There is, or at least once was, a lot humming and hawing about the differences between science fiction and fantasy. One is about the “impossible” and the other the “yet possible” I can even hear myself saying. But the subjective truth takes over: there is not always a clear line between the two. Sometimes it's just fantastika. But Paul Di Filippo already knew that. Enter his eighteenth collection of short—fantastikal—fiction, Infinite Fantastika (2018).
In a kind of self-rediscovery, the story kicking off the collection is one of the first Di Filippo had published and thought he'd lost forever after the manuscript disappeared, it wasn't until a scanned fanzine later appeared online that “Before and After Science” saw the virtual light of day, again. Lacking a compass, the story (if it can be called such) has a kind of inchoate brilliance that floats in interesting fashion. Seeming personal, it tells, as the title states, of a man’s life transformed by science, but in less than scientific fashion. Turning the dial up to eleven, “The Trail of the Creator, The Trial of Creation” by the below-the-genre-radar Paul di Filippo is the story of a motley crue of post humans who hunt the god that seeded the universe with their perverse variety. Add a mad scientist with a barrel of urschleim to the mix, and they’re off.
Flash fiction, “Domotica Berserker!” tells of a new neighborhood of homes being 3D printed, and the trouble had by activists. A time travel story (that could have fit neatly in Lost Pages), “I'll Follow the Sun” is about a guy who twists his life into a pretzel trying to get rich in the future selling an old comic book. Beer muscles and crabs on steroids, yes—oh, and romance, betrayal, and drama at the ballgame, such are the pieces of “A Faster, Deeper Now”. A vast spread of vignettes, “Thirteen Ways of Being Looked at by a Blackbird SR-71” tackles the idea of information protection from some very broad angles (and may have spawned a movie Downsized in the process) in funnily imaginative and seriously imaginative fashion.
Biopunked wild west, “The Herple Is a Happy Beast or, "Neighbors Are Delicious!" tells of a future “cowboy” that touches upon both man and beast, with a light wafting of rotten fish. “The Horror At Gancio Rosso” is Lovecraftania, and while politically revised Lovecraftania, is still Lovecraftania, and a lot of which comes with such a label. Tongue in cheek pastiche of golden age sf, “Airboy and Vooda Visit the Jungles of the Moon” story tells of the unlikely duo’s trip to the moon and the strange war they encounter between white apes and black leopards. Di Filipinos fully conscious of his medium, no opportunity is wasted amplifying the juvenile nature of the story in humorous fashion. In “Antikhthon”, Di Filippo’s attempt at explaining why ordinary people snap and perform great human injustices is as much classic sf as it is murky in the area of due respect paid to the victims of the world’s greatest crimes against humanity. Jack Vance did it, and now Di Filippo has done it again in “The Bartered Planet”. Like Vance, you'll like this one.
There is a whole lot of gushing on this blog about Paul Di Filippo, and while this particular collection may not have an overwhelming number of reasons to let the flood waters flow, it does still have a handful of strong picks, and remains an example of what makes Di Filippo, Di Filippo. Best part: it throws the taxonomy of genre out the window to be creative in a number of ways. Whether those ways are engaging depends on the reader. The only thing certain is that the collection is not realist...
The following are the twelve stories collected in Infinite Fantastika:
Before and After Science
The Trail of the Creator, the Trial of Creation
I'll Follow the Sun
A Faster, Deeper Now
Thirteen Ways of Being Looked at by a Blackbird SR-71
The Herple Is a Happy Beast or, "Neighbors Are Delicious!"
The Horror at Gancio Rosso
Airboy and Vooda Visit the Jungles of the Moon
The Bartered Planet
Devils at Play