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Kauai. Finished 2nd Draft of MILLION MILE ROAD TRIP.

August 26th, 2016

So yesterday I finished the second draft of Million Mile Road Trip, an SF novel I’ve been working on since April, 2014. Nearly two and a half years. It’s been a long haul. And this year was hard one for me in other ways.

I finished the first draft in June, and at that time I put up a long post with a number of illos relating to the novel, so I won’t repeat all that info. And if you want to see more on the backstory of the novel you can also look at the cumulative “Million Mile Road Trip” category of posts on my blog.

In short, the novel features three teens on a million mile road trip across a landscape of alien civilizations. Goal? Stop the flying saucers from invading Earth. And learn about life and love.

The master of the flying saucers is an evil alien bagpipe—are there any other kinds of bagpipes? His name is Groon, and I did a painting of him a few months back that I really like.

“Saucer Bagpipe” acrylic on canvas, June, 2016, 24” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

The teens are Zoe and Villy, aged 18, plus Villy’s irritating 16-year-old brother Scud. Flying saucers and colorful aliens enter the tale. And, yes, it’s literally about a car trip that’s a million miles long—the trip is set in a parallel universe, which contains a single, endless plain divided by ridges into basin-like worlds.

For years I’d wanted to kick up the Kerouac On the Road thing into an book of intergalactic kicks with a seriously long drive. And I was happy to get it to work. Not that my novel is much like a beat novel. I was, at least initially, thinking in terms of a YA novel for teens—although who knows if that’s the market I’ll find.

[Many of today’s photos are from a trip to Kauai I did with Sylvia at the end of July, 2016.]

In the spirit of Kerouac/YA I wrote the book in the present tense, alternating among the points of view of the kids, with the prose style fairly colloquial and intimate. I think Zoe’s voice is especially funny. I posted a sample passage of her in April, 2016. a passage from the “Lady Filippa” chapter about 2/3 of the way through the book.

As I’ve said before, writing a novel is like rowing a boat across the Atlantic. You just cannot believe how long it takes, and how much work it is, and how much doubt you have to fight through along the way. Sometimes writers talk about the “black point,” when you’re so far into the journey that you can’t see where you started from, and you can’t see where you’re going.

You have to count on the muse for help, and I don’t mean that as a metaphor or a joke or mere lip-service to some notion of the writer’s craft. There is some kind of force—maybe it’s just my subconscious, or my trickle from the hive mind, or my archetypal engrams, or racial memory, or the synchronistic elegance of our divine natural world, or the quantum computing metamind of the Great Novelist—but it’s something that kicks in and helps me. Those flashes of inspiration. When the world starts dancing with you, everything fitting, overheard scraps of conversation, dreams, articles in the paper, things people say, here it is.

[A thermostat in an art gallery, plastic-encased, casting an odd shadow. “Vhat is?”]

It was fun being in Kauai, a nice break, we went there right after I finished the first draft, and I didn’t bring the draft along for correcting, so Sylvia and I were just kickin’ it. As a bonus our old friends Marc Laidlaw and wife Geraldine have a house there now, up on the funky jungly northwest end of Kauai, almost at the Na Pali cliffs.

Naturally Marc and I started talking about story ideas. Somehow I want to have a character who is, in some sense, a humuhumunukunukuapua’a fish. I even did a watercolor of him and his friends. He’s kind of a hoodlum.

And here’s a close-up of the pig-like humu in the corner of the watercolor above. Love this guy.

Sylvia and I did a lot of snorkeling. I’m not in the greatest physical condition this summer, and I’d practically die from holding my breath and exerting myself, but it was worth it.

We all went to a luau organized be the Hanalei Canoe Club—it was maybe not quite so generic as a hotel luau. Next the Hanalei River, and it was raining and you could drink coconuts and then get a tray of more-or-less cafeteria-style food and sit with a bunch of locals under a big tent, it was kind of great.

I get pretty excited when I see rain.

And the worn canoes.

I bought a t-shirt from some beautiful young Hawaiian women. Wahines, I guess you can say.

And then, oh my god, they had hula dancers. So great.

I can never quite figure out how the women attain such a high vibrational frequency in their harrumph motions.

A guy came out and did some routines with fire. He mentioned that normally it was too dangerous to do this show under a tent, but since it was raining—oh well.

He had dancers too.

It was a really nice vacation for Sylvia and me. And then when we got back, I cranked on my revisions for about three weeks and got the second (and possibly final) draft of Million Mile Road Trip done.

Finis coronat opus.

Podcast #96. “Totem Poles” by Rucker & Sterling

August 10th, 2016

Aug 10, 2016. Rudy Rucker reads “Totem Poles,” a wild tale co-written with Bruce Sterling. Appears online on today. Press the arrow below to play Rudy reading the story.


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

Make Ebook for Amazon with Good ToC

July 31st, 2016

My old friend and surfpunk-SF-tale collaborator Marc Laidlaw is putting all of his old novels up on Amazon as Kindle ebooks these days.

My wife Sylvia and I recently visited Haena on the north shore of Kauai, and we saw a lot of Marc and his wife Geraldine. And I have a lot of good pictures from that trip. But today I’m going to clean out my backlog of photos—which have nothing to do with Kauai or with what I’m posting about today. Many are from a recent visit to Pinedale, Wyoming, to see our daughter Isabel. And some are from other spots.

I’m posting about a somewhat dull and technical topic—but I know it’s a topic that will be of great interest to a few self-publishing authors.

How do you convert your book document into a file that you can post on Amazon as an ebook? And how do you make it have a proper Amazon-style Table of Contents?

I’ve posted about this before, in 2014, in a series called “How to Make an Ebook.” And, as kind of a self-referential joke, I combined these posts into an ebook called How to Make an Ebook. But the method I describe there is fairly complicated. I wanted to find a way to put a ToC into your ebook that’s easy and fairly non technical and and reliable and it doesn’t take more than a couple of hours. And none of the Google links I found for “Make TOC for Amazon” seemed to yield something really simple and useful.

As I said, I got into this topic while I was talking to Marc in Kauai. Idiotic of me to work on such a thing in a tropical paradise, but I did piss away a few hours on it, and I thought about it some more when I got home.

Marc had used Abbyy FineReader to convert a PDF of his insanely gnarly and profound and readable book The 37th Mandala into a Word DOC. Sick and ill in all the best kinds of ways. And then he was having trouble getting the DOC into the format of an Amazon-style Kindle ebook with a built-in table of contents, or ToC. The ToC — that’s the part that’s tricky. As the classic poet Virgil wrote in the Aeneid, relative to exploring Hell or Avernus. “Easy is the gradual descent to the underworld, but to retrace your steps and return to the breezes above—ah, there is the bringdown, there is the drag.”

Marc was saving his DOC as a Filtered HTML from Word, and then uploading the HTML to Amazon KDP, and sometimes the Amazon ebook would have a Kindle style ToC, and sometimes it wouldn’t. And I got curious about how to make it work. And I kind of wanted to avoid the HTML step.

I didn’t solve the question in Kauai, but when I got home I wanted to email Marc an ebook version of the rough draft of my Million Mile Road Trip novel, and I got curious as to whether I could make it into an EPUB with Calibre, with a good ToC. I wondered if I could do it without going through InDesign—which is what I normally do these days. But a beginner doesn’t want to deal with InDesign.

And now it seems like I found a way to get from a Word DOC to an Amazon ebook using just the free Calibre program.

* Give all your chapter headings the same style in your DOC. The standard Word style Heading 1 is fine. Or you can create a similar h1 style and that’s fine too. You don’t have to start with Word, you can use any word-processor.

*Save the edited document file for safekeeping. And then save it as an RTF file, that is, in the so-called Rich Text Format. If the document has a built-in table of contents that you generated, like with Word, go ahead and delete that from the RTF. It’ll just get in the way. Now open Calibre and do “Add a Book” based in the RTF file. (You can’t add DOC files to Calibre).

* Set the Metadata fields in Calibre if you like. Like put in your name, or comments or tags or even a cover image. Then then go into the Convert Books dialog in Calibre and set output to EPUB In the Convert Books dialog. This dialog has some buttons for subdialogs on the left.

*Go to the Convert Books | Look and Feel | Layout and put a checkmark by “Remove Spacing between paragraphs” The default paragraph first line indent is set to 1.5 em, which is reasonable. It looks better to have indents than to skip lines.

* Go to the Convert Books | Table of Contents put a check mark by “Force use of aut0-generated Table of Contents.” My impression is that the other settings in this dialog don’t reliably matter. Don’t waste a lot time sweating about them. Just accept that the automatic ToC probably isn’t going to work if you’re a beginner starting from an RTF document. But never mind, you’re going to easily fix the ToC in a second. While still in the Table of Contents dialog, go way down at the bottom of the dialog, and put a checkmark by “Manually fine-tune the T0C after conversion is completed.”

* Calibre will open an “Edit the ToC” dialog after building the EPUB. More than likely the autogenerated ToC sucks. Again, don’t sweat it, don’t even waste time worrying why. Just click the “Generate ToC from major headings” button in the “Edit the ToC” dialog and probably you’ll see a full book ToC then, possibly with a couple of bogus entries, and possibly with a couple of chapter headers missing. You can fix these using the the “Remove this Entry” and/or the “New Entry” buttons.

* Now you’re good. Close the “Edit the ToC” dialog, and click on the “Path: Click to Open” line in the lower right corner of the Caliber screen. This directs you to some obscure directory holding your new-built EPUB with the good ToC. Copy this EPUB file to somewhere where you can find it easily again.

* Test your file in, say, the EPUBReader add-on of Firefox, or Google Play on Chrome, or directly in Safari, or in iBooks.

* And test it with the downloadable Kindle Previewer tool if you like. In the Kindle Previewer, the ToC will not seem to work, but this is misleading. The NCX View over at the right side of the Kindle Previewer menu bar does work . And this means that Amazon will in fact be able to build a working ebook with a proper ToC from your EPUB.

Rudy Sr. and Rudy Jr. on Father’s Day 2016.

* The Kindle Previewer saves a MOBI version of your EPUB to your disk, you’ll find it in a subdirectory of the directory where your EPUB lives. You can copy this MOBI to your Kindle device to test it some more. The ToC will work on your Kindle.

* But what if Kindle Previewer finds errors or warnings in your EPUB? What if Amazon KDP won’t convert it? Open the book in Calibre. Select Edit Book. In that dialog there should be a pane for “Check Book.” Click on “Run Check.” If it finds errors, click, “Try to correct all fixable errors automatically.” If that works, resubmit the EPUB.

* If the automatic error fixing doesn’t work, Calibre allows you to “Edit your Book,” that is, edit the EPUB files, which are basically a bunch of HTML files. This is tricky for a beginner, as these edits may break things, but going back to the “Check Book” can often fix things.

* If you don’t like how your EPUB looks, you can poke around in the Calibre settings, The Convert Books | Look and Feel dialog has a number of panes. Try Googling about them or try looking at the Calibre documentation. Note however that the Kindle ignores some of these settings—also many settings can be adjusted by the individual Kindle user. It’s also worth knowing that it may make a nicer output if go to Convert Books | Heuristic Processing and check the box by “Turn On Heuristic Processing.”

* When you’re done, upload the EPUB to Amazon KDP! Alternately you can upload the MOBI to Amazon, as long as you use the MOBI that was created by the Kindle Previewer. (KDP won’t accept a MOBI made by Calibre.)

Peace at last.

Or maybe not. What if the Amazon KDP dialog rejects your EPUB? Without telling you what’s actually wrong with it? Well, then you try opening up your EPUB in the Sigil software, and running the Check procedure in there. This “check” is more rigorous than the one in Calibre. You can click on the error messages and Sigil will show you the broken spots in the *aaack* HTML code that’s zipped up inside that EPUB. Maybe you can fix the probs. This is where Googling can help, like try Googling your error message’s text.

If you need to get even deeper into the guts of your epub, there’s a free industry-standard program called epubcheck that you can download and run on your EPUB…this fella runs from a command-line interface, double *aack.” I won’t get into details here, but you might go back to my three or four old
How to Make an Ebook posts if you need to get this funky.

The one bright spot to keep in mind is that the first time you post an ebook will be by far the hardest time. Eventually you’ll develop a workflow, and (the hardest part) a mental image of what you’re actually doing, and it’ll be pretty smooth. And I guess this is where I put in a plug for all the ebooks I’ve published on Transreal Books!

Making a Lifebox

June 29th, 2016

(Post updated on June 29, 2016, from a December, 2010 post.)

This updated post relates to my Search Rudy’s Lifebox page, which I also updated today.

A lifebox is meant to be interactive software that allows a user to feel like they’re having a conversation with the person whom the lifebox supposedly emulates. I have an idea about how to create lifeboxes. In a nutshell:

• Amass a database containing all of a given person’s recorded words and images.
• Use realtime search algorithms to mine the data for nuggets keyed to questions.
• Use syntactic rules to merge each search’s output into a coherent answer.

In reality, this is how I usually answer questions in conversations. Rather than thinking hard, I just search out vaguely related thought-snippets and stick them together. And of course I modulate my mental searches according to my short-term memory of the conversation thus far.

In recent years, several commercial ventures have taken up the idea of helping people to create virtual software versions of themselves. For whatever reason, these developers never seem to mention my name. Yet they are in fact talking about the “lifeboxes” I’ve been discussing for decades. And I’m in the process of editing a second edition of The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul which will then appear in ebook for the first time. So I feel impelled to refresh this old post.

I go into considerable detail about lifeboxes in my 1999 novel, Saucer Wisdom, in my non-fiction tome of 2005, The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul, and in my 2009 article “Lifebox Immortality” which I co-authored with Leon Marvell. And creating software emulations of specific human minds is a notion I discussed in my 1982 novel Software .

A lifebox is really a kind of chatbot. In December, 2010, I met an interesting couple, Bruce and Sue Wilcox. Their chatbot Suzette just won the 2010 Loebner Prize for doing the best job at the Turing Imitation Game, that is, the game of the chatbot program trying to convince a human judge that the chatbot is human too. They talk via an instant-message interface. If a program could reliably and consistently win at the Imitation Game, we’d be included to say it had achieved human-like intelligence. Looking at the chatbot site describing Suzette, I was surprised to see how widespread and popular this programming exercise has become.

I’ve always thought it telling that in Turing’s 1950 article proposing this test, he begins by talking about a different kind of test—in which someone interrogates subjects via instant-messaging and tries to decide whether they are male or female. I’ve integrated my thoughts about this into my novel in progress, Turing & Burroughs, in which Turing does in fact impersonate a woman.

[These images have essentially no connection to the material being discussed.]

The day after I met the chatbot programmers, the dapper and fanciful writer Mark Dery put a new essay online, “Hate is All Around: The Politics of Enthusiasm (And Its Discontents)”, and near the end (on page 6) he mentions my writings about my concept of the lifebox. He also got off what seemed like very funny lines, as when he characterized a petulant remark by Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol as “a characteristic display of the social grace and subtlety of mind that have made her mother so universally admired on the world stage”.

Given that I’d been talking about the lifebox with the Wilcoxes, reading the Dery article was enough of a push for me to finally make an alpha-release version of a lifebox…and here’s the same link I mentioned above: the Search Rudy’s Lifebox page. I haven’t really done any work on the Search Rudy’s Lifebox tool since December, 2010, but I still think about it.

The reason my alpha version “Rudy’s Lifebox” does function a little bit like a chatbot emulating me, is that I have, over the last ten or twenty years, been placing really large amounts of my writing online.

Note that AI is not in the picture here at all. Rather than tilting at the Quixotic task of writing logic software to imitate human thought, it’s much simpler to beat the chatbot emulator problem to death with big data and fast hardware.

This said, Rudy’s Lifebox is not going to write the next chapter of my novel for me, nor rough out my next painting. So is my lifebox project a waste of time? Well, Rudy’s Lifebox can function as an aid to my fading memory. For instance, remembering just now that there was something about “wasting time” in a book, Be Not Content, that I love, I entered be not content waste time into my Search Rudy’s Lifebox box, and found this from an old blog post of mine:

I’m always worrying about wasting time, right, and I saw a great line in Be Not Content, the author-narrator Abel Egregore expresses this fear to one of his stoner friends, who guffaws, “Time? How can you waste time?” And I get a little enlightenment there. Time and space, the all-pervasive ineluctable modalities. What’s to waste? You use one second per second no matter what you’re doing. A wonderful teaching.

Up here (or down here) in some version of real time—my family and I decorated our Christmas tree today!

And once again, here’s that Search Rudy’s Lifebox link one more time. Do try it and make a comment over there, or on this here “Making a Lifebox” page.

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