by Paul di Filippo
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In the early 1990s, Mike Sirota wrote a trilogy of books about a man who could travel between the dimensions by using a commonplace item, in his case a bicycle. In some ways, Paul di Filippo’s novel Fuzzy Dice is reminiscent of Sirota’s Bicycling Through Space and Time (1991). Di Filippo’s replacement of the 22-gear bicycle with a quantum yo-yo is not the only difference, because while Sirota’s story was more humorous, Di Filippo has written a more philosophical tale.Di Filippo’s Paul Girard is an almost thoroughly dislikable protagonist. He wallows in self-pity due to his failure to achieve any of the success to which he felt he was entitled. By the time the novel begins, Girard's self-pity has turned to hatred of anyone who was more successful than he, which was practically everyone he came into contact with. While working as a clerk in a bookstore, a job he once loved, but now feels is beneath him since he can only sell the tripe which is stocked, Girard is visited by a strange being who provides him with the yo-yo and a PEZ dispenser (shaped like Richard M. Nixon) which allows him to gather companions on his cross-universal jumps.
The book is divided into twelve chapters, each with twelve sections, apparently representing the sides on the dice of the title. Each chapter represents another universe that Girard jumps to, from the first one, a monoblock of the universe prior to the Big Bang, to a more familiar world which is based on the idea of the hippies taking control of the country. Many of these worlds are posited on completely different physical laws than our own, which allows Girard to visit a world in which he is basically an electrical impulse on a computer, or a world which is based on the nostalgia-laden television of the 1960s.
As Girard travels from world to world, he is theoretically trying to resolve what he has termed the "Ontological Pickle," which others have simply called the reason for being (Douglas Adams's "The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything"). In point of fact, most of the worlds seem to be chosen by more base desires, frequently sexual, but also a quest for power or wealth. As Girard journeys between universes, he gains companions, sometimes temporary, occasionally permanent.
Most of Girard's growth as a character occurs near the end of the novel when he hooks up with his yo-yo providing friend. Unfortunately, while di Filippo makes it clear that Girard is undergoing a change in heart with important results, little of the actual events which cause the personality alteration at that time are shown. When di Filippo does focus on Girard's interactions with others again, he is radically different on a person-to-person level, but much the same when dealing with those outside his immediate sphere of acquaintance.
Fuzzy Dice is frequently humorous and just as frequently philosophical, gilding the philosophic pill to make it more palatable and less obvious to those who are opening the book merely for entertainment. Girard's tribulations as he passes from world to world and his attempt to resolve to Ontological Pickle provide much food for thought and it is quickly apparent that di Filippo has provided the book with more depth than it would, on first glance, have.