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A Year in the Linear City by Paul Di Filippo
with an introduction by Michael Bishop
(PS Publishing, £8.00, 80 pages, limited edition paperback, also available as limited edition hardback priced £25.00, published April 2002.)

Perhaps the first thing to note about Paul Di Filippo's A Year in the Linear City is that unlike one or two PS Publishing books cover scanthis bears a superb cover. Like the very best cover art, Edward Miller's illustration is both a fine piece of work in its own right and an excellent match for Di Filippo's story and its atmosphere.

In his introduction, Michael Bishop describes Di Filippo as "a giver of brave unexpected gifts" and this is probably the most apt description I've found for an author who genuinely comes close to defying all attempts at description. A true original.

If anything, Di Filippo's lovingly painstaking construction of this world-that-is-not-this-world recalls the works of Jeff VanderMeer or his introducer, Michael Bishop: a literate and intellectual crafting, as opposed to the more formulaic approaches of so many other world-makers in our genres. With little in the way of direct exploration or explication, this world is utterly convincing.

The setting for this novella is, as the title implies, a linear city. Di Filippo's protagonist, Diego Patchen, lives in the 10,394,850th block of the city's one through street, Broadway, in Gritsavage, one of the city's many many boroughs. A subway runs under Broadway for the length of the city, however long that may be; each block is separated from the next by a short cross street, the depth of the buildings on either side of Broadway; and then, on one side there is the river and on the other the railroad. Beyond these limits of everyday life are this world's equivalent of Hell and Heaven, the Wrong Side of the Tracks and the Other Shore -- for in this world there is certainty about what happens after you die. This is particularly relevant to Diego at the moment, as his father is dying and bitterly proud of the great number of Yardbulls massing to escort him to the Wrong Side (for he's convinced that he's not virtuous enough to be taken by the Fisherwives to the Other Side).

The skewed logic of this set-up is so meticulously underlaid that the reader might easily end up thinking that this is, in fact, the natural order of things...

Diego is an author of Cosmogonic Fiction, a leading figure in Gritsavage's pulps:

Diego's solid, reliable old typewriter, a Brashear Vestal, offered up the smooth ivory surface of its keys like the receptive fingertips of a lover, eager to suck from his corresponding digits all the confused hurt engendered by the visit to his father and transmogrify the pain into beauty.

His first book is to be published, a collection of his short stories, and at one point he disagrees with his forceful editor about the importance of different elements in Cosmogonic Fiction. If, in A Year in the Linear City Paul Di Filippo had stuck to Diego's editor's view, that it's the ideas that matter and all else is secondary, this would have been a very different book: he would have gone directly for the speculative backbone of this work -- how can such a seemingly never-ending one-street city exist? What is its world like? What's beyond the city? Diego appears to speak for Di Filippo when he argues that style and character are not so much equal in importance with ideas, but that all are inseparable in good CF. The idea will out, but it is always just one part of a greater whole. But by Diego's reckoning, then, A Year in the Linear City is not a good example of CF, its ideas left relatively unexplicated (even by the end, much of this world simply is), its mysteries left mysterious. But it is, nonetheless, fiction of the highest order.

Review by Keith Brooke.

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© Keith Brooke 15 June 2002