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May/June 2020
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
Plumage from Pegasus
Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
Kathi Maio
David J. Skal
Lucius Shepard
Gregory Benford
Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
Jerry Oltion
Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

Faster, Publisher! Binge! Binge!


"Readers won't have to wait to binge the whole series, because [we are] publishing this series on an accelerated schedule, releasing one thrilling book of the quartet per month from January through April."
—Press release

My hands were shaking, my whole body was soaked in flop sweat, and my guts were dancing the rumba with my spine. I knew the symptoms all too intimately.

I was jonesing for a bundle of megapages, a shot of the long black-and-white, a fix of the infinite bug-crushers, a hit of the neverending story. I had to get my hands on some binge-reading—and quick!—before I ended up in one of those charity wards that all the big hospitals maintained for us crashing codex-heads, with the sensory-deprivation tanks and the prohibition on any written words, even in official hospital signage.

I wasn't proud of my addiction. When I started as a reader decades ago, a mere child, with simple picture books, I had never envisioned ending up in this condition, needing bigger and bigger fixes of fiction to satisfy my habit. But that's what came of my susceptible personality. And the willingness of writers and publishers to cater to the debased needs of me and others like me. Like all addictions, my quandary involved a synergy among my own temperament, will power, and availability of the product.

And nowadays, pure uncut product was getting harder and harder to latch onto. Ever since the feds had outlawed serial fiction in all media, in response to its obvious debilitating effects.

Oh, not all serial fiction. Anything up to a moderate-sized trilogy was still street-legal. That unit of fiction was known colloquially as "one tolkien." New tolkien-sized works were continuing to be produced and bought and enjoyed in moderation by folks less hardened than me, good upstanding readers. Likewise, a single season of a TV show—all franchises had to be radically rebooted after a year's worth of episodes—or a trilogy of films remained licit. Not that I was much into audiovisual kicks. I was strictly a print user, hardcopy or ebooks.

And the puny amount of narrative I was able to lay my hands on legally couldn't begin to satisfy the demanding urges of a real codex-head like me. I couldn't binge on a mere trilogy anymore, and of course standalone novels even in large quantities did nothing for me. Continuity was everything, in large doses. The same characters in an endless world, doing things forever. That's what got me off. And my history of hastily mainlining this kind of serial fiction, amounting to ten, twelve, fifteen volumes or more, had left me desensitized to anything under multi-tolkien lengths.

I had been maintaining an outwardly respectable life okay until the national ban went into effect. Sure, I wasn't able to hold my marriage together (thank god there were no kids involved) or have any social life after my divorce, due to devoting every free minute to reading. And equally true, at work I had to sneak off to the john every half hour or so to bolt through a few chapters. But basically I was holding down my responsibilities as a solid citizen. Until they took my maintenance dosage away.

At first I hadn't panicked. I figured there were plenty of series I hadn't yet read that I could binge on for a good long time. After all, the new law had not mandated the confiscation of all pre-existing series books. That was deemed too retroactively punitive and unfair and impossible to accomplish, at least without stoking all kinds of righteous anger and protests. Thus only new production had been outlawed.

And so for a while I had been able to subsist on what was already out there, although I had to take up with some series that were not necessarily agreeable to my innate tastes. But even so, I started to go through the remaining stock of my drug faster than a whale through krill.

The forty-plus volumes of Piers Anthony's Xanth lasted me just three weeks. I blew through all twenty-five volumes of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone franchise in half that time. The twenty-some assortment of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar Universe titles barely got me through a seven-day stretch of vacation, where I could read as much as I wanted.

Pretty soon I found that I had exhausted all the contemporary stuff that was still in print and readily available. Unhappily, I discovered that rereading didn't provide the same kicks, only a pale shadow of the initial high, and so I found myself turning to older series. ABEbooks and the few remaining physical used book stores in my immediate geographic region became my go-to suppliers. Demand by my fellow codex-heads was high, and prices skyrocketed. But I paid whatever I had to. The binge-crazy monkey on my back wouldn't relent.

I recall my elation when I discovered that there were nearly one hundred Perry Mason books for me to binge. Then came nearly that number of Ellery Queen titles—more if you added in Ellery Queen, Jr., which you can sure bet I did. Thank god for the mystery and fantastika genres! If I had had to rely on mimetic novels alone, I would have soon run through some paltry John Updike and Anthony Powell and C. P. Snow and James Fenimore Cooper and Patrick O'Brian selections.

My life began to unravel as my work productivity began to tank. Even my appearance went all to hell, as I arrived each morning at work with a reading hangover, bleary-eyed and unwashed. But I just couldn't quit my lonely vice.

After the first year of the ban, I needed to go even deeper into literary history to sustain my urges. Although a deliberately reduced intake left me constantly quivering, I rationed out the ninety volumes of Balzac's Human Comedy over two whole months! A set of Cabell's Biography of the Life of Manuel got me through the next six weeks, albeit as a nervous wreck. Only twenty-six books across forty-two days? That was practically normie rates of consumption!

I guess you could have said I was getting a wide literary education. But really there was no pleasure in the consumption any longer. It was just feeding the demons.

But as anyone could have predicted—and as I myself foresaw—there came the day when I had run through everything available to me. My last fix had been a huge stash of Enid Blyton books. She had written over seven hundred, but not all of them constituted her various series, so the actual score was less. I had put them off because of their juvenile, treacly nature. But at that point I was desperate, and they went down fast—way too fast.

That left me where I was today. Out of work and homeless. Desperate, hurting, lusting for a slug of the old Stratemeyer, a portion of pulp heroes, the rush of repetition.

Hitting rock-bottom explained my presence now in this sleazy alley, knocking on the door where I had been told by one of my fellow sufferers that some solace awaited.

The door opened a crack, I named the person who had sent me here, and then I was admitted.

I expected to see shelf after groaning shelf of the good stuff: series books in profusion. Although what these hypothetical titles might consist of—treasures that had eluded my own searches—I could not imagine. But instead I was greeted with a bare room that held only a desk and two chairs.

Moving to seat himself behind the desk was the fellow who had let me in, a quiet, mousy, librarian type. I followed suit by taking the remaining chair.

My new pusher regarded me silently until I cracked, and in a pleading shaky voice said, "C'mon, pal, don't keep me hanging. Whatta ya got for me? I don't have any dough, but I—I'll do anything you ask. But I gotta binge—now!"

"You won't be bingeing immediately, I'm afraid. Oh, we have a few morsels to tide you over while you undergo some classes. I'll bet you've neglected comic books, haven't you?"

I did a double-take. "Comics! Yeah, how could I have been so dumb! Eighty years of DC and Marvel continuity! Thanks for the tip, boss. Very grateful but I'm outta here."

I rose, but his next words stopped me.

"Listen, do you want to be cured?"

I dropped down into the chair and began to weep. "Yea—yeah, of course I wanna be cured. But how?"

"All right. We have a method. It's worked on every addict who's come to us. First you have to learn German."

"Learn German? Why?"

"Because then you can be immersed in the Perry Rhodan franchise. Three thousand novellas. Eight-hundred-and-fifty novels, plus other spinoffs. Together the franchise totals over three hundred thousand pages. Once you know German, we plunge you into the canon as a form of exposure therapy. We force you to binge the whole thing in record time. It's cruel, and you're going to suffer worse than anything you've so far experienced, which is why the government and the medical establishment have outlawed our treatment. But when you come out the other side, all your compulsions are extinguished."

I hardly dared hope that what he said was true. "I'll be cured?"


I jumped up and shook his hand. "I'm onboard! Let's get started!" But then I had a doubt. "What's all this do for you? Are you guys a charity or a scam or what?"

"Neither. Our organization is funded by a coalition of midlist novelists, all of whom produce only singleton books. They're betting that if they can break enough people of the fiction-bingeing habit, but still retain them as grateful readers, their own sales will increase. You see their logic?"

"I do! And I swear that if I get through this, I'll only ever read Booker Prize candidates for the rest of my life!"



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