A YEAR IN THE LINEAR CITY
by Paul di Filippo
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Science fiction has a long tradition of cities and buildings being as important as characters as any of the humans or aliens who inhabit the worlds. Paul di Filippo’s A Year in the Linear City follows in this long tradition, evoking Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast or China Miéville’s more recent Perdido Street Station in the complexity and ambiance.
The linear city appears to be a single street which runs forever, beginning in the mythical Block Zero and running through various boroughs and neighborhoods, each governed by their own mayor. Living in the Behomeian borough of Gritsavage, nearly ten-and-a-half million blocks from the start of the city, is the Cosmogonic Fiction author Diego Patchen. Following Patchen's existence through a year in the city allows di Filippo to give a travelogue of the city, although travel is restricted to a single season through the course of the novel.
In addition to Patchen, di Filippo populates his city with a variety of grotesque characters, many of whom border on caricature, from Patchen's Amazonian fire-fighting girlfriend Volusia Bittern to his old friend, the wastrel Zohar Kush. These characters move through Gritsavage, living their life, hardly realizing that they form an organic portion of the greater linear city itself. Their stories, in general, are dwarfed by the permanence of the city.
Like life, A Year in the Linear City does not have any real plot, but it does have a series of story arcs, from the heroin addiction of Kush's girlfriend, Milagra Eventyr, to the wasting disease suffered by Diego's father, Gaddis. Throughout, di Filippo shows the growth of both Volusia and and Diego's careers and shows them on a rare trade mission from Gritsavage to Palmerdale, a quarter-million blocks downtown from Gritsavage.
In many ways, the setting of the linear city is reminiscent of Philip José Farmer's Riverworld. It is a seemingly endless milieu which can open itself up for innumerable stories and characters. It will be interesting to see if di Filippo plans to make further use of this strange and inviting city in future stories or novels.
(Cities, including A Year in the Linear City, The Tain, Firing the Cathedral, and V.A.O.)