SF Lab Radio Show June 2008

The Georgia Tech SF Lab Radio Show was on tonight (Sunday), and I submitted an introduction for an interview with Paul di Filippo by way of a mini-review of his excellent racing short story, “Neutrino Drag.” Listen to the whole program on http://www.wrek.org under the “Sunday Special” section, or download it soon from here.

Here’s a transcript of my piece:

Hey everybody. I’m Jason Ellis, formerly of Georgia Tech and the University of Liverpool, and currently a PhD student at Kent State University. I fancy myself a Science Fiction scholar, and tonight, I’m introducing one of my favorite SF authors: Paul di Filippo.

I first met Paul di Filippo in 2005 when he visited Georgia Tech as a guest of honor at the Monstrous Bodies Symposium held by the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture, and organized by Professor Lisa Yaszek. On the first night of the symposium in an already sultry March, a group of us took Paul out to a local bar-be-que joint in the lesser-seen heart of Atlanta. Sitting along the bench tables, elbows sticking to the greasy, checkered tablecloth, we were all having a great time talking between sucking down ribs.

At one point in the conversation, I was telling Paul about my folks in Southeast Georgia. In their lives before I was born, my dad was a regional drag racer, and my mom participated in Scrambles, or what’s now known as motocross, or off-road motorcycle racing. I told Paul that I’m always looking for new stories to engage my family and friends in Science Fiction beyond the big screen blockbusters, and something related to their loves might get them more involved. Paul grinned. His eyes reflected an rpm surge, and his cage-like teeth meshed like Kevlar wrapped around a swiftly rotating tranny. Between combustive rushes of horsepower (was that a Diesel truck engine braking outside the single pane windows of the diner?), he told me about one of his own racing stories called, “Neutrino Drag.”

“Neutrino Drag” is a fantastically extrapolated short story that juxtaposes the origin of 1950s drag racing culture with post-war, nuclear era UFO mania. The central race of “Cosmic Chicken” between the narrator, Obdulio Benitez, and the alien visitor, Spacedog, has vast repercussions. Obdulio’s story is, in part, about a California team of Latin American racers, known as the Bean Bandits, encountering the alien Other out on the race flats. Also, his story is about racism and acceptance of the Other. But most importantly, it’s about blowing the doors off the competition with the most obscene, hazardous, and otherworldly racing hardware ever unleashed by the green light on the starting line Christmas Tree.

The story pits Obdulio, the thirty-ish “old man” of the Bean Bandits, and the unspoken, yet subconsciously acknowledged, alien, and latest addition to the Bandits, Spacedog. Obdulio and Spacedog have a race to the death after Spacedog’s knock-dead main squeeze, Stella Star Eyes, who is described as a “Crypto-speciated quasi-conjugal adjunct. Exteriorized anima and inseminatory receptacle,” finds herself in need of “bonding” with another male in the absence of Spacedog–namely, with Obdulio. Spacedog challenges Obdulio to a race of chicken with our solar system’s primary, or Sun. Spacedog’s alien logic makes an odd kind of sense that results in the most awesome rubber laying in our star’s corona that no one’s ever heard about!

All of Paul’s stories are similarly injected with one half nitro and one half weird. This mixture is injected into a strange supercharger strapped to the most gruesome engine of undulating tissues and vulgar metals. He’s well known for his Steampunk trilogy, and the Ribofunk collection of stories. He’s a prolific short story writer, and you can often find his work in magazines such as Fantasy and Science Fiction and Interzone. If you enjoy authors that push the striated envelop one step further, then you’ll love Paul di Filippo. He’s done it with cyberpunk, steampunk, and the New Weird, and I bet he’s not willing to let off the throttle any time soon.