Reader's reviews of Paul work

by Christian Sauvé

What a stroke of genius for PS Publishing to ask Rudy Rucker to write the introduction for Paul Di Filippo’s Fuzzy Dice.  It makes every reviewer’s opening statement “This Paul Di Filippo novel is a lot like a Rudy Rucker novel!” feels trite and obvious.  On the other hand, well, who else but Rudy Rucker to appreciate Fuzzy Dice?  It’s a lot like Rucker’s novels: anarchic, playful, grounded in hard SF concept while being almost completely unhinged.  It plays not only with Science Fiction concept, but with SF itself.

The basic set-up of the novel couldn’t be simpler: A down-on-his luck bookstore clerk is contacted by advanced intelligence and given a way to travel to parallel universes of his choice.  It doesn’t take much more to provide di Filippo with excuses to romp through a series of richly-imagined parallel realities, while putting his narrator through various adventures.

Along the way, we see narrator Paul stuck in 1970s hippie utopia; in a two-dimensional universe written as homage to Conway’s game of life; in a matriarchy; in an old black-and-white kid’s TV show; in universes where individuals are parts of a predefined group personality; in even weirder universes where learned traits are passed to kids, or where ideas are contagious.  (Hilariously, one of the late-novel comments by the entities that enabled Paul to travel at will between dimensions are that his choices have been appallingly unimaginative.)

Like Rucker’s fiction, Fuzzy Dice is very, very weird.  And yet, unlike much of Rucker’s fiction it still makes sense throughout, and isn’t overly mean to its characters.  This may not sound like much, but it’s enough to give me a warm fuzzy feeling about Fuzzy Dice, whereas most of Rucker’s fiction somehow leaves me feeling confused and misanthropic.  Di Filippo seems compassionate even in sketching a remarkably self-deprecating protagonist.  Throughout the novel’s adventures, Paul grows, learns, and even makes progress of some sort.  His companions along the way aren’t simply discarded, and some of them even show signs of having actual independence.

The sustained progress from one adventure to another is important in avoiding the trap so common to picaresque novels like Fuzzy Dice: Once it becomes clear that this twelve-sided adventure is going to go through twelve universes, each one given twelve sub-chapters, there’s a real risk that the novel becomes an imposed exercise.  And while Fuzzy Dice doesn’t avoid built-in repetitiveness thanks to its rigid construction, it makes the most out of it by carrying some characters from universe to universe, and allowing Paul to revisit some past choices toward the end of the book.

Like much of Di Filippo’s fiction, it’s very playful, not only in storytelling voice (which is loose and not to be taken seriously at all), but also in the elements it chooses to use.  There are quite a few metaphysics, mathematics and computer science-related gags along the way: The opposing sides in the great AI war that Paul dimly discovers are the Moraveckians and the Minskyites, with a throwaway mention about Drexleroids.  Much of the novel’s quirkiness is in presenting literal representations of purely theoretical concepts.  The overarching metaphysical conflict in which Paul becomes a player is based on a perennial debate within the AI community, and part of the fun is seeing DiFilippo taking down hallowed concepts by having the character understand them through a puff of mind-altering substances, or referring to things like “Artificial Insanities” or the all-important “Ontological Pickle”.  I’ll leave smarter scholars tackle how, as a genre, Science Fiction is unique in allowing a writer like Di Filippo full opportunities to play with such specialized scientific concepts.

Fuzzy Dice’s somewhat rarefied audience may be reflected in the novel’s unconventional publication history: Until recently, it had been difficult to purchase in its limited editions, but a recent mass-market re-edition ensures that it will be available once more.  It’s not as if the book is about to date itself out of meaning: Who doesn’t want to have a few laughs while reading a science-fiction novel that not-so-seriously ponders the nature of the multiverse?

(Originally reviewed on Dec 22, 2008 in Publisher’s Weekly)
Paul Di Filippo / Author . PS Publishing $40 (319p) ISBN 978-1-905834-34-9

 

Di Filippo’s 13th collection shows off his knack for intelligently developing imaginative concepts. The previously unpublished “A Game of Go,” which shares the universe of his Nebula-nominated “Kid Charlemagne,” offers a nice variation on a traditional hard-boiled detective theme as ex-cop Leon Deatherage helps a woman whose troubled personal situation may have global political implications. More overtly genred, the space opera “Shipbreaker” introduces a host of intriguing alien races. Social satire manifests in short punchy entries such as “Leakage,” in which classic 1950s television shows are affected by contemporary crudity and violence, and “Everywhere Is Now,” in which worldwide refugee crises come to Everytown, U.S.A. Readers who have missed Di Filippo’s previous collections (most recently 2006′s Plumage from Pegasus ) will find this an excellent introduction to his work.

 

by John Berlyne for SFRevu

Paul Di Filippo’s new novel, Fuzzy Dice, epitomises what Science Fiction ought to be – at least to my mind. Here is a novel that, wacky and highly entertaining though it undoubtedly is, provides a platform for an intelligent and intense exploration of some very deep scientific, philosophical and even theological concepts.

A simple and highly revealing statement opens Di Filippo’s latest, “My life was absolutely fucked,” says Paul Girard, a middle-aged, dead-end loser. Single, supremely cynical and deeply dissatisfied with his failure as a writer, he works in a bookstore where, fed up of the endless crappy fiction that fills the shelves (his might be unpublished, but it’s better!), he passes the dead hours of his working day absorbing scientific texts. On what might be best described as an atypical day at work, Paul is visited by a pan-dimensional entity called Hans, who offers him the opportunity to travel to any parallel universe of his choosing, via a highly sophisticated device shaped like a yo-yo. Figuring anywhere to be better than his present circumstances, our man embarks on a trippy trip that takes him to some very way out and out of the way places.

One would think such an opportunity would be a doddle. Not so. Di Filippo’s protagonist is flawed – a man who, not really knowing himself, is unclear of what his aspirations might be. The cosmos, naturally having a sense of humour, chooses to interpret his destination requests in such a way as to prove the adage that every silver lining has a cloud firmly attached. Thus Paul’s wish to be taken to “the last time and place where I was really happy” transports him to a world populated by the hippy culture of his youth (this whole idea is beautifully thought through). But once there, he is mistaken for a “Narc” and imprisoned, pending trial. His escape is to request to be taken “someplace logical” whereupon he is transported to a universe consisting only of cellular automata, a place even more incomprehensible to him than the one he just departed from.

Woven into Fuzzy Dice is some wonderful fuzzy science and fuzzy logic. Basing all his worlds on established or experimental scientific theories, Di Filippo makes the reader feel almost as clued up as the author, who is stepping out bravely here to explore these concepts through his narrative and is doing so very successfully indeed. Where he is most successful is in his depiction of abstract and/or abstruse ideas. He is able to convey these illustrative situations without straying into the surreal and it is a testament to Di Filippo’s skill and imagination that he is able to share his visions with the reader with such extraordinary clarity.

As fascinating as it is entertaining, Fuzzy Dice is a very clever and fearless treatment of complex digital theologies. It tackles these monsters without ever being overshadowed by them and is fun and thoughtful from the first page onwards.