Saturday, November 24, 2018

Review of Fuzzy Dice by Paul Di Filippo

Robert Sheckley’s Dimension of Miracles is one of my favorite science fiction novels of all time. It’s not a perfect specimen of text. It doesn’t suck the reader in for drama and make them shed tears. You won’t be turning pages as fast as you can to see whodunit. It didn’t win any Pulitzers or Man Bookers. But it remains a singular work of imagination with human layers far beyond the average work of commercial fiction. Time and again Sheckley’s fine wit reconstructs reality (or our perception of reality) in some unique, clever way that has you both smiling at and pondering the profundity. Though their imaginations are distinctive, I do not doubt Sheckley’s novel was floating in the back of Paul Di Filippo’s mind as he wrote Fuzzy Dice (2003). Be it tribute, homage, or just stand-alone novel, regardless, it’s cut from the same discerning, droll clothe.

Middle-aged ex-hippy with unfulfilled yet unknown expectations in life, Paul Girard merely tolerates existence. A bookshop clerk, he spends his days surrounded by colorful pages and ideas, but just can’t seem to find any color in his own life. The great paradox of existence (aka the Ontological Pickle) hanging over him like a black cloud, Paul arrives at work one morning to find a sentient robot shrub from the multiverse awaiting him. Suffice to say, his life takes a new spin—a quantum spin. Given a free-pass to the multiverse (appropriately a yo-yo synced with his brain), the shrub instructs Girard to go and find the answer to the Pickle. The multiverse a wild and strange place (putting it lightly), Girard gets his question answered, but certainly not in anything resembling the manner or ease with which he’d hoped.

Frothing with ideas, Fuzzy Dice is one more reason Di Filippo is one of the most imaginative (and underappreciated) writers working today. Girard’s multiverse travels taking him to twelve different worlds (two, six-sided dice, get it), his departure from and arrival to the next world is as unpredictable as it is expected. Nothing seeming to work out as planned, the land of hot babes he asks the yo-yo for ends up with more of an Amazon jungle woman heat than Playboy centerfold naughtiness, just as the land of power he seeks operates more with the subconscious than it does with anything as overt as politics or money. Girard’s travels wild and exotic (similar in style yet different in substance to those in Dimension of Miracles), Di Filippo slowly but subtly brings the man’s evolution into a state in which the Ontological Pickle can be answered—at least for him.

Everyone (who knows anything, natch) knows Di Filippo is a wordsmith of the top degree, and Fuzzy Dice has his talents on full display. Fresh worlds and fresh ideas requiring a lexicon that doesn’t always exist in our own, very few if any of the scenes feel like rehash genre, and almost all are delivered with inventive wit. The land of memes—and the Jesus Lizard—had me laughing out loud, just as much as the Butterfly Effect world and its patrons’ madcap, random antics did. I imagine some readers will get lost in the novel’s conclusion given the accelerated spin of imagination, but suffice to say those who parse it out, there exists full human meaning to complement the gonzo humor and wordplay.

I’ve read reviews that (favorably) compare Fuzzy Dice to White Light (and indeed Rudy Rucker writes the introduction). But I have not read Rucker’s novel, and thus can only say that if humorously intelligent science fiction far beyond the madding crowd is your cup of tea, then this novel (and Di Filippo in general) cannot disappoint. Seatbelt required, Di Filippo really turns his imagination loose in quelling his main character’s existential angst. Psychedelic kool-aid waters of parallel universes and 1-bit existences are just as possible as quantum crushing big bangs and perverse American Golden Age retro. Great fun, great read—almost as much as Sheckley’s Dimension of Miracles.