Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, Harlan Ellison’s “The Deathbird”, Rick Moody’s The Four Fingers of Death, Philip K. Dick’s VALIS, C.M. Kornbluth’s “MS Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie”, Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition, Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen—on and on goes the list of works interacting with the idea of fiction while being fiction. Each with their own vector to how speculative fiction might be meta’d, none to date, however, have engaged with the spectrum of the genre’s roots in the same fashion as Paul Di Filippo’s 1998 collection Lost Pages. Kafka as super hero, PKD as a paranoid hardware salesman, Dr. Strangelove and his souped up Cadillac—and many other pieces of speculative fiction’s history flash through this collection of short stories that transcend the page and touch upon the real world. Chris Brown calling Di Filippo “Mixmaster of the Cranial Museum”, Lost Pages is an exemplary text.
Fiction about fiction a potentially pretentious undertaking, Lost Pages is anything but. Di Filippo as knowledgeable of the genre’s history as he is a part of it, the collection is wholly in respectful yet mischievous dialogue with the field. Bouncing amongst a variety of touch points, the stories play with the lives and works of known science fiction authors, by turns intelligently, interestingly, poignantly, and always enjoyably. Rather than merely inverting norms or switching out simple aspects of history, Di Filippo engages with the writers, their works, and their biographies to produce complex stories with more than one level of conception. Thus, it’s best to get the caveat out of the way: if you are interested in reading Di Filippo but have little knowledge of science fiction beyond the past decade, don’t waste your time. Lost Pages is for the genre connoisseur. (There are other good places to delve into Di Filippo for the unsaturated—aka non sf nerd—e.g. Ribofunk, The Steampunk Trilogy, and Cosmocopia.)