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Little Doors
Paul Di Filippo
Four Walls Eight Windows, 279 pages

Little Doors
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: 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 Martin Lewis

Spanning fifteen years from almost the beginning of his career to earlier this year, this is Paul Di Filippo's fifth collection (another, Babylon Sisters and Other Posthumans, is published simultaneously). Like all of his collections, it is thematic even though in this case it is a little hard to say what that theme might be. In the broadest terms, all the stories are fantasies even though some of them contain no fantastic elements. Even though there is not a clear, unifying thread running through the stories it is obvious that they rub up against each other and trade on similar concerns. They are stories of dreams and obsessions.

Di Filippo is well know as a humourist, but there is a dark under-current to much of his work. Early on in Little Doors, we are faced with two decidedly bleak stories. "Moloch" is a deeply unsettling account of a mentally ill man's conversations with what he believes is God and its tragic outcome. Although employing more overtly fantastic elements, "Sleep Is Where You Find It" (co-written with Marc Laidlaw) shares "Moloch"'s dark tone. Weegee is a man literally haunted by ghosts who drives around at night photographing crime scenes. He finds himself involved with a serial killer, the Human Head Cake Boxer, whilst at the same time his identity starts to dissolve. Initially as uncomfortable as "Moloch," the story benefits from a joyous shaft of optimism at the end.

The unfortunate (to put it mildly) protagonist of "Billy" is born without the top of his skull and most of his brain. When a spider, rat and parrot move into his empty skull, they discover they can manipulate the vestigial brain matter and produce an illusion of sentience. The story then charts the ascension of the new Billy to the highest office in the land. Clearly this is ludicrous but Di Filippo has the gift for treating the preposterous seriously, the straight-faced treatment makes the story. A similar effect is achieved in "Our House" where mankind past, present and future meet under one roof. Notably, these stories are more successful than "The Short Ashy Afterlife Hiram P. Dootle." That story, about a man reincarnated as a pipe, is equally silly but played for laughs.

Baring the mark of Lewis Carroll's "The Jabberwocky" in its evocative use of nonsense words, "Jack Neck And The Worry Bird" inhabits a similar same space as the industrial fantasy of China Miéville. This contains the most exciting, playful prose of the collection, where Di Filippo has let himself off the leash and all the sentences are wonderfully overblown:

"'twasn't the eye itself that was dodgy, but only the nacreous cheek-carbuncle below it that was smooshing the orb closed."
"Return To Cockaigne," on the other hand, is the most satisfying story as a whole. Four school friends are invited into a utopian pocket universe that is suffering the effects of entropy. Once they are persuaded in, they assume the role of guardians of this world. Twenty years after they last entered the world, three of the friends return in search of the fourth. The assailed paradise resembles very much a standard fat fantasy but it subverts the standard tropes of sword and sorcery by blending them with Big Rock Candy Mountain fantasia. This, in turn, acts as a cloak to a clever piece of misdirection revealed at the finale.

The protagonists of "Return To Cockaigne" find their 'real' lives meaningless after experiencing Cockaigne. Di Filippo returns to this theme, the danger of experiencing and then being deprived of heaven, in "Slumberland." An old, dying man recalls the vivid dreams he had as a child and how they stopped, leaving him broken and alienated from the rest of humanity.

Little Doors has received some criticism for being light, lacking the depth of Di Filippo's other works, and it does contain a pair of throw-away, one-joke stories. "The Horror Writer" is a none too subtle piece about a bestselling author (Stephan Prinze -- geddit?) who identifies rather too closely with his work. "My Two Best Friends" posits an unusual form of lychanthropy and from that point unwinds entirely predictably. Elsewhere though, Di Filippo exhibits both the breadth and depth of his skill and the wit for which he has become so well regarded. If Little Doors is not in the top rank of his output, then it is still a good collection when judged on its own merits. Even a thin slice of Di Filippo is rich enough to leave you full.

Copyright © 2002 Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis lives in South London; he is originally from Bradford, UK. He writes book reviews for The Telegraph And Argus.

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