With twenty tales, a bold lack of restraint, and amazing stylistic diversity, Di Filippo makes strange bedfellows of a range of characters—from Jayne Mansfield to Pythagoras to Disney “imagineers” to the Virgin Mary—fit together inside a bountiful collection of surprises, humor, and the very, very strange. William Gibson has identified his writing as “spooky, haunting, and hilarious,” and after you absorb all the shocks, you will inevitably agree.
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
About 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.
Read an Excerpt
Neutrino Drag Stories
By Paul Di Filippo
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2004 Paul Di Filippo
All rights reserved.
This is either the first story I ever sold, or the second, or the third.
Let me explain.
Back in the seventies, I placed a Barry Malzberg pastiche with the magazine UnEarth. Barely a full narrative, borrowing the style of another man, it was nonetheless my first real sale. It took me nearly ten years to make another. And then two came almost simultaneously. Ted Klein bought this piece for Twilight Zone Magazine, while Ed Ferman picked up "Stone Lives" for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I now cannot recall which letter of acceptance preceded the other. So I always nominate both men equally as my first literary godfathers.
Soon after this sale, I went to New York to introduce myself to Ted Klein. The parent company of Twilight Zone Magazine also produced its real moneymaker, a skinzine named Gallery. Showing up at their offices, I was greeted by a receptionist who was strikingly beautiful enough to have been a centerfold. She was sitting beneath a giant framed poster of a mostly nude woman, the printing of which must have exhausted the metropolitan area's supply of flesh-colored ink.
All right! I thought. My crazy career choice is finally starting to pay off!
Napoleon's ghost refused to play fair. Despite the entreaties and threats employed by Major Flood, it still persisted in misunderstanding the rules of the board game.
From across the large, cluttered room, flooded with August sunlight, Piers watched the argument with amused tolerance. Just two months ago, the whole affair would have struck him as bizarre and improbable, rather like seeing a horse atop a saddled man. But back then, he had been merely a jaded New Yorker, inured to instant death, garish spectacles, and a citizenry that ranged the gamut from eccentric to outlandish.
Now he lived in Blackwood Beach.
Things were much stranger here.
Piers rested his narrow rear on a big oak sideboard full of junk—a conch shell whose apparently natural color and pattern was that of the American flag; a rusted flintlock pistol; an object on which the eye could not quite fasten, that Major Flood claimed was a tesseract given to him by young Randy Broadbent. With his legs crossed at the ankles and arms folded across his chest, Piers enjoyed the sight of Major Flood arguing with his guest.
The major was a bulky man, florid but pleasant, who always dressed in khaki, now exemplified by a bush jacket and shorts. (His response to Piers' polite inquiry as to where he had soldiered had been to wink slyly and say, "The War of Independence, boy. The only one worth waging, and one I'm still fighting for all I'm worth." Further probing produced no more concrete answer.) He sat in a barrel chair at the head of a long, polished table. His face was as red as one of the good lobsters—once cooked—found in the waters off Blackwood Beach. He clutched a croupier's rake—which he had been using to move pieces—so tightly he seemed to be compressing its wooden handle. Midway down the table, an Avalon Hill strategy game was set up. The chair at the far end was occupied by a milky, man-sized whorl of oily gas, looking something like a giant's greasy thumbprint on the air.
"God damn it, your royal stupid eminence!" Flood shouted. "How many times do I have to tell you? Those red markers represent tanks. Land ironclads! They cannot just roll blithely over the parts of the board that represent water. L'eau! Comprenez?"
The ghost replied in a buzzing that resembled French as it might be spoken by a praying mantis.
"No!" thundered the major, raising his staff and bringing it down upon the table with a resounding thwack that caused all the pieces to jump out of alignment. Piers was reminded of an angry Olympian stirring up the battlefield outside Troy. "They're not submarines. That was another game. If you can't keep things straight, I'll send you away and bring back Caesar to play. Even if he gets mixed up too, at least he's not insufferably pompous."
The ghost buzzed insultingly, and Major Flood let out a wordless roar. He launched himself across the slick table in his eagerness to throttle Napoleon, and the game board blew off in a spray of cardboard hexagons.
Piers chuckled nervously and turned to ascend the elaborate staircase on his right.
Although he enjoyed nothing more than visiting his neighbor, he always felt a little queasy watching him wrestle with the insubstantial emperor. The whole affair looked a bit too much like a scene from Bedlam, and Piers was still new enough to Blackwood Beach to occasionally doubt his own sanity.
On the landing halfway between floors, Piers passed a suit of armor. It seemed quite conventional, until one noticed it possessed a long articulated, caudal tube, evidently for the wearer's tail.
Flood had given Piers the run of his house early in their acquaintance, and now Piers used the privilege to retreat to the widow's walk until the major should cease his brawling.
In the square, hot, little room, with its windows on all four sides affording a grand view of the sea and countryside and town below, Piers paused. An archaic brass telescope on a wooden tripod occupied most of the space. Idly, Piers bent to the eyepiece and swung the glass out to sea.
Little Egg, the bald dome of rock a mile out into the Atlantic, popped into view. Piers studied its incommunicative face for a while, and then trained the scope on Big Egg, a few degrees away. Both were quite bland and featureless. Shifting his position, he brought the lens to bear on the rocky coast that stretched north of Blackwood Beach. Waves crashed with soundless fury against the tumbled, unpeopled boulders. The water was rough today. Why, look there: one wave seemed almost bold enough to touch the feet of that naked woman lying brazenly on the rocks-
Piers froze, as if captivated by Medusa. This was something new, at least to him. He had never seen this beautiful woman before, either on the rocks or in town. Who could she be? And why had she picked such an inconvenient place to sunbathe? Surely she could have found privacy without venturing to such an inaccessible spit.
Piers studied her as closely as the instrument allowed. Her skin was dusky, her thick, long, black hair spread out like a fleece around her head. Her limbs were long and muscular, her breasts full and firm. From Piers' head-on angle, her face was obscured, but she had a nice, expressive brow and a pretty, pink line defined the part of her hair.
Piers watched her for ten minutes, but she never sat up or turned her face to him.
He noticed, after a time, a bundle of her possessions beside her. Only then did he believe she had not just climbed from the sea.
At last he broke away and returned downstairs.
Major Flood sat on the floor. The chair the ghost had been occupying was a heap of kindling, destroyed in their fight. Flood looked up when Piers approached.
"Sorry about the ruckus," Flood said contritely. Then, with bemusement, "I wonder if I'd have better luck with someone more modern. But, damn it, all the great generals were pre-twentieth century." He eyed Piers speculatively. "I don't suppose you'd reconsider—"
"No," Piers said. He was on good terms with the mercurial Flood now and was afraid to alter their relationship by getting involved with the man's passion for simulated warfare.
Piers extended a hand, and Flood took it. The heavy man got to his feet with surprising nimbleness.
"I've just seen something wonderful," Piers said. "A gorgeous woman tanning herself on the rocks."
"That's Andy," said Flood, bending over to adjust his olive knee socks. He added as an afterthought, "She's not tanning herself. She's waiting to be ravished."
Piers' jaw dipped before he could control it. "I beg your pardon."
"I said, she's waiting to be ravished."
All Piers could summon up were two words: "By whom?"
"That I couldn't tell you. But I believe Dr. Frostwig knows her whole story. If you'd like me to call him and arrange a visit—"
Piers nodded agreement.
"Fine, I will." Flood had rearranged his rumpled attire to suit his stringent standards. Now he looked Piers straight in the eye.
"Would Grant or Lee be more amenable, do you think?"
* * *
Three months ago, Piers had ceased to need to work, broken the bond between his belly and bankbook. A broker in Manhattan, he had overheard, while half drunk in a noisy bar, a conversation that enabled him to make a fortune trading in fish meal futures. Once he had invested his profits at a suitably high interest rate and quit his job, he realized he wanted nothing more to do with New York. It was not his native city; that was Boston. He had few friends in Manhattan and had come to dislike its uproar and grime and sundry subtle pressures. But neither did he wish to return to Boston and live uncomfortably close to his domineering, widowed father.
One day, riding the Amtrak train between the two poles of his indeterminate life, he spotted a weathered wooden road sign that passed almost too quickly for him to interpret:
blackwood beach 12 miles
The name stuck in his mind for the rest of the trip, replaying itself like an insistent jingle. It somehow seemed to hint at a pleasant desuetude, a languorous decay, an atmosphere as far removed from the hurly-burly of New York as that of the Upper East Side was from Harlem.
When he arrived in New York, he immediately took his black Saab from its garage and headed north.
The town almost did not want to be found. When Piers finally located, after hours of hot driving, the sign he had seen from the train, he realized that it gave no direction as to which of two possible roads he should take.
Assuming from its name that the town fronted the shore, he headed east, toward the Atlantic.
The assumption was right, the choice wrong. The road petered out at an abandoned farmhouse, standing gray and desolate on a weedy lot, within sound of the breaking surf.
Only by taking the westerly road, which wandered through the New England landscape like a sun-addled snake, did he eventually arrive at Blackwood Beach.
Like happiness, the town seemed approachable only through indirection.
Blackwood Beach occupied something of a natural amphitheater, with the restless sea serving as the great tragicomedy on the east. The gently sloping sides of the bowl were laced with meandering, tree-lined streets, connecting huge Victorian and Edwardian houses, all in more or less conspicuous stages of comfortable disrepair. The houses, exerting themselves like circus acrobats, had managed to toss a few of their comrades up over the lip of the wide but shallow bowl. These houses sitting up atop the ridge commanded the finest views.
It was one of these crest-riding old sentries that Piers knew he had to have. Something ineffably right about the town had drawn him into its mustily welcoming embrace.
Traveling the ridge road—labeled rather perversely with an antique wrought-iron street sign as "Lower Avenue"—Piers came upon a sprawling, flaking, white house, its lower windows boarded with plywood, a faded lawn sign proclaiming it for sale. From the stained-glass portrait of a kraken in its tower, to its warped porch floorboards, it was everything Piers wanted.
Within a week, he was living there, happy and relaxed. Two local carpenters—Ed Stout and his silent son, Jack—kept the place noisy during the day with repairs, so Piers took to exploring the town.
That was when he began to realize the kind of place his new home was. "Not ordinary" would be putting things in the most conservative light.
The events that led him to this realization were not dramatic, taken separately, and allowed him to preserve a belief that one day he would be rendered a logical explanation for them all. The glinting object behind Welcome Goodnight's eye patch; the chase through the hilly streets that Randy Broadbent gave in pursuit of the catlike thing; a strange phrase here, a half-glimpsed something there—He tried to ignore them at first. But they eventually mounted up to conclusive evidence that Blackwood Beach did not find it convenient to obey the same physical laws as the rest of the world.
The actions of Major Flood, his closest neighbor, were the most startling things he had so far witnessed. But that was perhaps only because the major was the sole citizen whose private life he was intimately familiar with. During the period when the Stouts had been working on his house, he had been invited by Flood to keep him company and share a drink. He had assented gladly, a bit lonely, unaware however of the other visitors the major entertained.
Even these he had been able to rationalize, though.
But this woman lying on the rocks, waiting to be "ravished"—for some reason such a situation was too much to tolerate. All his incipient bewilderment had been crystallized into an irksome pearl.
He resolved before leaving Flood's that he would have the answer at least to this one mystery.
* * *
The bobcat held Piers' gaze with its own unwavering one. Its head only inches from his, it snarled with silent yet malign fury, its teeth twin rows of needlelike instruments of pain and mutilation.
Piers gently patted the dusty head of the stuffed and mounted animal, while he watched Dr. Frostwig's bony back. The doctor was rummaging among some papers on his roll-top desk, muttering to himself all the while. Piers caught only snatches.
"Can't imagine ... How did it ever ... Why don't things ..."
Piers sat in the study of Dr. Frostwig's house at 13½ Staghorn Road. (Many of the houses in Blackwood Beach were numbered with fractions, not for any particular reason Piers could determine—such as subdivision of older lots— but merely to express a certain contrariness. In keeping with the spirit, yet striving to be modern, Piers had painted his mailbox with the legend:
3.14159 ... lower avenue
He had noticed approving glances from passersby, and felt he was fitting in.)
The doctor's study, a dark and shuttered room lit by a single sixty-watt bulb, was filled with stuffed animals. A fine repast for generations of moths, the creatures occupied every niche. An owl held its wings outspread atop a sideboard filled with mice in various comic poses. A fox stalked unseen prey across the terrain of a couch. In one shadowy corner, Piers swore he could detect the shape of an adult gorilla. These were only a portion of the indoor wildlife.
Without warning, a bang resounded, and Piers jumped.
The doctor turned from the desk whose top he had slammed shut.
"I can't find the damn magazine," Frostwig said. "But I'll manage without it. I'm not that senile yet. I still remember old friends like Professor Ramada, even if I can't recall every detail of his crackpot theory."
"Thank you for looking, Doctor," Piers said. He watched as Frostwig lowered himself slowly into a chair facing his.
The doctor was a collection of sinew and bones, outfitted in a baggy, blue shirt with acid stains and gray pants. He was entirely bald, and his face resembled an ancient dry riverbed.
"Now then, Mr. Seuss. Exactly what would you like to know about Ramada and his daughter?"
Piers found himself slightly tongue-tied at the prospect of mentioning how he had spied on the nude woman. Using Frostwig's own words as a cue, he finally said, "Uh, I believe I once heard the professor speak, and I was curious as to what he did nowadays. And his daughter, also. That is, if you know anything about her."
Frostwig eyed Piers as if he were a transparent mannequin stuffed with falsehoods. But he must have decided his intentions were honest, since he began speaking in an unreserved tone.
"The professor does nothing these days, I'm afraid. He died a little over a year ago. Many people around here—the romantic fools, mostly—like to claim it was of a broken heart. But I suspect that falling twelve stories to the asphalt was what really did it."
"No, I don't believe so. Although I see how some could imagine it was. The professor did have a pet theory that was much disparaged by his fellow faculty members. He taught zoology at Brown University. He was on the top floor of the science library one day. Witnesses testify that he leaned out a window trying to examine a peculiarly speckled pigeon nesting on the ledge, when he lost his balance"
Excerpted from Neutrino Drag Stories by Paul Di Filippo. Copyright © 2004 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.
Table of Contents
|The Moon-Bonham Effect||47|
|Living with the Giants||67|
|Destroy All Brains!||81|
|The Ballad of Sally NutraSweet||89|
|Take Me to the Pilot||115|
|And Them, Too, I Hope||131|
|The Man Who Stole the Moon||141|
|The Square Root of Pythagoras||169|
|Working for the U||229|
|Doing The Unstuck||243|
|Math Takes a Holiday||273|
|What Goes up a Chimney? Smoke!||333|
|A Martian Theodicy||357|
|Seeing Is Believing||405|
|What's up Tiger Lily?||443|