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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction
Strange Trades

by Paul Di Filippo

(Golden Gryphon Press, 21.50, hardcover, 342 pages, 1 November 2001; ISBN: 1930846053.)

Paul Di Filippo plies a strange trade. He writes science cover scanfiction short stories. Lots of them. Weird ones. Funny ones. Postmodern funky ones. Cutting-edge punky ones. Engaged and thoughtful ones. In his fifth collection, Strange Trades, he turns his speculative savoir faire towards the realm of work. These 12 stories all revolve around the jobs people hold in the author's imagined futures.

These jobs include nightclub singer, sandwich shop owner, messenger, government security agent, member of the Urban Conservation Corps, ethical entrepreneur, office worker, telekinetic surgeon, factory slave in a feudal economy, and, in "The Boredom Factory", the ultimate meaningless cog in a post-industrial, production-obsessed society. Some of these jobs may sound familiar, but in Di Filippo's imaginative hands, they lead anywhere but to the expected.

The collection is anchored by three novellas. Some may find "The Mill" more accessible, but it struck me as overly long and bland, the only story here bereft of Di Filippo's sparkling voice. However, the other two, "Spondulix" and "Karuna, Inc.", like most stories of this collection, are cognitive assaults in the true Di Filippo manner.

Di Filippo takes particular delight in offering fictions that challenge the consensus view of reality. Strange Trades is less exuberant in its use of this tactic than the author's previous books, but perhaps this only enhances its subversive potential. Certainly, the clash between mainstream economic forces and counter-hegemonic subcultures in many stories here -- "Spondulix", "Conspiracy of Noise", "Agents", "Harlem Nova", "Karuna, Inc." -- allows Di Filippo to present his radical ideas in a familiar context -- if then only to pull the rug out from under readers' feet and play mischievously with narrative expectations and social order.

Originally published, in slightly different form,
in The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 1 December 2001.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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