywood makeup artist known as Vinny Ohh, but then Marcela Iglesias announced (following a leaked TV clip) that she had formed an agency for would-be celebrities who had radically transformed their bodies (and that Vinny is now a client). Iglesias's "Plastics of Hollywood" has the human "Ken" dolls (Rodrigo Alves and Justin Jedica), the Argentine "elf" Luis Patron, a Jessica Rabbit lookalike (Pixee Fox), and seven others who, Iglesias figures, have collectively spent almost $3 million on surgery and procedures (some of which are ongoing). (Patron, 25, seems the most ambitious, having endured, among other procedures, painful, "medically-unapproved" treatments to change his eye color.) [Daily Mail (London), 5-26-2017; 5-3-2017] Recurring Themes Richard Patterson, 65, is the most recent defendant to choose, as trial strategy, to show the jury his penis. A Broward County, Fla., court was trying him in the choking death of his girlfriend. (Patterson called the death accidental, as it occurred during oral sex, and there was conflicting medical opinion on whether that could have proved fatal.) Patterson's lawyer said his standby position was to show a mold of the penis but insisted that a live demonstration would be more effective. (Update: The judge disallowed the showing, but in May the jury found Patterson not guilty anyway.) [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 5-30-2017] In rare cases, a mother has given birth for the principal purpose of "harvesting" a baby's cells ultimately to benefit another family member with a condition or illness that the cells would aid. However, Keri Young of Oklahoma gave birth in April for a different purpose. After learning while pregnant that her baby would not long survive after birth (because of "anencephaly"), she nonetheless carried it to term--just to harvest organs for unspecified people who might need them (though the grieving Keri and husband Royce admit that some might judge their motive harshly). [Houston Chronicle, 4-19-2017] In some parts of traditional Japanese society, it remains not-uncommon for someone to feel the need to "rent" "friends." For example, relatives at a funeral bear grief better if they realize the many "friends" the deceased had. Or, a working man or woman may rent a sweetheart just to help deflect parental pressure to marry. In northern China, in April, a man was arrested for renting "family" and "friends" to populate his side of the aisle at his wedding. Apparently, there were conflicts plaguing each family, and police were investigating, but the groom surely worsened the plan by not coaching the actors on his personal details, thus making inter-family small-talk especially awkward. [BBC News, 5-1-2017] Our Litigious Society: (1) David Waugaman, 57, fell off a barstool last year and needed needed surgery, and of course he is suing the tavern at Ziggy's Hotel in Youngwood, Pa., for continuing to serve him before he fell. Wrote Waugaman, "You're not supposed to feed people so much booze." (2) Robert Bratton filed a lawsuit recently in Columbia, Mo., against the Hershey chocolate company because there was too much empty space in his grocery-store box of Reese's Pieces, which he thought was "deceptive" (even though the correct number of Pieces was printed on the label). In May, federal judge Nanette Laughrey ruled that Bratton's case could continue, for the jury to decide. [PennLive, 5-15-2017] [KCUR Radio (Kansas City), 5-17-2017] Latest From Offended Classes: (1) Some minority students' organizations, commenting on the planned extensive renovation of the University of Michigan's student union building, recommended ditching the current interior's elegant wood paneling--because it gives off an "imposing, masculine" feeling that makes them seem "marginalized." A spokesperson for the students, attempting to soothe the controversy, said the marginalization was more based on the building's "quiet nature." (2) In Australia, Chanel's just-introduced luxury wood-and-resin boomerang (selling for the equivalent of about $1,415) came under fire from aboriginal groups for "cultural appropriation." (Hermes had issued its own luxury boomerang in 2013.) [The College Fix, 5-15-2017] [Sydney Morning Herald, 5-15-2017] For not the first time in News of the Weird's experience, a man shot himself but had the bullet pass through him and hit a bystander (except this time it was fatal to the bystander). Victor Sibson, 21, was charged in Anchorage, Alaska, in May with killing his girlfriend even though he had aimed at his own head. Investigators were persuaded that it was a genuine suicide attempt, though he survived but in critical condition.) [KTUU-TV (Anchorage), 5-22-2017] More Animals With Affordable Healthcare: In April, the annual report of the Association of British Insurers on their members' policies for pet owners noted that among the claims paid were those for a bearded dragon with an abscess, an anorexic Burmese python, a cocker spaniel that swallowed a turkey baster, a cockatoo with respiratory problems, and even a "lethargic" housecat (which nonetheless cost the equivalent of $470 to treat. [BBC News, 4-17-2017] Legal "Experts" Everywhere! American "sovereigns" litter courtrooms with their self-indulgent misreadings of history and the Constitution (misreadings that, coincidentally, happen to favor them with free passes on arrests and tax-paying), but now, the UK's Exeter Crown Court has experienced Mark Angell, 41, who said in May that he simply could not step into the courtroom dock to state a plea concerning possession of cannabis because he would thus be "submitting" to "maritime law," which he could not legally do on dry land. Judge: "Don't talk nonsense. Get in the dock." Angell was ordered to trial. (Before leaving, he handed the judge a bill for his detention: the equivalent of $2.5 million.) [DevonLive (Exeter), 5-19-2017] More Third-World Religion: In March, Zimbabwean pastor Paul Sanyangore of Victory World International Ministries was captured on video during a sermon, telephoning God. Clutching a phone to his ear, he yelled, 'Hello, is this heaven? I have a woman here, what do you have to say about her?" (Her two children, one epileptic, the other asthmatic, are then confusingly described by "heaven" as being "changed," and Paul ended the call to resounding cheers from the congregation.) [AfricaNews (Lyon, France), 5-23-2017] More of the World's Third-Oldest Crime (Smuggling): (1) In the latest awesome drug-mule haul of gold (into South Korea, where it fetches higher prices than in neighboring countries), 51 people were arrested in May for bringing in, over a two-year period, a cumulative two tons, worth $99 million, by hiding it in body parts befitting their biological sex. (2) Customs officials in Abdali, Kuwait, apprehended a pigeon in May with 178 ketamine pills inside a fabric pocket attached to its back. [Daily Mail (London), 5-24-2017] [BBC News, 5-25-2017] The Aristocrats! Almost an Epidemic: Men suffering compulsive public masturbation recently: (1) In the midst of evening rush hour in the New York-New Jersey Lincoln Tunnel, Ismael Esquilin, 48, stopped his minivan and engaged (May 11th). (2) In downtown Portland, Ore., Terry Andreassen was arrested engaging "vigorously" because he "hates Portland" (and was charged with "felony" public indecency) (May 3rd). (3) In Dunbar, W.Va., Tristan Tucker, 27, allegedly broke into a relative's home and stole security camera recordings of him engaging (April 23rd). (4) Vix Bodziak, 70, allegedly engaged at a McDonald's in Springfield, Mass. (April 20th) (Bonus: Police found a paper-stuffed tube sock bulging underneath his pant leg.) [New York, 5-12-2017] [KATU-TV (Portland), 5-12-2017] [WCHS-TV (Charleston), 5-16-2017] [The Republican (Springfield), 4-22-2017] The Classic Middle Name (all-new!) * Arrested Recently and Awaiting Trial for Murder: Boe Wayne Adams (Wichita, Kan., May), Jason Vann Wayne Godfrey (Sanford, N.C., August); Earl Wayne Humphries (Dallas, Tex., May); Michael Wayne Pennington Jr. (Tazewell, Va., May). Convicted of Murder: Anthony Wayne Davis (Lorain, Ohio, January); Jerry Wayne Merritt (Columbus, Ga., February). Pleaded No-Contest to Murder: Nathan Wayne Scheiern (Glendale, Calif., April). Murder Conviction Appeal Denied: Derrick Wayne Murray (Birmingham, Ala., April). Convicted Murderer Seeking New Plea Deal: Robert Wayne Lonardo (Benton, Maine, May). Murderers No Longer With Us: Billy Wayne Cope (Rock Hill, S.C, February, died in prison; Marcel Wayne Williams (Varner, Ark., April, executed). Adams: [KWCH-TV (Wichita), 5-3-2017] Godfrey: [WRAL-TV (Raleigh), 8-15-2016] Humphries: [Dallas Observer, 5-10-2017] Pennington: [Bluefield Daily Telegraph, 5-10-2017] Davis: [Morning Journal (Lorain), 1-18-2017] Merritt: [Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus), 2-8-2017] Scheiern: [Los Angeles Daily News, 4-28-2017] Murray: [AL.com, 4-28-2017] Lonardo: [Portland Press Herald, 5-9-2017] Cope: [The State (Columbia, S.C.), 2-9-2017] Williams: [CNN, 4-25-2017] Thanks This Week to Alan Magid and Chip Gorman and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.
  • Battleship - the gender role edition
    Milton Bradley debuted the board game Battleship in 1967, and the illustration on the box of that first edition has become somewhat notorious because it shows a father and son playing the game while the mother and daughter in the background do the dishes. That choice of scene wasn't any kind of accident. The game was deliberately marketed as a "father and son game." The phrase was constantly repeated in early advertisements for the game. The whole idea of "father and son games" has now, of course, disappeared from board games. The Akron Beacon Journal - Nov 30, 1969

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!”