Book: Fractal Paisleys
Author: Paul Di Filippo
Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, science fiction, proto-bizarro
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Pia Zadora as a magical Queen of the Pixies. I shit you not. Di Filippo’s id is a magnificent place.
Availability: Published by Four Walls Eight Windows in 1997, the book appears to be out of print. However, you can get a used copy online at various locations:
Comments: Paul Di Filippo was recommended to me by a woman I have a passing acquaintance with in LiveJournal political communities. Once upon a time an author I discussed invoked my mental health and acted really creepy. The author is on LJ and is a peripheral part of the conservative community there, so when the unpleasantness happened of course my discussion of his book came up several times. Whenever my site is discussed in non-odd-book quarters, invariably people recommend books to me. Generally the recommendations are along the lines of, “Have you read American Psycho?” or “That Chuck Palahniuk is really weird – you should read him.” Which is cool – Bret Easton Ellis and Palahniuk are both diving boards into the pool that is weird literature so I’m glad they are on peoples’ radars, but neither are particularly helpful to me at this point.
But this time I was recommended a truly whacked-out writer and I am the richer for it. Though I suspect Di Filippo is as famous in his own right as Ellis and Palahniuk, not being a fan of science fiction means Di Filippo is completely new to me and his whacked out writing is a thing of beauty. Di Filippo is a very fluid writer and you can read his works very quickly and easily come back to them after interruptions. That came in handy when I found myself stuck at my hematologist’s office for two hours one day. I read the bulk of this book sitting in a cold office waiting to discuss my platelets. Good times! And I cop to the fact that because Di Filippo rescued me from hours of boredom I may be positively inclined toward him on that merit alone. However, I also think this collection of short stories has enough odd merit to stand tall on its own weirdness.
Di Filippo’s book forced me to create a new category – proto-bizarro. While he is not bizarro, per se, he comes the closest to being a bridge between pulp sci-fi and the current batch of hardcore, horror-infused weirdness that I have read. Basic, (mostly) Earth-bound sci-fi blended with pop culture references, fringe culture, high weirdness and elaborate plots – if Di Filippo’s book had included more gore I would consider it bizarro outright.
Most of Di Filippo’s plots can be described thusly: A person finds a thing. The thing is magical. The Magical Thing is used. There are unintended consequences when using the Magical Thing. The Lone Sane Person tries to set things straight, with varying success rates. Di Filippo definitely has a formula and while formulas can be trite, Di Filippo’s formula is sort of comforting. In the midst of high weirdness, having something familiar to fall back on isn’t a bad thing. Besides, formulaic writing is why I read writers like Stephen King. Formula is all that separates fringe from genre sometimes and while some condemn it, I don’t. If one can write well within a formula, that’s what is important, and Di Filippo can write very well within his formula.
But that brings me to an interesting situation with Di Filippo that I have not faced in a long time: There is not a single passage I want to quote here. Weird, right? I am the Queen of Long-Ass Quoted Passages. But Di Filippo is not a writer who is going to wow you with the power of his prose (or perhaps I should say his writing in this book will not wow you). These stories have consistent characters whose behaviors sort of blend into each other. The power of Di Filippo comes from the insanity of his plots. His stories are exercises in fine lunacy, so fine that his smooth, contemporary prose, his characters whose traits span the distances between urban dumbasses to southern-culture-on-the-skids clods without much delineation between the two, fade into irrelevance.
These are some seriously amazing plots. So intricate I am actually afraid to read a novel by this man for fear of what one of his book-length plots would do to my brain. The plots are worth the cost of admission. Plots so fabulous they are works of art.
But excellent plots seldom leave much to quote. So I’ll just synopsize the plots without spoiling them.