Archive for the ‘Rudy’s Blog’ Category

Quotes from Recent Reads, plus Paintings.

Shelter in place has now lasted nearly four months. I’ve been writing on some stories, though not as much as I might normally do. And taking photos. And I’ve painting, much more than usual…thirteen canvases since the pandemic kicked in.  Check out the Notes on my Paintings page if  you want to read  about the five new paintings shown in today’s post.

Also I’ve been reading lots and lots of Kindle books. When I remember to, I highlight passages in the Kindle books I read. And then it’s possible to export the highlighted phrases into a document. So…for today’s post we’ll have photos, paintings, and quotes from the books I’ve been reading.

A word of caution, for those of you not familiar with my posting style. Generally there are no planned specific connections between the text fragments and the images. I collage them in at random, working rapidly, just being sure not to have overly similar images right next to each other.

I’m a firm believer in the Surrealist principle that Anything goes with Anything. Often, but not always, there will seem to be some synchronistic connection between an image and the text next to it. But I didn’t design it that way. That’s just the cosmos at work. Dancing with us.

“With My Friends” acrylic on canvas, May, 2020, 24” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

WOLFBANE by Fredrik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

“All that Tropile knew was that, for the first time in nearly a year, he had succeeded in catching each stage of the nine perfect states of water-coming-to-a-boil in its purest form. It was like … like … well, it was like nothing that anyone but a Water Watcher could understand. He observed. He appreciated. He encompassed and absorbed the myriad subtle perfections of time, of shifting transparency, of sound, of distribution of ebulliency, of the faint, faint odor of steam. Complete, Glenn Tropile relaxed all his limbs and let his chin rest on his breast-bone. He was the water boiling … and the boiling water was he. He was the gentle warmth of the fire, which was—which was, yes, itself the arc of the sky. As each thing was each other thing; water was fire, and fire air; Tropile was the first simmering bubble and the full roll of Well-aged Water was Self, was—more than Self—was— The answer to the unanswerable question was coming clearer and softer to him. And then, all at once, but not suddenly, for there was no time, it was not close—it was.”

Ginger root like a raygun.

“It was Tropile, all right staring with concentrated, oyster-eyed gaze at the fire and the little pot of water it boiled. Staring. Meditating. And over his head, like flawed glass in a pane, was the thing Haendl feared most of all things on Earth. It was an Eye. Tropile was on the very verge of being Translated … whatever that was.”

V. by Thomas Pynchon

“The laugh could only have come from Profane’s onetime shipmate, Pig Bodine. Profane looked round. It had. Hyeugh, hyeugh approximates a laugh formed by putting the tonguetip under the top central incisors and squeezing guttural sounds out of the throat. It was, as Pig intended, horribly obscene.”

Abandoned building, 1324 Church St., Lynchburg, VA, where I rented a room 82-86 and wrote four books, including WETWARE

“Was it home, the mercury-lit street? Was he returning like the elephant to his graveyard, to lie down and soon become ivory in whose bulk slept, latent, exquisite shapes of chessmen, backscratchers, hollow open-work Chinese spheres nested one inside the other? … But elephants have souls. Anything that can get drunk, he reasoned, must have some soul. Perhaps this is all soul means.”

“Con Edison had just shut off the electricity so all they had to look at each other by was one gas burner on the stove, which bloomed in a blue and yellow minaret, making the faces masks, their eyes expressionless sheets of light.”

“Low places in the square filled, the usual random sets of crisscrossing concentric circles moved across them. Near eight o’clock, the rain slackened off.”

“Magnetic Fields of the Milky Way Galaxy” acrylic on canvas, June, 2020, 24” x 18”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY by John Steinbeck

“I remembered how once, in that part of youth that is deeply concerned with death, I wanted to be buried on this peak where without eyes I could see everything I knew and loved, for in those days there was no world beyond the mountains. And I remembered how intensely I felt about my interment. It is strange and perhaps fortunate that when one’s time grows nearer one’s interest in it flags as death becomes a fact rather than a pageantry.”

“I discovered long ago in collecting and classifying marine animals that what I found was closely intermeshed with how I felt at the moment. External reality has a way of being not so external after all.”

No-parking cone that someone threw off the bridge into the creek where I like to walk.

“The pointers came to the wire mesh of the kennel, wriggling like happy snakes and sneezing with enthusiasm,”

“Pop’s Pipes” acrylic on canvas, June, 2020, 28” x 22”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

THE COUNTRY GIRLS by Edna O’Brien

“We sat, huddled over the fire, and talked, the way women who like each other can talk once the men are out of sight.”

“The sky is always blue in California, a piercing blue, and the pavements hot, and the tanned, predatory faces booming out their hearty nothings. I like rain and isolation…”

Mysterious, intriguing, Point Sur.

“The smile was nice, and I moved nearer and touched with my cheek the cloth of his gray, hairy overcoat.”

Above Four Mile Beach north of Santa Cruz.

“The music still reminded me of birds, birds wheeling out of a bush and startling the mellow hush of a summer evening; crows above an old slate quarry at home, multiplied by their own shadows, screaming and cawing incessantly.”

“It was getting dark and the air was full of those soft noises that come at evening—cows lowing, the trees rustling, the hens wandering around, crowing happily, availing themselves of the last few minutes before being shut up for the night.”


[Gunnar Vatvedt, hiking up Lexington Creek with me.]

“I suppose up to the time people die you think their lives will improve, or you’ll get on better with them, but once they’re dead you know neither thing is possible.”

“…a cramped restaurant with atrocious masks on the wall, and high stools that made no allowance for the small of the back.”

“Bicyclist” acrylic on canvas, June, 2020, 24” x 18”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

SIXTH COLUMN by Robert A. Heinlein

“General field theory predicts the possibility of at least three more entire spectra. You see, there are three types of energy fields known to exist in space: electric, magnetic, and gravitic or gravitational. Light, X-rays, all such radiations, are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Theory indicates the possibility of analogous spectra between magnetic and gravitic, between electric and gravitic, and finally, a three-phase type between electric-magnetic-gravitic fields. Each type would constitute a complete new spectrum, a total of three new fields of learning.”

Looking put at Washington Square from inside St. Peter & Paul Church, SF

“—I can do simple algebra, and I’ve had some calculus, though I haven’t used it for years, but I couldn’t make sense out of this stuff. It looked like Sanskrit; most of the signs were different and even the old ones didn’t seem to mean the same things. Look—I thought that a times b always equaled b times a. —Doesn’t it? —Not when these boys get through kicking it around.”


“Sometimes finds even the blind hand an acorn.”

“He encountered them proceeding down the main passage toward the laboratories. They had an enormous granite boulder. Scheer was supporting it clear of walls and floor by means of tractors and pressors generated by a portable Ledbetter projector strapped as a pack on his shoulders. Wilkie had tied a line around the great chunk of rock and was leading it as if it were a cow.”

SELECTED STORIES, 1968-1994 by Alice Munro

“I believed that writers were calm, sad people, knowing too much. I believed that there was a difference about them, some hard and shining, rare intimidating quality they had from the beginning..,”

GAUDY NIGHT, by Dorothy L. Sayers

“If only one could come back to this quiet place [Oxford], where only intellectual achievement counted; if one could work here steadily and obscurely at some close-knit piece of reasoning, undistracted and uncorrupted by agents, contracts, publishers, blurb-writers, interviewers, fan-mail, autograph-hunters, notoriety-hunters, and competitors; abolishing personal contacts, personal spites, personal jealousies…”

“Now we can get rid of this filthy old bombazine and show off our party frocks. “

“—She was frightfully sentimental inside, you know. — I know. She wormed round rather.”

“—Who mentioned Planck’s constant a little time ago? —I did, and I’m sorry for it. I call it a revolting little object.”

“—Isn’t the writing of good prose an emotional excitement? —Yes, of course it is. At least, when you get the thing dead right and know it’s dead right, there’s no excitement like it. It’s marvellous. It makes you feel like God on the Seventh Day, for a bit, anyhow.’”

“ ‘Are you writing any more books?’ Suppressing the rage that this question always rouses in a professional writer, Harriet admitted that she was. ‘It must be splendid to be able to write,’ said Mr. Arbuthnot. ‘I often think I could spin a good yarn myself if I had the brains. About the odd things that happen, you know. Queer deals, and that kind of thing.’”

“,,,punts and canoes, new-fettled for the summer term, began to put forth upon the Cherwell like the varnished buds upon the horse-chestnut tree…”

Chaotic tree shadows in Lexington Creek.

“Great golden phrases, rising from nothing and leading to nothing, swam up out of her dreaming mind like the huge, sluggish carp in the cool water of Mercury. One day she climbed up Shotover and sat looking over the spires of the city, deep-down, fathom-drowned, striking from the round bowl of the river-basin, improbably remote and lovely as the towers of Tir-nan-Og beneath the green sea-rollers, [and she reached] that still centre where the spinning world Sleeps on its axis…”

“She had got her mood on to paper—and this is the release that all writers, even the feeblest, seek for as men seek for love; and, having found it, they doze off happily into dreams and trouble their heads no further.”

Live chairs talking to each other.  “This table’s taken.”

“It was wonderful to stand so above the world, with a sea of sound below and an ocean of air above, all mankind shrunk to the proportions of an ant-heap.”

“The storm held off till after Hall, except for threatenings and grumblings of thunder. At 10 o’clock the first great flash went across the sky like a searchlight, picking out roof and tree-top violet-blue against the blackness, and followed by a clap that shook the walls. Harriet flung her window open and leaned out. There was a sweet smell of approaching rain. Another flash and crash; a swift gust of wind; and then the swish and rush of falling water, the gurgle of overflowing gutters, and peace.”

Sketch of Lord Peter Wimsy. “He was a colourless shrimp of a child, very restless and mischievous, and always much too sharp for his age.”

“Leaving Earth” acrylic on canvas, June, 2020, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

CONSIDER PHLEBAS by Iain M. Banks

“I would prefer, though, if you called me by my name, and not just by that word you manage to make sound like an expletive: machine. I am called Unaha-Closp. Is it asking too much for you to address me as such?”

New edition of my art book!

High on Gnarl and Chaos

I’ve always been interested in enlightenment, or higher consciousness, or, put simply, getting high. But, by now I find it easier just to be high, instead of having to get high.

So how to stay high? There are no instructions. But for a starting point, why not assume that you already are high all the time—you just have to notice.

I mean, come on. We’re in a cloud of an octillion atoms that are waves in a Hilbert space of quantum foam. and we evolved from slime or something, and now we build hive cities and ride in machines? And you’re gonna tell me you’re not high?

It’s helps me to be high if I pay close attention to the now. Slalom past the remorse/yearning for the past or fear/longing for the future. Stare and hearken as if you were zonked.

Here we are. What’s up?

Well…right now, we seem to be crows. And it’s a miracle that anything exists at all. The endless roar of reality’s crashing wave. The air like clear jelly. We’re soaring over it.

Lacking a full-bore technorama physical wonder scene like this, I try to stay high by finding gnarl and chaos in my immediate surroundings. Piecing them together.

Is there a difference between gnarl and chaos? Not that much. It’s like noun versus verb. Generally chaos is applied to an ongoing process, a dynamical system, like the weather or a life or a double-jointed pendulum.

Gnarl, on the other hand, can refer to something static. Like the gnarly root of a redwood, or a grain of wood, or the shape of a wave (as opposed to its motion).

A chaotic system makes gnarly patterns. And if you want to try and generate a gnarly pattern, your process is going to be chaotic. So the two concepts are quite close.

The way that leaves and branches move in air currents is always a buzz-generator, how they never repeat, and yet are somewhat regular. There’s a mathematical reason for this.

Leaves and branches, if you break them down, can be visualized as made up of linked pendulums…like little pendulums attached to bigger pendulums and yet smaller pendulums dangling off the tip-ass end of the little pendulums. And linked, or compound, pendulums are always chaotic.

They used to sell these things for “executive toys” to put on desks. You’ve probably seen them.

Chaotic processes are unpredictable, but they aren’t exactly random. They wander around in the so-called phase space of all the possible configurations that the system might get into. But a chaotic process doesn’t visit every single one of its possible configurations. This becasue, once again, it’s not random. It hangs out on a certain set of behaviors that it “likes.” And this subset of the phase space is what’s called a chaotic attractor. The process dances around on its attractor in an unpredictable way

I’m not making this up. There’s a whole branch of science called chaos theory…it’s inspired by physics, biology, and chemistry, and it’s formulated in terms of math.

Chaos and gnarl lie in the zone between order and disorder.

If something repeats, it’s boring, dead, a waste of time. You know those little robo-music snippets they play in commercials these days, the same snippet over and over, nudge-nudge-nudge. The effin’ worst. Nowhere near chaos.

At the other extreme, you can get into a complete random scumble of dots, and that’s dull too. The crackle of radio hiss. Nothing happening there. Deep space telephone off the hook.

In between is gnarl and chaos. Life is chaos. Nature is gnarly. And so is good music! The vibrations and overtones of voices. The predictable yet ever-fresh progress through time. Surging on that chaotic dynamical system. Yah mon!

Chaos is the zone we live in: not precisely repeating, and not completely smeared out scuzz. It’s a catchy, heartening tune in between, a beautiful work of art.

That shape of bark you see above, it’s called a Zhabotinsky scroll, and you find it all over the place. Embryos, eddies in the water, tissues in your body, chemical reactions, air turbulence and even, I would hazard, the workings of your mind.

The Zhabo scroll is a good symbol of chaos. It’s a common strange attractor, that is, lots of complex processes converge on that shape.

When my grandchildren visit, we like to throw buckets of water in the air, and I marvel at the insanely rapid physical computations performed by the mass of liquid.

The other day, I crushed my shutter speed down to 1/4,000 of a second, and behold. Turns out the water makes a shape like the bill of a sawfish—I’m talking about the regularity of form in those scallops along the edge.

And for seventy years, I never noticed that. It happens too fast.

The scallops are a fine example of what we chaoticians call a strange attractor—which is, once again, a shape or behavior that a gnarly natural system tends to end up in.

Ocean waves are a really clear example of chaotic attractors. The spume, the rivulets, the giraffe-hide patches of foam.

Hydrodynamic chaos one reason I love to go to the beach, or to the Santa Cruz bluffs overlooking the sea. I go there to think about chaos. To gloat over the utter unpredictability of the detailed motions of water.

At home I can see it in our wading pool. Note the scalloped edge of splash sheet, the ribs in the sheet, the droplets that subdivide into smaller droplets.

Chaos is about the fusion of (a) unpredictability and (b) sameness. The hydrodynamic attractors are forms we see in the ocean and in our wading pools and our shower stalls and sink faucets…these attractors, these types of behavior are well known and we have names for them. Ripple, tube, splash, surf, wave, droplet, etc.

There’s another aspect of strange attractors. An irregular and chaotic undulation in water is really a pattern in space and time; a four-dimensional shape, if you will. But you can see interesting things by focusing on a lower-dimensional aspect of the process. Such as the 2D image of blobs of light reflected off the water’s surface.

We say we’re studying a “Poincare section,” of a chaotic system if we crush it down to a lower-dimensional projection.

Late in the 19th century, the mathematician Henri Poincare was trying to solve the “three body problem” of analyzing the full range of dynamical behavior that can occur when three bodies in space are orbiting each other…think of a planet and two large moons. These systems get into intricate chaotic behaviors.

If we think in terms of the positions and velocities of all three objects at once, with time thrown in, we’re talking about a so-called phase space with nineteen dimensions. Like I’m saying, Poincare proposed focusing on a lower dimensional “slice” of the full higher-dimensional pattern. The Poincare section.

With those three moving bodies, you might just graph the points where the objects pass through some randomly chosen reference plane. And you’d get an accumulating dust of points that sketches a lower-dimensional strange attractor.

I like to look at weird “caustic” reflection lines from light hitting a curved surface like my car, and moving on a wall. If the car isn’t moving, this isn’t really a chaotic dynamical system. It’s a static gnarly design. Kind of a Poincare section of the car’s shape.

I used to spend a lot of time designing computer simulations to create gnarly fractals. This is, like, a fifth-order Mandelbrot set. See my page on this jive.

I like to gloat over the massive CG crunch that goes into the lights and shadows and highlights in the visual field.

And I dig the freewheeling synch of external sounds with my thoughts and the things I see. When I remember to kind of slam on the mental synchronicity-perceiving connection-mode.

And spinning out this kind of happy-talk about gnarl and chaos…it gets me even higher.


“Cells Eating Viruses” acrylic on canvas, May, 2020, 28” x 22”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Biology is of course totally chaotic. And I had this vague, totally inaccurate notion of healthy blood cells killing off viruses by eating them in a chaotic battle—and I painted it. Cheerful round cells, and the viruses looking like stick-and-ball molecules. Nice colors, lively action, happy feeling. Almost like a Mardi Gras crowd! If only.

Gnarl and chaos very big in nature. Tulips are still alive for days after you put them in a vase, and they twine and bend and dance…chaotically, that is, unpredictably (in detail) but in certain natural “strange attractor” patterns (overall).

These ferns on a bank of moss are a kind of Poincare section of the temporal growth and dissemination of the plants across this little biome. A gnarly— and oh-so-gorgeous—freeze-frame of growth.

And how about this row of trees on a ridge. Chaotic process of geology for the ridge, chaotic growth for the arrangement of trees. For sure the cloud embodies a chaotic process. Shaped into a gnarly strange attractor.

Being with the trees, the sea, the sky, it’s paradise. But you don’t always get to be there. Sometimes it helps to make things up.


“Astral Travel” acrylic on canvas, May, 2920, 24” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I painted this in the eighth week of quarantine in the pandemic of 2020. For an outing, my wife and I drove to Lick Observatory on nearby Mount Hamilton…and were barely allowed to get out of our car. I took in the uplifting view, and spotting a rusty iron chest set into the ground, I thought of my heart and mind and soul locked into the dull prison of shelter-in-place.

Driving home, we admired the bird’s eye view of the fields and mountains. And I thought of a brain in a cube, traveling. To make the painting fun, I put sky and mountain ranges on the both sides—with no clear notion of up and down—so that now we’re looking at an astral traveler who nears an agricultural asteroid. I had fun designing the quilt of fields; I tried to make each shade of green/yellow different.

Me now.

Me in 1965.

This week, my old friend Rob Lewine sent me this weathered photo of me at Swarthmore college. Unwashed hair, plump cheeks, eager smile. Happy to be loafing and drinking and having new friends and meeting women. Ah, youth. Everything so new. Not a care in the world.

It’s been a nice, gnarly, chaotic run. Thank you!

Blast from the Past. Charles Platt’s 1983 Profile of Rudy.

I’m going to recycle a blast from the past: a profile of me by my (by now) old friend Charles Platt, done in Lynchburg, Virginia, 1983. It appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, in December, 1984, and by now I don’t think anyone has seen it for thirty-five years. Ideally it should have been included in one of Platt’s two Dream Makers volumes—consisting of profile/interviews with SF writers, but the second volume came out before he interviewed me. In any case, those collections are eminentlly readable. I have some links for them at the end of this post.


[Photo I took of Charles near the beach in San Francisco in Sept, 2012. We were at a Phil Dick conference. In the bright sun, Charles happened to make a temporary hat out of newspaper.]

Profile of Rudy Rucker, by Charles Platt, 1983.

Rudy Rucker, mathematician and science fiction writer, is trying to explain to me his conception of the universe and our place in it, using terms that a layman can understand.

We’re sitting in his office, a disused upstairs room that he rents in a semi-derelict wooden building in Lynchburg, Virginia. An old gray steel desk stands in the center of bare floorboards. A human skull decorates the mantelpiece above a boarded-up fireplace. There are pale rectangles on the walls where pictures used to hang. The remaining furnishings consist of a ragged armchair, a couch upholstered in peeling white vinyl, piles of reference books, and an Escher print.


[The abandoned building where I rented a room as an office, 324 Church St. in Lynchburg, VA.]

Outside, crickets chirp amid a tangled mass of kudzu that has totally engulfed the yard and is working its way across the roof. A freight train clatters by.

Rucker, a genial man with dreamy eyes behind severe rectangular glasses, leans back and rests his bare feet on the desk. His explanation involves infinite-dimensional space, a tough concept to get across to nonscientists. “Life is so full of pain, and suffering, and hatred, and unhappiness,” he begins. He pauses. “At least, my life is. But I find it makes me happy to remember that the universe is a single, organic whole. If you go to infinite-dimensional space, Hilbert space, which I deal with in my novel The Sex Sphere, you can fit it all together. My concept of the universe is that it’s a single pattern in an infinite-dimensional space, and when I’m able to remember this — which is not often enough — I feel very happy and relaxed, because in that sense I’m not cut off in an isolated bag with my own personal problems. I sort of flow out of myself and merge into the reality around me.” He grins and gestures toward the windows, the kudzu, Lynchburg, beyond.

I ask if he’s ever thought of starting a religion. This town is, after all, the home of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Rucker’s office is, after all, on Church Street.

“I’ve thought of it. In my latest book there’s this character Alvin Bitter, who was also in The Sex Sphere. And he has started a religion, called the Church of Scientific Mysticism. It’s based in Princeton, and the two saints are Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel. I gave some talks on this; I enjoy talking about it. It always makes me feel happy.”


[God is everywhere.]

Rucker’s several nonfiction books have ambitiously attempted to explain some of the intricacies of space and time, and infinity — itself a slightly mystical, or at least metaphysical, concept. His fiction has tackled similar big topics, less solemnly; White Light, his first published novel, described an afterlife in which infinity was explored like the surface of a science fictional planet.

I ask if there is any kind of afterlife, or higher plane of human consciousness, that he takes seriously.

“I don’t think the individual consciousness survives death. But this is something we don’t have to be so upset about. Instead of going to infinite dimensions, if we just go to a four-dimensional viewpoint, a spacetime viewpoint, the world would be a sort of tangle of atoms, leaving threads, world lines, in a vast tapestry. Surely the fact that the pattern that you call ‘you’ only has a certain size in the tapestry ought to be something you can come to terms with?

“The idea of artistic immortality is important to me. I like to think that years from now, somebody who perhaps resembles me physically or has some of the same interests can read my books and briefly experience the same thoughts. In a sense, that doesn’t do me any good; it depends what you call your ‘self.’ If you choose to identify yourself with the universe, then you’re automatically immortal.”


[Me on the path to writing on my “Kerouac scroll,” which eventually appeared as All the Visions.]

I comment that a lot of his work seems to link the largest possible cosmic view with the trivia and tribulations of everyday life.

“I’ve always wanted to bring it all together. It surprises me that more people don’t do it, in fiction or in life. In the sixties, we were all getting stoned and talking about God, and I thought, well, everybody will just keep doing this and we’ll all learn a whole lot about science and it will be real interesting. But then, to me, what I’m doing always seems so reasonable, I’m just surprised that there aren’t more people doing it.

“A lot of mathematicians have extremely limited personalities. They get into mathematics because they can’t speak English, you know? In that movie War Games, I loved the computer nerd with the dark hair. It really reminded me of graduate school.

“I finally developed a disgust for pure mathematics, to some extent, because in so many of the papers that people write, there’s just no way to bring it back and tie it to anything. A really great scientist like Einstein, or Gödel, or Georg Cantor, or Niels Bohr always takes a kind of double-pronged approach: pushing the formalism, the science, as far as they can, but then always trying to bring it back to real life. I think that’s what really good science is all about.”

On a less ambitious level, this is the approach that Rucker takes in his own fiction, which often portrays thoroughly real, everyday people grappling with some farfetched phenomenon of time travel, negative gravity, or inertialess matter, with comic results.


[Embroidered Hungarian heart with one of my painted images of a UFO.]

His characters are usually misfits, out of sync with their surroundings to the extent that they seem totally alienated.

“Well, I’ve always felt alienated myself, all my life. My parents lived in the country, and there were no other children around, so for most of my childhood, I would just go walking around in the fields with my dog, thinking my own thoughts. My family—sometimes I had the feeling they thought I was strange. I don’t know.

“When I went to school, in the fourth grade, I don’t know what I was doing wrong, but they all picked on me, beat me up a lot. That’s why I hate straights so much — still, to this day — because I was picked on by jocks, straight people.


[Now I’m 74. Haven’t changed much. Still punk. But I’ve learned not to be quite so outspoken.]

“Then when I was in the eighth grade, I spent a year in Germany. That was very alienating, too, because I didn’t speak German. But I got to like it, and then I came back to America, and they beat me up some more. All through high school for some reason.” He frowns as if it still seems puzzling and inexplicable. “Maybe I was younger than the people in my class, sort of a wimp? Still, college was nice, because I went to Swarthmore, and it was all smart kids, and everybody there was a wimp, so, I was able to appear fairly hip.

“Another thing contributing to alienation was the whole sixties thing where, over and over, you had old people getting up and saying that all of our beliefs were stupid, and that we were drug addicts, and should be in jail, and — you know, that gets to you.

“I wish I felt less alienated, really. I mean, I live out here in the middle of nowhere; I’ve always lived in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be in a city where there are people actively interested in, oh, philosophical issues and things like that.” He pauses, as if trying to imagine it.


[About to go for ride on my big brother’s motorcycle with him, in Louisville. Skinny cigarette.]

I don’t know Rucker well, but my superficial impression is that he stayed true to some of the rhetoric and styles of the sixties, long after everyone else had gone into regular employment, sold out, overdosed, or settled in suburbia. Rucker himself is thirty-seven and married with three children, but still seems a (short- haired) hippie in his simple love for loud music, loud parties, and the occasional illegal drug. And he still seems to enjoy the radical, adversary spirit of the sixties.

“One way my novels all resemble each other is that there are hard-line terrorist-anarchists in there, and a lot of sex that’s going to outrage people. I do it more or less deliberately to freak people out as much as possible—and then when it’s published I expect everybody to love me for it anyway.

“But they don’t. So, because they’re mean to me, in the next book, I pick on them even more.

“Same thing in my social life, I mean, I’m surprised I still have any friends. Particularly if I’m partying hard, on the weekend, I’ll do some extremely obnoxious things, just to really bug people. Foul language, or tell people the thing that makes them the most nervous, you know? They might be nervous about the police, or about manliness, so I’ll come on like I’m a narcotics agent, or like I’m a sissy, anything that’ll make them as uptight as possible. I don’t know why I do it, really. Well, in a sense, all literature is protest literature.” He pauses. “I heard John Updike say that once; I thought it sounded nice.”


[Two seals rubbing together in Santa Cruz today, May 8, 2020.]

Of course, living in Lynchburg adds to the angst. He moved here, originally, only because he was offered a teaching job at a local college.

“But I lost that, as I had also lost my previous academic job in upstate New York, and that built up a lot of resentment in me, because each time it was a situation where I would have stayed if they had let me. All my colleagues were shocked and outraged, because here I was publishing more than anybody else at the college, but the administrators just said, ‘We can tell what you’re really like, and we don’t want you here.’

“In teaching, there are three things you have to do. First of all, you’re supposed to publish, but a lot of people never do that. Also, you’re supposed to be good at teaching — O.K., well, a lot of people can’t do that too well, either. But maybe the most important thing is what they call ‘collegiality.’ Being willing to sit around the coffee lounge and, you know, talk to people about, oh, getting their cars repaired, or grading term papers—I really hated all that.

“So now I’ve been without a job for two years. It’s nice, but it’s hard to keep coming up with new ideas. In a sense I could write a science fiction book every year, probably. I may indeed end up doing that. But at some point also there’s a feeling that you’re beginning to repeat yourself. If you look at anybody who writes twenty science fiction books, a lot of them are very similar.”


[A bird and his shadow image. Charles and me?]

I ask how he entered the field. He had already published his first nonfiction book, on the fourth dimension. Why did he try writing science fiction?

“I think it was in ’74, the day after seeing the Rolling Stones play in Buffalo. 1 was just so excited, I started a book, which later became Spacetime Donuts. For some reason I wanted it to be an attack on the idea of public safety. I wrote a whole first chapter about that, which I never actually used. I wanted it to be viewed as the first definitive hippie novel, or something like that. I was really out of it. I’d never heard of the ‘new wave’ in science fiction, so I was telling people, ‘This is going to be a new-wave science fiction book.’ And they said, ‘Well, Rudy, that ended like three years ago.’

“I enjoyed underground comix a lot, and I had this idea that all the people who liked underground comix would read my science fiction. Anyway, I sold it to Unearth magazine, and they serialized two parts of it, and I got a hundred dollars, or maybe it was a hundred and twenty, and then they went out of business, and well, that was it. So I was thinking … should I pursue this?


[I found these at a beach…I like to imagine things like this are alive, so I can use them as characters in an SF story.]

“That was when I had to leave my teaching job in upstate New York, and I got a grant to go to Germany. The grant is the one thing that mathematics finally did for me. I’d written a paper called ‘The One-Many Problem in the Foundations of Set Theory,’ and, on the strength of that, I was able to get a grant. I was supposed to do research on different orders of infinity, particularly on Cantor’s continuum problem. That was Mid-Life Crisis, Stage One. I was twenty-six, it seemed I had no future in mathematics, I realized I wasn’t going to solve this problem, because, well, it’s a one-hundred-year-old problem, and it’s very hard.” He laughs.

“So I thought, ‘Here I am in this office, and they don’t really care what I do.’ So I decided to write White Light.”

Rucker sold that novel to Ace Books, who packaged it as a “voices from the afterlife” cultist tract, which may have discouraged some of its potential readers. Ace then published Spacetime Donuts, and thus far has published all of Rucker’s work, including Software and his excellent short-story collection, The 57th Franz Kafka.


[At my Philip K. Dick award ceremony for Software.]

Many of these stories feature eccentric, low-budget scientists fiddling around in suburban basements, reminiscent of the stories H. G. Wells once wrote about penniless inventors stumbling on antigravity or immortality drugs. I ask if Wells was an influence.

“I read The Seven Novels of H. G. Wells when I was in high school. And I still go back and read him; in fact, he had some very interesting stories about the fourth dimension, also. But I was more influenced by Heinlein’s early work, which is fast-paced and has a very realistic feeling. I like that quality of it.

“Another early influence, which helped me start writing, was Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad. Here was a book with cursing and drugs and sex, and I thought — well, those are things I’d like to write about, too. It showed me that the market had opened up to the point where that was admissible.

“These days, 1 don’t read science fiction very much. Either it doesn’t have enough science, or it’s too plastic, or the characters are totally predictable. When you read someone like Asimov, the characters are just interchangeable. They always agree with each other, they say, ‘Would you tell me more, Doctor.’ Well, when I’m trying to explain something to one of my friends, that’s not what they say. They say, ‘Fuck that, let’s go get some beer, I don’t want to hear that right now.’ Characters in books should act in this same kind of stubborn, unexpected way; I think it’s much more interesting for the reader.”


[Shed near a retired Jesuits’ center up the hill from my house. Here in the 21st Century, I walk up there every week, enjoying nature.]

I ask who his literary influences are outside of the science fiction field.

“William Burroughs, I really loved. I’ve studied and studied his books. And Jack Kerouac. My science fiction isn’t very much like Jack Kerouac, but this summer I was trying to do a book like him. It’s the story of my own life. I even went to the trouble of slavishly imitating the way Kerouac had done it. I got this giant roll of paper from a photocopying machine, so I could feed that into the typewriter and just write and write and write. The page is like a four-to-the-bar beat, or something. This was more open to improvisation. But I don’t think I’m ever going to sell it.”


“Night Bird of Paradise” acrylic on canvas, May, 20207, 20” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.
[Here in 2020, I’m writing less than before, and putting some energy into painting. This is a wonderful bird of paradise flower from our garden. I like how the plant looks like a messy old man, or like a donkey with alert ears, or like a punk with a mohawk. And beware the beak! I hope to fit the plant into a story soon as a character.]

I ask if it’s been harder to sell his novels, and build an audience, than he expected.

“Being a writer takes your whole life. It’s much more drawn-out and grueling than I had ever imagined. I think my work is getting out there to the right people; and the only problem is, there don’t seem to be one hundred thousand of them.

“The distribution of science fiction novels is very disappointing, because they’re published almost like magazines. They’re on the newsstand completely randomly, for about two months, and then they’re gone, you know? People often say, ‘Where can I find your books?’ — and, well, I have no idea.

“I guess what I’d really like is to have some of my novels in hardback so they’d be in libraries, and people could find them. Or I’d like to be able to do what Kurt Vonnegut did. In a way, he’s still writing science fiction, but he gets front-page reviews in the New York Times, and he’s making lots of money. And his science fiction was very, very good. The Sirens of Titan was one of my all-time favorite science fiction novels.”


[An interstellar ship full of invading bird of paradise aliens! At the Jesuit center.]

I ask what Rucker’s next project will be.

“I think I’m going to do a book on language and information theory. I’m going to call it New Info. That sounds pretty catchy. Either that or something somber like, The Language Game: Logic and Rhetoric. Which do you think would be better? And then I’ll do another novel. [Note: I didn’t actually write that particular nonfiction book; instead I wrote one called Mind Tools. And my most cyberpunk novel ever, Wetware.]

“As long as you’re working on a book, you have a reason to live. I can see why Heinlein still writes a book every two years. I mean, what else are you going to do? It’s hard for me to think of any way to make money that would be more pleasurable than writing. I have a friend who’s a house painter; he was urging me to come up and work with him, but I said, ‘I’d rather write a book on rhetoric, my good man.’ ” He laughs happily.


[Our fabled 1956 Buick. I gave it to Sylvia for her fortieth birthday…bought it from a local guy for $200.]

At this point, we take a lunch break. Rucker drives across town in his 1956 Buick, to a sleazy bar and grill where the teenage waitress chews gum and the house specialty is liver and onions on fried bread for $2.95. He seems absolutely at home here, drinking beer with truck drivers and auto mechanics — as far from the stereotypical image of a mathematician as it is possible to be. His working life, also, seems somehow out of character for an unreconstructed, laid back sixties radical. He does a regular nine-to-five stint at his improvised office, five days a week, before going home to his- children and his wife, who teaches at a local school.


[Our three kids with cyber shades.]

“It does often bother people that the different parts of my personality seem not to add up,” he says. “I’ve always talked much more radically than anybody else, but when it came down to it, I was the only one who was thoroughly suckered into doing what I was programmed to do: go to college, get married, go to graduate school, have children, get a job. I even go to church a couple times a month. But my wife is definitely a stabilizing influence. Having a family life gives me a base from which to work. In a sense you could say it’s really plastic to be divorced and go through all that shit. Apparently, staying married is an act of rebellion.”


[I’ve carried this big metal railroad-car spring with me since I found it in 1968.]

Platt Links:

Dream Makers Volume 1 and Volume 2 are both out of print, but available. Each of them includes, I believe 28 authors. The new Dream Makers Collected Edition has 20 authors picked from volumes 1 & 2, and has the virtue of being in print, and is in Kindle as well as paperback.

See also the two volumes of Platt’s fascinating memoirs, An Accidental Life, paperback only, but less than $5 each, Volume 1 and Volume 2.

In recent years, much of Platt’s income has come from writing do-it-yourself books about making electronics projects.

The Wolfram Physics Project

My friend Stephen Wolfram has come up with a new fundamental theory of physics. He’s been meaning to do it for years. He sent me an introductory sketch or project announcement, entitled  “Finally We May Have a Path to the Fundamental Theory of Physics…and It’s Beautiful”.

“Hazmat Spring” Acrylic on canvas, April, 2020, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

The announcement came by email, very early in the morning of April 5, 2020. Exciting, and it was fun to think it’s true, me in the pouring rain in the dark before dawn in, yes, another plague year. I thought of Newton taking shelter on his family estate in 1665, and his insight that the force that drew the apple might reach as far as the Moon.

My guess is that some in the physics community will be a little dubious and resistant to Wolfram—–academics have never been fond of him. He’s a mix of brashness and genius, not really such an unfamiliar type in the histories of mathematics and science. But it puts some people off.

I’ve always enjoyed Wolfram. I first met him in 1985 when I visited him at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study in order to write a popular article about his new work on cellular automata or CAs.

Already in 1985, Wolfram had  figured out the two basic principles that underlie his later tome A New Kind of Science. (You can browse Wolfram’s book online.) The two principles:

(Principle of Computational Equivalence.) All interesting natural processes are universally computing, and all are fundamentally equivalent. (A waving leaf is as intelligent as a human. A cloud is as smart as a pig.)

(Principle of Computational Irreducibility.) All interesting natural processes are computationally irreducible, that is, there are no shortcut methods to predict what they’re going to do. (Weather prediction is never going to work. And you’ll never learn to predict your moods.)

I am very much a disciple of Wolfram’s, indeed I wrote my own tome about his ideas: The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul. You browse my book  online too. Stephen and I are out to spread the word.

[A 1D wave as a CA. The cellular automata images in this post are made with my CAPOW software, available for Windows on GitHub.]

All along Wolfram thought that small, iterated computations could be a good model for physical phenomena. Early on I asked him what engineers thought of his method of modeling turbulence with CAs. His comeback: “Some say it’s wrong, and some say it’s trivial. If you can get people to say both those things, you’re in quite good shape.”

So what’s in his new theory for the foundations of physics? It starts with the idea that a simple set of graph-rewriting rules can be started out on some minimal starting pattern like two dots connected by a line, and then, if the rules in the rule set are recursively applied and reapplied to successive outputs, the process will generate interestingly complex and gnarly patterns. Like watching a cellular automaton evolve. And this might be how our universe arises. So far this is a standard Wolfram move.

[Sculpture of Pythagoras at the Rosicrucian World Headquarters in my home town of San Jose.  I’m not at all involved with the group, but I enjoy the gardens there and the Egyptian style decor. One of the few sights to see in old San Jo’.]

But then, being Wolfram, he kicks it up a level and another level and another. He considers the option of running all the rules in his rule set at each step, and seeing what you get. A multiway rule, as it were. And then he suggests using all possible sets of rules and seeing what you get.

You’d expect a tangled, mess, but somehow there emerges a single over-arching “world.” In this world, each viewer “sees” through the filter of their own particular update rules. And Wolfram calls this shared world “rulial space”, the space of all possible world rules.

The scope of Wolfram’s ambition is boundless. And that’s a good thing. He he knows he can’t finish the work on his own. So he’s started the Wolfram Physics Project, and he invites one and all to study the material—and to participate. There’s an outside chance you, just as you are, might cook up some simple set of rules that…generate the entire universe! Go for it, dude. I’ve been playing slot-machine with new CA rules for thirty-five years.

“Happy Egg” Acrylic on canvas, April, 2020, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting. More info on Rudy’s Paintings page.

Here’s two tantalizing quotes from the end part of Wolfram’s project announcement.

(1) I’ve always assumed that any entity that exists in our universe must at least “experience the same physics as us”. But now I realize that this isn’t true. There’s actually an almost infinite diversity of different ways to describe and experience our universe, or in effect an almost infinite diversity of different “planes of existence” for entities in the universe—corresponding to different possible reference frames in rulial space, all ultimately connected by universal computation and rule-space relativity.

(2) But there is something perhaps more bizarre that is possible. While we view our universe—and reality—through our particular type of description language, there are endless other possible description languages which can lead to descriptions of reality that will seem coherent (and even in some appropriate definition “meaningful”) within themselves, but which will seem to us to correspond to utterly incoherent and meaningless aspects of our universe.

[Spherical painting by Dick Termes of Termespheres fame.]

This line of speculation segues into my ongoing SF obsession with describing thoughts of stars, wasps, atoms, stones, etc. I worked on this in my novels Postsingular and Hylozoic.

[A 2D continuous-valued reactino-diffusion CA made with CAPOW.]

But there’s hints of wilder, newer, even more, unheard-of ideas in Wolfram’s words. And I’m going to be pondering these inchoate notions over in the coming weeks and months and years. I like the notion of beings who see some things as coherent and meaningful—even though we see them as incoherent and meaningless.

In this context, I always come back to the chaotic wobbling of a little green plant I noticed on the bank of a stream in Big Sur. I included it in my short 2008 YouTube video, “What Is Gnarl?”

The plant was being moved by the air currents, but to my eyes it was “saying something” via the persistent shape of its particular chaotic attractor. I can’t get what the plant’s gestures mean—but the plant itself knows. The fluttering leaves and branches have every right to say they’re thinking. But I don’t know what the thoughts are about. Like—“How far to the left can I sway?”

Contrariwise—to the plant, I’m as inscrutable as a cloud, as sudden as a car accident.

I like that Wolfram keeps hammering on his observation that, given that pretty much every process is a universal computation, and none of them has pride of place.

I think of that corny old line about Sinatra: “It’s Frank’s world, the rest of us just live in it.” Not true! It’s equally well the world of that humble, floppy, little plant I saw on that happy day by the creek near Pfieffer Beach.

I discussed some of these ideas with Wolfram last year at a con in Miami, and I recorded our conversation as my Podcast 106.

Here Wolfram again made the point that his Principle of Computational Equivalence says that any nontrivial natural process can emulate any other computation at all. Now consider the computations inherent in our vaunted smart brains. There may be equally rich computations inherent in the weather system, or the ecology of a forest, or the flow of a waterfall, or in the flames of a fire. So even our smartness doesn’t make us unique. Nothing about humanity is unique. And looking for extraterrestrial aliens is a quixotic endeavor. We’ve got zillions of “alien intelligences” inherent in the natural processes all around us here on Earth.

To really make this idea hit home, Wolfram he then said something like this. “Suppose that we find ways to encode human minds in software. These coded processes are like souls. And perhaps at the end of time, there will be a box with ten trillion human souls in it. Now suppose someone looks at the box from the outside. There’s really no objective difference between this box, and a box with turbulent water in it, or a box that’s simply a block of stone, with the atoms vibrating and endlessly interacting. Every time that humans have thought they were special, or at the center of things—they’ve been wrong. We thought consciousness was special, but it’s not.”

Now mix that into his new Physics…and you’ve got some great ideas for SF stories.


Rudy's Blog is powered by WordPress