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A Year in the Linear City
Paul Di Filippo
PS Publishing, 80 pages

Edward Miller
A Year in the Linear City
Paul Di Filippo
Paul Di Filippo lives in Providence, Rhode Island. He is the author of five story collections, 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. Cambrian Publications plans to publish two more of his novels: Joe's Liver and Spondulix.

Paul Di Filippo Website
ISFDB Bibliography
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 William Thompson

The premise for this novella is intriguing: a city laid out along a single thoroughfare -- a ubiquitous Broadway -- a single block of buildings to either side, divided by numbered Cross Streets equally a block in length counterpoint, seeming to stretch limitlessly both Up or Downtown, delimited only by Boroughs separated by a single street. The residents live either on the Trackside or Riverside of the central boulevard: if lucky, with a Steetview looking onto Broadway. As may be inferred, the buildings on one side of Broadway back upon a river, the other upon railway tracks, with the former being more prestigious, though only in part because of its aqueous view. For beyond the physical water or the spur of rail and cinder exist alternately the ephemeral Other Shore and the equally mythic landscape referred to only as the Wrong Side of The Tracks. For the citizens these unknown realms juxtapose in parallel a representation of heaven and hell, though no one is entirely sure. Their association in belief stems solely from the Pompatics that wing in the sky overhead, two aerial species that differ dramatically in appearance, and whose role is to tend and bear away the dead. Not limited by physical space, anytime of the day they can be seen flying away, carrying the remains of their mortal burdens, or hovering above in wait. The angelic Fisherwives serve as pallbearers to the Other Shore, whereas the more preadamite Yardbirds deliver only to the Wrong Side of the Tracks: thus, the assumption that they represent the final destiny of body and soul.

While just one continuous urban ribbon whose end no one known has determined, the Linear City is broken up into individual Boroughs of a hundred blocks each, though separated only by a single Cross Street, each having their own government, culture and, depending upon distance, language and speech. The main protagonists of A Year in the Linear City are residents of Gritsavage: a writer and his friends and family. Spanning the period of a single year, divided into chapters representing the four seasons and the passage of a second Seasonsun, whose orbit is annual rather than the diurnal Daysun's, the narrative follows the events in the life of Diego Patchen, an author of Cosmogonic (CF) Fiction. Patronized by the more popular and financially successful advocates of quotidian fiction, such as Yale Drumgoole, Paul Di Filippo uses the polarities of the two aesthetic approaches to poke fun at speculative and mainstream fiction, and the arguments as to their relative merits, as well as to explore more serious aspects of writing, such as the relationship between style and content. Additionally, the author on several occasions cleverly inverts reality and the notion of what is speculative, having Diego postulate, in a world run by ingeniators who repair what exists a priori rather than create, stories whose themes envision the development of remote communication using cables, or alternate visions of life after death absent of a Pompatic cosmology, and uncannily similar to our own search for something after. In the process, Di Filippo thrust some pointed barbs at both organized religion as well as its New Age counterparts.

As always, this story is punctuated by the author's vivid and lush prose, as well as his inventive imagination and a singular if unfully fleshed cast of characters. In terms of composition, narrative description and voice, Di Filippo is well nigh masterful. The world and society he creates is captivating, and easily carried along by the beauty of his prose and moments of sheer inventive delight. However, in the end this work fails to entirely satisfy, once separated from its rich language and imaginative flights of fancy, seeming to offer little of real substance beyond an outline or a sketch, if you will, of a realm and characters that appear to beg for much fuller exposition. One is left wondering what was the point to this narrative, beyond its exercise in imagination? For some this may prove enough, but I was left wishing for more, some glimpse of content beyond a scattering of insights, or invention for its own sake.

It has been suggested to me that this is meant as an intentional slice of life, a merging of the Cosmogonic and quotidian elements debated within the text. While I can perceive the compositional purpose behind this marriage, the verity necessary to effectively complete the combination is partially absent in the author's characterizations, many of the players and events dealt with too singularly and summarily to achieve the credibility required, the brevity of a novella's format perhaps not serving the author as well as had been intended. And even had the effort proved successful, by itself this alone would not adequately substantiate this excursion of imagination.

Despite its obvious merits, for a story that suggests more than mere tale-spinning, I prefer a bit more meat on the bone.

Copyright © 2002 William Thompson

William Thompson is a writer of speculative fiction. In addition to his writing, he is pursuing masters degrees in information science as well as history at Indiana University.

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