Paul Di Filippo,
Shuteye for the Timebroker
(Thunder's Mouth, 2006)

Shuteye for the Timebroker is the second Paul Di Filippo collection I've reviewed in the past year, and it's easily the weaker of the pair. Di Filippo is an immensely talented short-story writer and so even a relatively bland assemblage of his fiction contains some very good work. But when held up against the brilliance of The Emperor of Gondwanaland & Other Stories, Timebroker seems pretty pale.

Shuteye for the Timebroker is a patchwork of Di Filippo remnants, mostly older stories that haven't fit into other collections. There are a few stories that were rejected for publication and subsequently abandoned, there's a collaboration with Michael Bishop, a sort-of-collaboration with Edgar Allan Poe and a most unusual literary collage inspired by 32 individual paintings by Los Angeles-based artist Todd Schorr. (The cover of this collection is one of the seeds of Di Filippo's story.)

While some of the tales are decidedly ordinary, at least by Di Filippo standards, there are also some gems scattered among the 15 works included in this publication. One of my favorite inclusions is the story from which the collection draws its name. "Shut-Eye for the Timebroker" (the hyphen is included in the story title but not in the title of the book) concerns itself with the plight of one Cedric Swann who, in a world that has defeated the need for sleep, helps folks who are running 24/7 to manage their complex timetables. Unfortunately, Cedric has an addiction that gets in the way of his job and, when he's fired, he loses his access to the drug that allows him to remain perpetually awake. He's unceremoniously thrust into the world of sleepers, a society previously beneath his contempt. By the end of the story however, Cedric learns that the underclass he has so reluctantly joined provides an essential service to the world.

"Billy Budd" is one of a pair of early Di Filippo stories set in the mysterious seaside town of Blackwood Beach, a place more than slightly askew of normality. In this tale the residents of Blackwood Beach are faced with an invasion of Hollywood types as the town's abandoned mansion is deemed to be the perfect location for a multi-million-dollar blockbuster. "Billy Budd" contains some wonderful writing, including this description of the location scout who initially cruises into town to the puzzlement and dismay of the locals, "The stranger at the head of the procession was dressed like no native. He had on a multicolored Hawaiian shirt that stretched across his big stomach like a jungle scene distorted by non-Euclidian geometries."

It's this sort of clever writing that I find so appealing in Di Filippo's work. And while there are ample examples of deft wordsmithiness in Shuteye for the Timebroker what's missing is the engaging characterization and spectacular plotting that so define the author's best work. "Captain Jill," the other Blackwood Beach tale, is an unfocused narrative centered on a battle to rid the town of a female pirate haunting the labyrinthine caves and tunnels beneath the community. "Underground" is a rather tame ghost story, "Going Abo" struck me as too reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt" and "Distances" simply felt overlong for the concept.

With almost all of the weaker stories lodged at the front end of Shuteye, it takes too long to reach the book's real payoffs.

I did enjoy "Shadowboxer," Di Filippo's response to some of the ethically problematic aspects of America's war on terror, and "The Mysterious Iowans," a quirky reworking of Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island. And there were a few scenes in "The Farthest Schorr," the aforementioned tribute to painter Todd Schorr, that were intriguingly horrific.

Although that "story" would not, under ordinary circumstances, have caused me to seek out the visuals that inspired the 32 nightmare ministories, I did feel that in order to properly complete this review I ought to visit Schorr's website to see how fiction and canvas crossed paths. I think I'm most perplexed by how a visual of a squirrel frying Humpty Dumpty's innards over a campfire ties to Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic SF character, John Carter of Mars. Whatever strange processes the author undertook to cook up these vignettes, I don't feel I needed nearly 50 pages of such experiments in translating paintings to text. A half-dozen would easily have sufficed.

Di Filippo fans will likely be pleased to have access to some of his most obscure pieces of fiction, but Shuteye for the Timebroker is really geared to the author's most dedicated readers. For the rest, taking the time to search out and read The Emperor of Gondwanaland & Other Stories will be a much more rewarding experience.

review by
Gregg Thurlbeck

7 July 2007

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