Fractal Paisleysby Paul Di Filippo
You can try to escape from the mundane, or with the help of Paul Di Filippo, you can take a brief, meaningful break from it. In the vein of George Saunders or Michael Chabon, Di Filippo uses the tools of science fiction and the surreal to take a deep, richly felt look at humanity. His brand of funny, quirky, thoughtful, fast-moving, heart-warming, brain-bending… See more details below
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You can try to escape from the mundane, or with the help of Paul Di Filippo, you can take a brief, meaningful break from it. In the vein of George Saunders or Michael Chabon, Di Filippo uses the tools of science fiction and the surreal to take a deep, richly felt look at humanity. His brand of funny, quirky, thoughtful, fast-moving, heart-warming, brain-bending stories exists across the entire spectrum of the fantastic from hard science fiction to satire to fantasy and on to horror, delivering a riotously entertaining string of modern fables and stories from toxmorrow, now and anytime. After you read Paul Di Filippo, you will no longer see everyday life quite the same.
Fractal Paisleys contains ten funny, irreverent, and sexy stories, including two not previously published before the original release of this book. You will learn the real reason for the disappearance of the dinosaurs, how John Lennon found inspiration for his songs, and how the L’il Bear Bar in Providence, Rhode Island (the author's hometown, by the way—not a coincidence) ended up with a talking moose head on its wall. You will also learn what a fascinating writer Di Filippo is and want more. That’s why a dozen of his titles are being republished. To start with, at least.
Di Filippo is often adept at twanging the heartstrings of nostalgia, but his brand of humor too often manifests itself as no more than a glassy grin.
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By Paul Di Filippo
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Paul Di Filippo
All rights reserved.
Surely you too must have asked yourself at one time or another: "What if I put Stevie Wonder and Peter Wolf (of J. Geils fame) together in a van, along with a Filipina Lolita, and sent them all on an interstellar joyride?" Of such commonsensical questions are SF stories born. By the way: I find this archetypical pair turning up later in Thomas Pynchon's Vineland (1990), as the darker Blood and Vato, convincing me of their Jungian pre-existence.
Master Blaster and Whammer Jammer Meet the Groove Thang
Master Blaster is probing the clutter on the dashboard shelf, his black hands moving like delicate parti-colored tarantulas among the assorted odds 'n' ends. Empty cigarette pax, a styrofoam Big Mac box redolent of grease, a road map somehow unfolded into a topological nightmare. Keys, wires, washers, a lorn tampon Dewey lost one day, dingy in its paper sleeve. A screwdriver with a chipped tip, oily rags, matchbooks, discarded pine-tree-shaped cardboard air-fresheners, pennies, the innersole of a shoe....
Not finding what he is searching for, Master Blaster turns to his friend Whammer Jammer, who is driving. Master Blaster's long adorned colorful braids click ceramically together, sounding like a bead curtain stirred by a breeze. "Hey, Peter," says Master Blaster, "you see my Drive 'n' Drink cup anywhere?"
Whammer Jammer is a tall skinny white dude with a heavy five o'clock shadow spread across sharp features. He is wearing a blue bandana on his head, knotted in back. There is one silver stud in his right earlobe. He is dressed, as is his companion, in grungy brown patched Carhartt overalls, liberally stained, the insulated lining poking out of rips and tears.
He turns his head briefly toward Master Blaster and sees himself reflected in the black man's dark glasses.
"How come?" inquires Whammer Jammer.
"It still had some coffee in it yesterday, and I could really go for some now. Its ten already, and I ain't had a sip yet."
Whammer Jammer rolls his eyes hopelessly. "Check the floor, Stevie."
Master Blaster bends over and begins to rummage among the trash and debris on the floor. Shortly he straightens up, triumphantly holding a cup capped with a drink spout. He raises it to his lips and takes a pull at the plastic nipple. Only dry sucking noises results, like wind whistling over desert sands at high noon in the middle of summer.
"Shit," says Master Blaster. "Musta spilled out on the floor. I wonder if we got enough pennies here for some fresh jamoke...." He begins collecting the loose change from the dashboard shelf by touch.
"We might need that money for gas," warns Whammer Jammer, ever the more cautious of the two. Then, more selfishly: "And I'm outa smokes."
The men are driving down a highway on the outskirts of their hometown in a battered, dented, rusted white Ford Econoline van whose muffler is attached only by bent coathangers. Mounted with ropes of pantyhose on the front grill is a revolting, molting stuffed moosehead which gives the van its name: Bullwinkle. On each side of Bullwinkle the van is hand-lettered the name of their raggedy-ass enterprise:
MASTER BLASTER AND WHAMMER JAMMER HAULAGE, CARTAGE, FREIGHT AND MOVING BASEMENTS, ATTICS AND GARAGES CLEANED "IT AIN'T HEAVY, IT'S MY RUBBLE"
Temporarily deprived right now of both nicotine and caffeine, Master Blaster and Whammer Jammer are a little touchy, a trifle irritable, tending, in fact, toward downright despair. Money's too tight to mention, rent's due, their bellies are empty, and they haven't had a job in a week. And their last commission wasn't anything to boast about anyway. It was an assignment they perennially got, whenever the hometown trawlers made an especially large catch. Trucking loads of fish gurry—intestines, heads, fins, tails—from a local dockside processing plant out to the dump. Packs of alleycats gathered wherever they parked, and the interior of Bullwinkle still smells like low tide at the mud flats.
They've got to keep on keepin' on, tho. Nothing for it but to plunge on heedless of economic ill-fortune or the inexpungeable odor of fishguts, the malice of their fellow man—embodied in the ire of Mister Histadine, their landlord—or the ravages of bad weather and chapped hands.
"Whadda ya say we check out the dump for something we can salvage and sell?" asks Whammer Jammer of his partner.
"Sure," says Master Blaster. "We can scavenge some aluminum cans for the deposits anyway."
Out they head then, under the winter-grey sky, along the familiar road lined with winter-bare trees that look somehow like a child's stick figures, their muffler whumping away, Bullwinkle's shot suspension transmitting every bump in the pavement directly into their bony frames.
As they pass by one certain spot, seemingly no different from any other, Whammer Jammer ceremoniously beeps the horn.
"The Dewey Budd Memorial Roadside Rest Area," says Master Blaster.
"Yeah," says Whammer Jammer.
At the gate in the fence around the dump they pull to a stop beside Famous Amos's shack.
Famous Amos is the dumpman in charge of the vast smoldering odorous acreage. Naturally, in their particular line of business, Whammer Jammer and Master Blaster have come to know the slothful and contumacious old drunkard quite well. This acquaintanceship has not necessarily led to affection.
"You think we'll have to pay the bastard to get in today?" asks Master Blaster.
The door of the shack opens askew on its single hinge, its bottom dragging through a permanent rut in the dirt, and Famous Amos emerges. The man's grizzled and normally suspicious face is wreathed today in beneficience and goodwill.
"Howdy, boys. Whatcha carryin today?"
Whammer Jammer looks at Master Blaster for confirmation of this oddity. The blind man has his left ear cocked at Famous Amos as if he just heard a stone speak.
"Why, nothing, Amos," replies Whammer Jammer. "Just wanna pick thru the piles a little."
"Sure, sure, go ahead, be my guest."
Whammer Jammer puts the van in drive but holds his foot on the brake for a moment. "Say, Amos—anything wrong?"
Famous Amos is watching a seagull rapturously as the bird swallows a moldy orange peel. "Lookit that there bird, it's so beautiful."
"Huh? Oh, no, boys, nothin's wrong. Jest the opposite, in fact. I feel so good today I could piss holy water. Don't know why, jest woke up that way."
"What you been drinking today, my man?" says Master Blaster.
"No thin' but water, Stevie, no thin' but."
Whammer Jammer releases the brake and the van rolls forward.
"Okay, then—I guess. Take it easy, Amos."
Out of earshot of Famous Amos, Master Blaster says, "Whatever he's got, I hope it's not contagious."
"You said it."
They drive around the narrow dump trails for a time, looking for the latest, unpicked goodies. Neither partner says anything. Spooked by Famous Amos's sudden conversion and the notion that it might be catching, each man is intently examining his inner being, alert for signs of change.
Master Blaster speaks up first.
"I don't feel no coffee jones no more."
"I could go without a butt for at least another year or two."
"This is weird."
"Hey, turn left here!"
Whammer Jammer complies, then asks, "Why?"
"I feel it stronger this way."
They round a heap of garbage with a dilapidated couch perched atop it like some mock throne. The compacted multitextured strata of trash are open and flat here, like the foundation of a city four thousand years old with the city mysteriously vanished.
Out in the middle of the plain is a small humming fracture in the air, about the size of a giant panda. There seems to be something inside the shimmery air, a creature of some sort. Whammer Jammer tries to focus his vision on the atmospheric warp. He gets a quick impression of fur. Then the defect vanishes, seeming to implode.
"Hey, I felt it move!" says Master Blaster.
"I know, I know," says Whammer Jammer, feeling somehow disappointed to have lost sight of the anomaly.
The boys lever open their doors and step out. Something impels them to walk around to the back of the van.
The thing is there.
This time Whammer Jammer sees skin smooth as latex for a second, before the fuzzy air disappears again.
"It's out front now," says Master Blaster.
They walk to the open field of trash. The thing is in a different spot, a perpetual heat-shimmer in the middle of winter. As soon as Whammer Jammer's eyes light on it, it pops to another location. He looks again. Pop! Look, pop, look, pop.... It's like playing teleport chess. This could go on all day....
"What's making it jump around like that?" asks Master Blaster.
Whammer Jammer explains. "I want to get close to it. But how can we if we can't even look at it?"
"Hear that noise it's making? Suppose I try to zero in on it by listening?"
"Worth a try."
Master Blaster shifts his head toward the nearly subsonic vibrations from the thing. But the intelligent application of his aural perceptions has the same effect. The thing bounces in and out of existence, relocating halfway across the yard of garbage.
"It's obvious now what's going on," says Whammer Jammer, sounding none too certain.
The man tries to talk thru a theory still in formation. "This thing is some kind of creature from somewhere else in the universe—"
"Yeah, I'll buy that."
"—and it is plumb full of what you might call quantum uncertainty."
At one time, Whammer Jammer took a night-school course called "New Age Physics: Channeling the Cosmic Tao."
"Well you see, on a very fundamental level, every particle we are made of is just plain unknowable. Anything you learn about these little bitty things subtracts certainty from another aspect of 'em. By trying to see and hear this thing, we are obviously concentrating its uncertainty into its physical location, so it is forced to jump elsewhere."
"You know best, bro'. So, how we gonna sneak up on this thing?"
"We got to try not to look or listen to it."
Master Blaster and Whammer Jammer go back to the van. They find some Kleenex, shred them and stuff their ears. Whammer Jammer takes off his bandana and ties it around his eyes.
"How the hell do you live like this!" shouts Whammer Jammer.
"It's easy once you get used to it!" yells Master Blaster.
Hand in hand, they advance across the trashyard, zeroing in on the thing by some ineffable inner sense that does not appear to disturb it. Step by step, the thing's peaceful, happy aura increases. Pretty soon, the two men feel ecstatic, queasy, enraptured. It is as if their beings were taut guitar strings light-years long, being plucked by some celestial Eric Clapton, and they were fulfilling the essence of their existences.
"Oh, man, I never felt like this before...."
"Me neither. It makes me feel like I do when the Rascals sing Groovin'."
At last they know they must be almost on top of the alien. The new sensations are so intense that it's hard to think, hard to even remember ever having thought.
Without meaning to, Whammer Jammer rips off his blindfold. He has to see the source of his joy....
They are suddenly empty.
The thing is gone, nowhere to be seen.
"Oooh," moans Master Blaster, "now why'd you have to go and do that?"
They walk dispiritedly back to the van.
The closer they get to Bullwinkle, the better they feel.
With a hand on the door, Master Blaster states the obvious.
"It's inside Bullwinkle."
"Quick, stuff your ears again! Can you get in without wanting to look at it?"
"I'll force myself."
"How about driving? Can you concentrate?"
"It'll be hard, but I'll try."
"Okay. Let's bring this thing home to Dewey. She'll love it."
They get in the van, which suddenly looks to Whammer Jammer's transfigured gaze like a Hindu temple, fantastic, ornate.
"It don't smell like fish no more," says Master Blaster.
"More like roses."
"Roses ...," says Master Blaster, then starts to laugh, a big hearty roar. Whammer Jammer joins in. The alien just behind their backs seems to laugh too. Tears roll down their faces.
When they are done, Whammer Jammer says, "Man, I could groove to this ol' thing all day long."
"Groove Thang!" corrects Master Blaster.
All the way back to the city, the Groove Thang hums contentedly behind them, putting out waves of pulsing, intoxicating vibes.
By the time they pull up in front of their tenement, the baleful moosehead on the grill is smiling, its patchy skull positively radiating health and zest for life. Bullwinkle the van looks as proud as a mile-long Lincoln Continental.
The doors open and the two men stumble out, hanging for a moment on the doorjambs.
"That Groove Thang is deffer than a pot of espresso laced with Kahlua."
"Tuffer than Turkish tobacco."
"Wait till Dewey gets a hit of ol' Groove Thang!"
Whammer Jammer tries to summon up a bit of his cautious competence as counterweight to all this enthusiasm. "How we gonna get it inside, tho?"
"We could try spookin it, and hope it jumps into the house...."
"Great, and what if it jumps into, say, Mister Histadine's apartment?"
"Oh.... Well, suppose we was to just pick it up and carry it in?"
Whammer Jammer considers. "Do you think we could?" "Look at it this way. If I stuff my ears, I can't hear or see it to get any information from it. I should be able to lay hands on it okay."
"Yeah, but you know how strong it felt when we were still a few feet away. What'll happen when you touch it?"
"I'll just have to take a chance. We could maybe cover it up somehow, so I don't actually make contact with it."
Whammer Jammer feels the surging waves of euphoria pouring from the Groove Thang right thru Bullwinkle's walls. "I don't think that's gonna help much. But if you wanna try...."
Whammer Jammer goes up to the front porch of their ramshackle tenement, where a couple of paint-spattered tarps are lying folded. He takes one and returns to the van.
"When I say go, Stevie, you swing both doors open."
Master Blaster yanks Bullwinkle's back doors wide, and Whammer Jammer, holding the unfolded tarp by two corners, twirls half round, eyes shut, and lets it fly into the van like a matador's cape.
Then he dares to open his eyes.
Inside the van is a shapeless, tarp-covered lump. The Groove Thang has not moved. Apparently, not enough information is leaking thru the tarp to focus its uncertainty.
"It's still there, Stevie. No offense, but I guess I could pick it up as good as you now, and I wouldn't trip or nothin' carrying it in."
"Be my guest, bro'."
Whammer Jammer puts a foot on Bullwinkle's sill and one hand on the jamb. His heart is racing, and he nearly jumps out of his skin when a voice calls from the porch.
"Hey, I'm thinking I heard you guys out here. What's going on?"
Dewey Budd is a sixteen-year-old Filipina about five-foot one and ninety pounds. Her glossy hair is black as squid ink and falls halfway down her back. Her complexion is dusty olive. She wears no makeup, is dressed in a white buttoned shirt belonging to Whammer Jammer, pink stretch pants and bare feet.
Dewey was born Dewey Pagano, in a small village outside Manila. Her parents named her after Admiral Dewey, hero of the Battle of Manila Bay (May 1, 1898). When she was twelve, Momma 'n' Poppa Pagano sold her to a whorehouse in the city. There, she met a sailor named Beauregard "Bodacious" Budd, stationed at Subic Bay. They fell into something approximating love, and one night, when Budd was extremely drunk, they got married.
Back in the States, after Budd's discharge, he found himself without a job. He had been trained in maintaining submarine nuclear reactors. This was not exactly a growth industry in the States. Budd began to drink more heavily. Dewey began to sport black eyes.
One day Whammer Jammer and Master Blaster were driving down the dump road when they—Whammer Jammer anyway—saw this foreign adolescent girl hitchhiking. The partners stopped to pick her up.
"Where you going?"
"To live in the dump."
"You can't do that."
"Hey, how come you gonna tell me lies? People do it alla time back home."
"Where the hell is home?"
"Pill-a-peens," said Dewey, lapsing in her sorrow into the native pronounciation. Then she began to cry.
She came to live with Stevie and Peter that day two years ago. Budd had appeared belligerently looking for her shortly thereafter. Master Blaster and Whammer Jammer had stuck his head in a barrel of gurry and booted his ass halfway down the block. He never came back.
Excerpted from Fractal Paisleys by Paul Di Filippo. Copyright © 1997 Paul Di Filippo. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Paul Di Filippo is a prolific science fiction, fantasy, and horror short story writer with multiple collections to his credit, among them The Emperor of Gondwanaland and Other Stories, Fractal Paisleys, The Steampunk Trilogy, and many more. He has written a number of novels as well, including Joe’s Liver and Spondulix: A Romance of Hoboken.
Di Filippo is also a highly regarded critic and reviewer, appearing regularly in Asimov’s Science Fiction and the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. A recent publication, coedited with Damien Broderick, is Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985–2010.
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