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Four Stories
Paul Di Filippo

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: A Princess of the Linear Jungle
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

40k ebooks have released a number of Paul di Filippo's short works. As a reader and buyer, I find them somewhat overpriced albeit worthwhile reads.

How to Write Science Fiction Before buying his "How to Write Science Fiction" (35pp), you may want to read the subtitle first: "How to write wild-eyed, multiplex, maximalist, recomplicated, high-bandwidth Science Fiction, or 'realize I don't wanna be a miser/how come everybody wanna keep it like the Kaiser?'" This provocative essay describes what the author sees (at least in this essay) as the way to write the best stripe of SF. His best representative collection of such fiction might be the recent After the Collapse, to be reviewed shortly.

Di Filippo claims that two possibilities exist for why writers choose to tell single-idea SF: 1) According H.G. Wells, writers should not beleaguer readers with too many strangenesses in one narrative. 2) SF writers are stingy with their ideas. A third reason not mentioned by Di Filippo may be that writers want to make a clear, philosophical extrapolation of a single idea or theme. If they add too much to the pot, they fear cooking something more like mud than stew.

But Di Filippo makes a good point that the true future will not be predominated by any single idea. After stating that the more ideas a writer uses, the more ideas flow back into the writer, Di Filippo traces this type of fiction from Van Vogt's one new idea per scene, to Charles Harness and Alfred Bester, to Samuel R. Delany and Thomas Pynchon, to Rudy Rucker and the cyberpunks, to Ian McDonald and himself. Di Filippo describes, then, how he wrote Ciphers, his response to Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.

None of this should read like back-patting as Di Filippo uses a hefty dose of self-deprecation. In addition, if one reads his reviews, one cannot accuse him of wearing blinders as he is catholic in his tastes. Moreover, his own fiction does not always follow this maxim of maximalism. But while proclaiming ideas boldly raises hackles, it also challenges readers and writers either to rise to the occasion or to define one's self against it.

The only criticism I have is the title, which is somewhat misleading as there's no real concrete discussion of craft, but rather a broad discussion of general principles. This essay is important reading for anyone interested in learning what's going on in SF presently as well as those interested in hearing one practitioner's analysis of the art's attributes.

Wikiworld One admirable example of the above fiction that Di Filippo describes would be his own "Wikiworld" (34pp) which originally came out in Fast Forward edited by Lou Anders. Maybe you read Cory Doctorow sing its praises on Boing Boing when it came out. One aspect in its favor is its sheer inventive spirit while playing as close to scientific reality as possible, which is something that the proponents of Mundane SF sought.

This tale tells of one Russ Reynolds, a seemingly ordinary man who starts a worldwide trade war with his buddies Cherimoya Espiritu and Foolty Fontal. Russ builds his house on an island in a flooded world. Friends help him nano-construct the house via wikis, a kind of joint-ownership in creating that more or less runs the world. Elections occur real-time via the ubik and every citizen votes -- from local to national politics. Russ falls in love with a low-tech, off-the-grid oyster pirate, Cherry. Russ is a plunderer of Mongo, rescuing treasures from the underwater world left behind. Things change when Russ' girlfriend nearly dies due to a group of inadvertently introduced, invasive worms eating up the wood in his deck -- worms genetically designed during wartime. The trio plots revenge.

Waves and Smart Magma Another exemplar of maximalist SF is "Waves and Smart Magma" (31pp) which projects further into the future when humans have been "Upflowered," translated, transcended or evolved into some higher existence while animals have been spliced and diced genetically into chimeras, and uplifted into intelligent caretakers of the planet. Guided by a godlike guidance of an AI mind circling the planet in the troposphere above, a group of chimeric wardens are shipped off to battle the AI Mauna Loa -- yes, the volcano. The sentient malevolence that is Mauna Loa has thrown its semi-hot rocks on animals to take them over as its minions.

Our hero, Storm, who is the son of the heroes in the prequel "Clouds and Cold Fires," initially rejects his quest because his parents had died in an accident. But the tropospheric mind, in the guise of a sorcerer in the sky, convinces him to join a band of ten other wardens to set sail on a kite ship bound for the Hawaiian Islands. They revive an old TV movie by practicing swordplay. Mauna Loa convinces Storm to doubt their mission but then betrays him....

This story may stretch the credulity a bit, but it's great gobs of fun, originally appearing in Mike Ashley's Mind-Blowing SF anthology. You can read this story and its prequel in his After the Collapse collection for the same price (a highly recommended collection, to boot).

Return to the Twentieth Century "Return to the Twentieth Century" (26pp) represents a more classic -- perhaps even retro -- form of SF rather than the maximalist approach limned above. Alice Bradley, aka Jungle Alli, runs away from Western civilization to live among the cannibalistic Niam-Niam African tribe that files their teeth to points. Rediscovered, she becomes a major world leader -- a source of strength and toughness where civilization grows soft. Alli has discovered that psionic cat women from the moon are trying to overthrow the men of Earth from afar. The leaders of Earth are dubious until Alli manages to out the leader of the cat women in a fashion most pulpy:

  " Jungle Alli called out, 'Alpha, appear! I summon you!'

"The newcomer was a statuesque woman of immense beauty, clad in a black leotard that revealed every inch of her curvaceous figure. Her eyes were heavily kohl-lined, her pained lips cruel. Her dark hair was gathered up into elaborate hive. Golden slave bracelets adorned her biceps.

" 'You dare!' said the Cat Woman known as Alpha.

" 'Let us end this here and now,' replied Jungle Alli, and fired!"

[A scuffle ensues...]

" 'Your powers of mind are formidable, Alice Bradley! For an Earthwoman! You were able to take me unawares this time. But do not count on being able to do so again!' "


And so Di Filippo spoofs the grand SF tradition before Amazing and the SF magazines came into existence, where speculative whimsies like the construction of an Earth-Moon bridge once seemed as possible to human ingenuity as any flight of fancy. The story and title (with its many ways of reading it) play off the old 19th century stories of the future where a literal battle of the sexes exists, but instead of a future where gender equality is thematically proven wrong as often occurred in such tales, it is accepted throughout society. The reset point is neither a male-dominated nor female-dominated society but rather one of equality. This humorous tale may have much to contribute to the ongoing discussion of feminism in SF.

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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