Archive for August, 2007

Painting of Lexington Reservoir

Last week I scrambled down to an inlet of the Lexington Reservoir near Los Gatos with my friend Vernon and we painted a little. We were looking for some ambient water. It was so hot and sunny that we had to go up into a shady gully to one side. We saw some egrets landing. I’ve gone back to the picture four times, and I think it’s done now.

I had to focus down on just part of the scene to get a picture. The two things I liked best were the wavy shoreline and the cracked mud.

I always think of math when I see things like this…

Aether Vortices and The Hollow Earth

This is a model of an atom, I believe.

I got the image in an interesting email from a fringe science site devoted to John Worrell Keely’s “Vibratory Physics” of the 19th century. Matter as aether vortices with, I think, seven kinds of aether in seven dimensions! Sounds like how people get aktualized in Hylozoic

My artist friend Hal Robins sent me a nice print of a classic Hollow Earth picture. It’s been a while since I did a Google search on the Hollow Earth; a rich haul.

My favorite link (as of 2007, although in 2010 the link was no longer active) describes how a man named Steve Currey was organizing a “Voyage to Our Hollow Earth” charter trip aboard the Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker Yamal—the plan was to nose around for the opening to the Inner World which is surely somewhere near the North Pole. The planned itinerary bears the caveat, “Please note that if we are unable to find the Polar opening, we will be returning via the New Siberian Islands to visit skeleton remains of exotic animals thought to originate from Inner Earth.” The trip was to take place this summer, but sadly the organizer died—and perhaps not many people signed up—so the trip didn’t take place. Another site indicates that a new organizer hopes to reschedule it.

David Standish recently wrote a very nice historical survey called Hollow Earth literature, with kind words about my own novel The Hollow Earth. [For some reason, the Amazon link for buying my book The Hollow Earth has the wrong cover image; the correct image of my novel’s new edition is below.]

The dream lives on! I myself dream of voyaging in 2008 with my brother to look for the entrance to the Inner World in the vicinity of Triton Bay in the Fak Fak Regency in the West Papua district of Indonesia, getting in some great diving while I’m at it. See Yung Yip’s image of a Triton Bay sea slug below from the always fascinating Sea Slug Forum.

Get back to your novel, Rudy, you’re wasting time!

Oh well. As William Craddock wrote: “Time? How can you waste time?”

What is Wetware?

In its original, intended meaning, wetware is the underlying generative code for an organism, as found in the genetic material, in the biochemistry of the cells, and in the architecture of the body’s tissues.

I was one of the initial popularizers of the word “wetware,” perhaps the third to use it in an SF novel, preceded by Michael Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers and, I believe, Bruce Sterling’s Schizmatrix. I think I first saw the word in Sterling’s book.

I’m disappointed to see that over the years the meaning of the word is being watered down to mean (a) a human brain or, even worse, (b) a company’s employees.

(a) If “wetware” just meant “brain,” then we wouldn’t even need the word. The whole point of the word “wetware” is that it’s meant to make you look at the world in a new way, and to try and see biological systems from a computational standpoint. An organism is so much more than a brain.

(b) In the sense of employees, wetware might be used in a sentence like: “Yeah, we got the PCs, we got the Office software, now we just gotta hire us some wetware.” When I see people trying to reduce everything to corporate human resources issues, I think of someone giving a monkey in a zoo a crayon, and all he can draw is the bars of his own cage. But, crabbing aside, I can see the appeal to this usage for computer workers. “Why’s this keyboard all sticky?” “Wetware problem. Bill eats lunch at his desk.”

In the Mondo 2000 User’s Guide to the New Edge (Harper-Perennial, New York 1992), I defined “Wetware” as follows. (By the way, I attributed this entry to Max Yukawa, who is in fact a character in my novel Wetware. As a kind of homage, Yukawa’s physical appearance was in fact modeled on William Gibson’s, that is, Yukawa has a long, thin, and somehow flexible-seeming head. When I was starting the book, I’d sent a few pages to Gibson and he’d kindly rewritten them for me, punching them up a bit.):

“Suppose you think of an organism as being like a computer graphic that is generated from some program. Or think of an oak tree as being the output of a program that was contained inside the acorn. The genetic program is in the DNA molecule. Instead of calling it software like a computer program, w call it wetware because it’s in a biological cell where everything is wet. Your software is the abstract information pattern behind your genetic code, but your actual wetware is the physical DNA in a cell. A sperm cell is wetware with a tail, but it’s no good without an ovum’s wetware. A fertilized seed is self-contained wetware, and a plant cutting is wetware, too, as plants can reproduce as clones.”

Rudy Rucker, R. U. Sirius, and Queen Mu, eds., The Mondo 2000 User’s Guide.

Since then, I’ve come to understand that a body’s wetware is more than just its DNA. The autocatalytic system of biochemicals in each cell is a kind of wetware itself. So the seed wetware is really the entire seed cell.

At a higher level, the arrangement of a body’s cells—and the all-important tangling of the cortical neurons—is a kind of wetware as well. The body and its high-level wetware are, of course, implicit in the low-level wetware of the original seed cell which contains the initial DNA and biochemicals. But it can be useful to regard the body as a high-level wetware system on its own, just as one might prefer looking at a program as expressed in some high-level language like Java, rather that trying to decipher it in low-level assembly language or machine code. That is, we can use “wetware” to refer to the underlying initial cell’s patterns, or to the emergent patterns of the body.

(By the way, on May 31, 2007, I made some corrections to the Wikipedia wetware entry. I hadn’t bothered to log in, and was “anonymously” there as an IP code starting with 68.)

All this sounds kind of dry and academic. But the cyberpunk novel Wetware was anything but that. I wrote it at white heat in six weeks in 1986, at the tail end of four years without a formal job—I was a freelance writer working out of a rented office in an abandoned building in the crumbling seedy core of Jerry Falwell’s Lynchburg, Virginia. This was the first of my novels to be written on a word processor—I’d gotten an Epson CPM machine with PeachText software. I didn’t know it then, but I was just about to move to Silicon Valley.

The setup for the book is that humans have built a race of robots called boppers. The boppers live on the moon, where they reproduce by building new robots in factories, often merging two boppers’ codes onto a single new body. Given that they have self-reproduction, “sex,” and mutation, they’ve evolved. But now they want to move from plastic bodies into meat bodies. They’ve figured out how to program human DNA so that a newborn baby might include some particular robot’s personality.

Humans designed the robots, and now they’re turning the tables and designing humans. The first human born with bopper code in his wetware is called Manchile. His sperm carries two tails, one with the human DNA and one with the robot-mind upgrade. He’s starting a Messianic movement on earth, mainly by sleeping with as many women as possible. Like Phil Dick’s precog mutant, the Golden Man, Manchile is irresistibly handsome. I modeled his speech patterns on those of the drummer in our short-lived Lynchburg punk rock band, The Dead Pigs.

“All the boppers really want is access. They admire the hell out of the human meatcomputer. They just want a chance to stir their info into the mix. Look at me—am I human or am I bopper? I’m made of meat, but my software is from … the Moon. Let’s all miscegenate, baby, I got two-tail sperm!”

—Rudy Rucker, Wetware.

The ten Wetware cover shots above are, left to right and top to bottom, from US Avon (1988 edition), US Avon (1997 edition), Japan, Italy, Germany, the UK, Russia, Finland, Live Robots: the US Avon 1994 double edition including Software, and Moldies and Meatbops: the US Avon Science Fiction Book Club edition including Freeware as well.

Although I suggested the “Moldies and Meatbops,” title, I’ve come to regret it. For some reason I was echoing the sound of the utterly irrelevant title of “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.” I recall another (non-starter) title suggestion I’d made as well, lifted from an S. Clay Wilson one-panel cartoon: “Crazed Junkies Fight It Out With Killer Robots.” Probably just plain Wares would have been best. Note that there never was an omnibus with all four of the novels.

Added October 30, 2016.

The four-novel omnibus Ware Tetralogy appeared in 2010 from Prime Books with an intro by William Gibson. You can get it as paperback, commercial ebook, or as a free CC ebook.

Zappa, Spook Country

I’m revising the first four chapters of Hylozoic these days, incorporarting all that new aktual stuff that I’ve been blogging about lately. Doing the rewrite feels like coming back to a canvas and adding another layer of painting. It helps the texture.

Last night we saw Dweezil Zappa leading the “Zappa Plays Zappa” band in Berkeley. It was a great show, the band tight and intricate. I still can’t believe Frank is dead. I always related to his mixture of spirituality and vulgarity. He rarely spoke of spiritual things, he let his guitar solos say all that better than words. A master.

Recently I’ve been writing some seriously heavy descriptions of visions or trippy transformation—like where Jayjay gets aktualized—and I was thinking that’s my kind of “guitar solo.”

I’ve been reading William Gibson’s new book Spook Country. The site has a little video of him talking about his book, which makes it more fun to read, as then his voice is fresh in your mind. The book is sheer pleasure: witty, full of great images, wonderful language, and fascinating insights.

I’m heartened to see that Bill has shares a number of my obsessions that I do, not that he and I ever end up writing about something in the same way. He takes more of a sociological and documentary view, and I’m more oriented towards philosophy and romance. I’m happy to see the overlaps, as it gives me a sense of solidarity with a writer I admire. Here’s links into my blog for my takes on some of these topics, along with Gibson quotes on the topics.

* Locative art and the global positioning grid. “ ‘See-bare-espace,’ Odile pronounced, gnomically, ‘it is everting.’ … ‘Turns itself inside out,’ offered Alberto, by way of clarification. ‘Cyberspace.’” p. 20. “‘And once it everts, then there isn’t any cyberspace, is there? There never was, if you want to look at it that way. It was a way we had of looking where we were headed, a direction. With the [GPS] grid, we’re here. This is the other side of the screen.’” p. 64.

* Cepahlopods. “Ten feet above the orange tape outline, the glossy, grayish-white form of a giant squid appeared, about ninety feet in total length, its tentacles undulating gracefully … The squid’s eerie surface flooded with light, subcutaneous pixels sliding past in distorted video imagery, stylized kanji, wide eyes of anime characters. It was gorgeous, ridiculous.” p. 55

* Ants. “Another cousin, relocated from New Orleans in the wake of the flood, had spoken of seeing a swarming, glittering ball of red ants in the water. This was how ants avoided drowning, it seemed…” p. 13. “Cultural Marxism was what other people called political correctness, according to Brown … and had come to the US from Germany … in the cunning skulls of a clutch of youngish professors from Frankfurt. The Frankfurt school, as they’d called themselves, had wasted no time in plunging their intellectual ovipostors repeatedly into the unsuspecting body of old-school American academia. Milgrim always enjoyed this part; it had an appealing vintage sci-fi campiness to it, staccato and exciting, with grainy monchrome Euorcommie star-spawn in tweek jackets and knit ties, breeding like Starbucks.” p. 126.

* Hieronymus Bosch. “He saw the IF [a guy they’re spying on], for whatever reason, as a bird-headed Bosch creature, pursued by Brown and Brown’s people, a brown-hooded posse astride heraldic beasts taht weren’t quite horses, their swirling banner inscribed with slogans in the IF’s Volapuk. Sometimes they journeyed for days into the stylized groves bordering that landscape, glimpsing strange creatures in wooded shadow.” p. 48.

* Tulpas. “…the celebrity self is a sort of tulpa … A projected thought-form. A term from Tibetan mysticism. The celebrity self has a life of its own. It can, under the right circumstances, indefinitely survive the death of the subject. That’s what every Elvis sighting is about, literally.” p. 102.

* Spectral beings that live in the woods. “But past Philadelphia, and after taking another tablet, Milgrim began to catch glimpses of spectral others, angels perhaps. The late-afernoon sun dressed the passing woods with Maxfield Parrish foxfire, and perhaps it was that epileptic flicker generated by teh train’s motion that called these beings forth. He found them neutral, if not actually benign. They belonged to this landscape, this hour and time of year, and not to his story.” p. 208.

* Continuous valued cellular automata. “‘It [a certain computer program] implements finite difference methods for the solution of partial differential equations, on block-structures, adaptively refined rectangular grids.’ Sarah made a brief and probably unconscious face.” p. 273.

On the whole, I found Spook Country humbling. The work is so polished. The dialog, the descriptions and the apercus. Good characterization. Hip.

You’re rooting for all the characters, they aren’t contemptible as my Hylozoic characters, Jayjay and Thuy, threaten to become. There’s a simple clear climax that the whole book builds towards. It’s not a gnarly four hundred pound yam.

Be that as it may, right now my only path is to finish writing Hylozoic to the end, get a rough version, and then go back and polish up the dialog, the descriptions and apercus, and the characterization. There’s no particular reason it actually needs to be like Spook Country. A writer can’t keep changing course. That way likes madness.

Gibson takes about four years to write a book. That’s a lot of polishing Maybe if I polished my book for a couple more years I could make it really shiny. Oh well. Maybe some other time I’ll polish a book for four years. I think I’ll do Hylozoic in about a year and a half, as usual.


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