Di Filippo, Paul

Tagged: Author

(1954-    ) US writer whose birth and continued residence in Rhode Island places him at the heart of the Boston-Washington megalopolis (> Cities) that has been his typical venue and focus throughout his career, which began with "Falling Expectations" for Unearth in Winter 1977. He has published widely since, with nearly 200 stories appearing in a wide range of journals; beginning with The Steampunk Trilogy: Victoria; Hottentots; Walt and Emily (coll 1995), which remains his most widely known title, much of this shorter material, on which his reputation essentially rests, has been assembled in various collections. Di Filippo also reviews widely, with work appearing regularly in the Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly and elsewhere. His novels with Michael Bishop, under the joint pseudonym of Philip Lawson, are associational detections, nor are all of his own novels easily treated as sf, though all his work tends to exhibit a exuberant opportunism about genre-switching (> Equipoise); but some are of explicitly sf interest. Elements of spoof and caricature (> Humour) are laced through the gonzo erotica of A Mouthful of Tongues: Her Totipotent Tropicanalia (2002), but the Near Future world of the tale is presented with very considerable intensity (> Sex), as a sexually beleaguered woman is transformed – perhaps as the subject of a biological engineering project – into something like an omnivorous goddess in an Alternate History version of Brazil; and Fuzzy Dice (2003) carries its inept protagonist through a variety of Parallel Worlds structured in accordance with various Mathematical and Cosmological premises: one a world prior to the Big Bang; another a kind of artefactual cellular automaton, and so forth. The end result evokes both Edwin A Abbott and Robert Sheckley, as well as Rudy Rucker, who wrote the introduction.

It is his shorter work, however, that seems most achieved. Many stories are set in Parallel Worlds or Alternate History versions of urban America, as clearly demonstrated in The Steampunk Trilogy, comprising three very different stories, each set in a Steampunk rendering of the nineteenth century: in "Victoria" (June 1991 Amazing), a Clone replaces the young queen, who goes walkabout, learning how to rule her country well, and also having sex; "Hottentots" (new here) exposes the incipient megalopolist to Monsters directly evocative of the work of H P Lovecraft; and in "Walt and Emily" (November-December 1993 Interzone), Emily Dickinson sleeps with Walt Whitman and is transported to the future where she meets Allen Ginsberg. The stories assembled in Ribofunk (coll 1996) tend to focus on Biology spoofed (and taken seriously) in Cyberpunk terms; Babylon Sisters and Other Posthumans (coll 2002 pod) moves toward Hard SF, though edgily; and each story assembled in Lost Pages (coll 1998) places a real literary figure – the roster includes J G Ballard, Philip K Dick, Franz Kafka (almost inevitably), Thomas Pynchon, James Tiptree Jr and several others – in a different Alternate History. The mix of genres and references throughout Di Filippo's work is sometimes heady, sometimes over-egged; but when the balance is right, as in the Linear City Romances series, comprising A Year in the Linear City (2002 chap) and A Princess of the Linear Jungle (2010 chap), the sum is clearly greater than the parts. The first novella, for instance, is set in a perhaps infinitely extended City which rather resembles New York: its theatrical inhabitants may be occupying a Generation Starship, or a World Ship, or an artefact created to house the inhabitants of a Dying Earth, or a Posthumous Fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] venue, or a Pocket Universe experiment in Utopia-building, or the epidermis of a vast living entity, perhaps a dragon; or all or none of these. A Princess of the Linear Jungle, while inhabiting the same overall venue, also incorporates a Steampunk homage to the Planetary Romance as written by Edgar Rice Burroughs or A Merritt, both authors being cited in the text. The deft, haunting, glad Equipoise here achieved may be Di Filippo's central "note" as a writer.

The nonfiction Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 (2012) with Damien Broderick was written as a deliberate continuation of David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels: 1949-1984 (1985); some omissions and eccentric inclusions are justified by its authors' intelligent presentation of the texts selected. Their conviction that sf as literature continues to flourish shines throughout. [JC]

see also: Information Theory.

Paul Di Filippo

born Woonsocket, Rhode Island: 29 October 1954

died

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Linear City Romances

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