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A Princess of the Linear Jungle
Paul Di Filippo
PS Publishing, 91 pages

A Princess of the Linear Jungle
Paul Di Filippo
Paul Di Filippo lives in Providence, Rhode Island. He is the author of several story collections including Destroy All Brains, The Steampunk Trilogy, Ribofunk, Fractal Paisleys, and Lost Pages. Paul Di Filippo's first novel, Ciphers, was published by Cambrian Publications and Permeable Press.

Paul Di Filippo Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Cosmocopia
SF Site Review: Shuteye for the Timebroker
SF Site Review: Babylon Sisters and Other Posthumans
SF Site Review: Little Doors
SF Site Review: A Mouthful of Tongues: Her Totipotent Tropicanalia
SF Site Review: A Year in the Linear City
SF Site Review: Strange Trades
SF Site Review: Strange Trades
SF Site Review: Lost Pages
SF Site Review: Ribofunk
SF Site Review: Fractal Paisleys
SF Site Review: The Steampunk Trilogy

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

When you need a hip, high-octane story in a pinch, who's your go-to guy? One of the names at the top of your list has to be Paul Di Filippo. He's been churning out these odd birds for nigh on three decades now.

In 2002, Di Filippo was nominated for a Hugo, Sturgeon, World Fantasy, for his novella "A Year in the Linear City," published by PS Publishing. The novella also took third in the Locus poll. What made it so popular with so many disparate groups?

First is the world of the story -- completely unique. Diego lives in a world built up of mile after mile of linear blocks. If you go far enough, you run into another city, another culture entire with different rules, different ways of life. There are hints as well of a distinctive ecology: Yardbulls and Fisherwives are strange, unnerving types of angels which flutter in the sky and dive into the city whenever an inhabitant of the linear city kicks the bucket. The dead are ferried to one side of the world or the other. "The Wrong Side of the Tracks" takes on a new, literal meaning: One side is heated by distant flames, the other a shore is far cooler. Steam is abundant and runs in pipes under the city. The under-culture, under-class dig off scales and sell them as good-luck charms to the rich.

Diego is a writer of CF (cosmogonic fiction -- a useful lens for readers to examine both his culture and by contrast, to see our own) who publishes in Mirrorworlds. He battles his book publisher's snobbish attitude toward his preferred style of literature. Diego takes care of his father, who is dying of stomach cancer, yet the father is bitter still for the demise of Diego's mother who died because the father could not save both mother and child in a boating accident.

We then meet Diego's girlfriend, Volusia, a big, busty beautiful firefighter; his best friend, Zohar, who needs Diego's help getting his wife her fix. They are thrust into an adventure fetching new scales -- a job that risks five to ten years in prison. A summary of the episodic plot is a little difficult as a Di Filippo tale often focuses on events that help create the world, yet the individual episodes are all dynamic and keep the reader's attention.

You can't comment on a Di Filippo tale without commenting on its style employed, frequently a highlight in any of his works: It begins in an odd baroque that sets the mood and flavor of the culture, but thankfully fades into the woodwork.

Di Filippo recently revisited the Linear City in a sequel of sorts: A Princess of the Linear Jungle -- a pulpy title evoking something of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the epigraph is from A Princess of Mars). This does flavor the tale, but of course Di Filippo's tastes are catholic and this new novella captures a more modern sensibility as well. This time, however, we visit the Other Shore by boat and arrive at the Jungle blocks.

Merritt Abraham graduated from college but was too poor to pursue a higher degree in archeology (rather, polypolisology -- the study of many cities) as she wanted. Taking a job in a museum, she marks time until her boss learns of her true desire and helps her out. Merritt attends graduate school and falls in love with her offbeat professor, Scoria. They join an expedition team on a journey to Vayavirunga, the Jungle blocks of the Linear City. Also on the expedition is a young man who seems to follow her everywhere, Ransome, and his nightclub-singing lover, Cady Rachis. There they find rat men and their minion cockroaches, the size of sofas.

Rather than answering some of the questions that the first novella presented, this novella presents new ones. It does shed new light on the Yardbulls and Fisherwives, but the Princess adds a new kink. Besides Burroughs, the novella pays respects to Brian Aldiss, Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, H. Rider Haggard, A. Merritt, among others.

Paul Di Filippo is sitting on an untapped gold mine equal perhaps to such grand planetary mysteries as Larry Niven's Ringworld. The series cannot end here. Some questions the series needs to answer: What is the world? Can they reach halfway around the world by digging through? What's underneath the scales and pipes of steam? How does the ecology work? How do people eat? Where does the city begin? How was the world and its creatures made and/or evolved? Why is it, in a world highly technical in design, that its people are ignorant of technology and their planet? To what service does the Princess provide the planet? Which of her explanations of Linear City, if any, are true?

If Di Filippo were to return to this world to answer these questions and others, he might have a classic and reader-favorite on his hands. With Di Filippo's at the helm, you know the answers will be wild.

Copyright © 2012 Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; lives in Honduras; edited poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (with Geoff Ryman and Julian Todd) culminating in an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.

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