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A Year in the Linear City

Paul Di Filippo

PS Publishing

UK Hardcover First/Limited

ISBN 1-902880-37-4

Publication Date: 04-2002

80 Pages; £25/$40

Date Reviewed: 06-12-02

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Fantasy, Science Fiction

06-13-02, 12-13-02, 01-07-03, 09-13-03

One of the hazards of reading a lot of science fiction is the tendency to suspect that there's nothing new under the sun. A constant deluge of imaginative fiction somehow leaves one doubting the imagination. To be sure, not every science fiction novel is going for a Big Wow. They don't all need to. But when a writer offers up not one, but several Big Wows in a short, sharp novella that knocks your socks off, you've got to take notice. Notice that I said novella. Finding new writers if you're not a short story hound isn't all that easy, either. But PS Publishing's line of original, limited novellas just keeps jumping out of the woodwork. Sure, they're beautiful, especially this latest batch with wonderful Edward Miller cover art. Yes, they're quality printings, especially the hardcovers, which lay flat and don't break. Yes, they're signed, for what that's worth, but I wouldn't recommend speculating in speculative fiction. The introductions are certainly a nice touch. In the end however, it's all down to the material. When the material is as genuinely mind-boggling as Paul Di Filippo's 'A Year in the Linear City', it's time to get in line. Here's a book that worth every scintilla that you'll pay for the limited edition because the material is so damn good.

Alas, modesty forbids me to reveal more of the plot than you're going to get in the dust jacket. Modesty and a determination not to spoil a fantastic reading experience. But even in the setup, you can tell that there's something special. Diego Patchen is a resident in the Linear City. He writes Cosmogonic Fiction, wild alternate worlds unlike the one he lives in. In the Linear City, there is a single boulevard, with a single set of buildings on either side of the street. Beyond one side run a set of rails; beyond that is The Wrong Side Of The Tracks; it looks a lot like Hell. Beyond the buildings on the other side of the street runs a river, and beyond that is The Other Shore. It sounds a lot like Heaven.

Di Filippo does so much with this premise in the short space he uses, it's almost a crime. If it becomes one, we'll all hope that he becomes a repeat offender. This is some spectacular writing, reminiscent of Mervyn Peake if anything. His prose is wonderful, and he invents a large number of memorable words that readers will aspire to find uses for in ordinary conversation. He plays the science fiction and fantasy cards like an absolute pro, trumping the readers expectations again and again. Some will need a jaw prop to keep from damaging their chins.

But Di Filippo also meets and exceeds the needs of the litrary set, with wonderful prose and lots of intriguing references. His plot is surprisingly wide. The reader does get a whole year in the Linear City for their money's worth. Those who like Mieville, Peake and Powers will find here a worthy competitor, if there were actually a competition in such matters. But there's really no comparison or competition. There's only the Big Wow.