The Outer Limits

After more than 30 books, local sci-fi author Paul Di Filippo is still trying new things

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In his stories, Paul Di Filippo has journeyed to Victorian London, a Mesozoic ocean, and alternate dimensions. His characters are explorers, time travelers, and a furry humanoid named Storm. This year, his novel The Big Get Even infiltrates a gritty criminal underworld. After writing more than 30 books, Di Filippo’s imagination is still taking readers on fantastic voyages.

“As a kid, I loved science fiction exclusively,” Di Filippo recalls. “I was a total comic book kid. There were role models within the science fiction world that showed you could write as beautifully and with as much impact as any naturalistic writer, and still do all these other weird things. They talk about ‘sense of wonder.’ That was the emotion I wanted to have triggered by whatever I was reading.”

Yet Di Filippo himself has contentedly lived in Rhode Island his entire life. He grew up in Woonsocket, went to Rhode Island College, and started dating his wife Deborah Newton in 1976. He lives in the East Side, where he churns out mind-bending stories, as well as columns and reviews for speculative fiction magazines.

“I haven’t had a day job in about 15 or 20 years,” he says. Long ago, Di Filippo had a career as a computer programmer, working with punch cards on a basement mainframe. “I liked programming. It was intellectually rewarding. But there was still this gap in my satisfaction. After saving up some money to fund this insanity, I quit the day job in 1982, and that’s when I really started doing the writing.”

Di Filippo is best known for his humorous storytelling and offbeat plots, and he’s considered a pioneer in the genre of steampunk. When he started writing The Big Get Even, the noirish caper novel was a departure for him, largely inspired by friend and author Michael Bishop.

“I was in the mood to do a crime novel,” Di Filippo says. “My agent found a great [publisher], and they’ve commissioned a sequel. I actually think it’s an improvement on the first book.”