- New Review at LOCUS ONLINE September 17, 2014A 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, 2014Two 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, 2014The sophomore novel from Messr. Parzybok:http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2014/09/paul-di-filippo-reviews-benjamin-parzybok/
- Me, Matera, and CHASING THE QUEEN OF SASSI September 12, 2014In December 2013, I was invited by APT Basilicata, a regional tourist agency of the Italian government, to visit Matera, Italy, with the purpose of getting to know the region and eventually produce a piece of fiction embodying what I had learned. The experience was beyond compare.Matera is a unique town in a gorgeous region of a splendid country. An ancient place known for its cave houses, the city was full of history, culture and lovely people.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MateraI shot literally 1000 photos, but will only display three here.Below you see a model of the city on display for tourists for free.Here's one of the peasant cave dwellings--many of which are now occupied after being beautifully rehabbed to modern standards--set up as a museum.Here's one angle on the structures that climb the hillsides.I was hosted by the brilliant guides Dora and Michele Cappiello of the incomparable firm of Ferula Viaggi.http://www.ferulaviaggi.it/I could write all day about my time in Matera. But instead, I'd like to point you to the story that came out of the experience.Now available as a free download for the Nook:http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/chasing-the-queen-of-sassi-paul-di-filippo/1120315012?ean=9788890786914Now available as a free download for Kindle:http://tinyurl.com/ptafvwsFor Kindle UK readers:http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chasing-Queen-Sassi-Paul-Filippo-ebook/dp/B00L4DHSWU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1410535697&sr=8-1&keywords=chasing+sassiOr on the iTunes library, also for free:I hope you enjoy the tale that was inspired by Matera, and share some of the wonders of that miraculous city.
- New Review at the B&NR September 10, 2014Let's look at Jeff VanderMeer's trilogy:http://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/the-southern-reach-trilogy/
- New DiFi Interview at AMAZING September 10, 2014http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2014/09/55019/