A polymath artist of the fantastic throws out some whiz-bang ideas conjured with virtuosic skill.
Di Filippo (Ribofunk, 1996, etc.) might have achieved more of the recognition he deserves had he stayed in one field and plowed it often. Instead, the only thread connecting the 18 stories that make up this witches’ brew—horror, fantasy, variations on SF subgenres—seems to be the author’s bright imagination and a spark of dark humor. Still, most of the tales are in the SF vein, which is a good thing, given the much less satisfying fantasy/horror tropes of his previous collection, Little Doors (2002). The title story is a funny gripe about an office drone, quietly miserable with the corporate routine, who loses himself in a virtual online universe called Gondwanaland. It’s more elaborate and addictive than anything Tolkien dreamed up, and anyone needing to ask whether the virtual world turns out to be real doesn’t read enough in this particular genre. Di Filippo’s tendency toward the baroque and referential is best exemplified by “Ailoura,” a complex mélange of fairy tale and Frank Herbert homage, and by “Anselmo Merino,” an excellent futuristic riff on Melville’s “Benito Cereno.” There are some misfires, like the trying-too-hard “Science Fiction,” which starts off as a dark, Harlan Ellison–style industry spoof but soon falls apart under the weight of its self-referencing. Other pieces range all over the map, from the grotesquely funny “Time Travel Blasphemies I and II” (Christians and feminists beware) to “Beyond Mao,” a classic space-exploration saga.
Satisfying though it is, the collection makes one wish Di Filippo would go full out and give us a novel every now and again.