Paul Di Filippo

Four Walls Eight Windows / 304 pages / October 1998

ISBN: 1568580991

There could be any number of parallel universes popping up around us, but even in this one, Paul Di Filippo is in his own world. And in his world, there are an unlimited supply of windows to peek through into the strange place inside. This time, Di Filippo is musing upon a world where science fiction as a genre died in the late 60s. The inevitable question arises: how would the world have been different?

If this seems like a trivial change to base speculations on, then you haven’t given Di Filippo a look. In his fertile imagination, any alteration in history could send shock waves right up to the present.

For those of you who miss your daily dose of paranoia courtesy of the Cold War, “Mairzy Doats” will be just the ticket. With the feel of a Buster Crabbe serial, deliberately stereotypical characters, and stomach-turning dose of patriotism, the story examines the right of a government to manipulate its citizens’ lives. Not to mention the point that blind loyalty brings its own dubious rewards. Could better science fiction have prevented the entire affair? Would The Twilight Zone have wised up these babes-in-arms a bit?

The world — except Di Filippo — will never know.

There is no shortage of plans to save this fractured world devoid of really good space operas. Antoine Saint-Exupéry lands in the last stronghold of civilisation, whitest Africa, with a grand scheme to resurrect a dying planet. Of course, the bones of his program are courtesy of H. G. Wells.

Or, perhaps you didn’t know science fiction authors held the answer to all of life’s big questions.

Enjoy, if you can, your meeting with Philippa Kay Duck, one of the most advanced and frightening playthings to come out of any factory. But, don’t expect to get too comfortable in P. K. Duck’s universe, because something bigger and even more terrifying is running the show. Ta da! Your supreme ruler, Rush Limbaugh! That alone should qualify “Linda and Phil” to cross over into the horror category.

Famous authors show up in every decade in every twisted interpretation of life imaginable, and only a few end up with the fame they enjoyed in our existence. But, it is an unintentional author whose story is the most striking. The alternate path of Anne Frank is interesting, inventive, and clever, if not entirely happy. The impact of the story comes in the final paragraphs, when the reader realises that Anne Frank never had a chance to fall in love forever, only to despise the boy the next week. She never had a chance to see youth fade and worry about a graceful transition. She never had the chance to set her sights on a grand dream, then find it was not all it was cracked up to be. She never had a chance.

Di Filippo is all over the map of history, slipping in and out of styles and eras with the ease of a savvy time-traveler. Taken separately, it would be difficult to pin all these flights of madness on one man. But that is part of the allure of Di Fillippo’s work: it won’t stand still to be dissected. One can only jump into one of the open seats and pull down the safety bar. It’s a wild ride and you might miss some of it, but the experience as a whole will stay with you for a long time.