Archive for the ‘Rudy’s Blog’ Category


Toy Ghosts, the Lifebox, and Juicy Ghosts

I’m thinking about writing an SF tale involving what we sometimes call digital immortality. It’s a theme I’ve often returned to, starting with the writing of my Software novel in 1979-1980. We’re almost at the point where a low-end cloud-based model of you is possible. At present these are thin, pixelated constructs with cardboard search-engine Eliza-type personalities. Call them toy ghosts. Later in this post I’ll get onto the topic of something richer, which I’ll call juicy ghosts.

Speaking of toy ghosts, I’ve often referred to this kind of emulation as a lifebox. You read my whole analysis of building lifeboxes online in the “Lifebox” section of my tome, The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul.

I’ve actually constructed a rudimentary lifebox that weakly emulates me. See my interactive Search Rudy’s Lifebox page. Type, say, the words “software novel” into the Search box and press enter.

The Google-supported algorithm will throw up some ads as the first two or three results, but after that there’s good solid links into pages of my vast website www.rudyrucker.com. And not that there are pages and pages of search results, you can flip through them using the page numbers at the bottom of the list of results.

So, like I’m saying, if you put “software novel” in the search box, you’ll get links pages that involve my Software novel, which is, again, where my notion of the lifebox began.

Or if you especialy want to know about the lifebox concept, you might just put”lifebox” in the search box. In telling you this, I’m going meta on your ass.That is, I’m telling you to ask my lifebox page to find out what I think about the lifebox.

More fun: If you want know about the photo above, run the search on “Terence McKenna”. Or just plain “Terence” will do. Even though he’s dead, he’s still my friend.

This weekend I was talking to my son Rudy Jr. (CEO of Monkeybrains.net, who host this blog) about where lo-res current-tech cloud-based toy ghosts would be hosted. By hosting a ghost, I mean two things.


[This is not Rudy Jr., this is a big wave surfer called John Bowling whom we know. I like the Viking hat so much that I put it into a Surfin’ SF story I recently wrote with Marc Laidlaw.]

(Ram) Store and maintain a large data base (what I’ve sometimes called a lifebox) of the person, along with the code for a program that can use the data to emulate the personality.

(Crunch) Provide processing power to run a simple-ass data-intensive personality emulation code on the data base.


[Yes that’s a toy ghost version of me, age 17, in the Chevalier Literary Magazine 1963, Louisville, Kentucky.]

For awhile I had a retrograde notion that some companies like Google or Facebook or Amazon might host toy ghosts on enormous supercomputers. What I was calling silos. But that’s an outdated way to think. Rudy Jr. pointed out that most storage and processing is distributed, with chunks of it scattered across a zillion nodes.

Rudy also made the point that there’s always going to be limited space on the nodes—not enough to immortalize everyone— so a kind of fitness function determines who gets to have, and to keep, a toy ghost. That is, if a toy ghost is to continue to living in the internet cloud, people have to be looking at it and interacting with it. The system’s automatic garbage removal will prune away all traces of a ghost that’s rarely visited.

This a bit like the author’s perennial quandary: Which books remain in print? Which books continue being stocked in libraries? Which books remain readily accessible online? And pirated editions are better than none!


[I happened to see this on a wall in Los Gatos by random coincidence. To me it feels relevant, because my friend Greg Gibson in Massachusetts son Galen was killed in a school shooting some years ago. Greg is currently running a GoFundMe to support the publicizing of an unusual gun control video ad that Greg is working on. Check out the campaign and see Greg’s moving pitch video.]

It may be that an internet toy ghost is designed with an “instinct for self-preservation,” so it’ll promote itself. Similar to the original philosophy-of-language Richard-Dawkins-type meaning of “meme,” a sticky, catchy, useful thought that impels people to pass it on to others, thus reproducing itself. The older notion of meme kind of assumes that the meme has some heavy intellectual content or survival value.

These days an “internet meme” just means something like a phrase or image that people repost. Cat pictures, for Christ’s sake. But I admit I’m intrigued by the subcategory of “dank memes,” which seem to be flashes that make stoners laugh.


[Frames from the immortal Will Elder’s early Mad magazine strip, “Ping Pong” (parody of “King Kong”).]

A toy ghost might say, “I seem to be a meme. Kan I has cheezeburger?”

How do you kill a toy ghost that lives on the internet? Say it’s an emulation of a martyred rebel, or of a dead oppressor. Some faction wants that toy ghost gone. How to quash it?

(a) We might invoke the notion of a smart malware bot that finds and erases all scraps of info relating to that toy ghost. I remember a scene in a Bill Gibson novel where an obnox virus-thing slides under the door of a virtual room, and a shape like a cockroach eats it, and one of the guys says the cockroach had “offered criticism.”

But in practice I’m not sure if/how that would work. The scraps of the toy ghost could disguise themselves. It’s hard or impossible to search the whole web and remove all traces of something. And the ghost cold be continually redistributing and coding and re-encrypting itself. And it sounds kind of boring to read about.


[My old pal Eddie Marritz the famous cinematographer.]

(b) Or the oppressor might make sure the targeted toy ghost doesn’t show up in common search engines. (Eyeball kick: an online program that searches for specific toy ghosts might be called “The Book of the Living Dead.”) If you can hack the search engines you can make a given ghost be effectively invisible, And by reducing its registered hits you make it likelier to be pruned.

Like if the magazines refuse to review your books, you’re more likely to go out of print.

(c) Another way to lower the effectiveness of a ghost, it to make sure that whenever the ghost is accessed, a shitty stupid parasite shows up with it. Like an unshakable troll commenter or spammy-ad link. Degrading the ghosts’ reputation, making it be treated as malware or as spam.

Toy ghosts have wireless contact with Earth peripherals. This is a move in both Wm. Gibson’s The Peripheral, and in Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway.. Your toy ghost might talk to you on the phone. Like a type of smart cloud storage. Or a highly personalized assistant.

A ghost can be more autonomous and robust if it’s a biocomputation than if it’s an internet chip-based and system-moderated computation. So escaping from the digital to the analog would greatly empower a ghost. And being juicy or biological makes a ghost safe.


[Great painting by Stanley Whitney in the Harlem Studio Museum exhibit at the MoAD (Museum of the African Diaspora) in SF, right around the corner from SFMOMA]

If you’re juicy, you’re “in the wild” and not living on a human-built net by the sufferance of the internet operating systems and protocols. You aren’t subject to the ravages of the mindless internet pruning bots.

And the trick of converting a toy ghost to a juicy ghost is something that a rebel programmer called Gee Willikers has mastered. He found the trick of ghost migration while he was designing the weaponized wasps. In the process of his biohacking to create the Turing wasps, Gee Willikers learned to program living organisms. The organism runs a program on its neurons, in its hormone flows, in its DNA, it’s quantum computations, whatever. It’s tricky to port a block of info as large as a toy ghost onto an organism. The organism has to be temporarily paralyzed, like with cone shell toxin. Not even breathing.

My character Curtis Winch is going to make a really aggro move against a certain evil politician called Ross Treadle on the occasion of that guy’s third Presidential Inauguration. Curtis is going to use a tweaked, weaponized “Turing wasp” to temporarily paralyze Ross Treadle


[This is my artist friend Vernon Head with me at the SFMOMA Magritte Show. I almost feel like this image is a dank meme. :)]

And then one of the Turing wasps installs a copy of Curtis’s online toy ghost within Treadle’s bio processes. And then a rich new Curtis Winch will awake, hosted by Treadle’s body. And this won’t be just a chintzy toy ghost. No, man, this virtual Curtish Winch be a juicy ghost. And a bio-hosted juicy ghost, is much richer than a toy ghost. The “vital force” is real. It involves the richness of structure and function in living cells.

And now, having parasitized our illegitimate “President,” our juicy ghost is in a position to kick some serious butt!

Rain. Art Show. Chaos.

I’m really into the gnarl of the rainy weather these days.

Oak trees are in some sense smarter than other trees. They don’t just send a long branch *doink* straight out. They think it over. A little this way, a little that way, paying attention to the amount of light and air in each direction. Wiggly, man.

Whenever the rain gets heavy, I skeeve on down into this gully across the street from my house. It “belongs” to some guy in a big house up on a hill, but he doesn’t notice me. I’m down there with what’s sometimes called the “anima,” that is, the “spirit of place.” She’s singing here.

I’m having a big art show at the beloved Borderlands Cafe this month. 25 new paintings, all made since 2015. I made a poster for it. I gave a reading from my recent novel Return to the Hollow Earth at the start of the show…you can hear the reading on Rudy’s Podcasts.

Also I made a video of a little tour I gave the audience. I had the video camera dangling from my neck, so all the setting shots are of legs and chairs, but oh well….it’s hella Rudoid. It’s got a good pro-quality tape of my voice and spliced in hi-res shots of the paintings.

It felt really good to see all my paintings on the walls, and everyone was nice to me.

Rudy Jr. and his friend Devin helped me hang the paintings which, at this point, is more than I can handle. Standing on a stepladder and reaching is contraindicated for an old coot like me.

Cory Doctorow, V. Vale, Paul Mavrides and Michael Blumlein were among the celebs in attendance. Blumlein shown above. So many times I’ve seen these guys at my Borderlands shows. Paul M. always gives me good art advice.

The last show was in 2015. Time flies. Actually, if you really have some time to kill, you can see videos of all my painting shows on my paintings page. Department of “You Watch It, I Can’t.”

Special shout-out to Jude Feldman, who’s worked with me on all my Borderlands events, going back to, hell, the late 1980s, back when she and Alan Beatts had the store in a basement of a brick building off Hayes St., as I recall. Jude might be the only person I’ve ever known who never shows signs of impatience or irritation. And she does this while dealing with SF fans and—much harder—writers. Incredible. And Alan’s a big help too.

Back to the rain. Dig the umbrella. What a great shape.

And these geese looming on the horizon (the dam at Vasona Lake). Saw a trailer for Godzilla: King of the Monsters yesterday. Looked a bit like this?

A couple of weeks ago, Sylvia and I went to the Women’s March in SF. I love these marches. I feel safe there, surrounded by like-minded people. Sylvia knit a bunch of pink “pussy hats” for the first march a couple of years ago, and now we’re down to one. I like the way one ear goes up and one ear goes down.

I borrowed the hat and wore it atop my Stetson for awhile. Once I was wearing it, Sylvia started calling it a “pig hat.” I do like to draw pig ears that particular way, one up and one down.

I like this shot at the parade, the woman and the reflection.

And this one is perfect. The women not taking any more guff.

Cool visionary-eyes graffiti on Market Street with the women going by.

Says it all. But *sob* why does “dick” have to be a bad word? Well, somehow it does have a really specific meaning in terms of male personality traits… Tyrant, mansplainer, tetchy, bullying, lacking in empathy. A dick. Sigh.

After the parade, Sylvia and hit an immense Art Fair on a giant pier, maybe #35. Someone had drawn an immense wave made of hair, like 20 feet long.

On a rare sunny day we made it down to Cruz, as is our wont. Third Ave beach was covered with driftwood…really big driftwood including logs. I don’t quite know how it all gets there…comes down the San Lorenzo River, I suppose, but usually that river looks so shallow and unassuming. Ants that we are, we humans tend to make little houses (nests) out of the wood.

This photo is called “Cruz Crowd rift”, but I don’t remember what it is or why I took it. Oops, It’s called “Cruz Crow Drift,” and of course it’s a crow on a Cruz-ant-erected driftwood log. Love the hierophantic look it all. “This strange riparian civilization, now lost in the mists of time. In erecting this monument, it may have been that the mysterious Cruzans were…”

Up the hill the other day in another sunny moment. Spring just around the corner. Love how green it gets. The plants are so frikkin grateful for water.

Went to Santana Row in San Ho to see Cold War yesterday, what a great movie. These two guys welding something to the window outside.

Dig the august Kenneth Turan’s review of Cold War. Kenny was my roommate at Swarthmore College about fifty-five years ago. Quote from the review:

“Given Cold War’s emotional and narrative complexity, it’s a measure of how meticulously made it is that the film clocks in at just under 90 minutes. Working closely with cinematographer Zal, Pawlikowski has pared away extraneous story moments and seen to it that the dazzling cinematography and ardent acting are in perfect balance.”

Yes! I get so sick of bloated two-and-a-half hour movies with scene after scene of people saying the same things to each other. And long conversations to explain every transition. In Cold War, one second the man and woman are looking at each other from afar, and in the next cut they’re embracing and going all the way. Get on with it! Lots and lots of story to tell.

The ending of Cold War made me so sad. The two now-doomed lovers are sitting on a bench by a rural road crossing. And she says. “Let’s go to the other side. The view is better.” And they walk out of the frame, and you realize this is a visual metaphor, and “the other side” is the Land of the Dead and they’re gone for good. Oh, Zula! (Short for Zuzanna.)


[A mossy thumb as the tree grasps the ground.]

It’s been raining again for two or three days. I went up into the woods behind St Joseph’s Hill, at the top of our street, and made my way partway up a creek bed that I like to explore. No real path along the edge, lots of rocks, branches, soft soil. I use two walking sticks, and wear boots.

Walking there with the stream full, I revelled in the physical chaos. The multiple-pendulum action of the waving branches. The intractably complex analog computations of the water’s flow. The 3D fractal clouds above, the lichen on the trunks and stones below. The moss with its endlessly various detail. The banks of bubbles around the splash-pools at the bases of cataracts.

I looked for a while at one floating pile of cataract bubbles, the pile continually replenished by new bubbles entering it from beneath. As some of the smaller bubbles below pop, they add volume to larger bubbles above. The biggest bubble grows and grows—then pops. Some of the big guys manage to last a little longer by somehow managing to shrink just a bit…not sure how they do this move. Maybe the seeming shrinkage is an illusion, it’s just that they ink a bit deeper into the pile of lesser bubbles below.

Groping for a metaphor about poeple in society here. The big bubbles are like the richer or more influential folks. The bubble pile is also a bit like the cells in my body. Nothing is as simple as it seems—and you’re frikkin dreaming if you imagine an animated 3D computer graphic can emulate our wonderful, chaotic, dripping wet Gaia.

And the cataract is so…joyous. Rapidly, but without haste, it pours down, multi-stranded, grooved, stirring up the basin, making bubbles, utterly chaotic and unpredictable.


[My old friend the mossy alligator log. He looks different but the same.]

Someone might ask me: “What is this ‘chaos’ you’re always talking about?”

A chaotic process is something that’s non-random in the sense that it’s governed by natural law, but it’s of sufficient complexity that it’s detailed behavior is wholly unpredictable by any devices we can conceive of building. The only practical way to emulate a chaotic process is to build a physical copy of it. Or just watch the original copy that you already have. It’ll compute its state at time T by…running until time T.

The only way to find out precisely where your head will be at tomorrow is to wait until tomorrow. Because you’re chaotic. And remember, chaos is normal, chaos is the way the world naturally is, chaos is health.

What makes chaos different from brute randomness, is that, in a chaotic system, the overall behaviors and the general patterns are drawn from a limited repertoire, patterns familiar and known and expected—-although, as always, the precise details of each instant cannot be anticipated. By “general patterns” I mean things like the wagging of branches, the nodding of clusters of leaves, the bubbles at the base of the waterfall, the bumpy flow lines on the surface of a rushing stream, the back and forth oscillation of a flow, the drifting of a cloud, and so on.


[Crotch of tree. Bikini bottom.]

Human behavior has this same chaotic quality. The fine details are unpredictable. The moment-to-moment evolution of someone’s moods—–quite unfathomable. But a given individual’s overall emotional climate become knowable, and the full gamut of personalities to be found across the race is also a fact of nature that everyone learns.

A bucolic rainbow over a stray blooming plum tree above Silicon Valley’s San Jose, yes.

10 New Books. In the Tetons.

First the recent news. Night Shade Books has begun publishing a series of ten matching editions of my novels, starting with Mathematicians in Love and Turing & Burroughs.

Yah, mon! I’ve made a web page summarizing the series.


I’m really excited about this. The books look good, and I have renewed hope of being better-known as a modern literary author. So many new writers are getting on the “speculative fiction” bandwagon these days.

And I’d like to be in on it, after forty years in the filthy SF ghetto, writing what the high mandarins have considered to be lowly subliterature. When all along I’ve been crafting cutting-edge, ahead-of-its-time, visionary and futuristic high lit! It’s like my entire career has been what philosphers call a “category mistake.” I was doing one thing, but it was consistently pigeonholed as being something else.

Each book a treasure, a pearl of great price, a blend of logic and surreal gnarl.

We went to Wyoming for Christmas, visiting daughter Isabel in Pinedale. We met up with son Rudy and his family there as well. We all spent the first few days in Jackson, where Isabel had a show of her latest paintings, very large watercolors.

Jackson is livelier than Pinedale. Dig the neon lights on this car outside a fancy pizza place.

I like this painting by Isabel, inspired by a visit to the Azores Islands. Her show, still going on, is called “Seeking the Light,” and it’s in the Jackson Center for the Arts. There’s a good interview with her that you can stream online.

We went out for big dinners in Jackson, looked around down and went out in the snowy woods. I liked this Christmas-decorated lamp in this one place, the Cafe Genevieve.

Saw a weird digital street light. Funny how peoples notion of “light bulb” keeps thrashing around. We had those twisty bulbs and then it turned out they weren’t nearly as good as the hype had said. And now, tiny blinding dots.

Here’s me with Isabel by one of her paintings that is, in a roundabout way, based on the kitchen in her house.

It was so nice to see real snow. Hoof prints. Or maybe feet. We’re at the base of the Tetons here. A scary, dark, rapid-flowing river was just down the hill, the Snake, I guess, very narrow and deep. Hard to keep the grandkids away from it. They don’t always listen to me. I mean, hey, I’m 72, and even they can tell I don’t have much authority anymore..

The Jackson parking garage looked rusty even though it was made of cement. I guess the rebar inside the cement rusts away and seeps out. Looked cool.

One day we walked along Cache Creek near Jackson. The snow had accumulated in a nice way, making lollipop bolls atop the fenceposts.

I just love the way the snow accumulates into these toothpaste-like forms, so elegantly curved.

And the holes in the ice on the creek, wow. Deeply creepy. An entrance to the underworld.

One day we went to the Teton Village Ski Resort near Jackson, not that Sylvia and I were going to slide on the slopes. We rode in a teléferique, or airborne “tram” to the top of Mr. Rendezvous, a minor Teton, 10,500 feet high. And here we are. I bought that hat on the street in Manhattan one time. “Da, komrad.”

It was 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind at 20 mph. Crazy. With a little effort we managed to hike about a hundred yards from the tram station to the actual peak.

And I stood on the top beside the official top-of-a-real-mountain-peak-rod. I never thought I’d make it to a spot like that. A thrill.

Meanwhile the skiers were whooshing off down the insanely steep slope. I’ve never been in a group of people that seemed as happy and gung-ho and upbeat as the skiers and snowboarders in that tram. Kind of the same vibe as on a SCUBA boat. Eager, let’s-get-down-to-it vibes. And the resort was playing super-hard-driving heavy-metal music in the tram the whole way up. Everyone getting amped.

They had a little shack up there where they sold waffles. Oh, that’s not a sound speaker on top of the hut, that’s an antenna. The only sound was the wind, and, the joyful babble of the waves of skiers. Loved being up there, we stayed about an hour.

So then we went down to Pinedale, sixty miles south of Jackson. There’s one shop we always go into, the Cowboy Shop, they in fact have a display-case of Isabel Jewelry on sale, and they have an amazing selection of cowboy boots.

I like the font on this place.

Isabel took us out walking along Fremont Lake. She and her husband Gus got married there a few years back. The water exceedingly chilly this time of year. It wasn’t frozen quite yet, but the lake snapped over into a solid sheet a couple of weeks later.

Always fascinating for me, as a coastal Californian, to see snowy scenes of winter again. The bluish quality of the shadows.

A boulder with a snow cap. Gorgeous.

We spotted a UFO of course.

And a big ass icicle.

Lumpy snow.

Good view of San Francisco on the way home.

And as we landed, a golden, hazy, intricate view of mythical-seeming buildings and rivers. The Western lands.

And, lo, he returns from the heights, dark with light

Greeted by his trusty alligator-log!

With books scattered about like fall chestnuts in the spring grass.

Hello, Turing & Burroughs!

Hello Mathematicians in Love!

Rereading D. F. Wallace’s INFINITE JEST

I’ve been rereading David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus, Infinite Jest, I have an ebook of the 20th Anniversary Edition. I read the first edition when it came out, in 1995. I was still drinking and smoking pot then. But the Infinite Jest makes sobriety seem both feasible and cool and interesting—and it was one of the things that influenced me to stop drinking and getting high in 1996, a few months after I first read it.

While reading the novel, I tend to skip about half of the sections and focus on what I consider to be the “good stuff,” that is, the parts about the recovering addict Don Gately. He’s one of various threads in the novel, with three other threads being a pot-smoking tennis player Hal Incandanza, a disfigured Southern beauty and underground radio personality and crack addict Joelle van Dyne, and this terrorist French-Canadian Marathe who’s in a wheelchair and is trying to get hold of a movie by Incandenza Senior that you can’t stop watching. The movie might be kind of a metaphor for drug addiction.

It’s very hard to navigate Infinite Jest, as the given table of contents is, well, willfully screw-you stupid. It’s mostly just made-up names of years, and gives you almost no guidance. I found a really useful description of the sections online by Steve Russillo…scroll down the page that pops up (and there’s other useful links on this page).

This time around, Fall/Winter 2018, I read Infinite Jest on a Kindle, which in some ways is good, as I can make the font big, and I can highlight memorable passages to save. The Search function on the Kindle Paperwhile kind of eats it, as it just dumps out whatever, a thousand hits, for, like, the name Gately. Supposedly there’s an “X-Ray” function, but I only saw it working once on Infinite Jest in my life, and that was for about ten seconds. To focus on my man Gately, I just kept going back to a print out of Steve Rusillo’s descriptive table of contents, and deducing what page he was next on, and using the Kindle Go To | Page dialog.

Anyway, here’s some passages I happened to flag because I thought they were interesting or fun.  And keep in mind that my highlights are skewed by my personal interests and obsessions, and that someone else might select out a complete different set—Infinite Jest is an exceedingly rich and in-my-father’s-house-are-many-mansions-type book. The print book’s page number appears at the start of each passage. And, Wallace style, I’ve squeezed in a few italicized comments here and there.

And as usual, I’ve spaced out the text with a bunch of my photos.

Excerpts

19. A guy waiting to score pot. The insect on the shelf was back. It didn’t seem to do anything. It just came out of the hole in the girder onto the edge of the steel shelf and sat there. After a while it would disappear back into the hole in the girder, and he was pretty sure it didn’t do anything in there either. He felt similar to the insect inside the girder his shelf was connected to, but was not sure just how he was similar.

82. A theory of tennis. Seemed intuitively to sense that it was a matter not of reduction at all, but—perversely—of expansion, the aleatory flutter of uncontrolled, metastatic growth—each well-shot ball admitting of n possible responses, n-squared possible responses to those responses, and on into what Incandenza would articulate to anyone who shared both his [math and tennis] backgrounds as a Cantorian continuum of infinities of possible move and response, Cantorian and beautiful because infoliating, contained, this diagnate infinity of infinities of choice and execution, mathematically uncontrolled but humanly contained, bounded by the talent and imagination of self and opponent, bent in on itself by the containing boundaries of skill and imagination that brought one player finally down, that kept both from winning, that made it, finally, a game, these boundaries of self.

85. Checking into a detox clinic. They gave him slippers of green foam-rubber with smiley-faces embossed on the tops. The detox’s in-patients are encouraged to call these Happy Slippers. The staff refer to the footwear in private as “pisscatchers.”

91. A French-Canadian terrorist’s remark. We have, as one will say, larger seafood to cook.’

93. Hamsters on a rampage. The expression on the hamsters’ whiskered faces is businesslike and implacable—it’s that implacable-herd expression.

158. Beat Zen & tennis. He knew what the Beats know and what the great tennis player knows, son: learn to do nothing, with your whole head and body, and everything will be done by what’s around you.

170. A nerdy M.I.T. radio station. [The psychedelic drug] DMZ is sometimes also referred to in some metro Boston chemical circles as Madame Psychosis, after a popular very-early-morning cult radio personality on M.I.T.’s student-run radio station WYYY-109, ‘Largest Whole Prime on the FM Band,’

996. A footnote on DMZ. An Italian lithographer, who’d ingested DMZ once, made a lithograph comparing himself on DMZ to a piece of like Futurist sculpture, plowing at high knottage through time itself, kinetic even in stasis, plowing temporally ahead, with time coming off him like water in sprays and wakes.

178. Fop angry at a fellow resident of a recovery home. I respectfully ask that she be kicked out of here on her enormous rear-end. Let her go back to whatever fork-wielding district she came from, with her Hefty bag full of gauche clothes.

179. The previously undocumented da-da-da speech tic. “Alls I know is I put a Hunt’s Pudding Cup in the resident fridge like I’m supposed to at 1300 and da-da-da and at 1430 I come down all primed for pudding that I paid for myself and it’s not there and McDade comes on all concerned and offers to help me look for it and da-da, except if you look I look and here’s the son of a whore got this big thing of pudding on his chin.”

180. Man questioning the validity of a 12-step program. You’re ordering me to pray? Because I allegedly have a disease? I dismantle my life and career and enter nine months of low-income treatment for a disease, and I’m prescribed prayer? Does the word retrograde signify? Am I in a sociohistorical era I don’t know about? What exactly is the story here?’

182. Nerd pain. M.I.T. students tend to carry their own special psychic scars: nerd, geek, dweeb, wonk, fag, wienie, four-eyes, spazola, limp-dick, needle-dick, dickless, dick-nose, pencil-neck; [and] getting your violin or laptop TP or entomologist’s kill-jar broken over your large head by thick-necked kids on the playground…

193. More on that M.I.T. radio station. Mario’s still listening to the WYYY nightly sign-off, which takes a while because they not only list the station’s kilowattage specs but go through proofs for the formulae by which the specs are derived.

215. A guy scores DMZ from some Canadians. God alone knew where these clowns had acquired thirteen incredibly potent 50-mg. artifacts of the B.S. 1970s. But the good news is they were Canadians, and like fucking Nucksters about almost anything they had no idea what what they were in possession of was worth [Wallace is insanely harsh on Canadians,often calling them Nucks, as in Canuck.], as it slowly emerged. Pemulis, w/ aid of 150 mg. of time-release Tenuate Dospan, almost danced a little post-transaction jig on his way up the steps of the otiose Cambridge bus, feeling the way W. Penn in his Quaker Oats hat in like the 16th century must have felt trading a few trinkets to babe-in-the-woods Natives for New Jersey, he imagines, doffing the nautical cap to two nuns in the aisle.

219. Party’s End. One of the saddest times Joelle van Dyne ever feels anywhere is that invisible pivot where a party ends—even a bad party—that moment of unspoken accord when everyone starts collecting his lighter and date, jacket or greatcoat, his one last beer hanging from the plastic rind’s five rings, says certain perfunctory things to the hostess in a way that acknowledges their perfunctoriness without seeming insincere, and leaves, usually shutting the door. When everybody’s voices recede down the hall. When the hostess turns back in from the closed door and sees the litter and the expanding white V of utter silence in the party’s wake.

221. Joelle prepares to OD on crack, in lovely rain. She likes the wet walk for this, everything milky and halated through her veil’s damp linen, the brick sidewalks of Charles St. unchipped and impersonally crowded, her legs on autopilot, she a perceptual engine, holding the collar of her overcoat closed at her poncho’s neckline in a way that lets her hold the veil secure against her face with a finger on her chin, thinking always about what she has in her purse, stopping in at a discount tobacconist and buying a quality cigar in a glass tube and then a block later placing the cigar inside carefully in among the overflowing waste atop a corner receptacle of pine-green mesh, but keeps the tube, puts the glass tube in her purse, can hear the rain’s thup on tight umbrellas and hear it hiss in the street, and can see droplets broken and regathering on her polyresin coat, cars sheening by with the special lonely sound of cars in rain, wipers making black rainbows on taxis’ shining windshields.

241. Pynchonian description of a power station. [The school] overlooks the steely gray tangle of Sunstrand’s transformers and high-voltage grids and coaxial chokers strung with beads of ceramic insulators, with not one Sunstrand smokestack anywhere in sight but a monstrous mega-ohm insulator-cluster at the terminus of a string of signs trailing in from the northeast, each sign talking with many Ø’s about how many annular-generated amps are waiting underground for anyone who digs or in any way dicks around, with hair-raising nonverbal stick-figure symbols of somebody with a shovel going up like a Kleenex in the fireplace.

272. Our hero Don Gately is in recovery. Gately often feels a terrible sense of loss, narcotics-wise, in the A.M., still, even after this long clean. His sponsor over at the White Flag Group says some people never get over the loss of what they’d thought was their one true best friend and lover; they just have to pray daily for acceptance and the brass danglers to move forward through the grief and loss, to wait for time to harden the scab.

290. A beatiful Southern girl. The big hair was red-gold and the skin peachy-tinged pale and arms freckled and zygomatics indescribable and her eyes an extra-natural HD green.

345. An addict’s career in a nutshell. Fun with the Substance, then very gradually less fun, then significantly less fun because of like blackouts you suddenly come out of on the highway going 145 kph with companions you do not know,

348. Worries that twelve-step groups might be cultish scams. [Was it] a cover for some glazed and canny cult-type thing where they’ll keep you sober by making you spend twenty hours a day selling cellophane cones of artificial flowers on the median strips of heavy-flow roads.

351. A recovering Irishman rejoices at having a normal bowel movement. “T’were a tard in t’loo. A rail tard. T’were farm an’ teppered an’ aiver so jaintly aitched. T’luked… conestroocted instaid’ve sprayed. T’luked as ay fel’t’in me ’eart Good ’imsailf maint a tard t’luke. Me friends, this tard’o’mine practically had a poolse.”

354. The long-term-sober AA crew. The old ruined grim calm longtimers in [the] White Flag [group], ‘The Crocodiles’ the less senior White Flaggers call them, because the old twisted guys all tend to sit clustered together with hideous turd-like cigars in one corner of the Provident cafeteria under a 16 x 20 framed glossy of crocodiles or alligators sunning themselves on some verdant riverbank somewhere, with the maybe-joke legend OLD-TIMERS CORNER somebody had magisculed across the bottom of the photo, and these old guys cluster together under it, rotating their green cigars in their misshapen fingers and discussing completely mysterious long-sober matters out of the sides of their mouths. Gately sort of fears these old AA guys with their varicose noses and flannel shirts and white crew cuts and brown teeth and coolly amused looks of appraisal, feels like a kind of low-rank tribal knucklehead in the presence of stone-faced chieftains who rule by some unspoken shamanistic fiat, and so of course he hates them, the Crocodiles, for making him feel like he fears them, but oddly he also ends up looking forward a little to sitting in the same big nursing-home cafeteria with them and facing the same direction they face, every Sunday, and a little later finds he even enjoys riding at 30 kph tops in their perfectly maintained 25-year-old sedans when he starts going along on White Flag [visits] to other Boston AA Groups.

355. The fates of the guys who don’t stay sober. The Crocodiles talk about how they can’t count the number of guys that’ve Come In for a while and drifted away and gone back Out There and died, or not gotten to die. They even point some of these guys out—gaunt gray spectral men reeling on sidewalks with all that they own in a trashbag—as the White Flaggers drive slowly by in their well-maintained cars. Old emphysemic Francis G. in particular likes to slow his LeSabre down at a corner in front of some jack-legged loose-faced homeless fuck who’d once been in AA and drifted cockily out and roll down his window and yell ‘Live it up!’

445. Metaphor for the ubiquitous presence of the One. This wise old whiskery fish swims up to three young fish and goes, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ and swims away; and the three young fish watch him swim away and look at each other and go, ‘What the fuck is water?’ and swim away.

449. Gately’s cool nightmare. And his dreams late that night … seem to set him under a sort of sea, at terrific depths, the water all around him silent and dim and the same temperature he is.

464. Gately applying to live in the recovery house. Gately scratched at her dog’s stomach and said he wasn’t sure if he was desperate about anything except wanting to somehow stop getting in trouble for things he usually afterward couldn’t even remember he did them.

824. Colorful character in the recovery house. The limbo man. He drank half a liter of Cuerva at some … Interdependence Day office party and everything like that and got in some insane drunken limbo-dance challenge with a rival executive and tried to like limbo under a desk or a chair or something insanely low, and got his spine all fucked up in a limbo-lock, maybe permanently: so the newest new guy scuttles around the Ennet House living room like a crab, his scalp brushing the floor and his knees trembling with effort.

855. Noobs respecting Crocodiles. Newly sober people are awfully vulnerable to the delusion that people with more sober time than them are romantic and heroic, instead of clueless and terrified and just muddling through day-by-day like everybody else in AA is (except maybe the fucking Crocodiles [The very long-term sobriety people sitting in the rear corner of the meeting]).

860. Homily. It’s a gift, the Now: it’s AA’s real gift: it’s no accident they call it The Present.

980. Book ends with flashback to Gately’s last binge. Someone shoots him up with an opiate called Sunshine.The air in the room got overclear, a glycerine shine, colors brightening terribly. If colors themselves could catch fire. … The very air of the room bulged. It ballooned. … Gately felt less high than disembodied. It was obscenely pleasant. … As the floor wafted up and C’s grip finally gave, the last thing Gately saw was a [guy] bearing down with [a] held square and he looked into the square and saw clearly a reflection of his own big square pale head with its eyes closing as the floor finally pounced. [Final sentence:] And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out. [SUCH a great ending!]

My Reviews of Wallace

I wrote a favorable review of Wallace’s first novel The Broom of the System for The Washington Post Book World in 1987. I was really excited by his work, he seemed like the next generation of cool. A new Pynchon. He was sixteen years younger than me. I hoped he and I might eventually be friends, like I am with a number of SF writers and other underground types.

I liked a lot of Wallace’s essays and stories, too. He developed a great and unique colloquial literary voice, this engaging, conversational modern style, which has in fact influenced me to some extent. And of course Infinite Jest is a masterpiece, a work of genius.

I disliked his 2003 nonfiction book Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity, which was about transfinite numbers—which is the field in which I got my Ph. D., and which I wrote my best-selling nonfiction Infinity and the Mind about, not to mention my novel White Light.

I felt Wallace didn’t do justice to the material, and that he spoke too slightingly of my hero Georg Cantor and my mentor Kurt Gödel. And I was annoyed at Wallace’s editor for not doing a better job in fact-checking the book, which does have a few glaring mathematical errors. I actually had a chance to tell this to the editor in advance and I wanted to help with the problem, but the guy said, nah, it’s fine like this.

When Science magazine asked me to write about the book, I wrote a harsh review. The review was kind over-the-top, but in a way it was funny, perhaps a bit Wallace-like, and everything I wrote was factual, but I regret it. I now think that Wallace might not have been all that mentally together when he wrote that book, and probably he wrote it on a brutally tight deadline, so I should have cut him more slack.

I wish he was still around, still rocking the boat. A suicide like Wallace’s is so hard to understand. Like Vincent van Gogh, or Diane Arbus. A creative genius, at the peak of their career—and they can’t take it. Clinical depression is a bitch. But his work lives on. Infinite Jest is [as Wallace himself might say] like a vast, gnarly, Mandelbrot-set-like fractal, and people can crawl into it and spelunk and space-out and chuckle and root around for many decades to come.


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