Paul's collaborative writing on the web

The Inferior 4+1 is a Livejournal community maintained by Paul, lizhand, Paul Witcover, lucius-t and ljgoldstein.

Recent posts:

  • Story Is Out! May 1, 2016
    Nightmare Magazine, with my story "Sawing," is live now.  Right now you have to subscribe to read it, but it will become available on May 18.I actually have something to say about this story, which isn't the case with some of them.  Sometimes I'll start a book or short story by smashing together subjects that seem interesting and seeing if they turn into something.  So, for example, with my novel Dark Cities Underground I put together children's books, subway systems, and Egyptian gods, and, much to my amazement, they gelled into a story.  I don't recommend this as a system for writing because it works about as often as it doesn't, which can be very frustrating.Anyway, the things I put together for "Sawing" were the Depression in the 1930s, live magic shows, and one other thing, which I can't mention because it's a spoiler.
  • Dear Halls Cough Drops April 30, 2016
    I’ve had a wretched cold for the last week and a half, during which I ingested about a pound of cough drops.  When I surfaced, a few days ago, I noticed that Halls cough drops puts little uplifting mottos on their wrappers: “Take charge and mean it.” “Bet on yourself.”  “Get back in the game.”  “Power through.”Dear Halls:I am lying on the couch, trying to work up the energy to open a bag of your cough drops.  If I were not exhausted, and coughing my lungs out, your mottos might make some sense to me.  Might I suggest slogans more in keeping with your clientele?  Something like “Don’t worry about that deadline.”  “Go back to sleep.”  “You can take Nyquil during the day too, you know.”Yours sincerely,Lisa
  • New Review at LOCUS ONLINE April 29, 2016
    What's up with a hot new horror novel?
  • Review of a DiFi Story April 26, 2016
    Very happy with this review by Charles Payseur of my recent story BACKUP MAN.There is something nearly refreshing about finding a story here that's just rather unashamedly fast times with future guns and genetically modified soldiers. Lingo and flashy, punky descriptions give this story a movement, a speed that's nicely done and keeps things running from beginning to end, not letting up until the curtain downs on a stage littered with dead bodies. The main character is and definitely is not Drew Prosnitz, a thief who successfully foiled a contest to resettle a huge stretch of North America left vacant for many years because of ecological catastrophe. The setting is vividly drawn, a nice mix of humans, androids, modified people, and sentient "moldies." It's a strange mix and the action of the piece is hyperviolent and fast. Everything happens with a rush of implications and not-Prosnitz does a great job of keeping things mysterious enough to keep the strange band he joins guessing as to his true nature and not giving too much away to the reader as well. This does seem to fall into a larger story, a larger setting, but it stands on its own fairly well, an entertaining smash and grab with some sweeping looks at a future that has seen some messed up shit. And in any event it's rather light and fun and teases a lot that is probably explored elsewhere. Another fine read!
  • New Review at LOCUS ONLINE April 21, 2016
    I take a look at a new space opera:
  • And The New Yorker Annoys Me Again April 18, 2016
    Clive James has a review of Game of Thrones in this week’s New Yorker, and it’s … about what you’d expect.  He starts by mentioning that he doesn’t enjoy stories with either dragons or swords, which is a bit like beginning a review of an Italian restaurant by saying you don’t like cheese or tomatoes.  He then goes on to give his opinion of the show’s viewers: “The Seven Kingdoms are divided into nine regions, with a logic that will be familiar to all fans of fantasy, and even to a few normal people.”  (I immediately sent this bit to Dave Langford’s Ansible for his running series “As Others See Us,” signing it “From one abnormal person to another.”)He also dislikes the sections featuring the Dothrakis — “Drogo wastes away and dies, perhaps from boredom” — and the Night Watch — “[T]he level of tedium is very high…”  I would have liked some solid critiques of these sections, some hint of why James doesn’t like them, but we’re simply told that they’re not to his taste.Two and a half pages in he finally stops trying to be clever and gets to his point, which is that “All the action that matters takes place in… King’s Landing.”  Here is where you are plunged into a place where “the law has not yet formed,” where “there is no state except the lawless interplay of violent power.”  He admires what the showrunners do with Ned, how they cleverly subvert movie cliche.  Weirdly, though, he doesn’t seem to understand (or if he understands it doesn’t seem to matter) that it was George R. R. Martin, not the show’s writers, who was responsible for the subversions he likes.  He says only that “[T]he showrunners … have kept [Martin] close throughout the enterprise” — but isn’t it more the case that Martin has kept the showrunners close to his vision?James reserves his highest praise for Charles Dance’s Tywin and Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion.  It’s hard to argue with this: they’re both great roles, played by great actors.  But even in his praise he shows his limitations.  He enjoys discussions about power, what it takes to get it, to wield it, to lose it, but he entirely misses the rest of the show’s pleasures.For example, he gets Arya Stark’s role completely wrong.  “Clearly, the main thing keeping her alive was the showrunners’ determination to fascinate us with the process of her maturation,” he says.  But Arya is in a very dark place in both the show and the novels: she has ended up at a school for assassins and is learning how to kill dispassionately, and she has also started to give free rein to her revenge fantasies.  Is this really maturation?  James, despite his enjoyment of the way Game of Thrones subverts expectations, is still expecting Arya to fulfill the destiny of a feisty princess, while I think Martin is going to break our hearts with her story.In one of the weirdest parts of this review James compares Martin’s writing to that of Dan Brown.  Brown, though, is one of the worst prose stylists ever.  You can see this in the first sentence of The Da Vinci Code, one of the most justly ridiculed passages in all of literature: “Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.”   The author should be hooking you into the action here, making you wonder what happened to poor Jacques and why he’s staggering through the museum, and yet for some reason this is the moment when Brown decides to tell you what Sauniere’s profession is and how well he’s doing in it.Martin, on the other hand, is a terrific story-teller.  His descriptions are immediate, vivid, and his characters, even the bit players, are well rounded.  At times his writing rises to the level of the epic, the language of fantasy.  He has, it’s true, begun to maunder a bit in the latest books, but he still manages to keep the reader engaged, desperate to know what’s coming next.Fantasy and lit-fic are different things, and should be read differently.  James, in his review, approaches GoT as if it’s realistic fiction, praising it for its realpolitik and dismissing the fantasy elements.  Which is fine — everyone’s different, after all.  What’s not fine is when a major magazine reviews one of these things with the tools of the other.

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:

  • License Plates for Strollers
    Back in 2006, Jill Starishevsky started a business selling license plates for strollers. The idea was that when your nanny was out with the baby in the stroller, people could anonymously report on her behavior (whether good or bad) via the website,, listed on the plate. So kinda like those "How's my driving?" signs on the back of trucks. Her site is no longer active. It lasted until 2009, and has now been replaced by a spam site. But the original site is preserved on the Web Archive. I see two problems with her business plan. First, her customer base was limited to people with nannies. And second, I don't think the purpose of the license plate would have been evident to your average member of the public. screenshot
  • Execution of Comatose Crybaby
    [Text skipped] Original article here.
  • Frances Baskerville - The Singing Psychic
    Frances Baskerville (1944-2009) of Dallas, Texas was involved in an accident in which an 18-wheel lumber truck backed into her car, while she was waiting outside a beauty parlor. The lumber crashed through the roof of the car, almost killing her. But it also caused her to have an out-of-body experience, and after that experience, she said, she had psychic abilities. Being a country-and-western fan, she chose to sing her predictions. For instance, in 1997 she appeared on the Howard Stern show where she sang her premonition that Patrick McNeill, who had disappeared outside a Manhattan bar, would be found 100 yards from his home in Port Chester, NY. (His body was eventually found floating near in pier in Brooklyn.) Arthur Lyons and Marcello Truzzi gave this info about her in their book The Blue Sense: Psychic Detectives and Crime (1991): Frances Baskerville, the "World's Only Singing Psychic," who heads the Baskerville Foundation for Psychical Research in Dallas, Texas, claims to be a licensed private detective specializing in finding lost children. In a recent letter to the authors, she credits herself with having found over "five hundred persons," although she regretfully states that she "only has the right" to name three, due to the fact that she neglected to get "release forms" from the other four hundred and ninety-seven. She also claims to work with attorneys in several states helping to select juries. Baskerville released an album, Songs From the Beyond. You can listen to the full album at the WFMU blog. One song from that album is below. And elsewhere on the web, you can listen to an interview with Baskerville from when she appeared on the Judy Joy Jones Show.
  • X-Ray Stove Polish
    "Cannot explode." Well, that's a relief! Some more info here.
  • Caffeinated Shampoo
    The Wall Street Journal reports that one of the latest things in hair care is caffeinated shampoo. The buzz is that the caffeine stimulates hair growth, though too much caffeine might have the opposite effect. Add this to the list of caffeinated products we've reported on here at WU. We now have (in addition to the shampoo) caffeinated peanut butter, inhaler, body spray, and soap.
  • The World Coal-Carrying Championship
    Home page here.