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Musing Attractors or How to Write

May 20th, 2017

For my latest painting, I was inspired by piñatas I saw in the Mission district of San Francisco.

I had two smallish canvases, and I decided it would nice to make a diptych. I saturated the backgrounds with two shades you might see on walls in Mexico. You can probably guess who the mean guy is! The elephant and donkey look a bit bemused. And naturally I included my two favorite icons, the flying saucer and the pig. I guess it’s worth mentioning here that my paintings, including this one, are all on sale.

“Piñata Diptych” acrylic on two canvas, May, 2017, Each canvas 18” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I’ve been getting some writing going on my new novel, Return to the Hollow Earth.

At this point I’m trying to stick to projects that, in one way or another, obsess me. But it can take quite awhile to figure out the next one. Eventually there won’t be a next one. The muse won’t show up. I had about a year between finishing my last novel Million Mile Road Trip and starting the new one. Slowly working myself up about it, with some effort, in some ways it’s like self-hypnoisis, getting into a sufficient state of obsession. And you’re wanting to get yourself to stay in there for months and months.

Having fun with the research. Reading about ships rounding Cape Horn. And about sly, speedy opium clippers now repurposed to bringing household goods to San Francisco for the 1850s gold diggers. But it’s slow work.

I’ve been getting outside fairly often. This is the field near the cliff at Four Mile Beach north of Santa Cruz where I like to go.

Sometimes I think I have a touch of “impostor syndrome.” I can turn that around to help get started. Like telling myself, “You never really were a writer. You don’t in fact know how to write at all. You were faking it all these years.” And so on. And at some point I rebel against that abuse, and start a book just to show…who? That voice in my head.

Speaking of old-time sailing adventure we went to a party on Treasure Island in SF Bay where the host actually buried a “treasure chest” in the sand and supplied shovels so the kids to dig it up. It’s a platonic ideal: the sand-buried chest of goodies. Was great to see.

Here’s one of the treasure-chest clues in a jar on a stump with the new half of Bay Bridge in the background. I’d never properly seen that bridge before, other than driving over it.

As I already mentioned in a recent post, looking at a shape like that stump, I sometimes get the feeling that these gnarly “strange attractor” forms in some sense inhabit our minds as well. For centuries many humans made the mistake of thinking the “real” forms were things like cubes and cylinders and parabolas.

And not quite getting that the true forms didn’t have precise shapes, but they had shapes you got used to and learned to recognize and the world can’t help but make them. The strange attractors. This photo is of a water pipe next to the head waters of Lexington Reservoir near Los Gatos. Dig the zigzag line of manmade stuff with the live water above and the captive water in the pipe. A beautiful spot, full of music mana.

An attractor that’s the shape of a blown rose. Or a hairdo with one too many perms.

Situational attractor, a.k.a. Platonic ideal. Proudly holding a colorful fish that your daddy caught ice-fishing. I spotted this little girl on Fremont Lake in Pinedale, WYO about five years ago, during a “ice fishing derby” and got the shot.

Logico-physical attractor: the mirrored stump in the undulant green teeming-with-microorganisms water. We are the microbes, natch.

My old friend and fellow author Charles Platt turned up at our house the other day, making his way to the Maker Faire. Very comfortable to chat with him. We’re in our 70s now, and still trying to sell our books. It never did get easy for either of us. But we never stopped.

On those same muse-haunted cliffs by the sea again this week with Sylvia along to shoot me waving my cane.

Glad to be writing again. It passes the time, and it’s pleasant to exercise one’s hard-won craft. And when I’m working, it drowns out unwanted chatter in m head re whatever problems or tasks or anxieties I might think I have. Not that it’s so bad to be all socially active and pondering and painting certain kinds of pinatas…but even then you’re wearing the fireprooof suit of divine madness, issued by the muse to the artiste.

Rewriting this post at 11 pm, upping the Dada / Surreal content, inspired by seeing a show “Finding San Jose” by a cellist multimedian called Cellista. It got my head loose, a good thing. Film, ballet, recorded music, in a small space in Japantown here in San Jose. Struggling art, the frail green shoot that cracks the sidewalk.

Podcast # 100: Conversation with Siobhan Roberts

May 12th, 2017

May 12, 2017. In conversation with journalist Siobhan Roberts, discussing math, logic, writing, and publishing. Roberts is the author of a great book on the mathematician and cellular-automatist John Horton Conway, Genius at Play. She was out in the Bay Area researching for upcoming projects and came by for a casual chat.

Press the arrow below to hear the tape of “Conversation with Siobhan Roberts.”

Play

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

Time Paradoxes. Hollow Earth Sequel. Gibson’s “The Peripheral.”

May 3rd, 2017

These days I’m starting—or thinking of starting—a sequel to my 1990 novel, The Hollow Earth. The sequel might be called, in classic style, Return to the Hollow Earth. For convenience, in my writing notes I refer to the volumes as HE1 and HE2.

The set-up for HE1 was that I found the 1850 manuscript of “The Narrative of Mason Algiers Reynolds of Hardware, Virginia” in the University of Virginia Library. It was written by Mason Reynolds. I edited it and published it as The Hollow Earth in a first edition in 1990, and in a second edition in 2006, with a projected third edition to appear in 2018 along with the HE2 sequel.

The afterword to the second edition includes a useful drawing for orienting yourself. The drawing is in sepia ink on vellum, initialed and hand-dated “M. R. 1852.” In viewing the sketch, understand that it depicts a cross-section of Mason’s Hollow Earth, sliced from pole to pole. The lumpy outer shapes represent the Earth’s crust, partly overlaid with seas. Mason’s Earth has Holes at both poles, and there are several additional holes passing through its seas. The creatures within the Hollow Earth are not drawn to scale.

Running clockwise from the top, features to note are:

The maelstrom at the North Hole. Mason’s dog Arf beneath it. A black god riding a lightstreamer. A gap where an ocean runs through Earth’s crust, with a tiny “fried-egg ship” floating up through it—this corresponds to the hole near Chesapeake Bay. A ballula or giant shellsquid. A second ocean gap, in the vicinity of the Bermuda triangle. A flowerperson (Mason’s soon-to-be wife Seela) on a giant flower. A harpy bird above the inner jungle. The South Hole. A second lightstreamer. Another “blue hole” gap within the sea which is meant to lie, I believe, near Tonga and Fiji. A pair of koladull or shrigs. A third lightstreamer, which leads in towards the center where it meets the fan of a woomo or giant sea cucumber or Great Old One. The center also depicts six Umpteen Seas, another woomo, and the sphere of the Central Anomaly, with MirrorSeas visible within.

In the sequel HE2 we learn that Mason travelled to California in 1950, ended up making a second journey into the Hollow Earth, and—due the time warping qualities of the Anomaly at the center of the Hollow Earth—when he came back our Earth he found himself in, approximately, the year 2050.

I’m doing the time jump in part because there’s such interest in near-future utopias and dystopias these days. Also I want for HE2 to have something majorly different than HE1. In approximately the year 2050, Mason writes his second memoir, Return to the Hollow Earth, or HE2, a volume which Rudy Rucker is going to edit an publish in 2018 or so.

So, okay, the HE2 memoir already exists in MirrorEarth of 2050 that Mason is in. Mason learns of the published volume’s existence after he comes across the published version of HE1, his first memoir. He decides not to read my edition of HE2 before writing it himself. That is, he goes on to write the whole of his HE2 without looking at my published version. This way we water down the creatively vitiating effect of the closed causal loop that I’ll discuss below. And, due to cosmic synchronicity, Mason just so happens to write the same HE2 as the book that already exists because…everything fits. By the way, blindly rewriting an extant book on instinct alone is an idea from a Jorge Luis Borges story, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.”

Once Mason finishes writing his HE2, he decides that he should find a to way to send it to his preferred editor, Rudy Rucker, to publish in (approximately) 2018. How will he send it? Metaphorically, he sends it to me via time-reversed email, à la Gibson’s The Peripheral. But I don’t want a lot of trans-time communication happening in my book. It’s more of a rare one-time event. So I’ll say that there’s a special mechanism by which Mason transmits the book: it’s handed over to me by a Great Old One’s pink tendril.

Here’s another image of the Hollow Earth, this one in color, to help you visualize that.

Let me stress the point that, even though HE2 is already in MirrorEarth’s future with Rudy Rucker listed as editor, Mason and the Great Old Ones feel duty-bound to send his HE2 back to me. In this fashion they stave off a potential “Passive Yes & No Paradox” and convert it to a bascially harmless Closed Causal Loop. Say what?

Well, I see three main kinds of time paradox, with the second two being fairly similar.

1. Closed Causal Loop: A future event produces a past event that produces the future event, and so on. The Free Novel: My future self sends me a copy of a novel I plan to write. So I just publish the document as is. Nobody actually had to write it. It emerged.

2. Active Yes & No: I make a phone call to my past self, even though I have no memory of receiving such a call. Did I make the call? Yes and no. Examples: Ineffectual Warning. I have a bad accident, so the next year I’m motivated to phone my past self and tell him how to avoid the accident.. If I don’t have the accident, I don’t make the call, so I have the accident, and I do make the call. Grandfather Paradox: I take out a hit on my grandfather. If he dies, I don’t order the hit and he lives. If he lives, I order the hit and he dies.

3. Passive Yes & No: I get a phone call from my future self. But later, when it’s time for me to make the call to the past, I don’t do it. Did I get the call? Yes and no. Selfish Gambler. I got a tip on the Kentucky Derby from my future self, and I bet on it, and I won big, but then later I don’t get around to passing that tip to my past self. Welshing Novelist. The same as the Free Novel example, except this time, the future author doesn’t bother to send back the novel to the earlier author. In particular, this is what we’d get if Mason didn’t send HE2 back to me.

The Closed Causal Loop isn’t a vicious paradox, and it generates no logical contradictions. The Yes & No paradoxes, however, do seem to require some kind of resolution. Paradox #2 involves, if you will, a sin of commission on the part of the future agent, which #3 involves a sin of omission by the future agent. These paradoxes are sometimes referred to as Consistency Paradoxes.

The solution most often used by SF authors is that of branching time, as shown below. In the figure, the broad paths are worldlines of possible universes. The worldlines can branch. The dotted arrow-lines are paths of influence from future to past.

The solution to paradox #2 is that A does something to the past, but the action takes place on a branched-out stub of A’s timeline. The solution to paradox #3 is that the agent who caused event B was in a different time branch, so it wasn’t necessary for A to do it.

In the case of Mason not sending back the book, for instance, we’d have to suppose that some good-hearted Mason in a different timeline did send the manuscript into the past of his timeline.

In his recent time-travel novel The Peripheral, William Gibson posits the emergence of a “stub” or fork or alternate timeline for every time a future person “phones” the past. In the image above, I visualize this by showing the stalk of our worldline sending out a stub to meet the incoming signal from the future.

Gibson the allows the future person to continue phoning back to the same stub over and over. It might be more logical to suppose that each successive phone call produces a new sub-stub or sub-sub-stub—as shown on the right. But this would be a conceptual hassle, obfuscating the action of the novel. And, as long as you stuck to the path through the deeper and deeper stubs, the narrative would be the same.

An issue that Gibson doesn’t really get into is whether the world lines and stubs are actively growing while some cosmic meta-time elapses, or whether they might spring into existence fully formed, with the full future and past in place. If the latter, then you would kind of need to have a sub-stub model to make the thing make sense. So probably the former model works better for The Peripheral. And it helps that Bill specifies that the ongoing times of the stub and the main timeline are in synch.

I want to avoid having branching timelines in Return to the Hollow Earth. Yes, I’m working with two Earths: MasonEarth and MirrorEarth (something I’m not getting into in this post). But I don’t want the potential for trillions of time lines. Therefore I’ll limit myself to the closed causal loop paradoxes, and not introduce and Yes & No paradoxes.

For someone sending messages or information to the past, it requires some care to avoid provoking Yes & No paradoxes that require a fork or a multiple timeline. But it’s my feeling that if you tiptoe around gracefully enough, you can contact the past without forking time or provoking a stub. It’s just a matter of being sure to do what already in fact happened. And a matter of being lucky enough that what you want to have happen did in fact already happen.

It could be—at least in my Hollow Earth cosmos—that you’re literally compelled to do the necessary tiptoeing. Particularly if we always have to use a god-like giant-sea-cucumber Great Old One’s tendril to touch the past. We can, I trust, depend on a hyperdimensional Great Old One to have enough finesse to avoid provoking forks—although they will allow closed causal loops.

Let me reiterate that there’s nothing logically contradictory in a closed causal loop. If we think in terms of the universe a spacetime whole that arises all at once, then a closed causal loop is like a knot in the grain. A pleasing natural pattern.

A somewhat relevant remark that Kurt Gödel made to me in the 1970s: “Even if you know the future, this doesn’t meant that you’ll deliberately do the opposite of what you wanted to do.” Here I’d need to recast this to “Even if you can change the past, this doesn’t mean you’ll deliberately change it to something different than what happened. Especially if you like what happened. And you may in fact take measures to ensure that the past happened as you currently believe it to have happened.”

And be sure not to welsh on sending back something good you in fact got from the future way back when—lest you provoke a passive Yes & No.

East Side of the Sierras. Death Valley.

May 1st, 2017

Last week Sylvia and I went on a road trip, across the Sierras at Carson Pass, and then down along the east side of the Sierras through Lone Pine to Death Valley.

It was alternately raining and snowing around Carson Pass. We stayed in a familiar place there called Sorensen’s. I had a great Zen moment near the lodge, snowshoeing across a sodden meadow by a swollen, chaotic river, the snow dropping heavily, at a slight angle to the vertical, etching with white each damp dead grass blade and bosky spring twig. Me there on the bank, the rushing stream, my thoughts, the slightly off-kilter snow, the latent waiting growth all around, the insects under the tree bark, the protozoa in the moss in the stream, my breath, all of us together, no zap mind flash, just standing there, in the One, grateful.

And we headed south through mysterious rainy mountains.

White peaks showing through the fog and clouds.

We spent a night in Lone Pine, at the base of Mount Whitney. Really a cool place, uncrowded, with an Alpine, or no, Sierran, vibe. Love old painted neon signs like this. The trout icon.

From the east side, the Sierras are like a single wall, hundreds of miles long, peak after peak. From the west side you don’t see this, you come up on the mountains through rising foothills. But from the east, it’s, like, wham. The Tetons are like this from the north side in Wyoming. I dug the drainage watershed patterns embossed in snow. Fractal trees.

The “Whitney Portal” access road runs west from Lone Pine, but just a few miles out of town there are these formations called the Alabama Hills—apparently a Confederate Army veteran named them! I loved this one stone, I thought of it as the egg of the Great Auk.

Rolling on towards Death Valley we went through parched badlands with Joshua Trees. Less and less life.

Looking at Death Valley, I keep finding myself saying—“So why did we want to come here?” A good thing we did there was to get up before dawn and see the sun rise at 6:15 am at Zabriskie point. It continued slowly rising for almost an hour, embossing more and more of the wrinkled rocks. This one looked like an elephant, and definitely like something Georgia O’Keefe would paint.

And the parking lot a beautiful three-dimensional space curve.

Feeling chipper, glazed in golden sun, I went off on a two hour “Badlands Loop” hike there.

I only saw one or two others on the Badlands Loop. I liked this spot, kind of like a naturally occurring Zen garden. So empty, so quiet. On the badlands trek, I finally got some new ideas for how to set up the character roster for a sequel to my Hollow Earth novel—the book that I’m currently thinking of writing next.

Repeatedly of late, I’ll have these flashes that the ambient chaotic strange-attractor-type natural processes around me are objective-correlatives for my psychic state, or for my right-that-moment interactions with people. This is in a good way. Like the world is thinking me, instead of me thinking the world.

By the end of the Badlands loop train, I was completely lost, and out of water, and having to scramble over these two hundred foot cones of dirt, getting a brief view of my goal, and then back into the maze, a process so very much like life itself.

At that time, or during the night after, I had a dream or a vision of a really huge McDonald’s, like a golden Hindu temple, or a Vegas casino, wreathed in golden lights, with a facade as intricate as a neon cathedral. And when Sylvia and I left Death Valley to drive home, I was totally convinced that this McDonalds was an actual restaurant that we’d find down by the pawky bar and general store near our Furnace Creek hotel. And I was surprised the golden radiant neon McDonald’s wasn’t there, but then I thought it would be at the next stop, the desolate Stovepipe Wells, and it wasn’t there, and I thought it would be at the skeletal Panamint Springs, and it wasn’t there, and then finally I admitted to myself and to Sylvia that I was suffering from a—hallucinatory delusion.

That happens in a dream sometimes—I’ll see something in the dream, and in the dream I’ll have a false memory that I’ve seen this thing many times. Not good to have that when I’m awake, though.

We checked out this loop called Artist’s Drive, because of the variegated colors of the stones. I like the line of cars in the parking lot. Like feeding at a trough. Mostly we managed to hit more deserted sites than this. But it was worth seeing.

This one battlement shape is cool. Like a Temple of Doom. The Fortress of the Krull.

On the way out of Death Valley we went across a huge mud flat. Got a classic photo of “woman in desert with car” here.

I love the tessellated cracks in mud. Mathematicians have theories about these patterns, you won’t be surprised to learn. All I’ll point out here is that most of the corners have three or four cracks meeting.

We hit Lone Pine again on the way up. Really such a relief to see some green stuff. We looked more closely at the Alabama Hills formations there, and found three live-critter-type fomrations that I’ll call burrowers. They can be messengers from the Holllow Earth. Yeah, three chthonic burrowers named Jeroon, Pahrump, and Bugg. Having three burrowers appear at once is of course too much. So Jeroon might be the main one, the messenger, surprisingly well-spoken. And we meet him first. And on the way down we encounter a hostile Pahrump. And then Jeroen’s friend Bugg saves their ass.

This is Jeroon. He’s a variant of a mutant “grulloo” character from Frek and the Elixir, the man who’s a head that runs around on two arms/legs. I liked Jeroon’s personality, in that book, and could use him again with, what the heck, the same name. “Jeroon” comes from Heironymus Bosch’s actual first name, Jeoren…Bosch himself appears in my novel Hylozoic .

Pahrump looks a little like Donald Trump, although I won’t mention that. Possibly he looks like an enemy of my hero Mason Reynolds in San Francisco. There could even be a direct connection between the apparently human enemy and this burrower.

Bugg might be like the talking cockroach Franx from White Light. Note the woman poking him. He’s Jeroon’s friend.

Found a cool “Mobius strip” loop of rock. And dig the Sierran peak behind.

I’m always down with rocks that have holes in them.

And here’s a magic door to another world. Always convenient to have some of those around. Possibly this leads to Ye Olde Hollowe Earthe!

Spent the night in dead little town called Bridgeport, pretty much the last stop before Carson Pass. Had a terrible meal at this vintage diner style restaurant. Whatever. Loved the red neon and the waitress’s kind, worn face. Always great to be on the road!


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