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New Story. Where Does Your Lifebox Live?

February 14th, 2020

It’s been too long since I put up a new post. Thing is, I’ve been busy writing. So today I’ll take a chunk of my writing notes and make them into a perhaps-a-bit-opaque post.

“Magic Door” acrylic on canvas, December, 2019, 24” x 18”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I’ve been writing a series of stories that all have to do with telepathy and with the old notion of achieving immortality by uploading your personality into the cloud—and then by having your software run some kind of new body. I first started writing about this theme in 1980, forty years ago, when I wrote my novel Software, the first in my Ware Tetralogy.

The first of my recent series of stories is called “Juicy Ghost,” and it appeared in the ezine Big Echo. It’s somewhat radical. It can also be found in the online version of my Complete Stories.

The follow-up stories “Everything Is Everything” and “The Mean Carrot” are finished, but they have yet to appear. And I’m currently working on a long story called “Mary Mary.”

The intended final architecture in the stories is this.

* A psidot is a smart phone that transmits telepathically.

* You use a psidot to store your personality in a software construct called a lifebox , which is to be hosted on a server of some kind.

* Your lifebox avatar doesn’t become fully alive, or what I call juicy, unless it is linked to a peripheral body that it controls.

* To link with a body, your lifebox communicates via a psidot that sits on the body, getting input from the host body, and controlling its moves.

Key issue: who owns your lifebox’s server?

In “Mary Mary” the main lifebox server is owned by Skyhive. Like the Google data-centers, the Skyhive servers generate an overarching cloud. They charge rental for storing your lifebox. If you, or your estate, can’t pay, they put your lifebox into service as a gig worker. Your lifebox might be doing computational tasks in the cloud, or it might be running biobots in the real world, such as flying messenger biodrones.

I’ve got a rebel-type hacker character in “Mary Mary” who’s named Gee Willikers. He uses an indie server to store lifeboxes in such a way that they’re not basically the slaves of large corporations.

This raises a couple of implementation questions…and here we get into an infodump of yesterdays writing notes.

First, what is Skyhive is using for servers? As I say, I’d been instinctively thinking of Google data centers, buildings with stacks and stacks of machines that are chips in a box. But this is kind of retro. Everything else in my story is biotech and biobot and post-silicon. So the servers really ought to be biocomputational.

Second, what does Gee Willikers use for servers? It should be slightly cooler than what Skyhive uses.

In answering these two questions, let’s catalog a few of the possible server options. And the first, more thoroughly described option is the one that I plan to adopt.

“Manhattan” oil on canvas, June, 2018, 30” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

(1) Biocomputation

Have your lifebox server be some kind of biocomputer. This is the path I’m going to take.

Problem: this seems to undermine my current projected juicy ghost architecture which says: Lifebox software lives on dead server, and gains soul by using a teep psidot to connect to a living body. I’ve had this architecture in mind for over a year, and I used it when I wrote the kick-off “Juicy Ghost” story, and I won’t give it up.


[Chuck Shotton’s 3D printed models of critters from my novel Million Mile Road Trip.]

But if the server is already alive, seems like you don’t need to hook into a live body to get soul. You’d be able to get your juice from the live biocomputing server itself. So then all the lifeboxes would automatically be juicy. And there’s no story left at all. Ouch. Can’t have this. What do I do?

I’ll say the bio computers are programmed in a boring Von Neumann architecture-type way, like with this imaginary LISP-like language that I call Spork, and they don’t have soul. There’s differences in the quality of “soul” you might get from different bio organisms. Skyhive uses stupid mats of yeast for its servers. No action in there, no juice.

And Gee is subject to this ex-post-facto constraints as well. Okay, his server will be slightly more interesting than yeast mats. Like a redwood tree. Or a smelly bucket of piss (with lots of microorganisms in it). But for my story to work, even Gee’s server biocomputers have to lack the requisite high-weirdness biocrunch to foster juiciness. Both Skynet’s and Gee’s lifeboxes need the psidot/live-host connection.

Absolute law: to get juicy, a lifebox has to do teep (that is, telepathy) with a living animal body via psidot. You don’t get that juicy bio soul until you’re hooked into a real animal or insect body. Why is this? Wal, you glom onto those way-sick natural computations in a holistic body, with its mitochondria and ribosomes and quantum entanglement and all that fine shit.

(As an aside, even if your lifebox was alive and juicy on the server, you would still need the body so you have a peripheral with sensors and effectors in the physical world. A disembodied juicy ghost (if such a thing were possible) would feel lonely and second-rate But we’re not going to settle for this weaker justification for the psidot-to-animal glom move.)

(2) Animals

Why can’t I just host a lifebox directly inside an animal or even in another living person. This shades into demonic possession. Here we wouldn’t be using the whole architecture I’m talking about, but that is the scenario I want to explore. So at least for now, we’ll say that for some rubber-science reason it’s not feasible to dump a lifebox program directly into an animal or a person. You have to rasterize (as it were) the lifebox onto a trad-code Spork server, and then the psidot knows how to take that kind of code and link it to an animal body, and even then the code isn’t in the animal. The code is just “driving” the animal. And nobody knows how to put non-mediated lifebox data directly into an animal.

But using plants as hosts might be okay. Plants might support Spork. And they don’t complicate things by making the hosted lifeboxes be juicy.

And, later, if we want, maybe we can do a direct hop into another person’s body via a psidot-to-psidot link. That could be another bad thing that happens to Mary later on.

(3) Brute Matter

Using brute matter is a variant on using computer chips. But without having to build a computer.

I’d entertained the notion that Gee uses a granite river rock as his server, I’ve often talked about the quantum computations in brute matter (see my novel Hylozoic ). I like the idea of my server being a nice rock, let’s say the rounded stones from creeks and rivers, or like boulders you see sitting around in forests. (I think these are mostly granite. The solid black rocks from rivers are basalt, and the layered ones are schist.) A soul-server rock doesn’t have be all that big, as any old rock has an octillion atoms. Maybe you can even carry your server rock in your pocket.


[Sculpture by Vernon Head.]

But, you know, all of a sudden server rocks seem kind of silly to me. Better to just accept that the servers can be low-level biodevices without enough oomph to make a hosted lifebox be juicy. As I say, I did the living rock thing in Hylozoic, so why do it again.

(4) Distributed Lifebox

In a less outré mode, Rudy Jr. was talking to me about distributed storage. Each of his Monkeybrains customer antennas has a few megabytes of extra storage on it. You could split up your lifebox and have the pieces hopping around on network storage devices. This could be done even if the devices were biocomputing fungus lumps. This might be another alternative that Gee might use in stead of big Skyhive-type yeast mats. Here, a hosted lifebox doesn’t have a fixed physical server location, so it’s not really possible to erase it. Distributed biocomputation.

Pushing it, think of an anthill or a disease. Like: “I am your sneeze.”

“Neptune” acrylic on canvas, November, 2019, 18” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

(5) Chaotic Processes

Very early on, I was talking about Mary’s server being a waterfall. Back when I wanted to call the story “Mary Falls.” The notion of natural processes being usable computers is in Postsingular and Hylozoic—as is the notion of computing rocks—but I think I could make something new of the computing natural processes. See the sketch in the next two paragraphs.

I was walking in the woods yesterday, and looking at a tastily chaotic bunch of wind-waved branches, and thinking about how, wherever I am, I always look around for something chaotic to, like, feed my mind. And I was thinking that it would be nice if, at some future point in the narrative, a person’s lifebox storage hops from one natural process to another. It not hosted on a yeast-mat or in a redwood tree or in a computing river stone. It hops around. The lifebox mind is like a person using stepping stones to walk across water. Always have an eye out for the next vortex of natural chaos that you can be hosted on.

A soul like this would still need a body for doing stuff. But it would be a body whose mind lives on in the waving of the branches in the trees. That’s cool. Objective correlative: that’s my life.

Discussing AGENCY with William Gibson + Excerpts

January 21st, 2020

This post is excerpted from an email thread I had with Bill in January, 2020. I put in some photos from the SF Women’s March this month, also a couple of my recent paintings. And I included some quotes from Agency to convey the flavor and attitude of the book. Spoilers alert.

RR===

They returned to her car, where it awaited them invisibly, a few dead leaves clinging to its roof, as though magically suspended.

The Agency advance reading copy is here and I’m reading it, trying to take it slow, as it’ll be a while till the next fix of Gibson. I’m often in that Valencia Street, San Francisco, neighborhood that you write about, as our son Rudy Jr lives near there. And now I’m reading about your squat robot-like peripheral in Oakland. A couple of months ago Rudy Jr. bought an old empty warehouse in Oakland, huge, a city block, using part of it for his ISP, Monkeybrains.net, but most of the building is empty, way too much space, it’s almost like a joke , we were all roller skating in it. Kind of spooky and fun to be seeing our local scene through your virtual eyes. And your emails are feeling like Eunice messages coming in. Synchronicity all over the place. Total immersion.

I adore the “soft grunge girls in pastel plaid flannel” And the plot is picking up speed.

WG===

You’ll see that the pace changes in the Verity thread after a certain point, like time starts moving more slowly. I’m worried I’ll lose any really straight thriller readers then, but it was like something was really trying to tell me something.

RR===

It’s fine with me if the thriller pace slows down. I like your meditative stuff. so nice to have you doing real SF again! “Slash is electric once more.”

I like how Netherton is expecting to be in a superhero Iron-Man-type peripheral, and then it’s squat and small, like part of an oil filled radiator. He’s a good anti hero, and you have fun tormenting him. He still works as a character being sober, still has the same outside attitude. When I had my character Sta-Hi be sober in Realware, some of my older fans were mad about it, grumbled that “Rucker has gone religious, he’s no fun anymore, etc.” But if they’d notice, Sta-Hi stays exactly as crazy as before, as does Netherton.

Extreme close-up of gray tweed. The high-resolution texture of an alternate universe.

WG===

For me, what took over for Netherton in this book was his co-parenting! My first POV character with a baby to take care of! When I discovered how different that felt to write, I guess I decided to roll with it, getting some perverse satisfaction out of imagining poor fuckers who bought the book in an airport, just before jumping on an 8-hour flight, expecting to get the generic thriller hand-job, and bang, they’re parenting!

“Don’t forget the milk.” [said Netherton’s wife.] As her sigil dimmed, a sliding shadow eclipsed the road. Looking up, he saw the segmented ventral surfaces of a particularly large moby [blimp], quite low, a flock of gulls wheeling behind it. He stopped, to stand beneath it as it passed, wishing [son] Thomas were here, who might make a sound perhaps, reaching out to touch it, not understanding how high it was. The city so quiet, in that moment, that he could hear the gulls. Then a car passed, an antique Rolls, unoccupied, its driver a dash-top homunculus, in what he took to be a tiny chauffeur’s uniform.

[At home, Netherton was] drawing one of the [milk] bottles from the carrying bag. Sensing this, the bag crinkled, trying to origami itself into the butterfly it needed to become in order to fly back to the newsagent. … Netherton, fumbling to return the bottle to the bag, almost dropped both bottles, the bag escaping, fluttering clumsily away.

RR===

I finished Agency in a final two-day swoop. Very engaging, and studded with your usual gems. And a heavy take on current events. Nice to end with a cool, happy party.

As you were telling me in advance, the thing you did with Verity is non-standard. She has almost no agency, and little real effect on the story arc. It’s almost like she never gets a decisive turnaround moment. And you seem to say this a deliberate move, meant to emulate our individual helplessness before the firehose of global history as generated by criminals and assholes.

I’m getting tired,” [Verity] said, “of nobody telling me where I’m going.”

Another surprising move is that, in the end, the nuke-war avoidance is achieved basically by Hillary alone, with only a light, unseen nudge from Eunice. Maybe this is a bit of a twist of the knife on your part, as it’s pretty clear that our man T would be certain to eff up a delicate nuclear stand-off negotiation, and in the worst possible way.

Even so, I’d been counting on Eunice to stop the war. But then, re. Eunice, you do a subtler meta-move. Eunice is going to open up the internet and global AI to everyone. Universal agency! Product support by a benevolent god. A ray of hope that the “good internet” represented by Eunice can save stubs from kleptdom. Love it.

“My mother,” Netherton said, “held that everything would invariably collapse, if the klept [the perennial ultra-one-percenter cabal of biz / crime / government] were left to their own resources. Do you believe that?”

“But for the occasional pruning,” [Lowbeer] said, “[with the pruning] under the auspices of an impartial eye, yes [the klept would destroy the world]. Their tedious ambition and contempt for rule of law would bring everything down, around their ears and ours. They managed to do that with the previous world order, after all, though then it was effectively their goal. They welcomed the jackpot [social/environmental collapse], the chaos it brought. The results of our species’ insults to nature did much of their work for them. No brakes magically appeared then, and I don’t see them appearing now, absent someone free to act, with sufficient agency, against their worst impulses. The biosphere only survives, today, by virtue of what prosthetic assistance we can afford it. The assemblers might keep that going, were the klept to founder. But I don’t trust that some last convulsive urge to short-term profit, some terminal shortsightedness, mightn’t bring an end to everything.”

I’m intrigued by your Guardian interview remark to the effect that you’re setting the stage for something like a multiversal 3rd vol. Multiverse stories are hard, I think, due to the “if everything happens, then nothing matters” problem. I notice you’re trying damp down this prob by saying only the “big stub” can spawn stubs, and when you return to a spawned stub you don’t spawn a substub, so may there are only, like, a few hundred or thousand stubs, including those to be initiated from big stub futurians down the line. A whisk-broom of timelines. Tricky to get overarching plot in that. Will be interesting to see.

WG===

I think what’s going on with Agency is that it fucks with the reader’s expectations. Part of that is me, and deliberate, and part of it is packaging, the publisher having gone with “thriller” as a substitute genre label for SF.

Verity isn’t a protagonist in the sense of the genre universe of the thriller, but a witness. She doesn’t become the possessor of personal agency to a degree that so few of us ever do, to do so being the key fantasy we go to thrillers (and often SF) for, but someone who has about as much real agency as we ourselves generally do.

There is a bit of a turnaround when Verity she sees the girl from Followrs being dragged into the truck, she endangers herself to try to rescue her, which you or I might do, the baddy getting instantly taken out by Conner’s drone. I hope I’d do that, anyway, but I’d have no Conner to back me up, so the guy might well kill or cripple me. But that withholds the genre candy from a reader expecting it. All of the ins and out, the meets and greets, are a depiction of quotidian life, albeit in various levels of crisis, as is the plethora of characters, life presenting us with much the same.

In the park below, hunched on a bench, one of two skater boys released a startlingly opaque puff of white vape, like a winter locomotive in an old movie.

Meanwhile, though, the text is going other places, and I’m definitely getting some readers picking up on those. The grown-up stuff is violently antithetical to a genre thriller, and, in my opinion, amounts, paradoxically, to a punk move. If you’ve never read Blood Meridian, say, and you start it thinking it’s a western, it seems to me you could experience it as the worst western ever written. Not that I think any comparison whatever is deserved, but just for example.

I think of Verity, who I believe in very differently than I believe in Flynne, as some kind of breakthrough for me, though not necessarily one a lot readers will welcome. Flynne is much more a fantasy figure, out of genre. Verity’s more like someone your son might know, say. Less like a character in a book.

“Rush Hour” acrylic on canvas, November, 2019, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

RR===

Re. Verity, that’s pretty much what I thought. She’s a witness. I have a local California friend who was at the Altamont concert, and I’m always asking him to tell me his account again, even though he basically did nothing. He was there! Verity met Eunice! Muse of the good Internet.

And it is indeed a cool move to have the good grown-ups refraining from killing people. Overall the book fascinated me—the cool tech, the wonderful dialog, the keen observations, the flattened out who-gives-a-fuck punkness of the adults.

A woman in surgical gloves … arrived for Conner’s rifle. Picking it and its magazine and the lone cartridge up, with what Netherton thought of as a full-nappy [full diaper] expression, she exited.

I saw in the paper this morning they found some seven billion year old stardust in meteor frags retrieved from manure pile in Australia. I was thinking these are analogous to the “good bits” in what I write…

And then I saw your NY Times Sunday Book Review interview. Cracked up over your remark about the young and the old versions of imposter syndrome. Young: I never had it. Old: I’ve lost it.

WG===

I probably spent longer inside Agency than with any other book. Like I feel like Joe-Eddy’s apartment is a major character, to the point that I’m worried about what’ll happen to it. The British SF historian John Clute once told me that I tended to put characters inside “Cornell boxes” that were more carefully drawn than my characters, and proceeded to rattle off half a dozen or so, so after that I consciously tried not to do that, but with this book that really came back, and I just let it.

[Looking at Ash’s table,] Verity glanced over decorated gourds, bundles of feathers, basketry, ethnic musical instruments both stringed and wind, ceramics, rolled tapestries, candlesticks, a tall samovar, and, most distinctively, what appeared to her to be a completely rusted submachine gun, covered with the dingy yellow plastic letters of fridge-magnet alphabets, spelling nothing Verity recognized.

I think there are other ways I just let it all hang out with this one, like that whole “landscape” sequence on the way to Coalinga, where I’ve never been, but a friend who I was sending pages to happened to drive past that field and tree and water tank, photographed it, emailed it to me from her phone, and I just expanded out into it, this uncharacteristic sense (for me) of nature and space. And because the whole world seems to be doing some weird new thing now, I relaxed and gave myself permission. So I fucking love that whole part, but I’m sure a lot of readers will be going what the fucking fuck is this shit? And I actually can’t decide whether that was irresponsible of me, or extremely responsible.

“Where are we?” Peering through the tint at an expanse of sere autumn pastureland, the odd grazing cow, scattered stunted oaks standing leafless and bleakly hieroglyphic. Another planet. Earth.

When I was an English major, I read this essay by the novelist E.M. Forster (still the only thing of his I’ve read) called “Aspects Of The Novel,” and in it he says that if your characters aren’t entirely in control of the narrative, you simply aren’t doing the work. This idea is still utter heresy in most SF-writing circles, I imagine, but it sort of blew my mind, then when I started trying to write fiction, I discovered that that was literally the only way I could get it to happen at all. And if I’d pull out of the character and let my non-writing mind make practical narrative decisions, the really intense dreaming thing was suddenly gone. So I’ve always tried to cover up the fact that I do it that way, and just keep my fingers crossed.

RR===

I hear you. For sure I miss my milieus and characters when I’m done.

I now have a contact hypnagogic flash of your field and tank scene , having driven in that area, and it overlaps with a thing I saw around there, a man in a field, dark clothes, white gloves, waving his hands high to herd a cow up the hill, me seeing this going by at fifty miles per hour and never forgetting it for the rest of my life, the springiness in the guy’s step, the yokel bounce, me intuiting his pleasure at being under the open sky. The moment frozen like an Andrew Wyeth image.

Funny thought about all those dumpster-crate-hideouts of Verity’s being Cornell boxes. And of course there’s an Airstream trailer in both Agency and The Peripheral. Do you own one yet? I’ve wanted one ever since reading about them in the Last Whole Earth Catalog a hundred years ago.

And, yeah, I totally go for having my characters wake up and become autonomous and I “just” watch them and write down what they say and do. Even laughing in delight at some of the shit they come up with. Although it’s risky confessing this to interviewers who somehow interpret it in a way that makes the author sound crazy or stupid. “Hail, ennyone could do thayut.”

I have a whole computation-theoretic argument about why it’s in fact impossible to predict how a seriously-written novel will end up—because you’re in fact computing at your max possible flop when you write, and therefore, by the unsolvability of Turing’s Halting Problem, it’s literally impossible for you to perform in advance a quick little side-computation to determine where you’ll terminate.

[His remark] felt like a category error, as if the moon were to inquire after the cantaloupe you’d bought the day before, both being spherical.

Dancing with the Muse. Only way to go.

“Dinosaur Balloon” acrylic on canvas, January, 2020, 30” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

RR===

And, on the on the occasion of launching a book, here’s a passage I always take comfort from, which maybe you know, from a John Updike piece, “Henry Bech Redux” in a 1971 NY Times Sunday Review.

“It isn’t merely that the reviewers are so much cleverer than I, and could write such superior fictions if they deigned to; it’s that even the on-cheering ones have read a different book than the one you wrote. All the little congruences and arabesques you prepared with such delicate anticipatory pleasure are gobbled up as if by pigs at a pastry cart.”

Podcast # 112. “Fat Stream” from Space Cowboy Books

January 16th, 2020

January 15, 2020.Repost of an enjoyable podcast by Space Cowboy Books in Joushua Tree, near the Mohave Desert, performing my story “Fat Stream.” Cast: Jean-Paul Garnier, Zara Kand, Patricia Thomson, Tamara Good, RedBlueBlackSilver, and music by Phog Masheeen. Great show. Thanks to all. Here’s the Space Cowboy “Simultaneous Times” podcast site. And they’re on Bandcamp as well. Their full podcast also includes “Mandela” by Brent A. Harris.
Press the arrow below to play “Fat Stream.”

Play

And, if you like, Subscribe to Rudy Rucker Podcasts.


Podcast #111. “The Future, Jellyfish, Cyberpunk and the Transreal.”

January 14th, 2020

November 13, 2019. Julia Grillmayr of Vienna interviewed me for her podcast show, Superscience Me, and her episode is on her site, lightly edited, with an intro, and with some nice electronic background music. Here I repost my raw version of the interview as a Rudy Rucker Podcasts episode. The sound quality is great; Julia is a pro. Press the arrow below to play “The Future, Jellyfish, Cyberpunk and the Transreal.”

Play

And, if you like, Subscribe to Rudy Rucker Podcasts.



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