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Harsh Oases by Paul Di Filippo

01/04/2009. Contributed by Kelly Jensen

Buy Harsh Oases in the USA - or Buy Harsh Oases in the UK

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pub: PS Publishing. 334 page hardback or slip-cased hardback: Price: 50.00/75.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-90583-434-9.

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Reading an entire anthology is always a huge undertaking. When such includes stories by several authors, you have to switch gears between stories, re-adjusting to a new voice, a new universe and a new style. Anthologies put together by one author can be daunting - even your favourite writer can get a little monotonous after a while. Paul Di Filippo manages to surpass any of these preconceived notions with 'Harsh Oases', his 13th collection of short fiction.

In the introduction, Cory Doctorow praises Di Filippo's versatility, something this collection expresses admirably. Di Filippo takes us on a trip to the golden age of Science Fiction from the comic to the fantastic, all in one volume.

The single best feature of this anthology, besides the stories themselves, is the introduction to each story by Di Filippo. As an appetiser to the main course, these brief paragraphs enhance the flavour of each story by explaining where they came from and what the author hoped to achieve.

The collection starts with two previously unpublished stories, 'Aurorae' and 'A Game Of Go'. I can understand that Di Filippo wanted to get two previously unpublished stories into print, particularly when they are sequels to his nebula nominated story, 'Kid Charlemagne', which does not appear here. These stories are fine, if not terribly exciting stuff. Having not read 'Kid Charlemagne', I cannot comment on their continuity. However, I would have been more inclined to bury them in the middle of the anthology than start out with them.

A better first one-two combination would have been 'Bad Beliefs' and 'Leakage'. Two short satires of the modern condition, both stories take the normal and twist it into the unfamiliar.

In 'Bad Beliefs', society is immunised against such with quarterly visits to the Department of Memes. However, our main character is overdue and now can't leave his house because of all the bad beliefs camped on his doorstep. Popular memes such as Santa Clause (A bad belief? Never!), You Can Trust Me And You'll Never Die convince him to escape to the ghetto. He is accompanied on his wild car ride (piloted and co-piloted respectively by Drunk Driving And Fuck Tha Police) by such incongruous companions as Incest Is Harmless and God Is On Your Side. You get the idea...

Similarly twisted, 'Leakage' takes the golden age of television and infuses it with modern day headlines. I found this story rather sad, actually. It's almost a loss of innocence as 'show after show (is) perverted, undermined, reconfigured to emphasise the worst aspects of modern life.'

A short story idea I've love to see expanded into a novel is 'Everywhere Is Now'. In this short, short story, holes open in the sky, portals, allowing refugees from the most impoverished corners of the globe to descend upon unsuspecting suburbia.

My personal favourite and another idea that begs to be expanded (Di Filippo does mention in his introduction that he is working on a sequel, I'm waiting...) is 'Shipbreaker'. Set on a world, far, far away, this is space opera in the making. Klom is a shipbreaker - part of a salvage team that strips decommissioned space ships for parts and perhaps a little treasure. Early in the breaking of their latest project he acquires a new pet, Tugger, a creature (found cocooned inside the ship) that is deemed worthless by his superiors. Further adventures prove otherwise.

In his spoof on the singularity, 'The Singularity Needs Women', Di Filippo proves two things: He has such a knack for using obscure words I'm never sure if they are made up or not and for an 'art' he is spoofing, he writes it very well!

In 'Daydream Nation' it is 2015 and young folks cast iDreams at one another using technologically enhanced telepathy in order to gauge their relationship potential or in more common vernacular, to pick-up. I liked this story. It's short, sweet and touches appropriately on morality. It's a perfect example of Di Filippo's diversity and writing talent.

There is a story for the title and 'Harsh Oases' is one of the most challenging pieces in this anthology. Set in Di Filippo's own Ribofunk universe, this story moves swiftly from one bizarre setting to another as the author explores possible future environments (harsh oases) and the mosaics (bio-engineered beings with human and animal DNA) that would inhabit them.

There are nearly twenty stories in this collection and in an effort not to make my review as long as the book itself I've picked only a few highlights to touch upon. However, be sure not to miss 'Personal Jesus', which is worth reading not only because it's a Depeche Mode song, and the final piece, a collaboration with Rudy Rucker, 'Elves of the Subdimensions'. At 50 this may be a treat better reserved for the true Di Filippo fan , why not find out if you qualify by sampling his short stories at

Kelly Jensen

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This book has 70 votes in the sci-fi charts

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