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Fractal Paisleys
Paul Di Filippo
Four Walls Eight Windows, 289 pages

Fractal Paisleys
Paul Di Filippo
Paul Di Filippo lives in Providence, Rhode Island. He is the author of four story collections, Destroy All Brains, The Steampunk Trilogy, Ribofunk, Fractal Paisleys (and a fifth called Lost Pages due out this year). 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 (mid-1998) and Spondulix (second half of 1998 or early 1999).

Paul Di Filippo Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

There's not enough humor in science fiction. This is not a unique situation. Most editors will tell you that it's hard to find decent comic writing in any form. All the more reason, then, to enjoy the stories in Fractal Paisleys, a short-story collection by Paul Di Filippo.

Di Filippo is a good example of a rural humorist, a kind of writer fairly common in American literature but rare in science fiction. It's not surprising that a genre dedicated to space travel has produced few "regional" writers, authors whose work is identifiable with a certain locale. Clifford D. Simak is one example, but his stories, many set in the rural Midwest, are not meant primarily as humor. R.A. Lafferty is a better comparison, as his stories often invoke the Southwest, and are full of the tall tales that characterize much American humor.

The term "trailer park sf" has been coined to describe the style and setting that characterizes Di Filippo's stories, and it's an apt phrase. Anyone who has lived in a small town with a large automobile graveyard on its outskirts will recognize the people and places that appear in these stories. The best example of this is the title story, where a bartender and her no-account boyfriend hook up with the tools of a time traveller they accidentally run over on the highway. They have a good time playing with seemingly unlimited power in the form of a TV remote control that comes, the time traveller tells them, from only fifty years in the future, "but they're going to be wild ones." In "The Double Felix", half-witted Rowdy Staggers and Perfidia, his scheming girlfriend, pursue a naïve mad-scientist who hasn't a clue that his new invention could destroy the world. "Earth Shoes" fills us in on exactly who's responsible for what's happened in the last twenty years.

The other thread that runs through these stories is an unabashed love of rock 'n' roll. Titles like "Mama Told Me Not to Come" and "Lennon Spex" speak for themselves. "Flying The Flannel" takes us to an intergalactic battle of the bands, and features references to the Replacements and They Might Be Giants, among others. "Do You Believe in Magic?" chronicles the quest of Beaner Wilkins, legendary rock critic, to replace a broken copy of his treasured Lovin' Spoonful album. The problem is, Beaner hasn't been out of his apartment since 1981, and things have changed a bit.

Like most short-story collections, not everything here is first-rate. While "Master Blaster and Whammer Jammer Meet the Groove Thang" starts things off on a high note, it does display a trait that keeps "Queen of the Pixies, King of the Imps" from being a good story, namely a lapse into cuteness. There are times when you wish that some of these stories had a little harder edge to them. That, however, would play against the author's obvious affection for the kinds of people he writes about. They may be often shallow and fairly ignorant, but they are full of life, and they know how to have a good time. Characters such as Beaner Wilkins and Junius Weatherall, the suicidal teenager of "The Cobain Sweater", who all seem to have withdrawn from life, are rejuvenated by the events of their respective stories.

And there is a main theme to these stories. Small-town characters are confronted with science fiction weirdness, and instead of running away and hiding, they grab it and go. Whether that means rescuing lost alien pets or replacing your boss's face with a moose head, the results are always entertaining and often hilarious. Paul Di Filippo is one of the funniest writers working in SF today. Pick up a copy of Fractal Paisleys and join in the laughter.

Copyright © 1998 by Greg L. Johnson

Greg L. Johnson thinks Fractal Paisleys provided welcome relief from the overwhelming burdens inherent in reviewing science fiction. His reviews also appear in the New York Review of Science Fiction.

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