Items Tagged: SFRevu

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as a writer, he works in a bookstore where, fed up of the endless crappy fiction that fills the shelves (his might be unpublished, but it’s better!), he passes the dead hours of his working day absorbing scientific texts.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.