Archive for the ‘Rudy’s Blog’ Category

Transreal Cyberpunk, by Rucker + Sterling

Today the Kickstarter drive for my latest Transreal Books project goes live.
Check it out.

Transreal Cyberpunk

A book of nine stoires by Rudy Rucker & Bruce Sterling,
Published by Transreal Books. Hardback, paperback and ebook. 308 pages.
Publication date: February 1, 2016.


Nine wild, weird and wondrous stories, written together by Rucker and Sterling. What do you get if two cyberpunk masters spend thirty years writing tales about transreally warped versions of themselves? A unique perspective on giant ants, flying jellyfish, Soviet rocketeers, runaway genomics, Silicon Valley, and the death of the Universe.

See Rob Latham’s introduction to Transreal Cyberpunk for a fuller description.


This book is unlike any other collaboration I know of in the field, … the whole is not only greater than the sum of its parts, but wilder, and weirder, and more wondrous. Science fiction is the richer for it.
— From Rob Latham’s Introduction.

You might think there’s a limit to how weird Rudy Rucker or Bruce Sterling can get, but when they team up, their combined weirdness rises exponentially.
— Charlie Jane Anders, io9

Half euphoric loony-laughter, half weird-out contest, and 100 percent awesome.
— Cory Doctorow, Locus

Book Trailer

Trailer by Rudy.

We hope to have a video by Bruce as well in December, 2015.


Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling are two of the original cyberpunk writers, crafting tales about our warped postmodern times.

It’s a speculative fiction tradition to write stories about two guys.  Rucker and Sterling formed the idea that the “two guys” didn’t need to be the same in each of their stories, nor did they have to be “guys.”  But the two characters did always have to be, in some sense, Bruce and Rudy.  Often arguing about what to do next.

So what do you get if two cyberpunk masters spend thirty years writing tales about transreally warped versions of themselves? A unique perspective on giant ants, flying jellyfish, Soviet rocketeers, runaway genomics, Silicon Valley, and the death of the Universe.

As scholar Rob Latham puts it in his introduction to Transreal Cyberpunk,

“These aren’t just SF buddy stories, they’re metafictional reflections on buddy stories—and, more than that, potent fictive meditations on the virtues and vicissitudes of friendship itself. They don’t just reflect, they embody collaboration, dialogue, disputation. The stories are organized chronologically, and the characters seem to grow older together, the tones darkening, the humor taking on a sharper edge.”

The volume includes authors’ notes on each of the stories, detailing Bruce and Rudy’s sometimes fractious, sometimes ecstatic process of collaboration.

As a final bonus, Transreal Cyberpunk includes “Kraken and Sage,” a brand-new story written for this volume. In this story, Rudy is a flaky hermit sage who’s made all organisms programmable—and Bruce enters the tale in the form of a flying jellyfish. But soon he becomes a shady deal-maker and then—a giant world-devouring kraken.  A great guy to work with!

Old Illos

Down below, just for fun, are some illustrations that the stories have appeared with our stories.

Left to right and top to bottom we have:  Asimov’s illo by J. K. Potter for “Storming the Cosmos,” Asimov’s illo by Jim Burns for “Hormiga Canyon,” Asimov’s illo by John Allemand for “Junk DNA,” illo by Tim Bower for “Goodnight Moon,” Rudy’s concept painting for “Kraken and Sage,” and the perspective-wrenching illo by Carl Wiens for “Loco.”

These illos are copyrighted to the individual artists, and they will not be included in the anthology—theyr’e just here to give you a sense of what the stories are like. Many thanks to all concerned!

Book Site

Here’s a link to the permanent web site for Transreal Cyberpunk, which will be updated as time goes on.

Trip to Guanajuato #2. Post-op. Diego and Hunhunahpu.

Added November 11, 2015.

I finished that painting I was talking about in this post! Love this picture.

“Diego’s Hunhunahpu” acrylic on canvas, November, 2015, 36” x 36”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

As always, more info on my Paintings page.

And now back to the original November 3, 2015, post.

That new hip I got in March, 2015, didn’t take, that is, its cup never bonded with my pelvis bone. So day before yesterday, on Monday, October 26, I had my third artificial left hip implanted. There was the usual jump-cut in consciousness. I’m lying on the operating table with an IV in my arm, and then I’m waking up in bed in the recovery room. I couldn’t move my feet at first, as they’d given me a spinal block injection to paralyze the lower half of my body. I could hardly talk.

“Is the operation over?”

And then I’m looking around the room, lying there for maybe 45 minutes, a large room with other patients, nothing very interesting to see, nothing alive except for the humans, just steel and white, cloth and plastic. Now and then a nurse. And then they wheeled me to my room, and Sylvia came in, and my life began again.

A hospital is the opposite of Guanajuato. Knowing this operation was coming up, I’ve been feeling kind of down for the last few months. The day on Route One with Isabel, and the four days in Mexico—those were breaks that gave me a much-needed lift. And Syvlia and I went to see The Magic Flute opera in SF the day before the operation, so uplifting.

But here I am in the post-op present tense, venturing out once again into the psychic surf, wanting to get back on my board and ride some painting and writing waves.

On my last day in Guanajuato, I toured Diego Rivera’s childhood home, right next to my hotel. They’ve made it into a museum with replica/reconstructed furniture, and a few of his smaller works.

I hadn’t really grasped how great an artist Diego Rivera was—in the US he’s mostly known for his murals, which are wonderful, but he could do really lovely fast stuff at smaller scale. Like this one here is a 1943 painting of an exploding volcano called Paricutin—Diego was sent there as part of a journalism gig. There’d be no good way to get a photo, so they sent a painter. Wonderful brush strokes.

Maybe the most interesting works on display are drawn from a set of 24 watercolors that Diego made, intended for use as illustrations in an book based on the legends in the hieroglyphic Mayan codices, a book to be called Popol Vuh, never published, to have been edited by one John Weatherwax—I wonder if William Burroughs knew this guy, Bill was always talking about the Mayans and the codex.

Re. the codices, in an amazingly evil act, the conquistadors and the Spanish priests burned most of them. Writing in July of 1562, Bishop Diego De Landa wrote:

“We found a large number of books in these [hieroglyphic] characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they [the Mexicans] regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction.” Such codices were primary written records of Maya civilization…

Anyway, back to the good Diego, you can find the manuscripts for the book he was going to illustrate for this John Weatherwax guy, a 1930’s Communist pal, online in the Smithsonian collections. I get the impression the texts are more or less public domain at this point. It would be cool if some small press could finally publish the book with Diego’s illos.

Wonderful, wonderful images by Diego, like alien cartoons. Mayan gods, yes! So gnarly. I’m going to work them into Million Mile Road Trip. A number of gods cooperated (or competed) on creating our cosmos and on creating human beings (shown above). Think of a Hollywood movie, or big budget videogame. Hundreds of people are involved, contributing to it. Graphic art, CG, makeup, costumes, sound, cinematography, casting, actors, and numerous directors. Not just one director. No boss, no top director, no head producer. Like some Hollywood movies will have a “second unit” filming stuff. And a universe emerges.

Here’s Hunhunahpu , the tonsured corn god, making humanoid shapes on this calabash(?) plant, including perhaps a copy of his head.

Later a woman lies under the bush and the head drips spit on her crotch and she gets pregnant, and I think bears twins, one of whom is just plain Hunahpu, with Hunhunahpu the dad. At this point I know next to nothing about the Mayan cosmogony.

As part of my post-op physical and psychic rehab program, I’m working on a copy of that first Hunhunahpu painting. After three days in a daze, I kicked the oxy meds and went, more or less, back to being Rudy. And then I wanted to do something creative, and I wasn’t quite ready to write, so I started painting. I’m using acrylic paint instead of oil paint, as the clean-up is easier this way. And acrylic paint dries so fast that it’s easy to paint over things and revise. That’s a working mock-up shown above. The colored part is my painting thus far, and the Hunhuhahpu is just a collaged-in copy of Diego’s version that I still need to paint in. [You can see the finished version at the start of his post.]

There’s a harsh, saturated, Mexican-wall-paint quality to the acrylic colors that I like.

Cool composite painting of Don Quixote. Artist’s name is Trigos? (Correct me if wrong.) Click for a larger version of the painting.

The last touristic type site I saw in Guanajuato was a surprisingly interesting museum of paintings and statues of the character Don Quixote—from the Cervantes novel.

I’ve never managed to read much of the novel, so when I was home I sought out a couple of translations, and give it another shot, but to no avail. To me, the character Don Quixote is just an idiot.

But you could say there’s a sense in which Don Quixote stands for writers. His lance is like a pen. He’s surrounded by books at home—which is like having a manuscript you’re working on. He goes out on missions and gets everything wrong—because he’s overlaying his transreal novelistic notions upon the world. Tedious, long-winded, overbearing.

Out in the surf.

Raiders, Great Pumpkin, Tunitas, Pigeon Point, Perfection

Today’s post is photocentric, and the theme is Nature’s perfection.

Kicking it off is this nice shot of a sunset at Pigeon Point lighthouse on Route 1 south of Half Moon Bay. I like how the roughness of sea echoes the clouds. And the vertical shadows of the clouds along the band above the horizon.

Backing up a week, I went to see the Oakland Raiders with some of my SF writer friends. This dude shown above is not, so far as I know, an SF writer, he is, rather, the ultimate exponent of a certain type of pregame festivity. Note how his sunglasses are adjusted to hold the empty 12-pack in place.

Cecelia Holland organized our outing. She’s published about 40 novels, some with warriors and Vikings, and she feels at home in the endzone “black hole” seating in Oaktown. I really get a kick out of her. A full-on writer.

Lively, passionate fans all around us. Imposing, but friendly. We were all in it together.

I dug this hat, which was in effect a football.

Very loud in the crowd and I forgot my ear plugs. I tore off the margins of a draft book proposal for Million Mile Road Trip that I had in my pocket and chewed them up to make something to put in my ears, and when that didn’t de-decibel-ize me enough, I tore strips off my handkerchief. At one point the Blue Angels few by overhead as well, but you could hardly hear them. Peaceful in the BART car riding home.

A few days later, my daughter Isabel and I spent the afternoon along Route 1 driving from Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. Isabel was visiting from Wyoming. Our initial goal in Half Moon Bay was to find the 1,969 pound biggest pumpkin of the year 2015. It’ll be the star of the annual Pumpkin Festival on Oct 18, 2015, but it’s already in place there, a captive alien, on a stage in front of a building called I.D.E.S. We had to ask around for awhile to find it, but it was wonderful to see it there, and nice to be there before the crowds arrive…all these years I’ve wanted to see the Great Pumpkin without the crowds.

Here’s me posed as city-slicker alien-hunter with his big-game trophy. A slain Freeth. Soon to appear in Million Mile Road Trip. “You…you made my sister into pie?”

Maverick’s wave mural in Half Moon Bay. Click here to see larger version.

Isabel spotted this life-size (?) Mavericks wave mural. Dig how the surfer has a 3D lightbulb in his path. Very Magritte, especially with the window on the wall. SFictional flash: mappyworld (or maybe even our own world) is a hypermural “painted” on the 3D hypersurface of…some 4D alien structure…and you notice—huh?—a 4D dvoornik’s 3D cross-section hanging in the air in middle of the room, the dvoornik being part of the underling hyperobject that our world is “painted” onto. And the window is a hole into unspace. Obv, right?

A few miles south of Half Moon Bay we came to a sheer roadside bluff with the Tunitas Creek Beach at its base. The path down was so steep that there’s a fixed rope that you have to hang onto. It was basically insane for an old man with a bad hip like me to follow Isabel down the path, but I did.

Click here for a larger image.

Wonderful to have all this space to ourselves. That’s Isabel in the middle, and that giant puddle is where Tunitas Creek pools out.

We walked around for quite awhile there. Nature on her own is so perfect. The artful disorder, not too regular, not too random, on the edge of chaos, ever-changing, the waves, the ripples, the birds scattered just so, and in motion as well, and don’t forget the clouds, it’s an endless dance of beauty. “Nature is god!” I exclaimed, trying to express what I felt. “Totally,” agreed Isabel, who’s known this all along.

It was getting dark and we still had a way to go. We scored some halibut chowder and “Mexican coleslaw” at Duarte’s tavern in Pescadero, and stopped by the Pigeon Point lighthouse hostel at sunset. One of these days I’d like to spend a couple of nights there. So fully off the grid.

A whale bone was hanging there by the ocean in a wood frame with the sunset in the background.

The lighthouse is kind of rundown…they’ve been raising money to refurbish it for about 10 or 15 years, but it’s fine as it is. Better than fine, perfect. Everything’s perfect, okay?

Perfect? Aren’t there still all the problems in the newspapers? And the issue that each of us is going to age and die? Well, you could, on a given day, and in a certain mood, suggest that we live in the best of all possible worlds—“possible” relative to the various ineluctable physical, statistical, and sociological constraints of it having to be a real world.

Perfect for that afternoon, anyway. An afternoon of peace.

Great to see you, Isabel!

A Ripple in the Cosmic Sea

Here’s my latest painting, Vlad and Monika. This was technically difficult for me—trying to make those circles look like translucent colored bubbles. This is meant to be a kind of spacy and intimidating alien world, a part of my novel in progress Million Mile Road Trip.

“Vlad and Monika” oil on canvas, Oct, 2015, 30” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

At first I was going to call the painting “Bubbleman,” and have the viewer imagine that the two eyes belonged to a single alien creature, but then I decided there were in fact two of them. But “Bubblepeople” didn’t seem interesting as a title, so I decided these characters speak in Polish accents, and their names are Vlad (short for Wladimir) and Monika. I usually give my alien characters oddball accents so that, in reading the novel, it’s easy to tell them apart.

Technically speaking, this was one of the more difficult paintings I’ve done. It was hard to give the bubbles the effect of being colored, translucent spheres—and I’m still not sure I got it entirely right. But I’ve done about eight layers on the painting now and I’m going to stop. Those volcano-like mountains took me about five or ten minutes each, by the way, as did the cliff, the sky, the patches of grass, and the two eyes. It was just the bubbles that were hard. More info on my work on my paintings page.

So what else is new? My son Rudy and his wife and kids were down here over Labor Day weekend. One of the girls took my photo with my good camera. Note how my expression is much kinder than usual.

This is a heavy-duty valve on a water pipe that runs from a hidden reservoir in the Santa Cruz mountains to Los Gatos. Freshly painted. Love the colors. The pipe runs along the public, and nearly dry, Lexington Reservoir next to Route 17. I like to go out walking or biking around Lex Reservoir,

I’ve been writing really a lot, like maybe a thousand words a day, pushing forward on Million Mile Road Trip, getting into that bloodlust frenzy that you get when you can sense that the end is in fact attainable. I mean, it’ll still take me till early next summer, but by now I’ve got a lot of the plot wrinkles worked out, and the characters’ personalities have settled down, and, on a good day, I can just sit there “dreaming while I’m awake” and write down the scenes I’m seeing, and transcribe the funny things that my characters say.

But I get worn out, and I get the need to escape the house and the coffee shop, so now and then I make an expedition into the Great Outdoors. The most interesting thing I’ve done lately was to go up near the west end of Lexington Reservoir near Los Gatos, like I was just talking about. I clambered down a slope to an exposed stream that runs through the somewhat green upper end of the reservoir, and hike up along the stream in my Keene’s shoes. And here’s a shot of some standing-wave type ripples where the stream goes under a log.

Patterns like this entrance me. To my way of thinking , that’s what my physical body is. That is, I am a moving, persistent pattern in the bustling cloud of matter in this world. Surfing Schrödinger’s wave equation, you might say—only I’m not on a surfboard, I’m a bump in the wave. Or, from a spacetime viewpoint, a macrame pattern in the weave.

I do like the image a feather floating on life’s stream. But, again, I don’t really see it that way. I’m a ripple, a part of the whole.

I saw a nice cattail. I’ve always thought cattails look like hot dogs on sticks, right? That you’d roast over a fire. The first time I saw a cattail was at a cookout on a family friend’s farm in Kentucky, we just drove out there across the pasture. And we had a fire, and we roasted things, like hot dogs and biscuit dough wrapped on a stick and of course marshmallows. I was five. I was sure that if I could manage to yank a cattail out of the pond, it would roast up just as good as a hot dog. I mention this in my recent, curiously neglected, novel The Big Aha.

Last week we went up to the Union Square area of San Francisco. Amazing how many stores have come and gone over the thirty years we’ve been living here. Saw a couple of guys tap dancing.

We hiked up the hill to the Grace cathedral. Saw a nice painting of Mary Magdalene. I like how she’s pointing at that egg. It gave me an idea for my novel: put a magic egg inside each of the big flying saucer, and if you kill a saucer and you can get hold of that egg—which is really a ball of smeel—well, then you’ve got something very valuable.

There’s a fountain in a tiny park in front of Grace cathedral. Got a kind of obvious shot here of the fountain, an sprite’s hand, and the Flag. Sort of a Robert Frank shot.

Here’s another standard kind of shot—the world-holding convex mirror by a parking lot entrance. I liked fitting in the dwindling grid perspective as well. And I think it’s good that I don’t show in the mirror. I’m the invisible man. A ripple in the cosmic sea.

“Surf World”

This is a partial draft of a chapter named “Surf World,” from my novel in progress, Million Mile Road Trip, which will appear in late 2016 or in 2017. It’s in some ways inspired by the surfin’ SF stories I’ve written with Marc Laidlaw. See, for instance, our recent “Water Girl.”

Mount Shasta seen on a road trip in 2014…a moment that inspired this novel.

The cast of characters in “Surf World”: Villy and Zoe are on the point of graduating from high-school in Los Perros, Califorina. But they’ve left town for a road trip. A road trip across the worlds of a parallel universe. Their companions are a pair of “Szep” aliens named Pinchley and Yampa. Villy’s tenth-grade kid brother Scud has come along.

And now they’re entering a zone called Surf World.

“Endless Road Trip” oil on canvas, Sept, 2014, 30” x 24”. Includes images of my alien characters Pinchley and Yampa. Click for a larger version of the painting.

The Surf World light is a honeyed gold, like the light you get in Santa Cruz an hour before sunset. But as for the surf—maybe the waves are bigger than Villy realized before. Hard to judge, with their shapes so strange. And there’s no consistent flow. The waves go every which way, surging through each other, with no apparent regard for physical law. Staring at them does something unpleasant to Villy’s head and, in the weirdness of the moment, everything seems small and overly animated. Like he’s looking through binoculars the wrong way.

“Too gnarly?” asks Pinchley, waggling his lower jaw in an open-mouthed Szep grin. “You know what’s with them waves? They alive.”

“You mean ‘alive’ in the broad, stoner sense that everything is alive?” says Villy, trying to sound all ironic and calm.

“Alive in the sense that the Surf World ocean is ten percent smeel,” says Pinchley. “A brimming cocktail of consciousness, bro. Pure trippiness unmodified.”

It’s not remotely like anything he’s ever seen. The waves really are alive. Quirky, willful, and no two of them the same. Shape, shade, speed, size—everything’s up for alteration. The waves do what they want.

They’re driving a highly modified station wagon which they call the purple whale. They’ve equipped it with enormous paddle-wheel tires, and with a waterproof dark-energy engine. Pinchley issues his considered advice about how to launch the purple whale into massively chaotic wrong-way surf.

“Bomb on in there like you’re crazy and high.”

Four Mile Beach

Yeek!” says Zoe, getting into it. She revs the dark energy engine to the max and rockets into the sea. Almost immediately, a massive pup-tent wave blindsides the car. Like it’s a rival skater in a roller derby. Zoe stays cool. She keeps the wheels churning, turns the steering wheel, and maneuvers them through a stretch of puffballs and onto the backside of a monstrous comber that’s rolling away from the shore.

“When you get to the top, drop and ride,” counsels Villy.

And, yes, Zoe makes it up the back of the hundred-foot wave, teeters on the lip, and then drops onto the tube’s clean, smooth face. She idles the engine and the purple whale begins endlessly to skim along the self-renewing hill of water. It’s like riding a titan at Mavericks. Sweet.

It’s calm for awhile—the big wave is swallowing everything it hits, sweeping a path through the living sea. The greens and blues of the sea are beautiful in Surf World’s golden light. The whale rides the wave for nearly an hour. According to the car’s altered speedometer, they’re moving at four hundred miles an hour.

Blub, blub, bloo!” yells Scud. He’s got his window wide open, and he’s hanging out like a tongue-lolling dog on a car trip. “Here comes a pyramid covered with rice paddies?”

Yes, it’s an Incan ziggurat made of smeely seawater, a water-pyramid with stairstep escalators for its sides. Three times as high as the enormous comber and moving twice as fast. As it angles into their big wave, vicious eddies swirl towards the purple whale. The water’s surface is, like, pocked.

Skillful Zoe adjust their car’s rudder and uses the gas, speeding up and slowing down, and then—behold. She’s maneuvered them off their disintegrating pipeline and onto the rising terraces of the epic ziggurat.

“Ride the terraces to the peak,” Villy advises Zoe,. “Then gun it down the other side.”

Gravedigger monster truck, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

“What a way to die, huh?” says Zoe, shooting him the briefest of glances over he shoulder. A pert smile. Okay, fine, Zoe’s not suicidal, but she does have a reckless side. Why else would she hang with Villy?

“Ready to surf?” Yampa asks Villy. “We’ll climb on the roof and mount our boards.”

“Not yet,” says Villy. “Too blown-out. Let’s wait for those giant walls we saw. Archetypal surf.”

The ziggurat is picking up speed, swallowing up a platoon of mammoth comber waves. Cathedral-sized pup-tent waves spawn off of these collisions and come pinballing up the pyramid’s terraced steps.

“Rock it, Zoe,” says Pinchley, “By the way, y’all, we’re flat-out unsinkable with these fatso tires. But a wave could wash a dumb-ass out one of these windows. If they was greenhorn enough to have it open and to be leanin out in a situation like this. Talkin to you, Scud.” Pinchley says the name like, “Scuuuuud.” He’s steadily amusing himself with his Southern accent routine.

Scud closes his window just in time. When they get to the top of the ziggurat, it turns out the very highest level—the square on the tippy-top—well, it’s a hole, an insane horror-movie elevator shaft running down into the dim, churning core the vast ziggurat’s metabolism.

Yeek!” yells Zoe once again. She floors the gas and the responsive dark-energy engine screams. Tires spinning like buzz saws, they rocket into the air and—arcing across the fearsome hole. And nosedive into one of the blocky pyramid’s square terraces, where they spend a full two minutes underwater, tumbling in the complex currents. When they bob back up, they’re on that same ziggurat terrace—or maybe it’s another one—bur for sure they’re descending towards sea level at a steady pace.

Various waves are moving into the smeel-rich waters around the drifting purple whale. Combers, pup-tents, puffballs, ziggurats and—

“A giant corkscrew?” says Zoe. “Like a big drill spinning through the water. Only the drill itself is made of water, too?”

“Catch it!” says Pinchley. “Those twisty suckers can carry you a thousand miles express. Get up to speed, Zoe, and edge onto it while its passing.”

“Yah, mon,” goes Zoe. “I have the whim-whams.”

The corkscrew wave is a helix of of curved, sloping faces, one behind the other, with each face rising out of the sea on the left, and arcing down on the right. A wave-train many miles long. The successive faces are linked by powerful underwater currents. A low bulge runs down the axis of the corkscrew, like the shaft of a ship’s propeller. Zoe has a little trouble getting the whale into a stable position on one of the blades. More than a little. At one point the car is totally submerged—tumbling ass over teakettle like a surfer in a wipe-out, and everyone screaming at once.

Villy and Scud are itching to take over, but Zoe persists. Eventually she finds a sweet spot where the car is endlessly sliding down a glassy face whose vortical motion is lifting then as fast as they descend. Like running on a treadmill. For the moment they don’t need the paddlewheels at all.

“Ready to surf?” says Yampa, leaning right into Villy’s face. She smells like curry and gasoline.


Buk buk squawk,” goes Yampa. Her notion of imitating a chicken.

“Look out there way ahead,” says Villy. “Those giant moving walls. They’re the waves we’ll ride. Zoe will tow us in.”

“Yaar,” says Yampa, parroting Villy. “Make tow ropes for us, Pinchley!”

Surf Pilgrim

Pinchley produces his green spider, and the indefatigable tool critter spins out a pair of lines that Pinchley rolls into two coils, each with a spider-woven tow-handle on one end.

“Need foot straps, too,” says Villy.

Pinchley’s tire-making marker bird pops his head out of the tool-belt and coughs out four fine, padded foot straps with sticky, fractalized ends. Easily on par with the finest tow-board straps that Da Kine makes.

“Tree of Life” oil on canvas, February, 2015, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

They’re coming up on the big waves very fast. The first one seems to fill the entire horizon. It’s moving away from them. But the long line of the corkscrew wave is faster. Up ahead of them, the corkscrew wave has already drilled through the great sheet. Like a tunnel in a cliff. The surfers will jump into the water before the wall-wave, and the car will ride the corkscrew through it.

“That wall leans backwards a little,” observes Villy. “Towards us. And the top leans forward. Like a long S.”

“Or like an integral sign,” says Scud.

Oooo, math!” says Zoe in mock merriment that’s close to a scream.

“That integral wave is gonna to have a tube on the front,” says Villy. “Up at the top, where it curves over. We’ll shoot that tube, right Yampa? Mucho Goob-goob in there.”

“Tree of Life” oil on canvas, February, 2015, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

“Yah, mon.” Yampa tosses the two loops of spider rope over her shoulder and grabs the four foot straps with one of her complex hands. She gives Pinchley a hug and opens her window. With surprising nimbleness, she crawls onto the roof of the car. Meanwhile Zoe’s holding a steady course on the slope of the corkscrew wave. Only minutes till they pass through the wall wave’s base.

“So, uh, goodbye for now,” Villy tells Zoe. “Right before you punch through the wave, be sure to veer. So you, like, slingshot us?”

“You’ll fall right back off that big wave. It tilts the wrong way. You just said so.”

“It’ll have a flow to it,” says Villy, hoping this is true. “And a stickiness to it. It’ll lift us up. We’ll be like water-striders.”

“Don’t go.”

“It’ll work, Zoe. The waves are alive, Like Scud said. They want to play.”

“How will we find each other afterwards?” says Zoe, flicking her eyes back and forth between Villy and the wall-wave.

“No sweat,” says Pinchley. “Yampa and Villy ride the gigundo wobbler as far as they can. Zoe and the rest of us ride the corkscrew to shore. And we meet at the Flatsies’ village. Beach party.”

“I’ll be able to locate everyone with my teep,” says Scud.

“And if there’s a prob, the gingerbread men surf out and round us up,” says Pinchley. “The Flatsies are really slick on these smeely waves.”

Villy begins levering himself out his window. He takes one last look at Zoe. And he sees stark sorrow on her face.

“Hey,” says Villy softly. “I’m gonna shred. And then we’ll camp together again.”

“If only,” says Zoe. Her hair flutters in the wind. She fastens her eyes on his. “My dear Villy.”

Before he can properly answer, Yampa grabs his hand and yanks him onto the roof. She’s stronger than she looks. And more organized. She’s already attached the straps to the boards and she’s tied the two tow lines to the whale’s roof rack. The big wall is coming up fast.

Scud leans out the window for a last look at his brother. “Good luck,” he says.

Villy snugs his feet into his foot straps, grabs one of the spider-woven tow handles and—yeek—he hops off the tilting roof of the car.

He’s going so fast that the water hisses when he lands. He hunches and sways, finding his balance. And then he’s tobogganing down the steep, helical pitch of the corkscrew wave. He hears a shrill, exultant cry behind him. Yampa’s with him.

Even in this tense moment, the Surf World light makes everything look mellow. Nostalgic almost. Like the scene is something he’s remembering. Glancing down at his feet, Villy notices that a sizable teep slug has affixed itself to his ankle. An orange little nudibranch with a cluster of lavender feelers at one end. Fine. It’ll heighten his awareness.

The plan is to angle out to the side and hope Zoe can sling them onto the big wall. The supernal wave is making a creepy sound— a deep, endless roar, like the soundtrack in a horror film just before a hideous ghoul appears. Villy is definitely sensing teep from the waves. The corkscrew is purposeful, gleeful, happy about drilling through the immense wall. As for the wall itself—it’s chanting a single cosmic Om—or something like that—a sacred syllable with no beginning and no end. And under that is—not exactly contempt, no, it’s more like the wall-wave is mildly amused. Like a woman noticing two tiny ants on her nail-polished toe. Ants with nearly invisible antennae.

Focus, Villy! Hold the handle tight!

And just as he thinks that, zonng, the slack plays out and the tow rope is like a steel cable, with drops of water flying off it. Villy clings to the tow-bar for all he’s worth. It feels like it’s pulling his arms from his sockets

He catches a glimpse of Zoe’s pale, determined face glancing back at them from the car up ahead. He can’t wave, but he nods. Zoe puts the hammer down, she accelerates down the corkscrew’s slope, veering away from the corkscrew’s axis. In her wake, Villy and Yampa sluice up great fountains of water.

And now he surfers are at the edge of the helical wave—a sharp cusp, woven from a thousand flow lines. Villy bends his knees and jumps. Sails through the air for maybe a hundred yards, then slaps down and goes skimming across the eerily calm patch before the sky-high water wall. It’s not quite level, no, it’s sloping a little. Meanwhile, Zoe arcs further out from the corkscrew, then speeds back. Villy’s going faster than he thought possible. When to release the tow bar? All his thinking is in his arms and legs.

The moment comes and goes. Villy’s on his own. It’s hard to see, with the spray in his eyes, but the teep is helping. Come to me, says the mighty wave. Villy crouches low, cutting his wind resistance. He feels a rapid chatter of pulses from his board skimming across the washboard surface, and he hears the sound echoed from Yampa’s board. And then—thank you—they’re on the all but vertical face of the horror-movie Om wave and, yes, it has a flow to it, and they’re sticking to it, and it’s raising Villy up and up and up. Like a woman lifting a child.

Far below, Zoe and the purple whale disappear through the rumbling cliff of water.

Saucerpeople and Smeely Waves

I’m working a lot on my novel Million Mile Road Trip these days. It’s about half done, and I started last January, eight months ago, so I might finish it June, 2016.

I did revisions for most of August, making the plot much clearer and more focused. And now I have an elevator pitch.

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

“Saucerpeople” oil on canvas, Sept, 2015, 24” x 18”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

The saucers in my novel are living organisms, meaty flying things. And *eeeek* it is in principle for a female saucer to fertilize her seeds with human DNA. They can get the DNA just by kissing a boy—I’m holding back from full-on sex between men and saucers.

So a saucer gets pregnant from a man or boy, lays some fertilized eggs, hatches them…and you get saucerpeople, as shown above! The have saucer-like rims around their waists, and they can fly.

I’m looking forward to writing some scenes with these guys. My plan had been to postpone them till later in the book but—why hoard the treats? Maybe I can work a saucerperson into the chapter I’m working on right now, “Surf World.”

The Surf World basin is edged with high, crumbly cliffs and a wide beach. And from there on out, it’s nothing but ocean. With insane, unnatural surf. Huge glassy combers, lively little pup tents scooting off at angles, and—weirdly enough—giant staircases and glassy pyramids. All made of water. Way out to sea are some waves like mile-high walls, thin and wobbly, steaming along like express trains. Most of the waves are heading away from the shore, and out to sea—which is kind of scary and strange. Catch one of those suckers, and you’re not coming back.

I’ve written several SF stories about surfing with Marc Laidlaw. And recently I was inspired by a big wave on the so-called “Miller’s world” in the movie Interstellar. Generally I feel that you shouldn’t model your novel’s kicks on things you saw at the movies. But that Miller’s world wave made a big impression on me. Terrified me, sitting in the movie theater.

I looked online and found the movie’s consulting physicist Kip Thorne’s ideas about the wave, lifted from his interesting book, The Physics of Interstellar. His explanation is way more complicated than I expected. No surprise, as Thorne is a brilliant physicist—I first encountered his work in the 1973 nonfiction tome Gravitation, by Kip Thorne, John Wheeler, and Charles Misner, a book that was heavy in every sense of the world—and which had a big influence on my SF and science writing.

Thorne’s line is that Miller’s world is “tidally locked” to a supermassive black hole that it’s orbiting—locked means that it rotates in synch with the orbit so that the same side is always facing the central black hole. (Our moon is tidally locked to Earth, and thus we always see the same face of the moon.)

Using “tidal” in a different sense, note that the tides on a planet are in fact bulges that are taffy-pulled up by the gravity of the sun (or black hole) that they orbit. And there’s one tidal bulge on each side of the planet. And (handwaving a bit) given that the black hole’s gravity is so extreme, the tidal bulges might be a mile high and only a hundred meters thick. But if the planet is tidally locked (tidal in the other sense now), then that tidal bulge won’t be moving relative to the planet’s surface. It’s static.

So now Thorne adds the assumption that Miller’s world is nearly locked into position, but it does wobble a bit back and forth, like maybe an hour per wobble. And as it wobbles, the giant wave-wall sweeps back and forth like a windshield wiper. The ocean sloshes, you might say. And this would explain how one of those waves might rush in either direction…including away from the shore.

But…I don’t want to get into explanations like this. Too classroom. I always hated doing Physics homework in college and, truth be told, I wasn’t good at it. No, I don’t want my rubber science to be off-the-shelf physics-homework science. I want insane bullshit that nobody’s ever heard of. Also it’s my sense that biotech, hylozoism, and the philosophy of computation are more interesting these days than old school general relativity.

So, okay, in Million Mile Road Trip, I have this stuff that I call smeel. It’s like an aethereal fluid that “is” consciousness. Smeel is the numeniferous aether, if you will—given that “numen” is Latin for “divine essence” or “magical power” or even “soul.”

As it happens, flying saucers like to vampirically leech smeel from us. They drink your smeel, and then you’re like a like a zombie. Note, by the way, that those sacuerpeople I talked about earlier are not necessarily down with the evil smeel-leeching of the mainstream saucers. Indeed some of the saucerpeople are going to serve as double agents to help my teen heroes avert the impending Invasion of the Saucers!

Anyway, it occurred to me that I can pep up the waves in my planet-sized Surf World sea by saying that the sea happens to be ten percent smeel. Not just water. And because of all this smeel, the waves are conscious and alive.

The smeel makes the waves playful. They race each other across the ocean. They pile way up on the far side, and then they race back. They take on shapes like staircases. It’s a totally surreal Mandelbrotian landscape. My character Villy gets lost and a friendly saucerperson shows up and guides him to his girlfriend Zoe and the rest of his gang.

In using smeel to animate the waves, I’m reprising an idea that Marc Laidlaw and I used in our latest surfing SF story, “Water Girl” — which appeared in Asimov’s in August, 2014, featuring, as usual, our characters Zep and Del.

Like why should I copy a Hollywood movie? Better to copy a story by Rucker and Laidlaw!

In “Water Girl,” it’s a substance called quantum aether that gives the waves consciousness. And the waves are alive, running their mental processes off quantum computations. The mad scientist in our story wrote a paper called “The Quantum-Aethereal Animation of Physical Fluids.” Here’s an extract from that story that I plan to draw on.

Stink Bay was teeming with small, erratic waves, three to five-footers … astir with frolicking shapes, powerful energetic forms that cut through the water like—well, like other water. Waves peaked from the flat surface, curled and gathered a bit of foam at their crests while cupping blue-green darkness at their long tubular hearts. The waves travelled without breaking, moving straight toward the shore then peeling away at clever angles, gouging divots out of the mud and sand. Small forms glided alongside the larger ones, and the “calves” word clicked for Del. The little waves reminded him of whale calves at play near a mother whale…The anomalous hump in the water began gliding towards the Pipeline, a shape like you’d see if something were swimming below the surface. The calf waves were herding…Zep and Del in the thing’s wake, pushing them out towards the unquiet open sea.

Squiddy detail of a painting by Robert “El Rey Magnifico” Williams.

Changing the subject again, shown below is a painful painting I did in August. I won’t go into great detail, but suffice it to say that I may need to get a “revision” operation on an artificial hip implant. It’s situationally depressing. In doing the painting below, I was doing kind of a Frida Kahlo routine—she used to do paintings of herself getting operations. If you do a painting like that it makes you feel better. And at least you’re getting some art out of your bad experience.

“X-Ray of Failed Hip Implant” oil on canvas, Aug, 2015, 18” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Flickering flames of pain. I’m glad to be able to paint about it, and I’m glad I have a novel to work on. Writing takes my mind of any worries and cheers me up. It’s soothing to retreat into my own little worlds. Away from so-called reality. “No news is good news.”

John Conway and the Absolute Continuum

I just read this wonderful biography of the mathematician and recreational-math maven par excellence, John Horton Conway, best known (to his mild annoyance) as the inventor of the cellular automaton rule known as the Game of Life. The book, Genius at Play , is by Siobhan Roberts.

Some great quotes. John Conway’s daughter: “There goes somebody looking strange. Ergo, it must be a friend of Dad’s!”

[This photo has no literal connection to what I’m talking about, although the musician is, in a way, like Conway. It was shot inside the San Jose California Theater during the Jazz Festival, it’s a group called Bombay Jazz.]

A lot of my favorite mathy people are in the book, many of whom I’ve managed to meet over the years: Kurt Gödel, Stephen Wolfram, Bill Gosper, Martin Gardner, and more. Bill Gosper (discoverer of the Life glider gun): “Conway is approximately the smartest man in the world.”

One of the things Conway is most proud of is his expansion of the familiar real number line so as to become the so-called surreal numbers. The surreal numbers are very densely packed—technically speaking there’s so many of them that they comprise what set-theorists call a “proper class,” which is a collection so vast that it is in some sense impossible to think of it as a finished thing. The less daunting collections are called sets: an example is the collection of all subsets of the set of finite natural numbers {0,1,2,3,…}. This “power set of the natural numbers” is the same size as the set of all real numbers.

[Original Tenniel drawing of Carroll’s Alice holding a baby who turns into a pig.]

So how do the surreal numbers arise? There’s a good popular book about them: Donald Knuth’s Surreal Numbers, available in paperback and also for free online. The basic idea is fairly simple. Whenever you have a set L of numbers that are smaller than the numbers in a different set R, then there is going to be a surreal number in between the two sets…the number can be called {L | R}.

In the regular real number system we use a principle like this to say that there’s a number on the line just beyond 3, 3.1, 3.14, 3.141, 3.1415, 3.1459, etc. This number is our friend pi.

In Conway’s system, we go further, and squeeze more and more stuff in. Like there’s a number that’s bigger than 0, but smaller than 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, … , 1/n, … for all finite n. This infinitesimal number can be called 1/omega, where omega is a name often used for the simplest infinite number that lies beyond 1, 2, 3, …, n, …

In Conway’s rich system, however, omega isn’t the very first infinite number, you’ve got omega-1, omega / 2, and even the square root of omega.

Getting technical, the surreal numbers are what the early 20th C mathematician Felix Hausdorff would call an eta-On set, where On is the class of all finite and transfinite ordinal numbers—an ordinal being a generalized counting number. The class On is a subset of the surreal numbers…like the spine of integers inside the real number line. On goes on and on, including infinite numbers like alef-null, alef-one, and so on. When we fill in the surreal numbers, we can have cool things like (((alef-one divided by (square root of alef-one)) minus (pi divided by alef-seventeen) divided by two) minus 48.) It’s all there!

The surreal numbers make up what we can call an “Absolute Continuum” where there’s always yet another number lurking between any successive pairs of sets of numbers. Physics would make more sense, suggests Knuth, if it was based on surreal numbers instead of the so-called real numbers, and I think he’s right. Assume we have endlessly transfinite infinitesimals in the small, and space gets really smooth.

I’m fascinated by the notion that our physical space is in fact an absolute continuum. This is what we might call “infinities in the small” instead of “infinities in the large.” I’ve always felt that it’s a mistake to simply stare out at the stars and yearn for the vastness out there. In my opinion, we have huge infinities right here. Underfoot.

In a slightly different vein, the founder of transfinite number theory, Georg Cantor wrote a couple of great passages.

“The fear of infinity is a form of myopia that destroys the possibility of seeing the actual infinite, even though it in its highest form has created and sustains us, and in its secondary transfinite forms occurs all around us and even inhabits our minds.”

“The actual infinite arises in three contexts: first when it is realized in the most complete form, in a fully independent otherworldly being, in Deo, where I call it the Absolute Infinite or simply Absolute; second when it occurs in the contingent, created world; third when the mind grasps it in abstracto as a mathematical magnitude, number or order type.”

I wrote about infinity in two of my pop math books, Infinity and the Mind and Mind Tools. But getting back to the idea of the absolute continuum, let’s just marinate a little more in the idea that physical space is not *feh* quantized, and it’s not just some mere real number line—it might have levels, sublevels, subsub………subsublevels. Inconceivably rich smoothness.

That quantum bump stuff is just a glitch, like a rumble strip by a toll booth, we trundle past that in our Shrink-O-Tron device, going ever downward in our hypertransfinite subdimensional bathyscaphe. In 2008, the ezine published my SF story along these lines called “Jack and the Aktuals, or, Physical Application of Transfinite Set Theory.”

If you have having absolute continua (plural of continuum) for your space and, indeed, the very substance of your body, then there’s no reason to suppose that you will ever be repeated, as a pattern, in the transfinite universe. Those pawky bean-counting quantum Lego-block arguments don’t work if we’re transfinitely smooth. I was talking about that issue in a series of 3 posts called “Against Recurrence” in May, 2015—disputing the common (and false) claim that, “in an infinite universe everything repeats.” No repetition if your gnarly down to the alef-seventh level and beyond, my friend.

I’ll work the details out for you with my occult analog continuum computer, which merely appears to be an electric-cord entangled with a semi-reflective mirror…

I’ll leave you with this image of Davina and the Vagabonds at the San Jose Jazz Festival. Davina was great, she never stopped mugging and making faces. Funny rootsy old songs. Davina looks like a WWII poster of a working woman here. She is, very clearly, embedded in an Absolute Continuum.

Having read to Siobhan Roberts’s charming bio, I get the impression J. H. Conway would enjoy meeting Davina and she, in turn, might well find him fascinating. A mathemagician among us.

Podcast #87. Interviewed by Doug Lain

August 11, 2015. Interviewed by author Doug Lain for his podcast Zero Squared. We mostly talked about what it’s like to have a career as a writer, with some mentions of my recent Journals 1990-2014. An edited version of the interview appeared as part of an episode on Lain’s podcast Zero Squared, with better sound for Doug’s voice. The version I’m posting here, six weeks later, is the unedited full conversation, recorded at my end at the time of the interview, which was June 26, 2015.


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New York #2. WTC, Seaport, Eddie, Midtown. Plus Backlog.

Here’s a few more photos from Manhattan, followed by some pictures from my backlog.

One of the best deals in the city is the East River Ferry, which runs from 34th St. to Wall St. stopping in four or fives Brooklyn docks on the way. Takes about half an hour, great views and fresh air, uncrowded, $4.

Near Union Square. I love the ever-changing kaleidoscope of people, signs, and machines in the big city. The sign vaguely sinister here, like Big Sister is Watching You. Fashion police?

Cool wall painting near Wall St. This part of town is the oldest, going back to colonial days. I like poking around here. And you see genuine financiers.

We were resting on a bench and two ambulances pulled up—a regular one and a Jewish one. Some bond-trader type guy had had a heart attack or maybe just a panic attack, and after fifteen minutes he came walking out, a little shaky. He went for the Jewish ambulance.

The big new world trade center building is done, they call it One World Trade Center or Freedom Tower. Very cool to see it suddenly there amid the streets down around Wall St.

We made our way there, and it’s really awesome. I felt this surge of patriotism and gladness. We’re back! In your face! Bigger and better. That thing made of fins is a glorified subway stop, like for suburban trains as well.

There’s this little old colonial church by the World Trade Center, it’s St. Pauls Episcopal Church, and it has an ancient graveyard, you can go in there and sit on a shady bench. Kind of dizzying to sit there and imagine a fast-forward movie of the neighborhood as seen from the once-peaceful graveyard—the growth of the city, the rise and collapse of the first towers, the construction of the new ones…and then what?

Such gorgeous ornamentation and elaborations on those 40s buildings. Fractal. When will the long desert of flat glass end?

We made our way over to the South Street Seaport, kind of an urban mall, with cobblestones. Not plastic, exactly, but a bit chainy. Had some great crab cakes amid numerous colorful locals on lunch break. The good part there is a pier with old ships. It was a trip to look at the old ships’ rigging against the Wall St. towers.

I always dig taking high-speed photos of water in motion. It’s all a matter of time-scale. A lot of things in ordinary life can be thought of as slow-motion fluid flow. Our bodies, our cities, out landscapes.

Gotta have a least one photo of a big-ass NY truck. This one’s near Union Square, which is always a good spot to visit. Lots of benches, good people-watching. I bought some new walking shoes near here, New Balance 990s—I got the idea from seeing an article in the Sunday Times, some guy swearing by them. The salesman was great, urban gay, with that tired kind of voice, he observed that he’d sold a lot of this model that day, and I told him about the Times article and he looked it up. On a trip, you’re happy if you manage to have a conversation with anyone.

I always love how the sidewalk scenes are mirrored in the windows.

We got together with our old friend Eddie Marritz for dinner at cool West Village place he recommended, Mary’s Fish Camp. We’ve known Eddie since 1968, when he showed up at Rutgers U. in New Brunswick, New Jersey as a freshman. Sylvia and I were in grad school there—we’d gone to college with Eddie’s older brother Don. Just about fifty years ago. Half a frikkin’ century. Eddie’s a very successful cinematographer now, he gets work shooting a lot of documentary films. It’s so relaxing to talk to a very old friend, the complete trust, the sensitivity to subtle allusions. Sylvia took this photo with her iPhone.

I love the rich architectural details in Manhattan. Like this “awning” over the door in a mid-down.

I’ve got some more NY photos, but I’ll post them another day.

For now, I’m noticing that I have quite of backlog of older photos, so I’ll go ahead a post some of them today. On the shell theme, here’s some of those nice, crisp black scallop (?) shells that Sylvia collected at the Outer Banks. Sitting on a glass table, hovering in space.

What would American photography be without neon signs amid window reflections?

A “Rudy” photo of the pool skimmer at our OBX McMansion-cottage. I dig these kinds of collage / angles / shades photos.

An iPhone photo of my car’s windshield below a palm in Los Gatos a couple of months ago. The thing about iPhones, they basically suck in terms of photo quality, but sometimes they’re all you’ve got. That old saying, “The best camera is the one you have with you.”

I kind of wonder about that recent Apple ad campaign, with high-art black-and-white full-page magazine photos labeled, “Shot with an iPhone 6.” It’s certainly safer to go black-and-white, as then there’s less chance of digital crud. And of course they’d be running the photos through something like Lightroom—dialing up Clarity and Sharpness a bit, and cleaning up pixel stutter with the Noise sliders. And if it’s a wonderfully envisioned and framed shot, it’s gonna look good. If you have strong lighting that helps too. And you’d want to shoot it in such a way that you don’t have to crop, so that the meager iPhone pixel count isn’t being stretched too much for the blow-up.

What’s this? Bolts of cloth and buttons in Hart’s fabric store in Santa Cruz. I end up accompanying Sylvia here quite often, and to pass the time, I tend to take a photo or two. Sf concept: a “fabric store” where supernal god-like aliens buy materials for making quilt-like universes.

Going back another month or two, here’s a seagull at Fort Mason in SF. Haughty aplomb.

A red flag at Ft. Mason! Rothko style. I’m crazy about weathered old walls. Easy to shoot, as they’re flat, like a photo. All you need to do is to see the shot, do a minimally competent job with the camera (never a gimmie!), and fix the light in Lightroom. Got this one the day I went there for the beatnik con with V. Vale and Marian, and I lost my glasses (now replaced).

And that’s about enough for today.

Outer Banks & New York #1.

My wife and I went to reunion with all our children and grandchildren at a rented house in Corolla on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week, and then we we two went alone to New York city for a week. So I’ll be posting some photos of all that.

[Tail of a Lego-built dragon in New York Lego store.]

Before I get going on the trip pix, I want to mention that on the plane, on our way home, I watched the movie Chappie, which I didn’t manage to see when it came out earlier this year. For some reason the reviews were fairly lukewarm, but I thought it was great.

Chappie is a real cyberpunk robot—he’s got graffiti on his body, he wears chains, he bops when he walks, he curses, he robs an armored car, he beats a militaristic paramilitary guy to death, and he saves the life of his maker. How? He saves his maker’s life by uploading the man’s consciousness into a robot body.

Just like my robot character Ralph Numbers did for his maker Cobb Anderson in my 1980 novel Software.

I know I’ve said this before, but the uploading-human-mind-to-robot-body is something that I frikkin’ invented—in Software, and I elaborated it in all four of my Ware novels, which you can still buy in paperback or ebook (and you can also read it for free in a CC edition.)

I don’t know why I never seem to get much credit for inventing this move, which has been in, like, two hundred movies by now. It’s not like it was an obvious idea when I wrote about it, anymore than a time machine was an obvious idea when H.G.Wells wrote The Time Machine. It took me nearly a year to really figure out the idea, simple as it now seems. I was studying the philosophy of computation at the University of Heidelberg, reading and pondering the essays of Alan Turing and Kurt Gödel. It’s some serious shit. But I chose to present it in cyberpunk format. So no po-faced serious analytic type high literary mandarins are ever gonna take my work seriously. At least not till I die. Or maybe not even then—posthumous recognition is a classic writer’s pipedream, and WTF diff would it make anyway. Rant, rant, rant, rave, rave, rave. Am I eighty years old yet? Move over, Harlan.

The Outer Banks is a long thin island, or group of islands, running long the coast of North Carolina. Back around 1975, Sylvia and I used to drive down there from Geneseo, NY, where I had my first teaching job. Us and the three kids. The Outer Banks were sparsely built then, and we stayed a couple of times in 1940s vintage motel, plywood shacks with linoleum floor, right on the all-but-empty beach, the Lamplighter Inn. Paradise. Those wheat-like plants atop the sunset dune in this photo are called sea oats.

Dig this treasure hunter, just a guy on the beach, not somebody I know. Our son Rudy was very keen to get one of these devices when he was about ten. Mostly he found cans.

Kites are still big here. Lovely to see them at sunset, and sometimes with a crescent moon.

Anyway, the OBX (as they now term the Outer Banks) are fully built-up now, the coast lined with developments of McMansion style beach cottages. We were there as a party of 14, and we got a three story house with a pool and an elevator and a movie room, and the rent was about fifty times as high as that of the long-gone Lamplighter.

But it was great to be with the children and grandchildren, and the ocean was very swimmable—not too cold, and the waves not too big—and there were some good shells.

As the jesting fates would have it, there was a huge OBX shark scare in progress when we arrived. Initially we were nervous, but when I didn’t get bitten in the first ten minutes, I pretty much stopped worrying. The human mind’s risk assessment. Anyway the closest shark attacks had been about a hundred miles away, down in Ocracoke. We were all the way up north in Corolla.

The crabs didn’t eat us…we ate the crabs. A bushel of crabs. What a concept. What if someone snuck in while you were sleeping, and poured this many live crabs onto you in bed? There’s a Grimm Brothers fairy tale along these lines, about a boy who couldn’t feel fear, and he learns when someone dumps a bunch of fish on him in bed like that.

One of the fun attractions on the way down was the home of the monster truck known as Grave Digger. Lots of earlier versions of Grave Digger on display here in Grave Digger Garage. In yo’ face, mofo! My grandchildren are endlessly fascinated by YouTube videos of Grave Digger in action, accompanied by the Grave Digger theme song, George Thorogood and the Destroyers playing “Bad to the Bone.”

Plus the original ur-Grave-Digger prototype vehicle, an awesome sight, like seeing the first fish with legs. Or like seeing the Wright Brothers’ original plane. One reason I’m so interested in these vehicles is that my characters in my novel-in-progress Million Mile Road Trip are driving a station wagon that’s been tweaked into something like a monster truck.

At the beach we saw a lot of awesome clouds. Imagine if there were only a few places on Earth where you can see clouds. How you’d value them. And yet we tend to ignore them, take them for granted, or even gripe about them.

We saw a thunderstorm or two as well. I loved this bright white puff beneath a vast dark anvil. So invigorating to see rain, if you’re a Californian.

Speaking of rain, I cranked my awesome Fujifilm X100T digital camera down to 1/2000 sec exposure time, turned on the flash, and got some shots of raindrops in a storm outside our 10th floor room in Manhattan the next week. That’s not rain on the window pane, you understand, that’s raindrops falling in midair, frozen (more or less) in flight by the magic of postmodern photography.

Here’s another shot of the raindrops, I took this picture about ten times in a row, trying to get it right. Surprise: raindrops do not look like cartoon teardrops. They’re wobbly globs, although, yes, it seems the larger ones are indeed fatter on one side.

After I finished shooting the raindrops in New York, I took a shot of the building facing us across 41st Street, and later, when I examined the photo, I had this Antonioni Blow-Up type discovery that a man in an office across the street was staring at me, probably wondering what I was doing taking flash pictures out my window.

My camera has a fixed wide-angle lens, and really high resolution, and I was able to zoom in on previously unnoticed details in a lot of my Ney York shots. Like here I’m in the lobby of the Chrysler Building, taking a picture of a weird pseudo-digital Deco clock labeled “TIME” in case you don’t know what a digital clock is (and who did, back in the 1930s). And a guard is looking out at me from a door in the wall, smiling, like the friendly bird inside the cuckoo clock, and I didn’t even know he was there.

Another cropped-down zoom photo from NY: a chic woman among the marching ants in a crosswalk at 41st and Madison, which is where our hotel was.

Such awesome people-watching in the big city. We saw this woman at the new Whitney Museum, down on the old meat-packing district. Awesome building, same old collection, but with more of it on display than before.

I’ve never been sure if I liked Willem de Kooning, but I saw a kind of landscape by him called Door to the River, and it really knocked me out. There’s something about it, maybe hard to see in a reproduction or a tiny computer screen image, it’s like the painting captures the glancing quality of light, the way that when you look at something you see patches of brightness and glare even before you overlay your notion of what it “is.” And the title “Door to the River” is kind of uplifting, I mean that’s what we’re always looking for, right, a magic DOOR to the river of LIFE. And, while we’re at it, a frikkin plot for our novels.

As chance would have it, right while I was standing there admiring this painting, my very favorite of that day’s visit to the Whitney, a woman my age walks over to me and says, “Looking at this painting, I’ve finally decided for once and for all that de Kooning was a fake.” I tried to disabuse her of her errorneous opinion, with little effect. Oh well!

Yet another street-photograph of a New Yorker. Note the big fan. It was about 95, incredibly humid, with the sun like a sledgehammer. You had to walk on the shady side of the street.

The beach on OBX was really hot, too, but there you had the option of jumping into the water. And then a half hour in the waves I’d even be cold.

That’s it for today. Naptime. I’ll post more photos of New York later this week.

Shooting Photos a Lot

Waking up early on a summer day.

Perched atop a tree, chirp. What to do today?

Fourth of July we saw a wind instrument concert in Oak Meadow Park in Los Gatos. I love to look at kettle drums, and to hear them.

And my fellow Los Gatos citizens here amid our signals and wires.

I love propeller hats, I didn’t used to know that anyone actually wore them. But this li’l guy does.

Couple of weeks ago I was at a beatnik themed conference at Fort Mason in SF. The event wasn’t real well attended. I walked around for quite awhile taking pictures. I love corroded, peeling old walls.

V. Vale was there with Marian Wallace, we went up and had a nice cheap dinner at the little-known hostel on the hill behind Fort Mason. I said a few words on Vale and Marian’s panel talk

You can listen to Podcast #86 on the Rudy Rucker Podcasts channel.

I lost my glasses that day, which was bad for me, as it took me nine days to get a new pair. Horrible experience.

Dig the cherub with the rat. It’s on a big sculpture in front of the De Young museum in SF, honoring wine, made by the famed illustrator Gustave Dore.

This is my idea of really successful photo. Shot in Cruz. I love abstract visual designs made up of daily objects. You can see the photo better if you look at the 1200 pixel across version. Should the foreground be in focus or the background? Can be a tough call. I went for the foreground this time. Does that work? How about if you look at the 2400 pixel across version

Ever since I started shooting with my wonderful wide-angle lens on my Fujifilm digital X100T camera with 22m f2 lens, I’ve been tilting the camera more and more. I picked that up from looking at a lot of Garry Winogrand photos a lot of times. Winogrand used to deny that his camera was tilted. In some higher sense it was level, and I’m starting to get that.

Another nice random pattern photo, a child’s leg with some pens. I prefer not to put the faces of my family on my blog, but this red leg is very expressive in any case.

Another example of the kind of shot I like. Taken on the hill behind Fort Mason looking down at the parking lot. I don’t like seeing parked cars in my photos, they bore me, so I crop them out whenever I can—often using a “tilted” crop frame if that’s what I need. I like the three trees. The godlike trees calm, and the human-street-line-painted parking area all bossy and honking and busy. And the colors are dull, as it’s misty in late afternoon SF.

You can’t do much better than a photo of a neon roller rink sign. When I was little my Mom would drop me at a roller rink in downtown Louisville for an hour or two, and a lot of kids my age would be there skating. I saw my first electronic game ever there, it was a shooting game, you had a “gun” with a metal node on one end and you were looking through the sights at a turning metal disk with planes on it, and when your node touched the bump on a plane while you pulled the trigger you got a point or a beep or something. Paradise.

This is a fat swollen stump near Stow lake in SF. Bloated with life. Everything is alive.

A painting by one of my grandchildren plus a random houseplant. I truly to wish I could paint like a kid. That was one of Master Picasso’s skills. Sometimes I’ll fake it by starting with a kid-like underdrawing, or even copying something from a kid’s painting.

And we saw some turtles in Stow Lake. I rented an electric paddle boat for $14 extra—worth every penny, as son Rudy said. You don’t paddle at all just glide. At first I thought the turtles were bronze sculptures.

This is how I looked when I was just realizing that I’d lost my glasses last week. I was so bummed that I went out and bought two pairs of new ones. Let joy reign unconfined, as my Pop used to say when he’d get some kind of treat for my brother and I after we’d whined for it for a long time.

The Grateful Dead in Levi’s Stadium

I went to see the Grateful Dead concert at Levi’s Stadium in San Jose this Sunday, June 8, 2015. I got a ride with a friend Dan Pulcrano, but he wanted to push up to the very front, so most of the time I was alone, getting into my head.

I enjoyed the concert as a scene, although the music didn’t transport me as much as some concerts by others do. For my taste, the Dead don’t rock hard enough. Not funky and bluesy enough. And they’ve never had a really strong vocalist. My idea of a great live band is Rancid, or of course the Rolling Stones, or the Breeders—I saw a Breeders reunion concert in Santa Cruz last year that fully hypnotized me. But there were definitely some fine moments with the Dead. And they closed with a heartbreaking rendition of “Fare Thee Well”

Just being in such a giant crowd was very cool. 70,000 people, okay? Everyone I happened to talk to was really nice to me. This one tier of bleachers, the sun was going down behind it, and all the people in the top row were fringed with gold, melting into light.

A big part of the show is the people there, of course. This guy above had skintight gold lame pants. I spent a lot of the time sitting on a piece of foam I’d brought, next to a speaker tower. The woman in the picture and her boyfriend had come down from Oregon.

The speakers were curved a little bit. Kind of alien and futuristic.

This striped-pants woman is just about perfect in terms of hi-fash deadhead concert goer. Forgoing the tie dye. So California.

Here’s another woman, at night, with the moon in the background. She let me have a little of her popcorn. The moonmaid, I called her to myself. Slender, iconic, cosmic.

One of the first guys I saw, out by the gates, was a wonderfully weathered dude with an antediluvian cap. I liked how he was standing there with the unlit cigarette. Part of his look, not that he cared much about his look. When I see guys like this, I always have an instant connection. We recognize each other.

They did well with the lights. The searchlights seemed very good. I still don’t know why electronic light-show purveyors don’t use continuous-valued cellular automata! The electronic effects tend to be too non-chaotic, too controlled. But they did really get going during the drums.

Another guy I haven’t mentioned yet, I saw him right after I came into the stadium, this guy maybe even older than me, a really weathered old Deadhead in a t-shirt with a fuzzy image of skull, this guy catches my eye like he’s my long lost brother and says “Hi” and gives me a high-five, only it’s a high four as all but the bottom joint of his fourth finger is missing. He was the coolest guy I saw there, like a prophet welcoming me to a last supper but a limp somewhat worn prophet, a guy like a piece of driftwood or sea wrack found on a Santa Cruz beach. Unfortunately I didn’t get his picture.

[Photo from Fort Mason, SF]

Later, during a space jam, they kept showing the image of a hand missing most of the fourth finger—upon the giant digital screens on either side of the state, the hand in red, like a hand in ink that had slapped a piece of paper. An image solarized and made into a red silhouette, on the lower screens on the sides of the stage.

Seeing that hand up there, I started thinking that the old guy with two joints of his ring finger missing—maybe was in some way a mascot or secret force of the band. It felt cosmic and synchronistic that I was seeing that hand up there, they’d displayed it there as a cryptic message to those fortunate ones who’d done high four with the sea wrack dude. As most of you know, I haven’t been drinking or getting high for some years now—but I’m still tripping in my head just the same. Just like anyone else. None of us humans is even remotely “straight” or “normal.” And the Dead shows celebrate that.

[Photo from Fort Mason, SF]

The next day when I was discussing my missing finger revelation with someone, the guy told me that Jerry Garcia had had part of his fourth finger missing, so that was Jerry’s hand on the big display screen. So maybe my greeter was in fact Jerry in resurrected-Jesus format—or, likelier, he’d self-mutilated himself to look that way. Which is entirely within the realm of possibility for a devout deadhead. Like those guys who wear crowns of thorns and drag giant crosses up tiny cobblestone streets.

[Photo from Darwin Ranch, WYO]

Plenty of time to strange thoughts during the long numbers, nothing to do but be there and live through that interval of time, with my mind rising into the empyrean. The occasional planes going directly overhead were good too. Why not tell it like it is and admit that fully 20% of airplanes seen low over our urban centers are alien UFOs?

So here I am at the show, wondering about that cryptic phrase, “Steal your face.” The title of a live album, the informal name for the blue/lightingslash/red/skull logo, and line in their song, “He’s Gone.” When they did that song on Sunday, it felt like they were singing about Jerry. Such strange lyrics:

Rat in a drain ditch, caught on a limb,
you know better but I know him.
Like I told you, what I said,
Steal your face right off your head.
Now he’s gone, now he’s gone…
Like a steam locomotive, rollin’ down the track
He’s gone, gone, nothin’s gonna bring him back…

Some Wikipedia research reveals that “He’s Gone” was really about drummer Mickey Hart’s father, Lenny Hart, who embezzled about $150K from the Dead and dropped out of sight. So “steal your face” is being used fairly literally in the sense of being a thief. And I’d been thinking of it terms of the cosmic cycle of life and death eventually “stealing” my fleshy face off my head and leaving—a grinning skull, as suggested by the album cover image below.

“In the land of the night, the ship of the sun is drawn by the grateful dead.”

Podcast #86. Beat Con in SF with V. Vale. TURING & BURROUGHS.

June 28, 2015. At “Beatnik Shindig” event at Fort Mason in SF. I said a few words in praise of V. Vale and Marian Wallace. Then talked on TURING & BURROUGHS, and did Q&A. Sound is pretty good. 20 minutes in all.


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Art, Journals, Grandkids, Beat Shindig, Rbt. Williams

I’ve been away from my regular blog posts for awhile.

I had that thing with the art show and the talk at Borderlands. I made a nice video of the “art tour” part of my talk¬—I figured out how to use this free Microsoft Windows tool called “Movie Maker” to cut still photo in with a video I’d made, and I overlaid a good audio tape that I made while I was talking. I filmed the video itself via a camera hanging around my neck so it’s kind of random cinema verité. Check it out.

Then I got into a bloodlust hacking frenzy creating a full-on podcast station for myself, Rudy Rucker Podcasts. Googling for advice, but, when it gets really specific and weird, you don’t always find anyone who is talking to your precise situation. The process morphed into a nightmare of addiction, me compulsively standing in front of my computer from dawn till ten at night a couple of days. But now it’s kind of over. Maybe. For a little while.

Painting by Robert Williams.

I got a ticket to go see the Grateful Dead concert at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday. Last night I dreamed about almost setting up a deal to buy four ounces of pot. Talking to the dealers, debating the price, them giving me a free sample pack to slip into my jeans pocket. I didn’t get around to smoking it. And then I was lost in a museum.

And we had two of our grandchildren here for two nights, the twin girls, almost eight. We took them down to the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz and I went on this ride that I went on when I was their age, 61 years ago, still the same ride, it has the special chaotic quality. Called the Tilt-A-Whirl, although in Cruz the call it Rip Tide. Same sinister clown painted on the Tilt-A-Whirl chairs, amazing. Just about killed me to ride in it.

We rode on this chairlift that coast along above the rides. A statue of a cavewoman and a caveman in two of the chairs, like live cartoons.

Some of the rides are insane torture. On the third day our three-year-old grandson showed up as well, and we had a big cookout in our back yard with Rudy Jr. and his wife.

The girls found about a hundred varicolored gumballs in the town park, along with two transparent miniature plastic baseball bats that the gumballs had been inside of. The bats’ handles pulled off, they were like tapered plastic jars. The size of billy-clubs. And the girls gathered the balls and put them into the clubs and marched back and forth on our porch pretending they were police. And then I hid the clubs, as I worried the girls would spill the dirty gumballs all over the house or the yard. And then eventually Rudy let them dump the gumballs on the street to watch them roll downhill.

Rudy and I were into it, especially Rudy, lying on his back in the street being hyper. A good time. The three-year-old was excited about the bats, and it was a fresh feeling to be seeing them through his eyes, they looked magical, totemic, glinting in the yellow light from our kitchen door. The little boy like an urgent dwarf in a fairytale. I pick up on the mythic, magic feeling of childhood. Everything in rich color, in depth. Profound, incomprehensible, magical.

Dig these reflections of fluorescent lights on the tiles at Xanath ice cream on Valencia Street. The squiggles look like Arabic script.

I like to play with the grandchildren, grubbing with our stash of random old toys. They’re so at ease, so cuddly, sturdy, in the moment. And I’m lying on the floor, playing along, and looking at at the little kids, and I get the dizzy time-tunnel feeling that I’m peering back to 1949, looking at three-year-old Rudy. Me. A smart little boy who doesn’t yet know he’s smart. Unworried. Playing. Back into the land of magic. The peaceable kingdom. I might work some of these feelings into Million Mile Roadtrip.

Robert Williams Painting.

I haven’t really written much about going the Robert Williams art show in Santa Rosa, but oh well. Fun to talk to Williams, even if he is kind of brusque. Has this great hick accent, and is fairly intimidating—I think these feelings of mine are a carryover from studying his cartoons back in the 70s. “Rude Chuckles With A Negative Charge.” I managed to give him a copy of my art book, Better Worlds, and he said he’d look through it, “Lookin’ for stuff to steal.”

In fact he was flipping through my book in the gallery real fast, and he came to my painting “The Sex Sphere,” it’s of a giant ass with boobs on it, with an A-bomb explosion in the background, and this was very much to the Master’s taste. “Now you’re cuttin’ to the chase,” he says.

Purses are a lot like vaginas, you know? I think that might have something to do with why women like to carry big fancy purses around. Like a man carrying a bat or a billy club.

Wild ponytail on the Tornado ride at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

Anyway, I have a couple more things to mention. I’m going to appear for fifteen minutes at the tail end of V. Vale and Marian Wallace’s presentation on William Burroughs at a conference called Beatnik Shindig (ow!) at Fort Mason tomorrow at 4. I’ll be talking (briefly) about my novel Turing & Burroughs: A Beatnik SF Novel. I don’t know that Burroughsians are really aware of my book. Why would they be? No matter how tiny a splinter group I join, I’m always the outsider, the one who’s beyond the pale.

Sure, sure, wheenk, wheenk, wheenk. Anyway, I had two tough tasks in writing this novel: (1) To get my head into a place where I could believably describe a gay love affair. (2) Come to terms with the lingering tensions around Burroughs shooting his wife. (She comes back to life and shoots him .)

[Rbt. Williams cowhand lassos empty space. I used this fine, vintage move in Spaceland and in Realware, but never thought to try painting it. The Master at work.]

Also there’s a big feature article about my Journals in this week’s Metro Silicon Valley newspaper. Article by Dan Pulcrano.

Audience at my Journals event at Borderlands, June 13, 2015. Click for a larger version of the photo.

And, finally, here’s a zoomable photo of those loyal fans who showed up at my Borderlands talk. There’s a link for the talk in a previous post.

And here’s my portrait of the Master, yeah. Outta here now…

Going Live with Rudy Rucker Podcasts

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Against Recurrence #3: You Are Infinite? Making Endless Worlds.

As I mentioned in “Against Recurrence #1” contemporary cosmologists are inclined to say that the space of our universe is infinite. The whole infinite space was effectively filled with a giant flash about four billion years ago.

In 2008, I was interested in a fairly simple model for this called the cyclic universe. Invented by Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok, it basically postulates a pair of “branes” that oscillate back and forth, periodically passing through each other and thereby filling all of infinite space with a revivifying and reseeding flash. I posted about it several times, and I even discussed it on the phone with Steinhardt.

Eventually, Bruce Sterling and I even wrote a story based on this idea, it was called “Colliding Branes,” and you can read it online. I sent the story to Steinhardt, but he never wrote me back. I guess he was like, “That is not what I meant at all. That is not it at all.”

Click for a larger version.

Now, in 2015, the cyclic universe model seems to have lost ground to the eternal inflation model that I mentioned the other day in “Against Recurrence #1“. This is the idea that one speck of supermatter expands forever, and that successive regions of space “boil off” from the expanding speck, creating a diagram like the one I found in Max Tegmark’s book—I’m showing it here again, and I’ve added a drawing below.

We’re looking at a spacetime diagram, with time running up forever. The idea seems to be that the one little scrap of “starter dough” has two regions that last forever, shown on the left and the right. The “steaming off” galaxies from the starter dough keep endlessly appearing, each with its own timeline that in turn bends up and runs toward eternity. The poor saps in these galaxies (us) imagine that all of them arose at the same time. The other tricky angle is that that finite-looking space inside the “U” between the two borderlines—that space is unbounded, and in fact infinite.

Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s some cosmologists used the word ylem to refer to the starter dough, so I might use that word here too.

Really this drawing should be shaped more like a V than like a rectangle, the idea being that the horizontal dimension is tiny and finite at the bottom, and it opens up endlessly as we run up the pseudotimeline of the ylem blobby. But, as I say, we see that whole U-line as being the one moment of universal creation of an endless world.

And it’s the quantum fluctuations and wriggles in the starter dough that are seeding the infinitely many galaxy births. In other words, the starter dough contains an infinite amount of information.

What gets me attention is that the eternal inflation model is in effect ascribing infinite complexity to that finitely large initial glob of ylem. This tends to support a view of mine which is, these days, complete out of favor with scientists. That is, I advocate the doctrine of “infinities in the small.”

The current philosophy of science is dominated by the pernicious and unreasonable doctrine that space and time are quantized into pixels. But why should we believe this? It’s like the situation where, to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We use computers, so to us everything looks like a computer screen.

Quantum mechanics is only one stage of our ongoing exploration of the world. Inevitably we’ll move beyond it, onwards into the subaether, the subdimensions, the ultra particles, the rootless tree of matter, the absolute continuum, whatever. If the universe is infinitely large, why can’t we have infinities in the small? If the primordial ylem contains infinite information, then why shouldn’t the tip of my finger?

Regarding physical infinities, here are two relevant quotes from Georg Cantor, the founder of set theory, which is the mathematical study of infinity.

The fear of infinity is a form of myopia that destroys the possibility of seeing the actual infinite, even though it in its highest form has created and sustains us, and in its secondary transfinite forms occurs all around us and even inhabits our minds.

The actual infinite arises in three contexts: first when it is realized in the most complete form, in a fully independent otherworldly being, in Deo, where I call it the Absolute Infinite or simply Absolute; second when it occurs in the contingent, created world; third when the mind grasps it in abstracto as a mathematical magnitude, number or order type.

—-Georg Cantor, writing in the 1880s, passages translated by me for my nonfiction book, Infinity and the Mind.


Okay, fine. At this point you might wonder why I’m so obsessed with arguing for infinities in the small. Well, my issue, once again, is that, if we are going to have an infinite space with infinitely many planets, I don’t want to frikkin’ squander this endless grandeur on lame-butt wallpaper-like repetitions of the same things over and over and over. I don’t want the cosmos to be sit-com reruns. I want our infinite space to be filled with infinitely many worlds with no two alike! And if each of us is in fact an infinite being, then it’s clear that there’s no need to repeat. QED.

And now we get to my real underlying purpose in these posts. I’m working on a novel called Million Mile Roadtrip. My teen characters are in a car on an alternate universe that has the form of an infinite more-or-less flat plain (albeit with mountains and seas). The plain is divided into basins about ten thousand miles across. Each basin is, in effect, like the surface of a new and different populated planet, no two the same.

My question is this: what is the process that seeds a universe with an endless number of different worlds? Where does all that tasty info come from?

I’m not at all into the defeatist shoulder-shrugging non-explanation along the lines of, “Well, there’s infinitely many planets, and each one is completely random, the product of quantum coin flips so pretty much everything possible has to crop up.” This multiversal line of thought is currently much in favor, but I don’t like it. I want some frikkin’ answers, man!

[Rings from Isabel Jewelry.]

Although it’s not quite relevant, I’ll quote from an 1880s essay by Hermann Schubert, attacking the then popular spiritualist notion that there are ghosts which live in the fourth dimension. Schubert winds up his essay with these stirring words:

The high eminence on which the knowledge and civilization of humanity now stands was not reached by the thoughtless employment of fanciful ideas, nor by recourse to a four-dimensional world, but by hard, serious labor, and slow, unceasing research. Let all men of science, therefore, band themselves together and oppose a solid front to methods that explain everything that is now mysterious to us by the interference of independent spirits.

Great rhetoric. To make it fit what I’m talking about in this post, I’d need to change “independent spirits” to “unseen, endlessly spinning roulette wheels.”

What if we say that there is only one universe, and its infinite, and it’s not random at all, no, it’s filled with lovely, beautiful forms such as might be crafted by an infinite, omnipotent, eternal Mind? What if our universe is a supreme work of art? [Religion alert! Angry buzzers! Flashing red light!]

But wait. What if the supreme mind isn’t some distant, bossy God. What if the Mind is omnipresent, an ocean in which we swim, a great dance in which, by thinking our own thoughts, we participate. What if you’re infinite—and you made the world? Look within yourself. Could it really be otherwise?

Okay, fine, I enjoy writing mystical effusions, they get me high. But then I like to try and tighten it down a little more. What would be a reasonable process by which some great Designer might come up with endlessly many cool planets without having to comb through a superexponential amount of junk?

My Twitter follower R. R. Mutt reminded me of a recent article in the New Yorker about a guy, Sean Murray, who’s using what they call a “procedural algorithm” to generate endless numbers of planets for the artificial world of a forthcoming videogame, No Man’s Sky.

The idea is to come up with an algorithm that accepts some random parameters, and use that for creating your endlessly many populated planets. The desiderata are that (a) the algorithm produces something fairly reasonable-looking no matter what the parameters are, and (b) the algorithm’s parameter space contains many bifurcations—meaning that different parameters can produce totally different-looking worlds, and (c) the parameter space’s basins of attraction have a fractal quality, meaning that, by digging down into more and more precisely specified parameter sets, you can obtain infinitely many interesting and distinct outputs.

The DNA in our cells is, in a way, a parameter set for the procedural algorithm of life on Earth. And the algorithm is very richly sensitive to the parameters.

I once heard the biologist Richard Dawkins talk about the pre-Cambrian explosion of new species being sparked by something that somehow enhanced the “evolvability” of the organisms.

So as universal gods, we’d need something like DNA, but better—for spinning out an endless range of cool worlds.

And that’s all I’ve got today!

Against Recurrence #2: Am I a Finite Pattern?

I’m nowhere near finished reading Max Tegmark’s new book, Our Mathematical Universe, and my thoughts are still evolving. Looking ahead, I have a feeling the last few chapters of the book are weak, but his explanation of inflation is great. The stuff I’ve been discussing is in Chapters 5 & 6. Today’s post follows up on my post “Against Recurrence”: #1.” And I’m prompted to say more by the good comments on that post.

What I’m talking about has to do with how we might emotionally “feel” about the idea of an infinite universe that may contain identical copies of ourselves. I don’t like the idea of identical copies of me, it seems wasteful, and in some sense it makes my life seem pointless.

Rather than wholly giving way to emotion, however, I want to reason about the recurrence proposal. So, once again, the idea is to go with the idea that we have an infinite number of stars and planets and see where that takes us.

It’s hard for us to grasp how really big an infinite set is, and how strongly it differs from a finite set. If you get infinitely many tries, you really can expect to flip a googol heads in a row.

If we say the universe is akin to a 3D chessboard made up of minimal spacetime cells, and if we say that each cell can only be in some limited number of states, then our local visible universe volume is akin to an array of numbers, and therefore in the endless number of “hands of cards” that infinity deals out, it’s quite possible that the same pattern could re-emerge, and not just once, but many times or infinitely many times over.

As I say, my (emotional) issue is that it seems like waste to have an infinite universe and then to be cluttering it with repetitions of things. So I’m alternating between (a) looking for a way out and (b) coming to accept this.

One way out, as I already hinted, might be to argue against the cell-grid image of spacetime. I think such a worldview has more to do with our current cultural obsessions than with ultimate reality. A lot of scientists are, after all, geeks. People lacking in empathy, or in a poet’s “negative capability” for tolerating ambiguity, or in a relish for old-fashioned sloppiness. People who want things to be orderly, straight, square, lined up. (And, admittedly, as a mathematician, I myself have tendencies in that direction—counteracted, of course, by being a beatnik SF novelist.)

Even if we suppose there’s a smallest possible space size and a smallest time length — that is, quanta of space and of time — would these quanta really be arranged in a dry, precise grid? Not likely. Nothing in nature is dry and precise. Look at moss on a stone, look at the leaves on a tree, look at the sand on a beach. Nature duplicates herself—but only approximately.

Natural systems are chaotic. A waving leaf, a fluttering flag, a human heartbeat, or one’s flow of thoughts—in the analog idealization, these processes never ever repeat themselves. Even though, in a rough qualitative sense, they’re always doing the same thing. Chaos theory is a great teacher. Always different, yet always the same. That’s a viable option. You’re surrounded by seeming sameness in daily life but yet—ah, but yet—nothing is ever really same. You never step twice into the same river. The world is continually dancing, unfolding, jiving, and coming up with fresh variations.

Temporal sequence is a source of variation as well. It may be that, once in a blue moon, a fluttering flag takes on what seems to be the same configuration. And it may be that, at certain deja-vu-type times you feel like your head is right back where it once was. But then the next tick of time feeds in and, ah yes, the progression is, after all, different than before.

So what about the boring, jive-ass, Lego-like grid of spacetime quanta postulated by our contemporary cult of the mighty Computer? I’m saying that, far from being like 3D or 4D graph paper, we’d be looking at something more like the slightly wonky and irregular units of a honeycomb or knit scarf, with the spatial locations of cells jiggling or moving around as time went on.

How might we express such an irregularity in the spacetime cells? Well, under the current scientific dispensation it wouldn’t be kosher to talk about analog real-number distances between he cells—although I’d like to. We might to turn to something more digital like, say, “adjacency.” This brings us to the mathematical disciplines of “graph theory” or, better, “network theory,” which look at structures made of vertices (spacetime cells) with lines (adjacencies) connecting some of them.

But if we take the network theory route, we’re still stuck with the visible universe being a finite digital pattern. Rather than a 3D graph-paper-like grid, it’s now a heap of dots with lines connecting them. So we’re still stuck in Squaresville. Recurrence Land.

But wait. Let’s go back to the idea that the network is dancing, with connection lines popping in and out of existence. A Big Aha here, a Small Aha there. “Have you met my friend?” “I’m never speaking to you again.” “Let’s do-si-do.”

You might find a finite region within our infinite space that momentarily looks just like our current home region. But then, ah yes, with the next tick of time, our visible universe and the twin visible universe would progress on to different states.

Cornered now, the world-numbing advocates of Recurrence might protest, “No, that can’t happen, physics is deterministic, and any two momentarily identical systems have to stay identical forever after.” Not true. For two reasons. (a) Any region of space is going to be receiving inputs from the rest of space. Noodges and jiggles that upset and scramble whatever teetering Cat-in-the-Hat pile of plates you’ve got. (b) Even if there were nothing “outside” of these two seemingly identical regions of space—even if we were talking about two identical pocket universes—we still have the saving fact that Physics is not deterministic.

What? Not deterministic? Live by the sword, die by the sword, quantum mechanics!

Yes, stodgy, boring, spoil-everything, quantum mechanics insists that we can’t have wonderfully smooth and infinitely variously marbled matter with patterns all the way down into gloriously infinites subsubsubsublevel after subtillionlevel. But QM also delights in saying that physics is fundamentally random—in the sense that any observation that chooses between two options produces completely unpredictable outputs. The refer to the built-in randomness as the Measurement Problem. They love to get all ecstatic and mystagogic and woo-woo about it. “The QM universe is stranger than anything we can possibly imagine.”

“Measure this, mofo.” The fickle finger of Fate appears in zombie universe B, stirs the porridge, and, having writ, rocks on.

But…might it not be that, among all the seeming identical copies of our visible region’s Now Moment, there would be some other, particularly dogged, zombie regions that are tracking our moves? And here, ah yes, we’re saved by Mamma Mathematics.

If we accept the digitization of space, the number of possible visible regions in an infinite space is going to alef-null. The lowest level of infinity. But—even accepting the digitization of time—the number of possible future universe-histories is then going to be 2alef-null, which is known to be a transfinite number larger than alef-null.

Georg Cantor, father of our strange transfinite country, thought this higher-order infinite number would be alef-one, but these days, the mathematician hep-cats think it’s more likely to be alef-two. Bigger than alef-null in any case.

And this means that, in fact, the probability of finding another volume of space that behaves just like ours forever is 0. Not absolutely impossible, you understand, but an event so unlikely that the probability is formally 0.000000000… With those no-effin’-way 0’s running out forever. We’re risen from the tomb.

These posts are rhetorical as well as scientific!

By the way, ahem, there can be regions that behave just like us for arbitrarily long finite times—a different region for each specified length of time—wihout there being any region that matches us forever. But any given region eventually divergees from us. I might say more about this somewhat subtle point later.

Math is strange and wonderful. I look forward to reading the rest of Max T.’s book which, after all, has Mathematics right in the title!

Against Recurrence #1: The Odds. Infinite Space.

Today I’m returning to a question that’s nagged at me for about fifty years. You might call it the question of recurrence.

Would an infinite universe necessarily contain identical copies of me?

My post today uses some of the material that I wrote for the preface of the 2004 edition of my nonfiction book, Infinity and the Mind.

As is usual for my blog posts, most of images I include will have nothing to do with the text. At least not at the conscious or deliberate level. At the intuitive and synchronistic level, of course, each of them is a sly commentary and a perfect fit.

I’m thinking about the issue of recurrence again because I’m reading Max Tegmark’s stimulating 2014 book, Our Mathematical Universe. It’s has the best (only?) explanation I’ve ever seen of how cosmic inflation can be viewed as impling that the space of our universe is infinite—this is a connection I’ve always wondered about. The latter part of the book gets into the more familiar ideas that quantum mechanics might lead to an Evertt style multiverse, and to the very shaky idea that the world “is” a mathematical object, and that every mathematical object “is” an existing physical universe—which is, in the humble opiion of this mathematician, bullshit. You can find an early survey of TEgmark’s ideas in his 2003 article by Tegmark, “Parallel Universes,” in Scientific American.

Anyway, as I say, Tegmark is great on infinite space. Right off the bat, let me point out that there’s no mathematical certainty that a supertraveler across endless space with endless galaxies would necessarily find another Earth just like the one right here. Consider for instance an infinite set of integers which has only one odd member, the number 3. Someone who starts at 3 and looks for another odd number is going to be disappointed.

{2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, … , 2n, …}

So, as a mathematician, I’ve always bridled at the physicists’ claim that an endless world has to repeat. An infinite set doesn’t have to exhaustive.

As a higher-order rebuttal to the tedious insistence that an infinite world must repeat, I’d also point out that it might be that the objects in our world are in fact infinitely complex—and are not like the Lego-style pixel-by-pixel structures that physicists like to image them to be. If matter is endlessly smooth, then there’s room for endless, non-repeating variety.

But let’s look at Tegmark’s reasoning before I argue about it any more. The thing to keep in mind is that nowadays many cosmologists believe that our space really is truly infinite, with an endless number of stars and planets. The initial Big Bang singularity is to have happened not at any single point, but across an infinite space.

Click for a larger version.

If the old image of the Big Bang was like a white dot appearing in a plane, the new image is like an entire endless plane becoming suddenly illuminated in every part. You might visualize a sheet of light settling down upon the plane.

More precisely, Tegmark describes a sequence of events before the big bang: a tiny bit of darkly energetic supermatter undergoes an insanely rapid inflation which will last forever. The inflation fills out a finitely wide region of space and an infinite amount of future time. And what we perceive to be the big bang is a long, skinny, infinitely extended U-shaped hypersurface within the inflationary zone.

Click for a larger version.

Very hard to wrap your mind around this, but Tegmark gives a good presentation of the idea in Our Mathematical Universe, using the figure shown above — which is © Max Tegmark, 2014.

So what we call the Big Bang is that bumpy U-shaped line between the light (inflationary) zone and the dark (normal space) zone. And from our perspective that line is one simultaneous moment that happened fourteen billion years ago. And it’s infinitely large.

This idea is so novel, startling, and hard to understand that I’ll go over it again in my folow up post, “Against Recurrence #3“, that is in the post after next.

I’m going to have to talk about some very large finite numbers now. And the way we do that is with exponents. But it’s hard to show an exponent in HTML. So instead we’ll use a caret symbol, like ^, to mean “to the.” That is, we can think of 100 as 10^2, and 1,000,000 as being 10^6. Fine. And now we’re going to go crazy with this.

The region of our endless space that’s presently visible to us is a sphere with a diameter of some 10^27 or one octillion meters. (I should mention that the standard name for a number of the form 10^((k+1)∙3) has the general form k-illion.) This octillion-meter-wide sphere, which we can call our home volume, contains those objects that are close enough so that light from them has had time since the Big Bang moment to travel to us.

Suppose we make the unexceptionable assumption that our home volume has an average temperature of less than a hundred million degrees centigrade (the sun’s surface is a mere five thousand degrees centigrade). In this case, according to Tegmark, the home volume has room for some 10^118 protons. To get a handle on this number it’s useful to use the number googol, which is written as a one followed by a hundred zeroes, that is, a googol is 10^100.

10^118 = 10^(18 + 100) = 10^18 x 10^100 = 10^((5+1)∙3) x 10^100 = quintillion googol.

Now we can wonder how many distinct possible home-volume-sized regions there could be. Okay, this is where Tegmark and his camp “beg the question,” that is, this is where they slip in the conclusion that the want to reach, importing their eventual conclusion as a plausible observation about the state of affairs.

Here it is: “We can think of the home volume as a jungle-gym grid with a quintillion googol slots. One can specify an arbitrary random visible universe by deciding what to put in each slot — one might leave a slot empty, put a proton or neutron in there, or perhaps stick in an electron or some other kind of particle.”

So, okay, I’m going to argue with that. But for now, let’s follow the flow of the Tegmark argument.

To keep things reasonably simple, let’s suppose we have ten alternate ways to fill each of the quintillion googol proton-sized slots. In that case, the number of possible ways to populate a home volume with matter consists of choosing among ten options a quintillion googol times in a row, which is ten to the quintillion googol power. In describing this number, it will be useful to use googol’s big brother, the googolplex, which is a number written as a one followed by a hundred zeroes. If googol is 10^100, then googolplex is 10^googol, or 10^(10^100).

10^(quintillion googol) = 10^(10^118) = 10^((10^100)x(10^18)) = (10^(10^100))^(10^18) = googolplex^quintillion

So now we know that there are at most googolplex-to-the-quintillion possible versions of how our visible universe could appear. A large number, yes, but if our universe is truly infinite, there will be an infinite number of possible home volumes besides ours, and it seems likely that one of them could be an exact match for your own. (Although, again, this is not a certainty.)

How far off might the first copy of our visible universe be? One idea might be to set out in a straight line and whip through the first googolplex-to-the-quintillion home volumes. Just for fun, let’s give this distance a made-up name: one striiide. Given that a home volume has a diameter of a octillion meters, a striiide is an octillion googolplex-to-the-quintillion meters. Would traveling this far guarantee a hit? Not quite.

A little calculating of probabilities indicates that if I travel one striiide, I have a 63% chance of encountering a home volume exactly like the one I started from (the precise probability is very close to 1 – 1/e, where e is the base of the natural logarithm). But as I travel more striiides, the odds go up, and after ten striiides, my chances of having found a visible universe exactly like ours is better than 99.99%.

So, the argument concludes, if the universe really is infinite, then there probably are other people exactly like us somewhere out there. I find this reductive and dispiriting—but I suppose someone might view it as liberating. Like, even if you goof up your life, some other you will get it right?

Nah, to hell with that. It’s like saying nothing I do in my life matters because one of these days I’ll be safe in heaven. Don’t bet on it!

In my next post, maybe next week, I’ll say more about how we might evade the dull Lego-block view of our world as being finite in the small. If it’s infinite in the large, why shouldn’t we be enjoying infinity right here and now. Right in our bodies, and in our minds!

Click for a larger version.

Your mind is an infinite Jackson Pollock. Stay tuned.

Photo Bin: N.Herbert, Occidental, SF, Journals.

I have a lot of old photos that I never got around to putting into a post. So I thought I’d reduce my inventory in a few long Photo Bin posts.

But first a word from your sponsor.

Click for a larger version of the book cover.

Nice blurbs for my Journals from two of my friends.

“The publication of Rudy Rucker’s Journals beautifully supplements his astonishing autobiography, Nested Scrolls. For anyone who has marveled at Rucker’s gonzo, idea-rich fiction, this behind-the-scene account of his daily inspirations, brainstorms, detours and dead ends will be essential reading. But far more than that, it shows us the essential man behind the keyboard, so to speak: father, husband, citizen of the galaxy.”
—Paul Di Filippo, author of The Steampunk Trilogy.

“Rucker’s Journals are great. I fear he will be famous, long after he’s gone, for providing the best picture of late American society. Out peeps Pepys.”
—Terry Bisson, author of Any Day Now .

Click for a larger version.

Two days ago at midnight I learned how to use the pan function of my Fuji X100S. I like seeing my foot at ease there.

The next five or six photos are lo-fi iPhone 5 photos from yesterday. As they say, the best camera is the one that you have with you that day. But I do feel regret when I’m somewhere interesting with only the iPHone.

A passel of punk stickers on…some technical object. Along Bear Creek Road between Boulder Creek and Los Gatos, where there’s this one pull-out and you can look out across the big basin and see all the way to the open waters of the sea.

A skull in the Boulder Creek sage/hermit cabin of Nick Herbert, a.k.a. Frank Shook.

Saint Nick himself. Nick wrote a brilliant popularization of quantum mechanics: Quantum Reality. And his profound paper, “Holistic Physics: An Introduction to Quantum Tantra” is so important a key to my work that I keep it handily available online on my site.

My novels Frek and the Elixir, Postsingular, Hylozoic and The Big Aha were all profoundly influenced by this epochal paper.

Why isn’t Nick better known? Jorge Luis Borges put it in his essay on Herman Melville: “’Vast populations, towering cities, erroneous and clamorous publicity have conspired to make unknown great men one of America’s traditions.”

A superheterodyne laser collimation unit on Nick’s ceiling.

Two nuts.

And now back to the Fuji x100T.

Me lying on the grass staring lovingly into the lens of the new toy. Like a high-school swain on his first picnic date.

A bottle of Tide with someone’s fingers.

Mandatory calibration shot of Zhabotinsky geranium leaves.

Fuji-seen light through a towering oak.

The rest of the shots in today’s post are from my old Sony RX100, presently laid low by zoom-barrel jam.

“Hell Courtesan” scroll, ~1850, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi ( Click for a larger version of the painting.

Saw this at the Asian Art museum show “Seduction” in SF. Utagawa Kuniyoshi is awesome. He did about six paintings of the “Hell Courtesan,” a legendary geisha who was converted to a higher way by a Zen monk. Here’s a diffuse but interesting post about zen monks and prostitutes. I saw a post somewhere with a giant tattoo of the monk and the courtesan, but I can’t find it now.

Manhole mural inside the Coit Tower.

SF is full of nice ironwork.

Classic EAT sign at Gott diner at the Ferry Building in SF.

Children’s birthday-party hats. Wee wizardry. I always love the reflections of curved surfaces.

Ah, the heart’s nostalgic clutch at the sight of long grass and a motorcycle-tire swing.

This was in the nice AirBnB cottage where Sylvia and I stayed near Occidental, CA. The lady of the estate, Marylu Downing free-hand painted this great star on the wall. Her husband, Roger House, did great proofing work on my Journals.

Heaven for cows around here. I always tell the kids that after I die, I’d like to be reincarnated as a cow on a slope above the Pacific. In Big Sur maybe, or maybe above Bolinas here. That cow is me in twenty years. Another good reincarnation option would be as a pelican. Pelicans as the Hells Angels of the sky. Trundling past in a flying V. Vooden vooden.

Click for a larger version.

Panorama, seen from the road to Bolinas from Occidental, Coleman Valley Road. Cosmic, uplifting, beyond the beyond. And really only a couple of hours from our house.

Big stump at the mouth of the Russian River, where it hits a sandbar island and trickles into the sea.

Lone windblown Monterey pine near Bolinas Head.

Photogenic sail off the cliff of the Bolinas Head. So heart lifting to stand there in the wind. We have lots of room, lots of room.

Art Show. New Paintings. Fujifilm X100T Camera.

My art show at Borderlands opened this week. It’ll run through July 6. We’ll have a reception part on Saturday, June 13, at 3 in the afternoon. We’ll hang out, I’ll do a reading from Journals 1990-2014, and give a little tour of the paintings.

Click for a larger version of the poster.

And here’s a panorama shot of one of the walls in the Borderlands cafe.

Click for a larger version of the pan shot.

Many thanks to Rudy, Jr. and fellow Monkeybrainer Devin for helping me set up. No way could I hang all these paintings alone. You can find prices on my Paintings page.

“The Sage and the Messenger” oil on canvas, May, 2015, 28” x 22”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Over the last couple of weeks, I finished two new paintings for the show. The Sage and the Messenger relates to a short story I’m working on with Bruce Sterling. One of the characters is sage or hermit who lives inside in a hollowed out spot high up in the trunk of a sequoia tree. And a artificial biotweaked organism comes to bring a message to him. Wanting to lure him into a wild and hare-brained adventure. The messenger iss a thing like biological drone, or like a flying jellyfish. I like the interplay of the expressions among the sage, the jellyfish and the squirrel.

“Cells” oil on canvas, May, 2015, 24” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

About four days before the show I dove into Cells. I had no real idea what I’d paint when I started. First I did an underpainting in acrylic with a heavy gel medium to get some texture, and to have some extra color glowing through. But I don’t like how flat acrylic looks, so I layered an oil painting on top of that. I outlined some blobs in my original painting, and then filled them in to look like living cells. I used a fan brush for the halo effect, and I flicked the bristles of the fan brush to add some life with splattered dots.

A big push.

My old Sony RX100 camera died this month. The telescoping zoom lens seized up and won’t properly go in and out. I’ve had thee or four pocket digital cameras die in this same way. The lens is a definite weak point. When it breaks, it costs almost $200 to fix, so it’s questionable if that’s worth doing. So I decided to get a small “prime lens” camera, that is, a camera with a non-zooming lens. So there’s not the telescoping crap to break.

I sold a couple of paintings this month, so I splurged and went for a Fujifilm X100T. It’s a compact digital camera (despite being called Fujifilm), solid, great lens, solid metal frame, and with a nice old-school look, kind of like a vintage Leica M-Series camera, but at relatively reasonable price. Not a pocket camera, but it’s small and light.

So I’m going around taking lots of pictures. Some reviewers like to gush that the camera is so good that they use the X100T images just as they came out of the camera. Me, I pretty much run every single shot though Lightroom and/or Photoshop. That’s my work flow. That way I can crop, possibly lighten the shadows, maybe sharpen the image or warm the tone. But this particular shot is right out of the camera. A sweet shop.

I call this terrifying “hand puppet” Cousin Millie. I’ve been showing her to my kids and the grandkids for years.

And the camera is automatic enough that you can hand it to someone that the shot comes out good. I’m till learning the ins and outs of fine points of the controls. The (online PDF) manual is well over two hundred pages long.

The thing about walking around looking for shots is that I dig below the smooth familiar reality to find little bits of oddness. A dial with numbers. What might this mean?

You can never go wrong photographing street-workers’ markings on the asphalt.

Midnight in the china closet. The X100T really fills out the three-dimensional space.

Exultant in son Rudy’s car, riding through the Mission after my paintings…with my new shooter in hand.

I’ve photographed these phone/electric/cable lines a dozen or more times over the years. I think this one is better than usual. Thank you Fujifilm!

My grad-school friend Jim Carrig’s son Eamon showed up the other day. I took him to San Jose’s finest fast food stand, named simply Falafel. It’s on Stevens Creek Blvd near Bascom Ave. They’ve been there since 1966. Wonderful, wonderful falafel. Green inside, freshly cooked and mashed beans, crisp on the outside, hot.

Eamon Carrig himself. He’s started a company that’s designing small robotic sail boats. Sailing drones for the high seas.

Weirdly enough a woman reporter named Leona was at Falafel. She’s from LA, but is writing an article on falafel restaurants in California for Brownbook magazine, published in Dubai! Once the sheiks hear about Falafal of San Jose they’ll be jetting in no doubt.

“Dangerous Pass,” Journals, SF Scenes, Talk & Panel

Today’s eye candy, my latest painting. This one took me about thirty hours, a lot of layers and detail.

“Dangerous Pass” oil and acrylic on canvas, April, 2015, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I painted Dangerous Pass to help previsualize a scene in my novel Million Mile Roadtrip. My chracters are on an endless world, and they’re migrating from one Earth-sized basin to the next. They have two flying mascots, one is a UFO named Nunu, the other is a blobby creature who calls herself Meatball. My party includes Villy and Zoe in front, being lovers, with Villy just a bit uneasy, and Villy’s younger brother Scud is in back. The cadmium-red Scud is on the alert, and he’s noticing that the stones in this mountain pass are…alive. The composition and vibe of this painting were inspired by Peter Bruegel’s Conversion of St. Paul.

My 828 page book, Journals 1990-2014 is on sale now
* Paperback ($24.95) Amazon.
* (Kindle) ($4.95) Amazon.
* (Kindle and EPUB) ($4.95) via Transreal Books

And you can read a hefty free sample of the Journals as an online webpage.

I’ll be giving a one or two hour talk on the Journals at the so-called “College of Santa Cruz” group on the 3rd floor of the Logos Books building on Pacific Ave in Santa Cruz at 7:15 on Friday, May 1. The door is in the back of the building. Talk title, “Rewriting My Past.”

Oh, and another upcoming event, on Friday, April 24, I’ll be on a Cyberpunk Panel at the University of Southern California in LA. Bruce Sterling, Marc Pauline, and other fellow droids will be there too.

We spent Easter with our son Rudy Jr. and his family. Got a nice big collection of eggs. And endless line. Love the bare feet in this photo, so human.

We also went to our grandson’s third birthday party at Rudy’s house. They have a toy plastic play house and they put up a towel so the kids could “fish” by holding a line over the towel and getting, maybe, a kid-drawn paper fish in the clothespin at the end of the line. This image is like a Fairyland tollbooth.

Sylvia and I stayed in downtown SF for two nights for my 69th (!) birthday. At the cute Hotel Boheme in North Beach. We hit the recently refurbished Coit Tower. This mural is bird related.

Another shot of son Rudy’s patio. I like the plants and the toys. It’s like a diorama of life in the early 21st century. All the picture needs is people.

The top of Coit tower has a nice open feel, with high arches and the open sky. Some of the little windows around the bottom open up and you can breathe in that high ocean-scented air.

Branches on the floor of an old growth redwood grove. Like calligraphy.

We saw this on another trip, this one up to Occidental, CA—a spot I’d never visited, between Sebastopol and Bodega Bay. A friend of mine, Roger House, and his wife Marylu Downing let us use their AirBnb cabin for two nights. (More photos of this trip in a later post.) I got to know Roger as he proofread the Journals. He has a great eye for typos. And another of my friends, Michael Troutman did copy-editing and fact-checking, helping to get the proper names spelled right, as well as picking up the remaining typos.

View from Coit Tower. Click for a larger version of the panorama.

SF really isn’t a very large city, but it’s a gem.

I always like getting out of the house.

It’s good to finally have the Journals done.

Mojo Working. JOURNALS Funded.

I got my writing mojo back, returned from the underworld one more time, and I’m busy with my next novel Million Mile Roadtrip again, piling on the eyeball kicks, the unlikely incidents, and the rude dialog. Having fun with it. Kicking with my third hip. Like a Puppeteer, if you remember those three-legged guys from Niven’s classic Ringworld.

Here’s my current design for the cover for my Journals. You can click on it to make it bigger. I made it to the fundraising goal for my Kickstarter drive a couple of days ago. Many thanks to you kind and generous souls out there.

The odd thing is that, financially at least, I do better by self-publishing my books and running Kickstarters for them. Which is not to say that I might not go back to a commerical publisher for Million Mile Roadtrip — which is meant to be a book that can sell into the young adult market. At least that’s what I think, but publishers have been known to disagree with my judgements! I’ll have to see what happens. Even if I do have a commercial option for it, I may ultimately go the Kickstart / self-pub route anyway. In any case, Million Mile Roadtrip won’t be done till late this fall at the earliest. My characters are still just fixing up their car and they’ve got…a million miles to go.

Last week my wife and I hit this ancient North Beach bar called the Saloon. They have live blues there all the time and real x-section of people…not techs and yups all that much. Brown people in the mix.

I loved this one Hawaiian couple sitting at the bar near us. At some point, with no change of expression, the woman gets up and starts dancing—or, rather, making ritualized dance gestures with her arms, forearms up, forearms down. Love the dance gesture.

The band (Johnny Nitro and the Doorslammers) played one long, mostly instrumental, song with the chorus, “I’ll take you there,” and indeed the music did take me “there” to a land of peace and zonkfulness and clear white light.

“Saucer Hall” oil and acrylic on canvas, February, 2015, 30” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

And then I turned around and used that song/experience in a new chapter for my novel called “Saucer Hall.” I love it when the real world snaps right on top of whatever I’m writing. The muse in action.

Contact sheet of some images to appear in my online Photo Supplement for my JOURNALS. Click for a gigundo zoomable version of the sheet.

If I can raise a little more dough for my Journals, I’ll put in the time to make an online photo supplement with lots of photos to plug into the text.

At this point in tech, it’s not practical to put the photos into the paperback/hardback or into the ebooks. For a print book, it makes the books too long and too unwieldy to edit, and for the ebooks, it makes the file too big to comfortably download. So I’ll just figure out some kind of web site design for posting the images.

Saw all these people digging for beach glass in Davenport, CA, last month. Like sea turtles laying eggs. Maybe the beach was, in the old days, a dump? (Thus the profusion of glass.) Always interesting to see a crowd of humans intent on something like this.

Hadn’t been to Davenport in awhile. Love the water-sculpted rocks, and the patterns of the seaweed. Mother nature, always the greatest artist of all.

My Journals Project.

So I’m about to launch a new book, my Journals 1990-2014 written over the last twenty-five years. The finished volume is as long as three or four novels combined. A long-running adventure. Kind of tour of my life.

Me in 2004 leading students in Geneseo, NY, on a “reality tour” including the house where my novel White Light is set.

Editing the Journals was a pleasant, nostalgic exercise—and it’s given me a clearer idea about what kind of person I am. The image above shows an early marked-up draft proof, which has a different cover from the final version. The final cover is more like the one in the image below.

As I often do these days, I’m publishing the new book via Transreal Books, and I’m running a Kickstarter drive to raise money for it. If you sign up there, you get an ebook, paperback, or hadback—it’s not so different from placing an advance order. The books will be going out in May or June.

I made a nice video for the drive.

One of my inspirations was The Diaries of Franz Kafka: 1910-1923. I love Kafka’s spontaneous surrealism and his intimate tone. Another model is the mammoth Andy Warhol Diaries. I found Warhol’s book hypnotic. A portrait of a certain time.

What’s in my Journals?

Introspection and philosophizing. I turn to my journals when I’m undergoing a personal crisis—I find it calming to write what’s on my mind. And I’m always looking for a easy path to enlightenment.

Journalism. I like to describe the things that I see going on in the daily world around me. I’ve always enjoyed Jack Kerouac’s practice of using words to sketching the scene around me as it’s going on.

Travel. I’m particularly likely to work on my journals when I’m on the road or on a day-trip. I have many series of entries in San Francisco, New York, Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific.

Writing notes. As a transrealist, I like seeing the world in terms of science-fiction, casting daily events as ideas for my books. It’s hard to keep writing year after year, and sometimes in my notes I’m encouraging myself to keep at it. Here’s a page listing my books and software whose creation is described in the Journals.

To give you a fuller overview, I’ve posted an extensive table of contents as well.

I don’t expect many people to read my hefty Journals straight through. Dipping in is fine. And of course the ebook versions of the book will be searchable.

Another approach might simply be for you to root around, subliminally guided by the muse. You’ll find what you need.

Skiing in Wyoming. New Hip.

Sylvia and I were in Pinedale, Wyoming, for four nights, visiting our daughter Isabel.

You fly into Jackson Hole, and wham, you’re in the Tetons.

Isabel has a jewelry store in Pinedale. I love looking at all the stuff in her shop.

Nothing more fascinating than the studio of a working artist.

For me the high point of the trip was when I went cross-country skiing on virgin snow on a high mountain ridge above Fremont Lake with Isabel and her husband Gus. Such a feel of being on another planet.

On the trip I was reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 all the while. Alternating between feeling despair and hope about my own novel. He has lot of so-called terraria and aquaria, which are little worlds made from hollowed-out asteroids, in some ways like the basin worlds my characters will drive through. I like his focus on the different kinds of biomes, like alpine, rain forest, taiga, arctic, forest.

KSR excels at nature writing—staggering scenes on Mercury, Saturn, and Earth. And he gets into deep stuff about social history, quite serious and enlightening…when I do that, it’s more in a satirical Sheckley-style way.

It’s always fun walking around Pinedale. I like how this one guy has an old 1930s car in his front yard. Very R. Crumb, I think of the cover of Zap Comix #0 .

Another shot of me high up on the peak. I wear these things called gaiters around my ankles and my shins when I ski—they keep the snow from getting into your low-cut ski shoes. A tricky thing about my old gaiters is that, in order to fasten the snaps on their outer sides, I kind of need to push my knees in towards the center and twist my body.

But this is a bad thing to do if you have artificial hips, you can pop your hip out this way. I have two artificial hips: one (less good) from 2011, and one (slightly better model) from 2012.

On my last afternoon in Pinedale, I popped out the old artificial hip on my left side by twisting, squatting, and turning my knee to fasten that button my ski gaiter. I was pitifully excited about taking another ski, this one was to be on the surface of the frozen lake.

A slow crunch and slide and it’s out. It’s the third time a pop has happened on that truly crappy left hip. The previous two times I went to a clinic and the people there sedated me, pulled really hard on my leg, and popped the hip back in.

But the medics in the Pinedale clinic were somehow unable to do this, although at first we didn’t realize that they’d failed. Long story short, I underwent a grinding level-eight-out-of-ten pain haze on a very long and much delayed air trip back to my regular hip doctor in Los Gatos. I was taking a pain pill every two or three hours, which leveled it out for me. Flatness of affect.

I did see one pain + meds hallucination, a guy at a table near us in a terminal during our endless airplane trip, the guy was wearing a dark beige parka, and for a moment the wrinkled hood shape looked like a creased face containing a single large eye. Everything’s of value if you’re an SF writer.

I’d hoped my Los Gatos doctor could just pop the hip back in, but he felt it would be better to do a full re-install—with a new fake hip. An “amendment” as they call it. Went to the hospital and pre-registered, which took a really long time, with lots of redundant filling out of very nearly identical forms.

As I was riding the pain pills, the very prolonged form-filling-out process didn’t bother me. Calm acceptance. At ease in the moment. Able to stare at a talking face without caring what it’s saying. But, it’s not like being high—it’s not satisfying. It’s more like being tired. I can use this mental quality for the state of mind of one of my aliens.

Driving back from the pre-registration, with the operation slated for the next morning, we stopped by the supermarket and I wondered if I might be about to die. I used a trick I like to do when in this situation, I looked for the beauty in the world around me. Fluorescent lights and reflected trees.

The next morning I went under the knife for three hours, with spinal tap anaesthetic for my lower body, and they dosed me with Michael Jackson propofol for my head. Eventually I awoke in fits and starts in a large room with at least a dozen or maybe twenty patients coming to. Like deep-sleeper starship troopers being resuscitated. Everyone is completely out of it. Like, “Huh?” and “Wha?” The surgery recovery room. No family members allowed in here, just nurses and aides, fully unintelligible.

Conversations around me, and I imagine the conversations are important and that they include remarks directed towards me, or instructions I’m supposed to follow, or opportunities I need to pick up on. I have the feeling that the conversations relate to surfing. I try to say something in response, but I’m not sure I really do. I keep nodding off, sinking back into deep inattention.

I spent a day in the hospital, and the doctor let me go home early. Lots of pills. On the nod. He scraped my bone away from the old socket like a diver using his knife to free an anchor fluke from fans of overgrown coral. And sliced and sewed my flesh.

These two pushy physical-therapy-counselor women kept coming by my hospital room right before I left. They wanted to lecture me about the importance of exercise and careful motion, and even though at some level I knew they were right, they seemed bossy, impatient, condescending. One of the women was threatening to block my release.

It was handy to be fully loaded on meds—so I that could vacantly and insolently stare at this talking face that annoyed me, tuning it out.

Back home now, with a solid new hip, recuperating pretty fast, already able to walk, and doing an hour of therapy exercise every day. With a fresh bundle of useful SF material. And none of the pain takes away the joy of skiing that high ridge. And the joy of seeing the Isabel Jewelry world headquarters.

Lee Poague’s List: 20 Classic Films to View

Today’s long post is a guest shot from my old friend Lee Poague. Lee is a consummate movie buff, author of numerous books on Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, Susan Sontag and others…you can see a list here.

Lee Poague on Four Mile Beach north of Santa Cruz, June, 2014.

Lee was a professor for many years at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, teaching courses on film. A few months ago, I asked him for a list of films he might recommend. And here we have his thorough, fascinating, and useful response, written on February 9, 2015, and entitled: “Film Talk and Friendship.” I’ve taken the liberty of giving titles to his essay’s three sections, and you can jump to the sections with the links below.

Part I: A Prolegomena To Any Future Film Recommendations.
Part II: Lee’s List.
Part III: Let Us Now Praise Kenneth Turan.

Part I:Prolegomena To Any Future Film Recommendations.

(by Leland Poague)

So one night Rudy asks me how to surf the streaming video movie wave, how to decide which films to watch out of the seemingly endless many on offer. Not the easiest problem to resolve or reduce. I’ll begin my reply with a story.

Our firstborn’s first social outing involved an April Sunday perambulator ride across North Street to attend a backyard picnic at Rudy and Sylvia Rucker’s home—in Geneseo, New York, 1976. Afterwards, I hauled a 16mm projector across the street and the Rucker front parlor became an impromptu screening room. We watched Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon, one of the last films in my spring term film class.

Here’s another story. Toward the end of my university career I regularly taught a survey of film history course. To get started, I often asked students to give me a list of their five most favorite films. The results were striking. Rarely did any film receive a total of more than five or six votes, out of some 175 votes cast. And usually the top vote getter was a recent hit, Forest Gump, say, or Avatar. Few classic (aka black and white) films appeared on these lists, the most notable exceptions being Dr. Strangelove and Raging Bull, neither of them from Hollywood’s 1930s-40s silver screen heyday. Foreign-language films were rare; silent-era films were almost entirely absent. Some auteurs were relatively well represented—Coppola, Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg—which usually meant two or three titles per director. Otherwise, the dominant impression was of a happy cinephile anarchy.

The first story evokes an era when systematic knowledge of film history was hard to come by because few people had neighbors whose employment enabled them to order from 16mm film catalogues at the rate of two films a week. Apart from those with access to big-city revival houses or museums, most people circa the mid 1970s got their film history haphazardly from commercial television broadcasts. The second story also evinces an era of unsystematic knowledge of film history, to the extent that little consensus was evident in my class surveys, even for a generation raised on cable and VHS and DVD; their problem was less access than excess. So Rudy’s question is deeply pertinent, and is likely to become ever more complicated going forward.

The digital revolution that has helped to create the problem of too many movies and too little time also offers some remedies. makes suggestions based on a customer’s history of purchases; Netflix offers viewer ratings and allows friends to share title lists. The imdb website allows nearly instant access to director and actor and writer (etc.) filmographies; if you liked Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, maybe you’ll enjoy his Prometheus. The catch here is that multiple lists, and lists of lists, can exacerbate the problem of finding films that really matter to you, assuming that film viewing is something other than a simple pastime. (I would not deny that randomness has its own rewards, and would allow as well that the impulse to shy away from purported classics, so as to avoid the imperatives of snobbery, is sometimes justified.)

Cut to the chase. I think the best way to find films that matter to you is to listen to those who have taken the trouble to understand and elaborate why particular movies have mattered to them, people whose memories and words can be checked against your own at crucial points in ways that make their assessments of film you have not seen yet both credible and suggestive.

Such recommendations carry the authority of thoughtful experience rather than that of academic or historical expertise alone, and they positively invite a thoughtful rejoinder, which may take the form of offering recommendations in return. With this guest post on Rudy’s blog, I’ll throw out some suggestions of my own to exemplify the process.

Part II: Lee’s List

(by Leland Poague)

Here are twenty movies I would recommend you see. Whether well known or obscure, all are films I would gladly see again, especially with companions whose varieties of engagement and response would test and renew my own.

Workers Leaving the Factory (1895). Usually described as the first film shot by the Lumière brothers with their cinématographe camera/projector device, this actually exists in three different versions, filmed in the spring and summer. The liveliness of these single-take, 50-some-second images is still astounding and reminds us of the degree to which animation, of human beings and technologies, is at the heart of cinema. To judge by the grins and gaits of the employees—most of them women—the Lumière factory in Lyon must have been a great place to work. (Though you can see these on You Tube, my favorite source is Kino Video’s The Lumière Brothers’ First Films DVD, as much for Bertrand Tavernier’s voice-over narration as for the quality of the images.)

The Kid (1921). This was Chaplin’s first self-directed feature-length film. Chaplin’s gift for Dickensian sentimentality is nowhere more evident than in the pathos of Charlie’s improvisatory relationship with Jackie Coogan’s foundling; Chaplin’s comical, sometimes surreal depictions of the brutalities of working-class urban life evoke many of D.W. Griffith’s early Biograph shorts and also the “modern” story of his 1916 epic, Intolerance. Though Chaplin’s extraordinary international celebrity made him fabulously wealthy, he never lost his sympathy for the dispossessed and disadvantaged.

Metropolis (1927). Purportedly the most expensive film ever made at the time of its initial 1927 release, Fritz Lang’s sci-fi masterpiece was subsequently and severely recut and exists in multiple versions, most recently a nearly complete restoration incorporating footage from a 16 mm print discovered in an Argentine film archive in 2008. Written by Lang’s then wife, Thea von Harbou, Metropolis combines gothic and futuristic elements in a dystopian fable of technology run socially and sexually amuck. Though the political allegory leaves the master/slave class structure ominously intact, the psychological extravagance of the Oedipal plot, and of Lang’s architectural treatment of its flows and surges, verges on hysteria if not ecstasy. Astonishingly, the almost complete 148 minute version of the film sustains this all-out momentum far better than its variously abbreviated avatars, even Giorgio Morodor’s 1984 rock-and-roll treatment.

The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936). Few moments in the history of film are more resonant both of hope and despair than the scene towards the end of Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion when Jean Gabin holds Little Peters in his arms and tells her widowed German mother (Dita Parlo) that “Lotte hat blaue Augen” just before Gabin and his fellow P.O.W. escapee (Marcel Dalio) depart Frau Elsa’s farmstead refuge and make their way to Switzerland and freedom. A similar moment marks the close of Renoir’s “Popular Front” comedy The Crime of Monsieur Lange. Headed down a windy beach toward the Franco-Belgian border, Amédée Lange (René Lefèvre) and Valentine Cardès (Florelle) stop in mid flight, turn, and wave to the camera, as if waving to us. (Gabin’s character dares not look back in Grand Illusion.) The implication that we are thereby members of the informal, working-class cafe jury that has effectively acquitted M. Lange of murder is confirmed in the reverse shot, in which two of their number acknowledge the gesture and return the salute. Justice here is ad hoc, as it will be three years later at the end of John Ford’s Stagecoach, when John Wayne’s escaped convict and Claire Trevor’s exiled saloon girl depart from Lordsburg for Mexico to start a new life beyond the reach of American law. That the self-effacing M. Lange is best known to his mid-thirties Parisian contemporaries as the author of the idealistic, anti-fascist “Arizona Jim” western stories confirms the uncanny Renoir/Ford affinity, as does the raucous good humor of the publishing cooperative that flourishes in the absence of the film’s villain-cum-publisher, whose return from presumed death leaves M. Lange little option but homicide and flight.

The Philadelphia Story (1940). Romantic comedy in ‘30s and ‘40s Hollywood attracted some of the industry’s most accomplished (and attractive) talents, both on screen (Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, Irene Dunne, Cary Grant) and behind it (Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder). Director George Cukor’s smartly mounted production of the Philip Barry stage play features Grant along with Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart, all in top form; luminous, witty, surprisingly vulnerable. Many of the era’s screwball comedies featured cross-class romances, often a down-on-his-middle-class-luck male matched with a head-strong if erotically-befuddled heiress. The Philadelphia Story multiplies the possible pairings (Hepburn has three suitors, among them her alcoholic ex-husband) and takes any number of Freudian and Shakespearean chances in ruminating on what it means to be a “first class human being.” The importance of casting can be seen in the relative slackness of the film’s mostly agreeable musical 1950s remake, High Society, where Grace Kelly nearly manages to out sing Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra both.

Notorious (1946). Alfred Hitchcock’s preeminence among studio-era directors is typically seen to follow from his preternaturally skillful manipulations of “suspense.” Psycho can be seen as Hitchcock’s definitive effort both to capitalize upon and to erase this expectation via the infamous lead-killing shower murder, which occurs strikingly early in the story. Like Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane in Psycho, Ingrid Bergman’s “notorious” Alicia Huberman is victimized by a desperately vengeful “Mother” figure, and also by variously neglectful if not callous patriarchs, both expatriate Nazis and US intelligence agents who use Alicia’s status as the reputedly dissolute daughter of a convicted German spy as a means of penetrating a Brazil-based Nazi sleeper cell engaged in the development of nuclear (implicitly weapons grade) materials. Casting Cary Grant as Bergman’s US contact turns the espionage plot into a love story pitched incongruously between romantic comedy and the Brothers Grimm, especially when Alicia’s cover is blown and her newly-espoused German husband (Claude Rains) and her manipulative live-in mother-in-law start dosing her coffee. That love is the antidote only confirms the extent to which love is always already a drug, and Hitchcock’s skill in balancing our desire that Alicia be rescued with our sympathy for her husband’s sad dignity in defeat yields a conclusion both poignant and disturbing.

My Darling Clementine (1946). John Ford’s The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are more typically adduced in top-ten or top-twenty lists, not least because of the way Ford rubs John Wayne’s maverick (even psychotic) individualism against the grain of the community he ostensibly represents. There’s also a Henry Fonda strain in Ford, running from Young Mr. Lincoln to Mister Roberts, where Fonda’s visionary capacity for astonished thoughtfulness is typically underscored. My Darling Clementine slots Fonda into the Wayne role as an enforcer of (questionable) community standards, though the arrival of Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs) promises something like hopeful social change. Though Ford is a hard sell among undergrads these days, I still esteem him as the Shakespeare of cinema, not least for his career-long obsession with America’s history and mythology. The saloon scene where Fonda’s Wyatt Earp witnesses Victor Mature’s Doc Holliday completing Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy when a woozy tragedian cannot go on is deeply evocative in its multiple pertinences and perspectives.

Tokyo Story (1953). The films of Yasujiro Ozu are nearly always parables of domestic discord, shifting delicately yet tellingly between the comic and the bittersweet. Tokyo Story is arguably as bitter as any film Ozu ever made. Aging parents venture from Onomichi to Tokyo “while [they] still can” to visit their Tokyo-resident children and grandchildren and the widow of their eldest son, who died in the Pacific War. The children, with the notable exception of the daughter-in-law, are too busy to entertain them, and every effort to remedy the resulting awkwardness only yields further embarrassment. Whether the grandmother’s death upon their (premature) return to Onomichi is attributable to the stress of the Tokyo visit is uncertain, though it requires the children to gather together in Onomichi for her funeral. Yet if bitter, also hauntingly sweet, in the loving precision of Ozu’s images and the curt (almost Beckett-like) irony of the script Ozu co-wrote with Kogo Noda. Though Ozu frequently alluded to American and European films in his own movies, his concerted attention to the specifics of Japanese social life—its settings and gestures and rhythms—discovers a world quietly replete with significance and love, even something like hope.

Pather Panchali.(1955). Though the productivity of Bollywood has long rivaled or exceeded that of Hollywood, Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (like his career more generally) stands apart from the melodramatic glitz of the mainstream Indian film industry, and this despite the fact that Ray openly acknowledged being inspired by European and American auteurs with wide popular appeal: Jean Renoir, Vittorio De Sica, Frank Capra, John Ford. I have not yet seen the other two films in The Apu Trilogy, of which Pather Panchali is the first installment, but my one encounter with Pather Panchali haunts me still: for its leisurely, lilting pace; for its detailed depiction of a rural Indian village; for the poignancy and lyricism of key sequences, where the forces of urbanization (in the form of a railroad) uncannily intersect with the cycles and spaces of rural life. Where De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves follows a father and son through Rome in search of the bike upon which their family’s livelihood depends, Pather Panchali stays at home with the family while the father seeks to recoup their sagging fortunes in a too-distant city. Ray’s depiction of the resulting hardships, especially those affecting the family’s women, is quietly heartbreaking.

Wild Strawberries (1957). I came of cinematic age one weekend afternoon in the late 1950s when my widower father deposited myself and my younger brother at a neighborhood San Francisco movie house; while Dad went pub crawling with his younger brother, Dennis and I watched a double bill of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring. (Bergman as baby-sitter!) Though the only film I recall my father ever enthusing over was Hitchcock’s Vertigo, I wish I could have shown him Wild Strawberries, for its caustic if finally sympathetic portrait of an aging doctor whose coldness to those closest to him is softened by a series of psycho-expressionistic encounters with his past and the influence of a trio of youthful hitchhikers he picks up as he and his mournfully severe daughter-in-law drive to Lund, where he is to receive an academic honor. Though Bergman’s view of adult life is generally brutal in its depicted refusals and betrayals, as in Persona or Shame, Wild Strawberries contains that skepticism within a Proustian framework where memory allows some room for insight and reconciliation.

Rio Bravo (1959). Though it lacks the classical-Hollywood snap of Only Angels Have Wings and To Have and Have Not—films often described as its prototypical predecessors in an informal “existential” trilogy—Rio Bravo remains the definitive Howard Hawks film, evoking a world of teamwork both professional and sexual, in front of the camera and behind it as well. Angie Dickinson’s poker-playing widow is the Hawksian Woman par excellence, prizing her freedom but open to attachment, while John Wayne is the laconic lawman whose emotional reticence is increasingly called into question while he endeavors to hold a murder suspect in custody despite extra-legal efforts by the latter’s cattle-baron brother to spring him. The casting of Walter Brennan, Ricky Nelson, and Dean Martin lent the film a weird, television sit-com vibe at the time of its initial release, but its self-consciously reflexive qualities, at least in retrospect, evoke both Brecht and Beckett as Wayne’s besieged sheriff and his crew of cast-off deputies await a Federal Marshall who never arrives.

La Jetée (1963). Chris Marker is chiefly remembered as a documentarian, though his left-political leanings and essayistic procedures extend the documentary form far beyond journalistic “realism.” La Jetée is a speculative fiction composed largely of still images accompanied (in signature Marker style) by voice-over commentary. The rebus-like story we encounter—of a prisoner haunted by childhood memories of an airport, a woman, and a shooting—recalls Renoir’s Charleston Parade (in depicting Paris as a post-apocalyptic wasteland) and directly evokes Hitchcock’s Vertigo (in using a sequoia cross section as a temporal map). The prisoner’s memory-encouraged capacity for time travel, tested in repeated experimental journeys to pre-WWIII Paris, is employed by his jailors to solicit emergency assistance from the distant future. At risk of execution after the successful completion of his mission, he eschews the invitation of the world to come and chooses, instead, to return to pre-war Paris, where death is imminent but life beckons in a woman’s glance. Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys is only one of several films inspired by Marker’s 27-minute masterpiece.

Alphaville (1965). This film’s sub-literary subtitle, “a strange adventure of Lemmy Caution,” confirms Jean-Luc Godard’s abiding agent provocateur interest in the intersections of popular and canonical cultures. Alphaville (actually Paris and environs) is a futuristic city where life is lived according to the dictates of an omnipresent (and strangely poetic) super computer, “Alpha 60.” Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine, an American actor who’d played the same gumshoe character in numerous European genre films) is a James Bond style intergalactic secret agent tasked to kidnap Professor von Braun (aka Leonard Nosferatu), the father of Alpha 60; in the event, Lemmy plugs the professor with his film noir automatic, disables Alpha 60 with a riddle (effectively, the film itself), and rescues the professor’s beautiful daughter while Alphaville descends into entropic chaos around them. References to the holocaust (several female characters sport tattooed ID numbers) effectively conflate WWII and the Cold War, but the delirious modernist poetry of Godard’s dialogue and images—especially via the rapturous voice and face of Anna Karina—invokes the can-do romantic courage of Bogart and Bacall (“Je … vous … aime”) on a mythic, interstellar scale.

The Chase (1966). It is hard not to read this flawed Arthur Penn masterpiece as a post-Camelot retort to the optimistic existentialism of Rio Bravo, given that Angie Dickinson plays the wife of a latter-day Texas sheriff whose efforts to contain the violence unleashed by a local cattle-country corporate grandee (E.G. Marshall) in his anxious efforts to determine the fate of a (sexually) reckless relative (a son here, a brother in Rio Bravo) literally and spectacularly blow up, with tragic effects in The Chase evocative of the Kennedy assassination’s aftermath. With Marlon Brando as the put-upon sheriff, Robert Redford as an escaped convict suspected of murder, Jane Fonda as the latter’s wife and paramour of the grandee’s son—other noteworthy cast members include Miriam Hopkins and Robert Duvall—The Chase provides an extraordinary anthology of late-Hollywood acting styles, while the sheriff’s “innocent until proven guilty” efforts to place the Redford character in protective custody before local vigilantes discover his whereabouts evoke an out-of-place idealism that will migrate to the far side of the law in Penn’s next film about young runaway Texans, Bonnie and Clyde.

Last Tango in Paris (1972). A ghostly antagonist in many of Bernardo Bertolucci’s distinguished films (1900, The Last Emperor) is History, in a Marxian sense, evoking the operatic if not apocalyptic legacy of Luchino Visconti, as in Senso, say, or The Damned. A second obvious influence, especially in Last Tango, is Jean-Luc Godard, here personified in the film director played by New Wave stalwart Jean-Pierre Léaud whose willingness to live the clichés of bourgeois romance (“la marriage pop”) while simultaneously filming them (“If I kiss you, it might be cinema”) stands in sharp (if progressively muted) contrast to the psycho-social agonies of the Marlon Brando character, who seeks to temper the emotional impact of his French wife’s recent suicide by engaging in compulsive, no-names sex with the flower-child stranger played by Maria Schneider. The Brando character revolts against a patriarchal/theological status quo (the “Holy Family, Church of good citizens”) by openly enacting a brutality at its heart, only to discover its libidinal appeal. Like the Belmondo character in Godard’s Breathless, Brando’s character pays for his romantic idealism with his life; in both cases, it’s a young proto-feminist woman who’s tasked to confront (or not) the last-minute consequences. Vittorio Storaro’s slab-of-color lighting schemes evoke the Francis Bacon paintings seen in the film’s credits, while the film’s mise-en-scène of empty rooms and shadowy hallways intimates the void in which Bertolucci’s characters play out their scenarios of egotistic indulgence and social alienation.

Small Change (1976). The inevitable comparison of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard nowadays favors the latter, though Truffaut’s first three feature films—The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim—represent a debut with scant precedent in terms of cinematic quality and film-historical impact. Small Change is “late” Truffaut (alas!) but it expresses great tenderness with cinephile wit and precision in depicting the last few weeks of the school year in the city of Thiers mostly from the vantage point of adolescent (or nearly adolescent) children. The communalist influence of Jean Renoir is evident in the way the stories of numerous children and their (sometimes single) parents interlock, especially those of Julien Leclou (whose tattered clothes and petty thievery evince his troubled family circumstances) and Patrick Desmouceaux (whose motherless existence renders his path toward sexual maturity serially awkward). Though Truffaut is sometimes assailed as apolitical (or worse), Small Change repeatedly depicts cinema as treating political issues (a newsreel account of the still-fraught relations between France and Algeria) and as showing how such issues intersect with familial/aesthetic concerns (in a later newsreel account of Oscar the whistler and his mixed linguistic heritage). A teacher’s idealistic end-of-term address on generational injustice and the logic of love, nearly Shakespearean in its folkloric compression and wisdom, is touchingly earnest.

Rhapsody in August (1991). Given Akira Kurosawa’s influence on Sergio Leone, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese—not to mention Rashomon or his various Toshiro Mifune film noirshe is arguably the most influential director since D.W. Griffith or Sergei Eisenstein. Rhapsody in August is late Kurosawa, reminiscent of Tokyo Story in its study of a family stressed by generational tensions and the legacy of the Pacific War, though here the family lives both in Nagasaki and Hawaii rather than Tokyo and Onomichi. Richard Gere plays a nisei American cousin who travels to Japan after the death of his Japanese-born father to visit his elderly aunt and her teenage grandchildren. Family reconciliation entails confronting the legacy of the atomic bomb that killed the grandmother’s husband in 1945. Though often light and comic in its treatment, key moments evoke the manic energies of The Seven Samurai and the lyric expressionism of Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams.

The Piano (1993). One of the few women ever nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director, Jane Campion is widely respected for her exceptionally intelligent depictions of heroically exceptional women. Holly Hunter’s Ada McGrath is willfully mute, as if her passion for the expressiveness of piano playing betrayed her aversive disappointment with social discourse under 19th-century patriarchal circumstances. Campion’s depiction of white settlers in New Zealand contrasts their puritanism with more relaxed Maori attitudes; Ada’s audacious sexual reawakening—she already has an out-of-wedlock daughter (Anna Paquin) when her Scottish father ships her off to New Zealand to marry—is prompted by Harvey Keitel’s American ex-whaler gone native, who rescues her piano from its shoreline exile. Campion’s romantic portrait of New Zealand’s island geography contrasts with the cozy squalor of the inland settlement and the overpowering constrictions of the New Zealand bush. The film’s surprisingly happy ending—which finds McGrath and Baines (Keitel) resettled together in Nelson, where she teaches piano and has resumed speaking—actually reinforces our deep identification with Ada’s interiority, however grateful we may be that she’ll have appreciative listeners, by contrast with her earnest but hopelessly conventional husband.

Ride with the Devil (1999). Born in Taiwan, with advanced degrees from Illinois and NYU, Ang Lee is the international director par excellence whose films take place in a variety of global and temporal settings: Taiwan, Manhattan, Regency-era England, Qing-era China, Shanghai/Hong Kong, Wyoming, etc. Ride with the Devil is perhaps Lee’s most wonderfully American movie, though its America is the Kansas/Missouri border in the midst of the Civil War; its central character is a German immigrant fighting with Southern irregulars whose main activities, before they join in Quantrill’s infamous raid on Lawrence, Kansas, amount to dodging Union patrols and reading aloud from captured family letters. Despite its epic canvas, Ride with the Devil is an affectingly intimate movie, depicting the intricacies of friendship, loyalty, and love in the midst of national carnage. Though Toby Maguire’s Jake Roedel breaks with his Unionist father to ride with his barely-of-age Confederate brothers, his deepest loyalty is eventually to ex-slave Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright), whose presence among the secessionist cohort provides an eloquently ironic gloss on the rampant tribalisms on view, both then and now. The inevitable comparison of Roedel and Holt to Huck and Jim in Huckleberry Finn is not all to Twain’s favor.

Bamboozled (2000). Spike Lee’s penchant for controversy is more than matched by his passion for film and film history; even in so Brooklyn-centric a film as Do the Right Thing he pays emphatic homage to Godard’s Breathless. (Where Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character only names his lover’s various body parts, Lee’s Mookie names those of Rosie Perez while literally caressing them with an ice cube!) Bamboozled’s take on media history is even more emphatically, even crudely, Brechtian, in that Lee’s central character (Damon Wayans) proposes a minstrel show television series in the hope of getting fired by his boorish network superior; the show, against expectations, becomes a hit, to the point where its studio audiences mime the cast by sporting blackface. Radical hip-hoppers kidnap and assassinate the show’s star; Wayon’s character is killed in turn, as much by the montage of racially-canted film and cartoon clips he watches while dying as by his production assistant’s revolver. Lee slathers the irony on generously, but with an energy and inspiration that bespeaks an almost missionary vocation for cinema. (Though music figures prominently in nearly every film on my list, I am surprised that this is as close as I come to recommending a musical, of the “putting on a show” sub-genre.)

Land of Plenty (2004). Well known for his use of avant-garde rock in his soundtracks, German director Wim Wenders here draws his title and (one guesses) considerable inspiration from a Leonard Cohen/Sharon Robinson song. Like a number of independent films of its era (Bamboozled, among them), Land of Plenty was shot digitally, and its main characters—Michelle Williams as the twenty-something child of Christian missionaries who returns from Tel-Aviv to Los Angeles to serve at a homeless shelter while searching for her deceased mother’s brother and John Diehl as her “screwed up in ‘nam” uncle who lives as a freelance, post-9/11 anti-terror operative—are linked to life as much by technology as by their fragile family connection. Their shared journey to deliver the body of a murdered Pakistani immigrant to his Death Valley trailer-park brother sparks a longer cross-country pilgrimage and yields multiple epiphanies, rendered all the more moving by the interplay of genuine reverence and Keystone Kops surrealism.

Part III: Let Us Now Praise Kenneth Turan

(by Leland Poague)

Kenneth Turan with Rudy Rucker in Santa Cruz, 2004. Photo by Patty Williams..

To wrap this up, I’ll mention a nice set of movie recommendations that’s between hard covers. The book is Not to Be Missed (Public Affairs, 2014); its author is Kenneth Turan, a much-honored journalist and regular NPR film critic whose cultural accomplishments include a mid-1960s stint as Rudy’s Swarthmore College roommate.

Though Turan’s title evokes the imperative, its subtitle (Fifty-Four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film) and conceptual apparatus appeal to the inevitable contingency of the exercise. He summarizes the twin purposes of the volume and of his career in his Introduction:

I write to be a guide for the perplexed (to borrow Maimonides’ wonderful title), to help viewers find films they will love. But writing reviews soon became more than that. Through focusing intently on what I liked and disliked, it gradually became a process of finding out what was important to me on a broader scale. A way to find out, in short, who I am.

My willingness to recommend Turan’s book follows the pattern of advice mentioned above. Where the film in question is one I know, I have nearly always found Turan’s analysis engaging and illuminating. Listen to what he has to say about Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr., for example.

No matter what happened to Buster’s character, and extreme scenarios were his specialty, he never got overly emotional or pleaded for an audience’s sympathy. Rather, like a comic philosopher of despair, he accepted the world and his lot in it and tried to make the best of an increasingly preposterous situation.

That Turan is obviously deeply sympathetic to Keaton and his character only underscores the poignant sincerity and accuracy of his description.

Likewise, where the film in question is unfamiliar to me, even previously unheard of, I have typically found Turan’s thoroughness and earnestness hopefully encouraging. Not being a big fan of British costume or heritage films, I have never seen the Merchant-Ivory production of E.M Forester’s Howards End. But Turan has a great line about Emma Thompson’s performance. “An actress who can break your heart just by widening her eyes, Thompson takes over this part totally, and … manages the extremely difficult feat of making decency and caring into heroic qualities”

To the extent that the world on view in the 54 films (or 55 or 56 or 110 films; Turan happily fudges these parameters) under study is a modern world, busy being born and busy dying too, Turan himself can be described as heroic in his efforts to cope with, to confront the implications of, the worlds that we share on film.

Turan aims high, in hoping to encourage others to love the films he has loved. He describes those films as friends who’ve enriched his life. There is a risk worth observing here, one that the internet has dangerously amplified: if you only listen to your friends, only seek out others whose views agree with yours, those views may become more narrow rather than less so

Turan takes note of a cognate risk, in remarking upon the paradox whereby his personalizing of the films he writes about is necessary if his emotions and understanding are to be enlarged. Part of my initial response to Not to Be Missed—or at least to its table of contents—was astonishment at Turan’s neglect of Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks; without his discussion of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, it would have been a shutout for two directors I continue to swear by. And whatever happened to Frank Capra? But upon reflection this difference is as crucial as the fact that we sometimes agree, especially if the point in question is the value to me of Turan’s recommendations. (Only one of the films I’ve recommended above—The Crime of Monsieur Lange—appears among Turan’s 110.)

I have seen many of the films Turan writes about in Not to Be Missed.  Nonetheless, I found his book exciting and illuminating for the depths of his insights and the quality of his writing, always thoughtful, always friendly—and never condescending, either to his readers or his subjects. He helps make old films new again, as if there were more to be seen than I’d ever imagined; and he offers approaches to films I haven’t seen that make me eager to engage them. If you need additional recommendations, I recommend you start with Ken Turan’s.

In the Preface to his Transreal Trilogy (Transreal Books, 2014), Rudy Rucker defines transrealism as “Transmuting your ordinary life into science fiction.” As a writer of transreal science fiction, Rudy has few peers. Among Kenneth Turan’s few peers among critics, I would count Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert, David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson, and Amy Taubin.

What Rucker and Turan have in common, I want to say, is a knack for transmuting something ordinary (living a life, going to the movies) into something wonderful and wonderfully sharable—by finding words that show how extraordinary the world can be when approached in a spirit of adventure and receptiveness and love. Thanks, guys.

And many thanks to Lee for his lovely post! — RR.

The Complete Zap Comix

Sylvia and I went to the book launch party for the Complete Zap Comix boxed set at City Lights this week. There were 17 issues of Zap, running from #0 through the new #16 included with the set.

[Graffiti at Sloat Street beach in San Francisco.]

Of the eight Zap artists, Paul Mavrides, Robert Williams, and Victor Moscoso were there. Spain Rodriguez and Rick Griffin are dead. S. Clay Wilson has brain damage from a fall. Gilbert Shelton and R. Crumb remained in France.

There’s a famous story about Crumb declining to participate in the traditional group “jam session” comic for Zap #14, and the other artists were mad at him. In the resulting jam, various seedy and eldritch cartoon characters are bringing R. Crumb’s amputated penis and the tattooed mummy of T. V. pitchwoman Betty Furness to the court of a king. A dessert is served to the king. Here’s the fairly hilarious conclusion of that jam, this frame largely drawn by Shelton with Wilson in the background, and with the follow-up frame including Spain and Mavrides.

A frame from “(Self) Important Comics” in Zap #14, pen and ink on paper, Copyright © 1998 by Gilbert Shelton, Paul Mavrides, Spain, Robert Williams, Victor Moscoso, and S. Clay Wilson” Click for a larger version of this image plus the next frame.

I was planning not to buy the massive six volume + portfolio of prints Complete Zap Comix—the price is exorbitant. But, filled with the joy of talking to Robert Williams (who did the cover of the first edition of my book All the Visions) and to my pal Paul Mavrides . My mind snapped and went ahead and bought the thing.

You can see a lot of work by Robert Williams on his website. Paul Mavrides doesn’t have a website for his work, but you can do a Google image search to see lots of photos of his work, and of him. Also he had a show at the Steven Wolf gallery last year. And here’s a PDF of an interview I did with Paul for Mondo 2000 back in 1993 when Paul was painting on black velvet.

I wish I could meet Gilbert Shelton sometime. His work, Philbert Desanex’ 100,000th Dream is one of my all time favorites, and I dream of writing a novel that’s somehow akin to it.

Cover of Zap #8, Copyright © R. Crumb 1974, from the Complete Zap Comix portfolio Click for a larger version of the image.

The set includes high-quality prints of the old covers, one of my favorites is shown above. This image has always unsettled me in a deep way, as I can so easily visualize myself doing what this man has done. It’s a transreal depiction of overly wild mental self-examination or self-warping—and I’ve done a lot of that over the years, as part of my creative process of believing (temporarily) some really strange ideas while getting my head into the right space for writing my various SF and pop-sci works.

“I Once Was Blind” oil on canvas, January, 2015, 18” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I finished a new painting of my own this week. It was inspired the work of Keith Haring that I saw in his big show at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco—I posted about this show earlier this month.

My painting is called I Once Was Blind , taken from a line of the gospel hymn “Amazing Grace,” as in, “I once was blind, but now I see.” The saucers are enlightening the benighted humans below. These days I tend to think of UFOs as organic living beings—and not as spaceships with aliens inside them. The saucers are the aliens. Like rubbery flying jellyfish. They can attach themselves to things like leeches or limpets. Each of them has a single large eye. I’m going to be using these saucer being are going to be appearing in my next novel, Million Mile Road Trip, which is starting to come along pretty well these days.

By the way, I Once Was Blind and many of my other paintings are for sale online via my Paintings page. I recently lowered all my prices—particularly the prices of my older works—and I really hope to sell one of them this month. I need to recoup some of that money I blew on The Complete Zap Comix!

Back to that Zap launch event for a minute. The assembled artists did a panel, telling stories about the old days. Robert Williams is probably the best raconteur of the lot. He has a southern/western accent that’s superficially at odds with his deeply transgressive paintings and his juvenile-delinquent hoodlum demeanor (even at age 70)—and somehow this makes his stories even funnier.

Williams got his start working as the art director for the legendary hot-rod artist Big Daddy Roth in Southern California. After Williams got in with the Zap Comix crew, he took R. Crumb down to meet the heroic Big Daddy. Says Williams, “Crumb showed Roth his sketch book, and Roth was leaning over it and a long strand of drool came out of his mouth and dripped onto a page of Crumb’s sketch book. Drool right out of his mouth. End of story.”

Thoughts on Writing a YA novel. “Million Mile Road Trip.”

I’ve mentioned in this blog that I want to write a novel about a very long road trip in a universe where Earth, instead of being a sphere, is more or less endless prairie, interrupted by mounts and seas, and with an utterly different civilization every ten thousand miles or so.

[Painting by Keith Haring, vinyl paint on a vinyl tarp.]

My working title is Million Mile Road Trip, and here’s a link to my blog posts about it.

I’ve decided to slant this new SF novel towards being a YA book. I might have a better shot at that fabled wider market that way, and it would be a nice change of pace for me. My 2004 novel Frek and the Elixir was in fact YA or even middle-reader (the hero was 12), but somehow nobody noticed.

The thing that makes YA seem feasible for me is that I’m free to write a YA without downgrading what I do. I realized this when went to the 2014 Nebulas in San Jose for an afternoon last year, and I attended a panel on YA writing. It included the writers Cynthia Felice, Erin Hoffman, Bennett Madison, and the redoubtable Ysabeau Wilce. They totally are regular writers, and I liked how casual they were about the middle-reader and YA genres, saying these were mainly marketing niches, and that older books such as Huck Finn or Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird might well have been put into those categories. They also said you should use whatever language you like, and not be hung up on using a limited-vocabulary word-list.

I’m free to write my YA SF novel as I see fit because, if I can’t get a publisher to take the novel, then I’ll just self-pub it via Transreal Books like I’ve been doing of late. But it might be fun to get a traditional publisher once again.

My agent John Silbersack pointed out to me that middle-reader and YA book editors are prickly about adult writers thinking they can just parachute in and do a book in their market. You have to be serious about it, or they reject you. You can’t be pretending. So it’s a matter of getting my head in the right place. In some sense thinking like a young person. Or like several of them. Not impossibly hard for me, given the kind of person that I am—a rebellious dreamer who refuses to “grow up.”

[Seen in the New Guinea collection upstairs at the DeYoung Museum in SF.]

Superficial observations:

A lot of YA books have short chaps. Makes them seem easy to read, I guess. Bam, bam, bam. Short attention spans these days (including mine).

In a YA novel, the main character has some special characteristic that the outer world has failed to recognize, or which the o. w. even views as a fault—but it just this particular quirk which allows our protagonist to access his or her wondrous adventure.

YA can allow you to make the book somewhat cartoony and parodistic. Like an episode of Futurama. You can use familiar tropes with new twists. Let the readers relax and wallow.

By way of research, I’ve looked at quite a few books on the YA shelves of bookstores and libraries, and some of them are really awful. Like TV. The book I don’t like use a limited-vocabulary first-person point of view that I find tiresome. The gushing, the slobbering, the emoting, the repetitious wheenk. Filtering everything through one limited person’s attitudes. This first person narration sucks all the air out of the room. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ll want to make the narration contemporary and colloquial—without descending into a corner full-bore Valspeak. I mean, don’t make it corny, don’t try too hard.

While waiting to start my novel, I’ve been rereading Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow once again. And, as usual, I’m trying to get a handle on the nuts and bolts of Pynchon’s narrative technique. Somehow I find this very difficult. I get so mesmerized when I’m reading the book that it’s hard to slow down and look behind the curtains. Putting it another way, peering at Pynchon’s style is like trying to stare at the sun.

I recently found a very useful description of the man’s style at the start of a longish 1996 work by Michael Davitt Bell (1962-1997), “Some Things That ‘Happen’ (More of Less) in Gravity’s Rainbow .” Here’s a lightly edited excerpt of the opening paragraphs of Bell’s valuable survey of the novel:

[Detail of a quilt by Sylvia Rucker.]

The book is narrated, throughout, in the present tense. Flashbacks (or events remembered by various characters) usually begin in the past tense, but they tend to shift rapidly into the present tense. The narrator is also capable, upon occasion, of flashes forward. Point of view shifts frequently and is sometimes indeterminate (or omniscient). And much of what ‘happens’ (it’s hard to say how much) is fantasy (it’s often hard to say whose).

So we’re talking about writing in a present tense head-hopping third-person point-of-view. You narrate it like you’re describing a movie, cutting from camera to camera in real time. Telling the story movie. You are there.

I had a first-person past-tense opening passage that I didn’t fully like. But then, working by the light of poor dead Bell’s pellucid lines, I switched my opener to the present tense, and put in a few spinning-wheels-of-the-mind asides, and looked into the minds of both my current chracters. I feel the story opening up. I think of compressed tea that comes in a block, and you flake out the stuff to brew it.

It’s working, I’ve started, I’ve got two very short chapters with two good characters, Zoe and Villy, on the eve of their high-school graduation, cantankerous off-beat kids, and they’re about to meet a pair of aliens.

[Rudy Rucker Jr. preparing Christmas dinner.]

As is often the case, I find it hard to actually be writing new material in my novel for more than an hour or so a day. I’m always looking for distractions. Waiting till my head is in the right place. Waiting for the level of dread-that-I’ll-never-write-again to build up to a sufficient level. Building up a big enough head of steam to turn the rusty wheels of this ooold locomotive.

And when I’m not exactly writing new words in the actual novel, I can pass my time correcting what I’ve written, or making plans in my already-30K-words-long Notes for Million Mile Road Trip document—I always make these huge book-length notes for each of my books, you can find them on my Writing page.

“Endless Road Trip” oil on canvas, Sept, 2014, 30” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I already did a painting that relates to the novel, like the Endless Road Trip one I did a few weeks back. It’s good that I previsualized these two characters from “unfurled Earth,” as they just showed up in the novel, looking pretty much exactly like I painted them. That’s Pinchley on the left and Yampa on the right. The capybara and the spider monkeys will come later, I guess.

For my novel I shifted down from an “Endless” Road Trip to a “Million Mile” Road Trip, as the first option seemed too far! As another way to make starting this new project less intimidating, I told myself it might just be a novella. I’m always scared when I start a novel. Like getting in a rowboat yet again, with an intention to row from San Francisco to, like, Palau in Micronesia.

Whatever works. I may get this mofo going yet.

Aliens Coming Down a Pointed Ladder. Magic Rabbits.

There’s some woods near Los Gatos where I’ve been walking for twenty-eight years. Ever since we moved here in 1986. I always see new things.

Like these pinecones resembling (to my eye) rabbit ears. The broken wood is the rabbit’s face.

We had a nice Thanksgiving and Christmas with the family. It always does my heart good to see the grandchildren. The wheel of life—I’m on the way out, my children are middle-aged parents, and the new crop is coming up.

Dig this oak leaf resting on the gnarly leaves of a red hot poker cactus. Maybe my mind is like the oak leaf, resting on the cosmic, living biome-swirl.

My wife and I are always going down to Santa Cruz, looking at the ocean over and over. I like these stairs, on West Cliff Drive near the statue of the surfer. The stairs go right down into the water. Something richly symbolic about this photo, too.

I put out The Secret of Life as a single-volume ebook the other day. It’s also a part of the three-books-in-one Transreal Trilogy. But I wanted Secret out as a single, in case anyone is looking for specifically that book As usual, I used one of my paintings for the cover; this one is called “He Enters Her Room.” It works as a cover for Secret, as the guy looks like he could be an alien in a human body. With that small head. I myself have a head the size of a grapefruit, or a satsuma, or a Meyer lemon—it gets smaller every year.

We went to see the Keith Haring show at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. It’s quite good. Keith did some remarkable things—like he drew five or ten thousand large chalked graffiti pictures on rectangles of black paper in the NYC subway system over a period of five years. The rectangles of paper were in place to cover up ads whose space-rental time had expired. A very nimble guy with a small head. I’m planning to look at some videos of him.

The picture shown above, drawn on a prefab urn, has some nice aliens, he didn’t draw these particular figures over and over, and it’s fun to see them.

He draws a certain kind of dog a lot, also UFOs. I think of the series of drawings above as, “Keith Haring Explains It All.”

Keith’s UFOs look different from the way I like to paint them. That’s one of mine above.

I’m on the verge of starting to write a long story or a novella with the working title, “Million Mile Road Trip.” I was calling it “Endless Road Trip” before, and saying it would be a novel, but that felt like too long to walk on my bare feet. I’ll just do a million miles for now.

It’ll have a couple of aliens in it, and I already painted them back in September. These days I think these two aliens are called Yampa and Pinchley. My outline for the story was too complicated before, and I’ve been making it simpler and simpler so it’ll feel easy enough to actually write.

I’d been puzzling over how the two aliens manage to show up on Earth. Probably at first one of them is chasing the other. The boy chasing the girl, right. Or vice-versa. And today I had the idea of making their arrival really simple. There’s a ladder that tapers up to a point. It’s like “forced perspective,” the point is, like, a thousand light years away. Or in another dimension. And the aliens come climbing down that ladder. Which I saw while walking near Lexington Reservoir. Gift from the Muse. Took the photo with my iPhone’s feeble camera and really it’s not bad. Just don’t zoom on it or you’ll see the quantum space-foam speckle.

And I saw a second magic rabbit in the woods. Maybe put the magic rabbits in the novella too. “The Million Mile Road Trip,” yeah.

“Laser Shades,” A Free Read! And Transrealism News.

Today I’m posting the text of my story, “Laser Shades” for your holiday reading pleasure.

The story was commissioned for The Superlative Light, a photo book by Robert Shults, but it has not been otherwise published as yet.

Two news items before my story.

The writer and columnist Damien Walter posted “Let the Strangeness In,” a good interview/discussion about transrealism between me and Monica Byrne, author of the excellent novel The Girl In The Road.

And, on the same day, synchronistically enough, my film-maker friend Edgar Pêra posted Trans-Realist Maniphesto a video from Lisbon, 1994, with me and good old Terence McKenna.

And now…on with the show..

Laser Shades, by Rudy Rucker

If you want, you can listen to the story online while you read it.


“Laser Shades,” oil on canvas, February, 2014, 24” x 20”. Painted to go with this story. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Adrian was entranced by Carla. She’d hooked him fast, and she was reeling him in—smiling with parted lips and nodding her head in rhythm to the cadences of his speech. Jack, off to one side, wasn’t really listening to the words, no, he was reviewing tonight’s plan. Step one: bump into Adrian. Step two: get into to the laser lab. Step three…

This was a nice club, on Austin’s merry Sixth Street, out towards the dark end of the spectrum. The Scales Fall. They featured yowly music here, one of Adrian’s hobbies—he talked about The Scales Fall all the time, which was how Jack had known they’d find him here. Tonight a hairy guy was playing a “beam guitar,” which was like a steel guitar, but with sensitive light rays in place of the strings. The man wore his hair a hundred-percent over his face, like a cartoon hermit, and the only skin you could see was the tip of his nose. A happy nose.

The beam guitar had a mellow, aethereal tone, sounding like one of those old-time gizmos—theremins. A woman was singing along, kind of a Russian steppes sound, her voice dank and husky, reminding Jack, as so many things did, of his dead wife Yulia. Yesterday it had been six months. A prion infection from her lab. Horrible.

“Did you hear what Adrian said, Jack?” Carla was looking at him brightly. Humoring him.

“Uh, no,” said Jack. “I’m lost in the music. A jellyfish.” He made wiggly motions with his arms, managing to knock over one of their empty Shiner beer bottles. It bounced off the floor, unbreakable nanocrystal.

“Vintage slimefabber move,” said Adrian, laughing at Jack. He was a tidy man with chiseled features.

“Slimefabbing is king,” said Carla, sticking up for Jack. “Forget about brittle, thuddy machines. Jack cultures a wad of fabslime, he sings to it, and it makes what you need. Like the way a peach makes a pit.”

“I know all about that,” said Adrian. “Jack fabs components for my group at the yottawatt laser lab. I’m a plasma ultraoptics tech, right? Jack here’s the only slimefabber in Austin who can make mirrored surfaces. You’ve known him for awhile, huh, Carla? Have you ever heard him singing to his slime?”

Carla giggled and nodded. “Kind of rank,” she said. “All burbly and wet. But maybe a little magical, too.”

Truth be told, Carla had once had a crush on Jack. She’d been Yulia’s research assistant, and with Yulia out of the picture, Carla had half-expected to take her place. But nothing was happening along those lines, and Jack was getting ever stranger. Carla was about done with Jack. As a farewell, she’d let him rope her into helping him with this insane last-ditch scheme he was running tonight. Not that Carla even remotely expected it to work. Because if it did—but never mind that.

“I enjoy my work,” said Jack evenly. “How’s your project going, Adrian? Got those pocket stars happening yet?”

“Pocket stars?” said Carla, playing dumb. As if Jack hadn’t been steadily talking about this stuff for the last month. “What a beautiful name. Did you coin it, Adrian?”

Adrian would have liked to say yes, but he couldn’t. “This guy,” he said, jerking his thumb at Jack. “Good with words. I was going to call them femtoscale fusion reactors. You’ll use them like batteries, see. The technology of batteries is a millstone, a bottleneck, hopelessly stalled. Pocket stars will disrupt the paradigms.”

“What about hard radiation?” asked Carla.

“Not a show-stopper,” said Adrian. “That’s the part I’m working on, matter of fact. Mirror mazes around our little suns. Phase-shift cancellations. Troughs and crests. Optical wizardry. That’s where Jack’s components come in.”

“How’s the latest upgrade working out?” asked Jack in a studiously neutral tone.

“Spectacular!” said Adrian. “We’re past the point of inflection, guy. Up onto the gigabucks slope of the growth curve. One more round of funding and my group can productize.” He lowered his voice. “The latest prototypes—they shed megawatts like dogs losing hair. I even sold some power to the lab. In the right matrix, one of these pocket stars could last indefinitely.”

“Can I see one?” asked Carla. “Pretty please.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be authorized to take you into the lab,” said Adrian. “It’s class-seven secure.”

“Oh, it’s Saturday night,” said Carla. “Nobody’s gonna be there. And I’ll show you one of my secrets if you’ll play.” She smiled, working her charm. “Two secrets, maybe.” She drew a little box from her purse, all angles, darkly gleaming, cupping it in the palm of her hand. “The first secret is that Jack slimefabbed something off a sample from my lab. Wouldn’t you love to know what it is?”

“Maybe,” said Adrian, not all that interested. “What’s the second secret?”

Silently Carla mimed a juicy kiss.

“Carla is a postdoc in the mitochondrial genomics group here,” said Jack, before Adrian could properly respond. “Specializing in the Golgi apparatus. She was working with Yulia right up to the end. She even found the fix to neutralize the prion that killed Yulia. Saved the others in the lab. They called her a hero.”

“Soft, wet science,” Carla told Adrian, her voice a tiger’s purr. “Not like those yottawatt laser-beam swords you boys play with. Not like your pocket-pool hydrogen bombs. Genomics is the only femtotech that matters. A cornucopia from the living mother of life.”

“The living mother of life, huh?” said Adrian with a crooked grin. “Does that have anything to do with your second secret?”

“Everything,” said Carla. “Dim things matter, Adrian. Not just bright things.” She was hefting the dark little container in her hand. It had sides like pentagons. “Take us into the laser lab, and this little stash box opens like a clam. You’ll be flabbergasted.”

“Say yes,” Jack urged Adrian, his voice very intense. “You know I’ve been putting in an extra effort for you. And you’ve only let me into the lab that one time when you hired me. I need feedback if I’m going to keep working for you. Don’t worry about Carla. I know all about her.” A touch of ice in his voice.

“Carla is single?” asked Adrian, rudely direct. “Not your girlfriend?”

“Jack’s the grieving widower,” said Carla. “I’m the perky, yearning, star-struck ingénue, rejected once too often. And you can be Prince Charming, Adrian. If you don’t act like a jerk. And if you’re not too chicken to let your friends see what’s in your lab. And if you really do have your pocket stars working. Which I’m starting to doubt.” She paused for effect. “Maybe we should leave, Jack. I don’t think I like this man.” Carla rose to her feet, enjoying her power. She took two steps towards the door. Glanced back over her shoulder.

“Wait!” said Adrian, right on cue. He threw money on the table for the beers and followed Jack and Carla outside.

“I can drive,” said Jack. “I’ve got my whale. I parked it down a side street.”

“Great,” said Adrian. “I came by bus.”

It was a warm November night. The pecan trees were droppping nuts. Carla scooped up a handful, squeezing them together in pairs, eating the ones that gave way.

“The champion pecan,” she said after a bit, holding up a final nut. “He cracked all his friends. But can you even see? It’s so dark tonight.”

“We need our laser shades,” said Adrian, pulling out two pairs of sunglasses. He handed one pair to Carla.

“You’ll like these,” Jack told Carla. “I’ve got my own pair in my car. I helped slimefab them for the lab.”

They were standing by Jack’s car now, an old-school convertible with its top down, a massive construct of Detroit steel. Cars like this were generally illegal to drive, but Jack had a historical preservation permit for his. He drew his pair of laser shades from the glove compartment, and now the three companions were standing there, goggling at each other, goofing on the scene. Although the laser shades had dark lenses, they had infrared laser crystals set into the rims of their frames.

“Ghostly,” said Carla.

“The crystals vibrate,” said Adrian. “Scanning across the things you want to see. Scanning them with infrared, you understand, and the rays bounce back to your special lenses. So you’re seeing a moiré image contour map. With pseudocolors based on temperatures. You look like a singer in a yowly music band, Carla.”

She did a little dance in the street there, brandishing her faceted box and her champion pecan. Jack was in the driver’s seat, ready to go. But now, as often happened, the car failed to start.

“I’ve been working on a fix,” said Jack. He twisted around, rooted though the debris on his back seat, drew forth a crufty glob of fabslime the size of a coconut, and warbled an open-sesame command. Obligingly the hairy orb split in two, revealing a glittering carburetor part, quite unobtainable on the commercial market. Jack flipped up the car’s flappy old hood and installed the piece. Accustomed to this routine, Carla worked the starter until the car let out a dinosaur roar.

They cruised through the warm dark Austin night, the three of them on the car’s wide front seat, Carla in the middle, the air beating, pecans crackling beneath the wheels, the passing scenery like cartoons seen through their laser-shades.

Adrian had to pass all kinds of thumbprint and eyeball scanner routines to get them down the elevator and as far as the actual entrance to the yottawatt laser lab. And then it became a matter of jollying their way past the gatekeeper, Cruz Sordo, who was somewhat distracted by a holographic ballet-dancing game.

“I’ve nailed my arabesques and fouettés,” said Cruz, rocking back and forth. “I need three perfect grand jetes to reach the next level—which is the virtual Bolshoi. Your two guests are cleared, Adrian?”

“Jack’s already been in this lab before,” said Adrian.

“And Carla’s from a genomics research group,” put in Jack. “She’s bringing an add-on for Adrian’s run.” Adrian let the unexpected claim pass.

“Okay, fine,” said the feckless Cruz. “But I want you folks out of there in ten minutes. Before the lab’s next autoscan.” He backed off and took a running jump across the hall. “Yes! I might even be on the Bolshoi level by then.”

The laser lab was deserted, a bit sinister, with sagging cables, panels with jiggly readouts, work-benches like sacrificial plinths. The place was dimly lit, with stark pools of brightness in certain spots. Filtered through the laser shades, the potentially hazardous light came through in sour greens and tender mauves, in meaty reds and shinbone whites.

A vacuum pump was thumping, with a wheezing sound. “Chirped pulse amplification,” said Adrian. “Like an accordion. Working the light up to the yottawatt level, back and forth, strong enough to zap protons to the petavolt scale. Enough to spark a pocket star. My set-up is over here.” They proceeded down the aisle, first Adrian, then Carla, then Jack.

Jack noticed an intense glow of infrared body-heat coming off of Carla. She was scared, more than scared—terrified. Jack formed a sudden conviction that she was planning to sabotage tonight’s run. Lurching into her from behind, he seized her wrist and pried the precious, crystalline case from her hand.

“Jack! I’m the expert on mitochondria.”

“You killed Yulia, Carla. I have to say it. It was your fault. You did it on purpose. To get your hands on me.” There. Laying it out at last.

Carla’s voice rose by two octaves. “You are so crazy! I don’t even like you anymore! Adrian! We need to get out of here!”

“Cruz said we have ten minutes,” said Adrian, not really understanding. “Be quiet and pay attention, you two. My target is right here on this little platform, a piece of foil. See Jack’s mirror-maze next to it? The laser pulse is going to make a pocket star. And then a magnetohydronamic vortex pulls it into the maze. Keep back. The pulse is coming in ten seconds.”

Jack shouldered past them, holding out his faceted box. He flipped a dark pink object onto the workbench—it was a fabslime-woven matrix for Yulia’s mitochondria. Jack was singing, his voice liquid and weird. The magic bean was twitching like a pet.


The yottawatt laser beam drilled into fleshy lump. The pulse was lasting much, much longer than usual, as if the biotech lump were impossibly sending signals up the beam to its source, jamming all the switches to on. One, then two, little stars bloomed within the shuddering bean. Though scorched and smoking, it held its shape. Jack still hadn’t stopped singing. Adrian and Carla were backing away.

Fueled by the yottawatt beam and by the two pocket stars, the Yulia lump grew larger, taking form, extending arms, legs, and head, channeling energy like a babe at breast.

The thumping of the hidden vacuum pump had risen to a wild tattoo, and now came an explosion. The laser beam winked out. Somewhere in the lab an alarm horn was hooting. Perversely, idiotically, a set of ceiling sprinklers kicked on, raining down upon the scene. Jagged sparks, swirls of smoke, shattering glassware. The remaining lights cut out. Footsteps rushed to the lab door—Adrian and Carla escaping.

In the soft dark, wearing his laser shades, Jack could still see a little bit. Yulia was sitting up. Reborn. Smiling at him.

And now she opened her eyes.

Merry X and a Wild Y!

Trip #3. My YouTube Channel. Giant Ants. Paris.

Here’s my third and final post of pictures from Geneva and Paris today—but first a few announcements before our scheduled show.

I’m into resurrecting my archives these days, and I’ve been moving a number of my old videos onto my YouTube channel.

Recent additions include a “Brain Food” playlist: six videos of me talking about books and art, on public access TV in 1986 Lynchburg, VA…which was then the home of the right-wing Moral Majority religious movement. Seeds of transrealism, computer culture, and cyberpunk—all are here.

Another new video upload is “James Gleick’s CHAOS: the Software.” I made this video in 1990 to demonstrate the 1990 Autodesk program of the same name. The program was written by me, Josh Gordon, and John Walker. Topics include dynamical systems, strange attractors, Mandelbrot set fractals (including a 4D cubic version), cellular automata, and fractal landscapes. The software is available as a free download, although you need to screw with a free helper program called DOSBox in order to get it to run on today’s machines (Unix, Mac, or Windows all can be made to work).

One more scrap of hype: my story “Attack of the Giant Ants” went online at the Motherboard site today, as part of their SF-oriented ezine section called Terraform, which is edited by Claire Evans.

The story has a wonderful illo by Koren Shadmi.

If you want, you can hear me reading the story online as well:


My story was inspired by two things: Blondie’s song, “The Attack of the Giant Ants,” and the primeval SF movie Them. There’s exists an amateur YouTube video combining these two—although the sound’s not all that great, so listen to the Blondie song elsewhere as well. The roaring of the ants at the end of the Blondie song is particularly great.

And now let’s move back into the higher real of Parisian art and architecture. Here’s three of the insanely large columns within the Pantheon. I like how the lighting happened to put different shades onto them.

The crowds were such that Sylvia and I didn’t try going inside the Louvre, but we wandered around the nearby section of the Tuileries gardens. Love these receding box hedges. Like scrims on a stage set.

On a little plot of grass we found two men boxing. It made me think of Hemingway trying to get his friends to box with him back in his 1920s Paris days. Who would want a friend like that? He was so crazy. But even so a lovely writer. The stories of In Our Time and the first pages of A Farewell to Arms still live in my memory.

The size of the buildings they used to undertake. I mean, we think we build big stuff now. But… I think this one is the Grand Palais, which is a museum now as well. Here, too, the lines were such that we couldn’t get in. And newly renovated Picasso Museum was out of the question. Even in late October. Thing is, there’s twice as many people on Earth as there were when I was younger.

Our friend Leon Marvell from Melbourne, Australia, turned out to be in Paris, leading a group of college kids on a trip—Sylvia noticed this fact on Facebook. So we spent a day with Leon, a lot of fun. He and I once published a paper together, called “Lifebox Immortality—and How We Got There.”

We made our way over to the Beaubourg art museum, passing this cool ad on the way. What a concept, calling your couture company Acne. There’s this thing with using words from a language that’s foreign to you—the words don’t carry the onus that they might to a native speaker. Note the Acne hand in the zippered glove is giving the Finger.

There was no line at all to get into the Beaubourg—it’s a huge place, a more contemporary museum than the Louvre or the Quai d’Orsay, and not so much of a bees-on-honey kind of a scene, tourist-wise. I found one of my favorite constructions still there, a model of Vladimir Tatlin’s, Monument to the Third International. If you want more info about this object, check out my SF story of the same name from 1983, a mere thirty-one years ago. Who knows where the time goes.

This is a cool cubist painting of a wolf—I can’t remember the artist’s name, could it have been Francis Picabia? [No, it’s Luis Fernandez, and it’s not a wolf, it’s a “Head of a Dead Horse.” My quondam partner in crimes against good taste and against po-faced solemnity, Paul Di Filippo, unearthed this fact with a Google image search, leading to the painting’s page at Beaubourg.]

I’ve always had an itchy fascination with cubism, like never quite fully getting what the underlying idea of it is—of course looking at explanations written by painters is not going to be all that illuminating in a context like this. There’s also a whiff of cubism having to do with the fourth dimension—see the article on Wikipedia, also my friend Linda Dalrymple Henderson wrote a good book on this topic.

There’s always a real scene outside the Beaubourg—lots of people sitting on the ground, most of them young, along with various street performers. A guy was making giant bubbles, and a swarm of kids was running around. Another story link: my 1980 tale “The Indian Rope Trick Explained,” is set exactly in this spot. So many memories in dear Paris.

A bum was distributing great sacks of bread to thousands of flocking pigeons. As a private joke to myself, I pretended that this man was my old pal Greg Gibson. Greg in Paris.

Wandering around the neighborhood of our hotel and the Pantheon, I came across the Oceanographic center, with am imposing sculpture of an octopus.

Also a really cool and surreal graffito of a boy walking through a wall.

By the end of our stay, our legs were exceedingly tired, and we were moving very slowly. I took a little walk around the Isle de St. Louis, a tiny residential island in the Seine. It’s a spot that’s always interested me, especially the river’s-edge walkways around it.

I found some cool hawser-tying rings in the walls down there. Also I dropped my pen into the water, something of a tragic experience for me, watching my good pen drift away—it would take me nearly a whole day to find another one. You can’t exactly buy a pen from a tourist shop; pens like that barely even write. But even without my pen, I had my camera.

It was quiet down by Seine at the edge of the Ile de Saint Louis. Loved it. Felt like I was truly on vacation from my life. What you want from a trip.

Up on the cobblestone streets I spotted a really nice reflection in a flat window. As a mathematician and an SF writer, an image like this totally gets to me. The smooth deformation of reality within a magic mirror.

I met up with Sylvia again, and we went by this church from, like, the 1400s. Dig the curve of that tree branch. Later that evening, we came back here and heard an organ concert. Love those free church concerts in Paris.

After the concert, we stopped by an oyster place where we’d gone about twenty years before. It wasn’t really what it used to me, much more commercialized, with the menus on frikkin’ iPad-like devices, and the oysters not overly fresh. But fun to see these two jolly ladies next to us who ordered the “Triple Royal Platter,” with three levels of crushed-ice-plus-dry-ice trays bearing the fruits of the sea. Washing it down with champagne.

The next night, for a final treat, we caught a ballet at the old Palais Garnier, which holds the Paris opera. Remember us like this…

“Mathematicians in Love.” “Flying Cone Shells.”

Later this week, I’ll put up more photos of Paris. But right now I’ve got something else in mind. My 2006 Tor Books novel Mathematicians in Love had gone out of print, so today I’m publishing a second edition of it, in paperback and as an inexpensive ebook. More info in on the book’s home page.

I’m slowly learning something about book production. I use the InDesign typesetting software for the interiors, and I make multilayered Photoshop images for my covers. Thankfully you can export a decent ebook file directly from InDesign and then tweak it into an EPUB with Sigil and into a Kindle MOBI with Calibre. There’s ten or twenty or maybe it’s fifty or a hundred or even two hundred gotchas involved. Making books is like a hobby of mine by now. Like crossword puzzles or knitting, maybe, or like building model zeppelins out of balsa wood and silken cloth. I think a lot about fonts—these days I’m fond of the Janson font I bought from Linotype.

“Flying Cone Shells” oil on canvas, November, 2014, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting. And see my Paintings page for more info.

I made a new painting for the cover of Mathematicians in Love. At first I didn’t realize that’s what the painting was for. I started out with those three fat lines that weave over and under each other. And then I wanted to decorate the sectors of the canvas that the lines made. I was thinking of an Aboriginal painting, or of an aerial view of crop fields, like Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings of the California Delta region that lies northeast of the Bay area.

For the longest time, my painting reminded me of the works you see hanging on the walls in art schools. Unfinished, harsh, dissonant, the paint colors right out of the tubes. I kept at it, layering on the tints and shades, blending, toning, and glazing. Finally the painting seemed warm and harmonious to me. And right about then, I was like, “What painting can I use for the cover of Mathematicians in Love?”

There’s a scene in the novel when my character Bela and his pal Paul and his lover Cammy are driving along the coast of Big Sur, looking to surf over into a parallel universe through a natural doorway in one of the big rocks at Pfieffer Beach. And this giant flying cone shell is following them—I think her name is Rowena. So I added Rowena and one of her smaller friends to the painting, also a tiny image of Bela’s car. Yeah, baby.

On the local scene, we went to a giant potluck Thanksgiving in the Mission district of SF, organized by our son Rudy and his friends. It was a blast. Our daughters Georgia and Isabel were there with their families as well—adding up to thirteen of us in all.

At one point during the visit we thirteen were relaxing under a cypress tree in the SF Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. I felt the atavistic joy of being in a tribe. A golden oasis encountered along my life’s long journey, a moment to mentally revisit over the years. Thank you, world.

Trip #2: Jim and the Flims. Transreal. Paris.

Now that I’m back home, I’m working on my writing biz again. To start with, I published my novel Jim and the Flims in ebook and paperback via my Transreal Books. You might call it transreal magic realism—it’s about a Santa Cruz guy who travels to the afterworld in hopes of resurrecting his wife.

More info is on the book’s page.

Long story short, you can now get my Jim and the Flims ebook on Amazon, or on my Transreal Books page. (A Transreal Books purchase gives you two files: MOBI format for Kindle and EPUB format for all other e-readers.)

And the Jim and the Flims paperback is available via Amazon.

Night Shade Books published Jim and the Flims book in hardback in 2011, by the way, and a few copies of that edition are still kicking around as well.

Another note from the writing biz. By way of leading into it, dig this mural of St. Denis in the Pantheon in Paris. St. D’s head as been chopped off, but the dude is using his halo to think. He’s picking up his head, and he’s gonna plug it back in. Can’t bust him, can’t shut him down.

A symbolic representation of an author, against all odds, keeping his shit together? Art imitating life imitating art? Transreal, dude. One of my preferred modes of literary creation. I am Jim, facing the flims.

I first described transrealism in my 1983 essay, “A Transrealist Manifesto.” Philip K. Dick was definitely a precursor of transrealism, but for a number of years, I was the only self-avowed transrealist writer around. The style finally seems to be catching on.

In an October 24, 2014, essay in the British newspaper, The Guardian, critic Damien Walter proposes “Transrealism: the first major literary movement of the 21st century?”

Yeah, baby!

Oh, one more writing thing, published a story by Terry Bisson and me, “Where the Lost Things Are.” With this great illo by Chris Buelli.

Transreally enough, the book is about two aging friends who can’t keep track of their stuff…

Back to my travel notes. We moved on from Geneva/Nyon to Paris for a week. Lovely to be in Paris, my favorite city, along with San Francisco, New York, Vienna, and Lisbon.
You see these great iron business signs here and there in Europe. Everything’s so old.

Sylvia and I went out to a far corner of Paris to see a little Monet museum. On the way we passed this amazing carousel in a little park. The thing had about six or eight horses hanging from a rotating center, and it was powered by…a man pushing the ride around in circles. The kids had wands for spearing rings, and the carousel-man helped them. And then he’d put the rings back into the rickety feeder.

The younger kids didn’t try and spear rings…they were in that Eden before you know there are reward rings that you’re supposed to be gathering.

The museum was someone’s old mansion, I forget whose. Great wrought iron railing here, a yin-yang Zhabotinsky kind of thing.

My feet aren’t what they used to be, and after about ten days in Europe, I’m slowing down.

We stayed in a hotel on the square holding the Pantheon monument…it’s a giant domed building with pillars around it, and with famous dead intellectuals in tombs in the cellar. Weird statue on the main floor…some French revolutionaries hailing a bad-ass goddess of Liberty. “Live Free or Die” it says on her plinth.

The philosopher and author Jean Jacques Rousseau was one of the people in the cellar. Great respect for thinkers over there.

Over the years, I’ve been in the Pantheon a number of times. I love the huge, empty, vaulted spaces within. And more than once I’ve dreamed of floating off the floor and flying around in there.

A woman outside striking a sexy pose for her photo.

All over the place in Paris, you’ll just see a random marble statue. Like these ladies on a roof.

An antiquarian bookshop specializing in old books about flying machines. Dig the deluxe seats for this balloon.

For sure we hit the Eiffel tower. Staggering how big the thing is, I always forget unless I’m actually there. Like I’m a rat under the Golden Gate bridge. Didn’t go up in it, lines too long…lines like you’d see at the pearly gates on Judgment Day.

I love to look at water flowing, the great gnarly undulations in a liquid sheet.

Here’s a nice composition with a statue and a building near the Louvre. More pix from Paris still to come.

Trip #1: Nyon, Geneva.

Sylvia and I went to Geneva, Switzerland, for a family event. We stayed near Geneva in Nyon for five days, and then went on to Paris for a week. So now I’m photoblogging some of the things I saw.

This is a garage near Levis stadium in San Jose, completely irrelevant, although the dark image does set the tone for William Gibson’s The Peripheral, which I was reading on my ebook for much of the trip. Well, actually I didn’t get it till we’d been there a few days, waiting for the download.

We stayed in a once deluxe hotel now on the skids and run by unpleasant people, but handy for our purposes, the Beau Rivage in Nyon, looking out at Lake Geneva. It’s kind of a wonderful lake, so clean, with the Rhone running through its length, and huge mountains along the edge in spots.

Vineyards all along the lake. The Swiss white wine is good stuff, kind of dry and sour. Not that I drink it anymore, but it’s worth sampling. Not sure if they export much of it.

Like so many European town, Nyon has a little castle from yore. When you get up in a high place in Europe, like in a plane or on a mountain, you can see that there’s a village every two kilometers or so. Really settled in. When you fly over the US, most of it is stone cold empty. Even California. We have a few megalopolises, some towns, and that’s about it.

I’ve always liked coin operated “rides” for kids. The spotted fly agaric mushroom is a big standard icon in Europe. According to the ethnomycologist Gordon Wasson, the Siberian shamans and the Greek Eleusis cult got high off these. And saw overly animated caterpillars in red top hats. Cf. my story with Bruce Sterling, “Storming the Cosmos.”

It was nice, walking around Nyon one morning, everything a little misty, and these European constructs, like a crane of a string of lights, everything a little different from how we’d do it. Like, not quite as SAFE. Sadly, the assumption in the US has to be that, whatever you set up outdoors, there will be people who are blindly bent on destroying it. More communality in Europe, I’d say.

I love when birds fly low across the water. In Santa Cruz, when the pelicans do that, I always think of Hells Angels.

This is a nice, mysterious, paradoxical image. A marble and alabaster statue on the left, and on the right is a doubly reflected image of the statue.

This was in the Beau Rivage Nyon. Good breakfasts and terrif views. But they actually wanted to bill us separately for each cup of coffee we made in our room. And they flatly wanted to refused to drive us half a mile in their van to get to the train station. “The van is only for business guests. People from the Gulf.” “I’m a business. Transreal Books.”

Sylvia and I went into Geneva a few times. Over the years, we’ve been here more than forty times. Sylvia’s parents lived in Geneva during the latter half of their lives. We’ve always liked Geneva’s big old museum of art and history. Dig this armor, it looks so SF. And the light glaring on the glass could be death ray beams from the dude’s eyes.

All marble in there, so frikkin’ deluxe.

Love marble nudes. It doesn’t show here, but in back there’s a marble dog sniffing the guy’s butt.

There was a wonderful artist in Geneva, Ferdinand Hodler, and his works are one of the reasons we like to come to this particular museum. I think you’re not supposed to take photos in here, but usually I sneak one or two. Love the door here with the Hodler in the background.

Gotta get a shot of the famous Jet d’Eau fountain in Genva. During the World Soccer Cup one time they filled a giant soccer-ball balloon with helium and tethered it so that it was hovering right at the top of the water, so it looked as if, cartoon like, the huge ball was indeed floating on the fountain’s spurt.

We went to Lausanne one afternoon with Sylvia’s brother Henry. Fab statue of the Sphinx lady were with her afternoon shadow.

And within the Lausanne cathedral, the Reaper lurks.

Reading with Robert Shults at Borderlands

On Saturday at 3 pm, I read my recent story “Laser Shades” at Borderlands Books in San Francisco. I appeared with Robert Shults, who recently launched his fascinating photo book, The Superlative Light. See the account of his project in the New York Times.

I taped today’s event. The audience included Jude Feldman of Borderlands, plus my wife Sylvia, my son Rudy, and our granddaughters Jasper and Zimry. To make today’s podcast fun, I taped Jude talking about the history of Borderlands, followed by Robert’s rap about his book of photos of the Texas Petawatt Laster Lab, followed by my story, “Laser Shades,” and then a little more talk about the technology of lasers. With Jasper and Zimry pushing in whenever they could. Kind of a cinema verite podcast, you might say. (57MB, 47 min).

You can play it right here.

Here’s Robert and me at the Rosicrucian World Headquarters in fabulous San Jose, California.

My story was written to fit into Shults’s book. The book contains lovely and sinister photos of the Petawatt Laser Lab in Austin, Texas. And my story is about a guy who uses a superpowerful laser to try and raise his dead wife from the dead.

“Laser Shades,” oil on canvas, February, 2014, 24” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

While I was working on the story, I wasn’t quite sure about how to end it, and then I made my new painting as a way of previsualizing a big scene. The guy in the painting is wearing special laser-proof shades and he’s (rather unwisely) holding a fetal “egg” in the path of a yottawatt laser beam. A yottawatt is about the power of the Sun. That zapped egg is going to hatch out some kind of weird person, so look out!

I have an older recording of me reading “Laser Shades” online also. Recorded in my home studio.

You can play it right here.

Or go to Rudy Rucker Podcasts.

But don’t just listen at home, come on out and meet me and Robert Shults. Borderlands Books Cafe on 870 Valencia Street in the Mission district of San Francisco, 3 pm Saturday, November 8.

The saucer is waiting for you.

Lit Crawl: Dark Lords of Cyberpunk—Recap & Podcasts

I organized a reading as part of Lit Crawl in San Francisco on Saturday, October 18, 2014, from 8:30 to 9:30 at Haus Coffee, on 24th Street near Folsom. Many thanks to Erica of Haus Coffee who helped us settle in.

Our session was called FLURB: Dark Lords of Cyberpunk, and was also listed as session #97: FLURB: Astonishing Misfits. Here’s the official Lit Crawl schedule and map.

The readers were me, Richard Kadrey, and John Shirley. We’re all cyberpunks, and we all published stories in the Flurb webzine that I edited and published through 14 issues a few years back. Samples of our work in Flurb are my “Tangier Routines,”, Kadrey’s “Trembling Blue Stars,” and Shirley’s “Bitters.”

[Photo by Wongoon Cha, whose story “Procrastination” was in Flurb as well.]

I read a San Francisco B-movie-type story called “The Attack of the Giant Ants.”

Richard read “Surfing the Khumbu,” about a cyberpunk woman who brings down satellites with her mind…and gets high off this. You can find this story online in Infinite Matrix.

John read the Flurb story “Bitters” mentioned above—it’s about a guy who eats brains to get high.

Here is a podcast of my reading, about fifteen minutes long. And here’s the Rudy Rucker Podcasts station:

“The Attack of the Giant Ants” is scheduled to appear in print on the webzine Motherboard this month. It was inspired the Blondie song of the same name, and by the vintage movie, Them. Thanks, by the way, to editor Claire Evans for help in bringing the story to a level of full gloss.

Richard Kadrey read a second story as well, a horror tale about a serial killer who’s propitiating an Egyptian god.

John Shirley’s bravura reading / performance was ill, sick, and wondrous.

Many thanks to the enthusiastic listeners who turned out and tuned in. After the readings, they could only formulate one question: “What were you guys like as kids?”

And a closing thanks to the cute and very California-girl Laurie from Lit Crawl who helped coordinate the event.

At Loose Ends

I’m kind of at loose ends these days. I have some ideas for a novel with the working title Wacker World or perhaps Million Mile Road Trip, and I’ve been moving those around in my head. And I’ve written a lot of notes. But somehow I’m not quite ready to start the actual book. It’s like staring into the sun, and I keep flinching away.

I’ve been working in parallel on my giant 400,000 word Journals 1990-2015, hoping to get that finished and published early next summer.

I watched a graffiti artist at a big art festival in San Jose a few weeks back, it was called “Anne and Marc’s Art Party.” It was nice to see how this young man worked.

It’s nice when you get into a work of art, or a work of literature, and you forget your self. The muse gets into your head. In a lesser way, when you’re holding a camera, sometimes you see what you think are pictures amid the clutter around you.

I was part of a reading at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park about a month ago, we were promoting an anthology called Hieroglyph. The best-selling author Neal Stephenson was part of the project, and there was a huge crowd at Kepler’s. This photo is of two of my fellow lesser-known authors, Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders. They have pieces in that antho and were on the panel as well.

Kepler didn’t have a single book of mine for sale, which kind of made me wonder why I keep bothering to write them.

Somehow I picked up a cold virus around the time of that reading, and it stayed with me for a month. By the end, I had what you might call postviral depression—it’s when, like, you’re feverish and coughing and in a bubble week after week, and you feel like you’ll never be well. The photo above is one I took just the other day, when I started feeling reasonably cheerful again, it’s of my writer friend Michael Blumlein in San Francisco.

Not that Blumlein looks especially cheerful here himself. What is he thinking? Hard to tell. Being a writer is hard.

On the art front, the other day my daughter Georgia sent me a jpg of this “cornball fall painting” by former Los Gatos artist titan Thomas Kinkade, and she suggested that I liven it up. So I Photoshopped an alien “gub” from my novel The Big Aha, plus the rather dangerous hyperdimensional creature Babs, from my novel The Sex Sphere. Always fun to be busy doing nothing.

Another fun thing this month was going down to Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur with Sylvia. There’s this wonderful big rock there with what I call the Magic Door, a square hole where the surf surges through. The Magic Door plays a big role in my old novel Mathematicians in Love (which is now out of print—but I’ll be reissuing it via Transreal Books this fall.)

There’s as second, less clearly-cut magic door in that rock, over near the left end, and some guys were standing inside it, like on the threshold. I like the weird plants that grow in there as well. Truly science-fictional.

And what else? Sylvia and I went to see the latest ballet by Mark Morris and his company, at Zellerbach Hall in Berzerkistan. I like the side wall of the theater, it’s like abstract art. Telegraph Avenue seems ever shabbier. When you lose a big bookstore like Cody’s you lose a lot. But I suppose Berkeley students aren’t buying books like they used to.

Just this week I was up at Castle Rock Park. I like to walk through the park to a ridge that overlooks a big basin of trees, with the Pacific visible in the distance. Interestingly pocked rocks called tafoni in the park. Some of them with loud people climbing on them—they weren’t there twenty years ago. Nature still doing her thing anyhow anywhen anywhere. This photo of some red bark on a manzanita tree.

A stone whale or turtle surfaces, astounded. A-stone-aged.

And I’m happy by a sun-outlined bundle of laurel branches.

So, like I said, I had some good ideas for Wacker World, but today I was working on Journals 1990-2015. Fun / nostalgic / wrenching going down those mazes of memory lanes. I see publishing it one large volume—as well as, of course, the tractable ebook format.

One last image, it’s a detail of Alma Baptizes in the Waters of Mormon, by Arnold Friberg. For whatever reason, my friend and fellow-writer Thom Metzger became obsessed with this painting while writing his highly entertaining journal/memoir/report Undercover Mormon: A Spy in the House of the Gods which I’ve been reading this week. The best book I’ve read this year.

I was Thom Metzger’s math / philosophy teacher, back at Geneseo State College in upstate New York in 1977. Tick, tick! The two clocks are in synch.

Or maybe not. Blumlein asks: “What time am I? Is it 9:00, or quarter to midnight? Early or late? The beginning, or the end?”

“Endless Road Trip.” “4th D.” Author’s POV.

So I finished that painting I was talking about in my last blog post. Before getting into the details, I want to mention that I just started a big sale on my paintings, with the sale lasting till October 15, 2014. If you’re curious about that, check my online Paintings page.

Anyway, here’s that new painting. I did quite a few revisions on it. As I’ve said before, the way to tell when your painting is done is when it stops bothering you. I like how it ended up. The paint is nice and thick, with a rich glow of colors.

“Endless Road Trip” oil on canvas, Sept, 2014, 30” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Endless Road Trip shows my alien characters Flook and Yampa, driving their hover car across the unending plains of the unfurled “Wacker World” Earth that I’m hoping to write a novel about. (I may call the novel Endless Road Trip or, to make it easier on myself, I might make it Million Mile Road Trip. Not as far!)

Anyway, Fook and Yampa are admiring a capybara and some squirrel monkeys. My heroes Willy and Alma are along for the ride, but you don’t see them in the picture, partly because I didn’t feel like struggling with the human form—I just went for some expressionist zigzag aliens.

This place where they’ve stopped—way, way west of California—was going to be called the Land of the Ants, but then I got into a capybara-and-squirrel-monkey routine, so that’s what’s in the painting.

I like how the guy Flook on the left looks, he’s like a cartoon-character tough guy with a whiskery jaw, and the round thing on top of his head might be a derby. And Yampa on his right, she’s looking at the squirrel monkeys and the capybara and saying, in a screechy discordant voice, “Aww, aren’t they cute!” Maybe her voice is so horrible that one or more of the animals dies in some weird way. Turns into dark energy or some such.

There’s a nice new reprint of my nonfiction book The Fourth Dimension, from Dover Books. The subtitle is “Toward a Geometry of Higher Reality. There was also an edition where I used a different subtitle, “And How To Get There” — but these are the same books. The Fourth Dimension is probably my all-time best-seller, maybe a quarter million of them out there. Over the years, scores of people have written me to tell me that this book changed their lives. It’s one of my main works.

I’m happy to see it reissued by Dover, as I got my start studying Dover’s inexpensive reprints back in Louisville, Kentucky, in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The Fourth Dimension in Kindle and paperback on Amazon..

Go git it.

Back to the new novel I’m trying to start. Wacker World. Today I’ll share some semi-technical thoughts on writing. When starting a novel I always have to decide about what point of view or POV to use. I always use either first-person (1POV) or third person (3POV).

Writing first person or 1POV is probably the easiest style. I used it in Jim and the Flims, and in The Big Aha. A no-brainer, like falling off a log. If you get the right narrator voice going, it works very well.

This said, the first-person point of view carries some risks.

(Risk 1) In that 1POV filters everything through narrator’s attitudes and language skills—and this can be an irritating feature if it’s done wrong. I don’t to see page upon page of gushing, slobbering, emoting—what I call repetitious wheenk. The first-person narrator can suck all the air out of the room.

(Risk 2) When using 1POV, there’s a sense that you need to impose the narrator’s linguistic limitations and quirks on the text. This can be okay if the author makes the viewpoint character fairly interesting, rounded, and non-generic. But it’s very risky to try and narrate a 1POV story in dialect. Unless you’re Mark Twain writing Huckleberry Finn. Although, come to think of it, I did something like this in my shot at a great American SF novel, The Hollow Earth, which is 1POV from a boy from Killeville, Virginia.

(Risk 3) Another issue with 1POV, is that the author may feel it necessary to have a frame-tale explanation of how and why and when the character is telling us about his or her adventures. You say that the narrator is reminiscing about the events afterwards, or documenting them for the record, or narrating them to a rapt audience, like that. But you don’t have to do the frame-tale, and, if done wrong, it can be of corny and obtrusive. Sometimes it’s better to just have the reader be in the narrator’s head with no explanation.

A final point to make about 1POV is that, if you want a reportage feel, you can have several characters telling the story from their points of view, or even interrupting each other, as if doing a joint interview. This could be fun. (Cat calls, loud farting sounds, sarcastic laughter.)

Regarding third person point of view or 3POV, here’s a link to a nice little essay by a writer called Michael Neff, he talks about the levels of 3POV, distinguishing 1POV, far 3POV, and close 3POV, which we can abbreviate as C3POV.

I like the C3POV, where my viewpoint is closely focused on one single character at a time. I’m following one character and seeing his or her thoughts. The C3POV is also called “third person limited point of view” or “deep” third-person. It’s like following a movie actor with a camera.

If you do C3POV instead of 1POV, you’re free to use a more literate style than the character would—I think of John Updike’s magisterial Rabbit tetralogy, of the tints and shades of feeling that are assigned to the everyman-type Rabbit Angstrom.

Note also that you’re free to adjust the “closeness” of the C3POV over the course of a scene, at times getting in so close that it’s as intimate and telepathic as 1POV.

Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy using what I might call rotating close third person point of view, or RC3POV. The idea is that I shift the close third person POV from character to character. I don’t do the shifts within a scene, I cycle from one character to another from chapter to by chapter. I did that in Realware, Postsingular, and Hylozoic. I plan to use RC3POV in my upcoming Wacker World, that is, I’ll have close third-person C3POV on my character Willy in some chapters, and have the camera on my co-starring character Alma in other chaps.

Thinking back to Postsingular, I rotated the C3POV focus from section to section within the chapters, using seven different points of view in all. And in one single section I went kaleidoscopic on the reader’s ass, hopping one head to the next without even signalling the changes with section breaks.

It’s risky to do head-hoppping, or “wandering POV,” although Thomas Pynchon and Phil Dick often do. Pynchon can do it because he’s a supreme and god-like master, and Phil, well, you never know. Phil wrote really fast and he might not even have noticed he was doing it. But getting Phil’s reckless downhill-racer thing going is a skill in itself.

Through the dancing sunlight, and into oblivion.

Entering Wacker World

Recently I retweeted a photo of a capybara being groomed by some squirrel monkeys. It was just something that I’d seen retweeted by someone else.

This became my most widely circulated tweet ever, with maybe a hundred thousand views. Part of the appeal must be that the scale is so odd—you think of those primates as being fairly tall, but you think of furry, lumpy animals as being small. Turns out capybaras are the largest rodents in the world, running up to four feet tall. And squirrel monkeys are tiny. The amphibious capybaras live in the mouths of Brazilian rivers. The Brazilians eat them, and they refer to them as “fish,” which makes it okay to eat capybaras on Friday.

There’s something Boschian about the image too, those odd little “men” like clerics attending to the massive furry creature. And the capybara looks so relaxed, so at ease.

These days I’m working on an outline for a fresh SF novel with the working title Wacker World. (Later I changed the name to Million Mile Road Trip.) I always like to have at least two odd features of the world being presented in an SF novel—which was a practice advocated by the ascended master Phil Dick. In Wacker World one odd thing is that our Earth has somehow been transformed into an endless flat world that you can drive along on forever. For millions and billions of miles. Encountering, as you go further and further, ever-new alien civilizations. I call these flat worlds Wacker worlds. There’s a number of them in our universe.

By way of jogging my imagination, now I’m working on a painting that shows couple of aliens on a very long roadtrip, and they’re looking at the creatures from that capybara tweet photo. That’s not my new painting above, of course. I’ll be posting the painting in a week or so when it’s done.

The aliens in my painting—I see them riding in a purple hover car that can hit speeds of up to, say, a million miles per hour, which is no sweat, given that limitative speed of light is well over six hundred million miles per hour.

Anyway, these aliens are cruising along in their car, and they’ve got a teen boy and a girl with them, my book’s young heroes, currently named Willy and Alma. This first place where they’re stopping—way west of California—was going to be called the Land of the Ants, but then I got into capybara-and-squirrel monkey thing, so that’s what’s going to be in the painting and probably in that first-stop world in my novel…not that my novels always stick to the things I paint for them in advance. The painting is more of a way of stirring the pot than being a way of making any kind of precise outline.

Speaking of ants, we had an entomologist named Phil over at our house this weekend, and he was telling us about Central American big-eyed Acacia ants. These guys live inside the bulbous thorns of the bull’s-horn acacia, in a mutualistic relationship with the plant. The plant gives nectar, housing, and food particles to the ants, and the ants sting the crap out of any herbivorous mammal that dares to try and graze on the bull’s-horn acacia.

Anyway, I’m having fun starting work on a novel. Joyous. Working out things like the illumination and the weather. Making little sketches and searching the web. To speed things up, I’m plugging my brain directly into my computer.

There’s a Rancid song, “Radio,” from Let’s Go, with the line: “When I got the music, I got a place to go.” Or, as NOFX says it in their reggae cover of the same song, “When I got the music in me, I got a place I can go.”

I pray to the Muse that I can really get it rolling. I was wondering what kind of magical alien-type wand was going to transform our little round planet Earth into this infinite roadtrippable plain. These plains are, like I say, called Wacker worlds because they’re named after the astronomer Ed Wacker who first spotted one in distant space.

I knew that I needed some gimcrack that can unfurl our world. Initially I visualized a whirring gizmo with higher-dimensional parts that wobble in and out of visibility. But it’s hipper and gnarlier to have the rattle made of natural materials, as opposed to being made of machined metal. It’s made of something like alien plants or like scraps of hide from alien animals. But it’s still five-dimensional.

So the Muse checked in and led me to got this doohickey of a cool rattle from Ghana from a defunct curio shop called Gina’s on Main Street of Los Gatos. The world-unfurling Ghana rattle has disks of gourd skin, like washers, and they’re mounted on a stick with regular bumps in it. The washers are slightly concave, and they’re in pairs, with the hollow sides facing each other, and with symbols branded onto the convex sides. When I tilt the rattle, they march down along the axis, orderly but jostling, tripping over the gentle bumps on the axis rod, moving in a rolling, plausible gait. Like the legs of a centipede.

I also got a rattle like a giant scrotum, wonderfully wrinkly and gnarled, with a dick-like stalk protruding and drooping towards the base of the sac. A little wood plug closes off an irregular hole in the side scrotum, a hole, through which the rattle-seeds were inserted. The surface is hard and shiny, with patches of gourd-pith that haven’t been fully scraped off. Maybe this rattle does something different from turning Earth into a Wacker world.

And I got giant gourd wrapped in a fishnet with cowrie shells at the knots. I’m loaded, dude. I’m equipped.

How big is a Wacker world, by the way? Well, they have to reach out to the limits of visible space, which is about seventeen billion light years away. Call it an octillion meters. Now, space might go on endlessly after that. Forever. We don’t know. The Big Bang might not have been a point-like event. It might have been more like a flash filling an infinite plane and lighting up infinitely many stars. Zzzzap!

People sometines rush to the conclusion that if you drove, like, a puny trillion miles on a Wacker world, you’d be bound to find a virtually identical copy of Earth.

But the odds are much, much longer than that, as Max Tegmark explained in his 2003 article, “Parallel Universes.” (You can find it here as a PDF. And a shorter version appeared in Scientific American.) Your odds of finding a copy of planet just like Earth within the confines of visible space are considerably less than googol to one. (A googol is a written as a numeral 1 with a hundred 0’s after it. Quite a big number.)

Call the “Hubble length” the diameter of our visible universe. You’d in fact have to cover the ground of perhaps three to the googol power Hubble lengths to be confident of finding another “Earth.”

Re. big flattish worlds you can tool around on, Larry Niven’s Ringworld depicts an incredibly large place. One of the joys of this series. Lebensraum!

And in Charles Stross’s wondrous, epochal story “Missile Gap,” a copy of Earth has been peeled like a grape, with the surface/skin pasted onto a disk that’s millions and millions of miles across, with a zillion oceans and other continents, many of them inhabited by alien species. Supremely great story, with a lot to think about. But there’s continents with oceans in between them, so you can’t just drive—instead Stross uses a cool Soviet-era-dream nuclear powered giant airplane. The story appears in Stross’s anthology Wireless, and can also be found free online.

Even though the diameter of the Stross disk is probably bigger than you can drive in a lifetime, the disk is finite and it has an edge. I don’t like edges. If you have an edge, you can do a number where we reach the “edge” of the world and it’s like the edge in C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian, with a frozen wave. Or the classic cartoon thing of ships sailing off the edge. Stale. But I don’t want an edge. I want an endless roadtrip. Especially after driving to Vancouver and back.

With an endless roadtrip, you’re, like, forever on the golden plain leading to Mount Shasta. Never frikkin’ having to be back home to your workaday world.

Speaking of that workadaddy world, I’ll close with a commercial message: my new three-novels-in-one ebook Transreal Trilogy is on sale for $1.99, and my 1980s memoir ebook All the Visions is on sale for $0.99. Go git ’em. And puh-lease, if you buy one of my books from Amazon and you like it, post a comment!

Roadtrip #5. Vancouver, Coupland, Back Home.

After Ottawa, we went back and spent two nights in Vancouver. We stayed at a century-old, not-too-expensive place called the Sylvia Hotel, next to the water at English Bay Beach.

I’d been planning to meet up with my writer friend Bill Gibson, but as it happened, the page proofs for his next novel arrived at the same day we did, and he only had about three days to fix them, so we couldn’t connect. His two recommendations: Japadogs and the Douglas Coupland show at the VAG (Vancouver Art Gallery).

I had some doubts, but I did get a Japadog on the street—these are gourmet Japanese sausages, many levels above what you expect from street food. Bill loves Japanese things anyway, you might say it’s a cyberpunk country, with the Uniqlo clothes and the Muji housewares. While in Vancouver, Sylvia and I went to one of the best sushi restaurants ever, a place called Tojo’s.

The VAG museum is really a nice place, so European-feeling and civilized. A huge gray stone Victorian pile with a lovely patio cafe, no dirt, no Muzak, pleasant staffers, good food. Sometimes in Canada I’d get the feeling that in the US we’re living like wild animals.

Douglas Coupland lives in Vancouver, the author of Generation X and numerous other novels. One of an aging author’s last resorts is to become a visual artist—like Henry Miller or Lawrence Ferlinghetti, for that matter, me. (Yesterday I revamped my paintings site, making it mobile friendly! Coupland is taking this route with characteristic éclat and élan. I’d had some doubts about his very large show—as well as about the Japadogs—but it’s great. It consists of various rooms filled with riffs he’d done on one art historical theme or another. The one shown above it kind of a masterpiece, a Cubist composition including Twitter icons and such.

Coupland also had a couple of rooms of Lego constructions. This one kind of nails the uniformity of life in a suburban development. Sure this is a stale, whipping-a-dead-horse kind of theme, but the realization of it as identical Lego houses with identical Lego cars is kind of perfect.

And there’s a very funny room of repurposed objects expressing “Canadianness.” Like a locked freezer with a pool of blood on the floor under it, or couches with Hudson’s Bay plaid coverings.

And a really wonderful display, right in the first room, the walls lined with thin gray shelves, and lined up on the shelves are a zillion little bright bits of … plastic crap … that Coupland’s amassed, like parts of toys, or packaging, or game pieces, or wrappers, each of them just so, just sitting there, not attached, they drifted in and landed here, like debris on a beach by the ocean of the Real, and who’s to stop the work’s owner from nudging them or rearranging them, the road goes on forever and the party never ends. (I’m only showing a detail of the work here.)

And a room of Mondrian-like works with those 2D postal barcode thingies in the corners, I think they’re called QR codes. Not all of Coupland’s pastiches work—for instance, his two or three attempts to mimic Roy Lichtenstein’s Ben Day dot mirrors are weak. At times you get a sense that he just put in every single thing he’s ever done into the show. (Clearly any snarkiness on my part is authorial envy.) The overall impact of the show is massive, and I think it’ll get big play when it travels from Vancouver down into the US.

Coupland included a large outdoor sculpture of his head, called “Gumhead,” and people were encouraged to stick wads of chewed gum onto it. Kind of great. So interactive. Andy Warhol would have liked the show, and in fact Coupland speaks of himself as a Pop artist, and he even had a piece consisting of abbot a dozen of blond wigs sandwiched between two sheets of glass—wigs like our man Andy wore. I can’t resist mentioning that Marc Laidlaw and I wrote a story about Andy online, it’s called “The Andy Warhol Sand Candle.”

Wandering around Vancouver we came across what you might call a “floatplane airport” in the harbor, with planes buzzing off every few minutes. Fun to watch from the grassy, civilized waterfront park nearby.

We also hit a tourist-attraction spot called Granville Island, really not that great, and without many locals around, but I got a few photos, like these vines dangling from the roaring overhead Granville bridge. And there was a great food market.

Mysterious art project seen through a window of the Emily Carr University of Art at one end of the island.

And a big buoy or float hauled up from the sea to be an art object.

Heading south from Vancouver on I-5, pounding the Red Bull, we nearly got killed in the insane rainy-day traffic in unbelievably congested Seattle. Switched over to a mellower back road Route 9, leading to a little town called Sandy. I had this moment of Coupland-initiated Pop Art ecstasy walking around the mall parking lot at sunset by our motel. Seen through art-eyes, there’s great beauty and semiotic fun in the so-familiar iconography of the North American sprawl. A motor boat on a trailer with the low golden clouds! Photo taken with an iPhone, yes! Thank you, Doug, for opening my eyes, to this flash of ecstasy.

Then on to Bend, Oregon, which has become something of an outdoor mall, and down into the sparsely populated Klamath Falls, , one of those lifeless, emptied out country towns. This is a Klamath Falls alley. My Louisville high-school pal, Mike Dorris, who later became a famous author, had some Native American ancestors that hailed from the Klamath area. Modocs. There’s even a town called Dorris nearby I’m always a little mournful when I think of Dorris, as he’s not alive anymore. I wish he was still here. By now he’s missed out on a lot.

The streets of Klamath Falls were empty, with some cool old Art Deco buildings, like this one, the Wilson Building, with pine cones and cow skulls. I always tell Sylvia I want to resettle into a town like this, and she shudders, and I think of Wm. Burroughs’s phrase about his travels through South America in Yage Letters, “nightmare fear of stasis.”

And then we got into a lovely drive across high desert fruited plains towards Mt. Shasta in the golden late afternoon light, staring at that mountain for 60 miles driving towards it, feeling like Neal Cassady and Luanne Henderson, bombing along the two-laner, road trip paradise, what a thing to see a mountain from 60 miles away. I’m so happy/lucky to still be around, running one more trip like this. At the end of the day we reached for good old Weed, California, home of the vintage Hi-Lo Motel and Diner. Fabulous Weed. I always try to stay there, the town name tickles my fancy, and it’s right near the base of sacred Shasta.

And now back to the Los Gatos library. Home, sweet home.

Roadtrip #4. Totem Poles.

I’m still mentally processing our roadtrip/plane-trip in Canada last month. And generating a few more posts. Today’s post is about the totem poles we saw in Canada.

“Beak Totem,” oil on canvas, August, 2014, 16” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Dig the beak on this totem god. I’m not sure what kind of bird he is. Eagle? I just finished painting him today. The background is drawn from a sunset view over Lac Desert, the place that I talked about in the previous post. If you want to buy “Beak Totem,” check out the price-list on my Paintings page.

While in Ottawa, we went to the Canadian Museum of History, all kinds of stuff in there. The place was formerly called the Museum of Civilization. We focused on the First Nations art, like masks and totem poles, some of them antique, some of them newer pieces made by Native Americans, mostly on the west coast of Canada.

I really liked this sculpture of a sinister beaver god, made by the Haida artist Jim Hart in 1993. The object is meant to be a stand on which to place a chief’s coffin.

A side note, we saw the first-ever Canadian stamp, and it has a beaver on it. The Algonquin man, Don, who was our fishing guide told up in Lac Desert, told us a funny beaver story. At certain times of the year, beavers travel, going across the land looking for a new pond or creek to make their own. Don saw a beaver in his backyard, looking over his spring for possible colonization. Don chased the beaver off by brandishing his Whipper Snipper weed cutter. The beaver slapped his tail (their method, in the water, of alerting fellow beavers to danger) and then banged his nose on the ground—in a frustrated attempt to dive. And then the beaver moved on.

I’m very big on crow masks. Those giant beaks! I love fairy tales about crows and ravens as well. If I was ever reincarnated my three top choices are: crow, brown pelican, and a Big Sur cow.

Carving of a fish.

The Canadian Museum of History has a really large hall on one side, with ceiling that’s several stories high. About thirty totem poles are on display here, most of them dating from the late 1800s, which was the heyday of totem-building in the Pacific Northwest. The heyday only lasted a for a few decades.

Before the traders arrived, the west coast Native Americans were carving stone or wooden figurines with primitive knives. But then – then the sailing ships came, and the strangers brought steel axes. And—wow! Huge totem poles, from Oregon to Alaska!

But the traders brought syphilis and smallpox. And the missionaries banned the natives’ religion. The world they knew by heart become someone else’s “New World.” And the white man carried the totem poles off to museums.

I’ve always wanted to write an SF story based on this scenario, and these days I’m working on such a story with Bruce Sterling—the quote above is taken from a draft. In the story, some aliens bring humanity some incredibly powerful tools, and we create amazing stuff, and then it ends with unexpected outcomes.

A view of that pole I painted. One of the totem poles in the museum had a note saying that they’d helpfully repaired the pole, moved it to the museum, and given the Native American village a reproduction of the pole—cast from plastic, I think.

I saw a giant salmon on one totem pole. You see beavers, frogs, wolves, crows, eagles and bears as well. Plus the legendary bird they call a thunderbird—the thunderbird is a little like Jove or Thor, he beats up storms with his wings and sends out lightning bolts.

As a side note, my brother’s wife Joanie has a few nice pieces of Inuit art in her cabin. Like this seal. I remember carving a wooden seal in shop in the eighth grade. I didn’t make mine curvy enough. I liked holding this stone Inuit seal. A power object. A little sculpture like this is in some sense like a phrase or an image or a paradoxical bit of logic—a tradition-polished thought that you can caress and ponder.

A nice curved ramp in some dusty recess of the Canadian Historical Museum.

And a great mural, Morning Star, on the ceiling of the big totem-pole hall, by native artist Alex Janvier. Here’s a video clip of the unveiling in 1993.

Kitwancool by Emily Carr. 1928. Oil on Canvas. About 32″ x 40″. At Vancouver Art Gallery.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the artist Emily Carr, working around Victoria in British Columbia, did some really wonderful paintings that included totem poles and First Nations art. On our way back home, we saw several of Emily Carr’s paintings in Vancouver Art Gallery, and in the past (on an earlier trip to the Northwest) we saw a bunch of them at the art museum on the island of Victoria.

Here’s the photo that I used as a model for my totem pole painting—I didn’t want to post this image right next to my painting, as the full-blown funky original blows me out of the water. This said, I’m happy with the way mine came out. I think I’ll do a bigger totem pole painting next week, drawing extra inspiration from Emily Carr on this next one.

Roadtrip #3. Canadian Lake.

We drove up to Vancouver and flew to Ottawa. Met my brother there and went up to a cottage on a lake called Lac Desert. Deserted, but no desert!

Nice to be so totally off the grid.

I played with the dogs and they got hyper. Love that crazed, rolling eye.

The only way to get to the cottages was by boat, and they had a generator for power—it went off around 9:30 at night.

“Dog UFO Gub” acrylic and oil on canvas, July, 2014, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Getting totally out of sequence for just a minute, here’s a painting that I almost finished in July, right before our trip, and which I just finalized today. I used a new technique for it—I made a squiggly abstract underpainting with quick-drying acrylic paint, then I covered that with a white haze/glaze of acryulic paint, and then put some free drawings on top with thick oil paint. The underlying subdimensional reality in the background. And in the embossed oily top world we see my dog Arf, a UFO, and the spotted gub who stars in my novel The Big Aha. Also an infinity sign in the sky. I find it pleasing to look at. More info on my Paintings page.

We saw a beetle with really long antennae. My brother’s new wife Joanie said these beetles bite, and they like to eat wood. I didn’t touch him with my bare fingers, instead used the ever-present all-purpose cloth hankie I carry in my pocket.

The cabin we were in belongs to Joanie’s family, she’s been coming there for seventy years. Love the slanting afternoon sun on the red doors under the bar.

She had three cool decoys, I think the local Algonquin Indians made them.

My brother Embry and I did a little fishing—this one went back in the water. On two days we went out with an Algonquin guide, a man whom Joanie had known for about fifty years.

I almost caught a pike, a really nice kind of big Canadian lake fish. The epic had four acts: (1) I hook him, about two feet long, get him close to the boat, he’s fighting and thrashing and twists free of the hook. Should have used a net, but we didn’t have one.

(2) Boat back to Embry and Joanie’s cottage, have lunch, rest, and return to this same beautiful little inlet off the intricate fractal river/lake waterways with a net. Our guide Don hooks a pike, maybe the very same one. I get the net, Don reels him in—after letting him run out the line three or four times, tiring him—I get the net half around the pike, the lure snags on the net, the pike twists free.

(3) The next morning Embry and the guide go out without me and return with… “A perch,” Sylvia tells me. “I think it was a big perch.” But, no, it’s a pike! Don cooks him for our dinner, breading him and frying him in chunks in bacon grease, it’s good to eat him.

(4) That evening I motor back to the special inlet with Embry and Don, and I use the same lure that Don used, but the original Magic Pike isn’t there.

The lake water wasn’t all that cold at Joanie’s, and the water had that limp, kind of jelly-like smoothness of fresh water. I went swimming every morning.

They had one antenna with a wireless connection, and we’d walk over to the little log building where it lived, the “temple of the internet” and get our fix. They had cool old junk hanging on the walls in there, just like at Dick Scheinman’s house on the Lost Coast.

Not that anything important was coming in. But at this point we’re so much in the habit of checking email, Twitter, Facebook, etc., that it feels like basic life support.

[This is a cast aluminum house-shaped sculpture we saw in Vancover in the harbor. More about Vancouver in a later post.]

While I was in Vancouver and on the plane to Ottawa, and at the lake, I read Roadside Picnic, the late 1970s Russian SF novel by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky—I’ve heard about it for years, but hadn’t read it, and now I’d picked up a new edition at Powell’s Books in Portland.

A really admirable book, starting with the great premise that some aliens stopped on Earth, as if for a roadside picnic, and left all sorts of debris in a “Zone” they polluted. And the stuff is, for us, incredibly useful and terminally incomprehensible. The Strugatsky boys (and their English translator) made up lots of cute names for the debris. Happy ghosts, empties, golden sphere, grinder, bug traps.

The book has an exhilirating, heart-breaking ending. It’s a masterpiece.

In my current lost-in-the-woods state regarding my next novel, I naturally start thinking that I might learn some lessons from Roadside Picnic.

The miracles in the book are intriguing and staggering, but they’re kind of peripheral. The very fact that the miraculous alien tech isn’t spelled out makes it that much more alluring. The Strugatsky boys leave you the room in which to dream. Borges’s Tlön, Uqbar, Orbum Tertius was similarly sketchy and suggestive.

The emphasis is always on character—with a lot of repeating inner monologues. What I call wheenk. The wheenk is really the core of the book. I typically have a higher action/wheenk ratio than in Roadside Picnic. But perhaps readers like a lower ratio than the one I’m typically using.

And then I read a travel book in the cottage, Evelyn Waugh, A Bachelor Abroad: A Mediterranean Journal. Written in 1929, after Waugh’s novels Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies. Great fun. Love his style, his dry wit, his snobbery.

This is a classic found-in-a-summer-cabin book, a nice clean hardback first edition, inscribed by the original owner on December 25, 1933. Great to spend a week outside of time.

Roadtrip #2. With Dr. Dick on the Lost Coast

I’ve always been intrigued by the area of Northern California known as the Lost Coast. This is where the coastal mountains plunge so sharply into the sea that coastal Route 1 bends away from the shore, heads inland, meets Route 101, and expires.

Route 101 runs along north through the redwoods, inland, and eventually bends back to the coast at Eureka through the redwoods.

The zone between 101 and the coast is the Lost Coast, featuring only a few tiny hamlets such as Shelter Cove and Petrolia—these are towns with populations in the 100s, not the 1000s. Some of the land is undeveloped forests, and some of it is carved up into private ranches, quite a few of which are said to contain greenhoused pot farms, or “grows.” The South Humboldt wholesale pot trade centers on the Route 101 town of Garberville.

I’d thought Garberville would have a festive carnival atmosphere, but far from it. The place is gloomy and tattered. Grim. We were glad to turn off at Garberville and head into the true Lost Coast.

The Lost Coast roads are narrow and winding, and the citizens are highly independent. During our long drive to Petrolia, deep in the heart of the wilderness, we smelled the heavy pot fragrance from several of the solar-battery-powered grows—not that we could readily see them from the road, and not that we were going to nose in and look for them.

The journey led us to my old college friend Dr. Dick Scheinman, who, far from being a pot-grower, has been the resident physician of Petrolia, CA, for going on forty years. He’s an idealistic sort, a thoroughly admirable man. He came the the Lost Coast because he wanted to live somewhere away from civilization “in a place where they speak English and where the rivers aren’t full of parasites.”

After several tries, I’d managed to reach Dick on his landline phone, and he told me the landmark for finding his house would be “a truck and a tree.” This seemed a little vague—I didn’t initially grasp that the truck would be in the tree. Dick and his kids hoisted the thing up there some years ago, having removed the engine and transmission to lighten the payload. Why? Because they could. And, since it’s the Lost Coast, no pesky officials were likely to say no. The officials don’t get out that way very often.

Dick is so self-reliant that he built his own home.

And he farms his own cows—he grilled us hamburgers made from them. Did he use a propane-fueled Weber BBQ set up? Hardly. He propped an old refrigerator rack on rocks over a wood fire, broiled the burgers, roasted some of his garden-grown potatoes in the coals, and crisped up some green peppers Sylvia and I had in our car. Served the food with forks on home-made pottery plates. Delicious. Dick digs the clay for his pottery from the river and fires his creations in a wood-fired kiln he built. We’re talking serious D.I.Y. ethic here!

For city slickers like Sylvia and me, it was paradise to be so far off the grid. Dick took us swimming in a river a couple of hundred yards away. His house used to be next to the river, but the river moved. He and his neighbors have a provisional papala set up for shade.

And they do have some store-bought chairs. I like this particular photo, I feel like it captures a little bit of that calmness I felt while visiting our friend. No traffic sounds, no airplanes overhead, no wireless, no cellphone, no rush.

Dick’s friends and the neighborhood dogs were all very pleasant—no cracked, dangerous, types were in evidence. We picked a zillion blackberries off Dick’s monster rows of bushes.

Our kindly host.

I shot a lot of photos. I had my old heavy-duty Canon 5D SLR with me, and all around me were the kinds of things I like to look at. A ladder for picking peaches, a stairway to heaven.

The late afternoon colors reflected in an upstairs window, the glass surface rippled with the ambient gnarl.

The back steps you go down on your way to the outhouse.

Two hoses on the ground, so lovely.

A tree and a field. What more do you want? Okay, a shed and some kindling and a float.

The living yin/yang of the river’s edge.

The wonderful toolshed walls, bedecked with wonder. Seeing this, I thought of the famous “Pied Beauty,” written by Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1877.

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

And seeing this cow, I think of Peter Bruegel’s painting, Return of the Herd. Cows are wider than we tend to realize, and Bruegel knew to paint them that way. Scheinman hypotheses that, with all that cud fermenting inside their stomachs, cows all times have a bit of a buzz on. Calm and bovine. Dick likes his cows a lot, like pets, even though he eats them. It’s the wheel of life. He doesn’t actually make any profit on them, but it feels right to have them around.

On the way out, Sylvia and I took one last look at the dangling truck.

We hit the fiercely wild Lost Coast beach at the mouth of the Mattole River near Petrolia, then wound our way along the insanely scenic and bumpy Mattole road to RV-filled Route 101, hitting gorgeous Bandon, Ore, for a night, and then, feeling pressed for time, stemmed off along a two-laner beside the lovely Umqua River to reach the congested nightmare of Interstate I-5 North. Eeeek.

Near Seattle, we spent a night with my SF writer pal Marc Laidlaw. I always love talking to him. Marc and I don’t live like rugged pioneers, but we’ve turned out some good surfin’ SF stories over the years. Our latest extravganza, “Watergirl,” will be in Asimov’s SF magazine this fall, featuring our usual transreal surfin’ SF doubles, Zep and Del.

Seek ye the gnarl, dude.

Roadtrip #1. Seastacks.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife Sylvia and I set out for a drive along the coast from San Francisco to Vancouver.

We stuck to Route 1 most of the way, it’s a slow two-laner, but it’s great to be by the ocean. As opposed to being on a giant interstate like Rt. 5. This said, we did take Rt. 5 for most of the way home…two weeks later.

I’d always been curious about the Sea Ranch development on the coast north of SF, but it’s kind of boxy. Good cliffs, though. And a bathroom.

Further north in California we got to the redwood zone. Love those ferns and the greenness.

Later we stopped at a giant log that had been hollowed out to be a trailer home and dragged around the country in the 1940s. Checked out a tree we could drive our car through. And then what?

We saw a lot of big rocks in the ocean, they call them “seastacks.” A cute young couple climbed one of them and hugged.

In northern California, south of Eureka and Arcadia, Route 1 veers away from the ocean because the coast is too intensely rocky, and there’s an area called the Lost Coast where we visited our old college friend, Dick Scheinman. But I’ll save that for the next blog post.

For today let’s jump ahead into driving Rt. 1 along the Oregon coast. We started getting to really big seastacks up there. You feel like an ant among them, which is always a nice feeling.

The greatest seastacks were in a town called Bandon, Ore. You can remember it as Abandon without the A. We stayed at the inexpensive old Bandon Beach Motel near the Coquille Point, where there’s a serious buttload of seastacks.

Pan shot of the stairs down to the beach from the motel.

In the morning it was misty and the tide was low. I walked along the beach for an hour, getting some really nice pictures. It was like being in a painting by Yves Tanguy. You used to see a lot of book covers like this on SF novels in 1950s and early 1960s.

Exquisite reflections and patterns, and the little birds animating the scene.

I was totally, totally into it, natch.

I talked to an old guy who was digging for clams. He’d stick this tube into the sand to, like, chase them down as they were digging to get away from him. He wasn’t having a good day, he’d only bagged about four of them.

Intense wads of anemones as well.

Sylvia came down on the beach, too, and we found a piece of “driftwood” nearly the size of a house. Wonderful gnarl.

And the source code is pocks in the rocks.

SF Cliffs, Carnival Rides, Digital Pub, “Gorgeous” Show

A few weeks ago my wife and I took two of our grandchildren to the Legion of Honor museum in SF, and then the four of us walked south along the clifftops towards Land’s End, and we sat for awhile on a wall looking out at the sea. The big sky. The future. A lady named Chloe, sitting on a bench behind us, took a photo of us and emailed it to me. She’d somehow attached her iPhone to her heavy-duty SLR camera. Wonderful shot.

Sylvia’s niece came to visit and we took her and her family out to the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz. (This isn’t the family in the photo.) I love going to the Boardwalk. It’s a park where you pay as you go, paying for each ride separately. So you don’t have to commit to a full day of pukeful chaos.

The only thing I rode was the Big Dipper roller coaster. When we hit the bottom after the first big down-swoop, about half the vertebrae in my lower back and in my neck made little pops. For lack of any other reasonable option, I decided this was good for me. Like a trip to a chiropractor…not that I ever go. I felt loose and wiggly. Glad to have survived yet another “my last ride ever on the Big Dipper.”

There is no ride more terrifying to me than a chair swing ride. For reasons unclear to me, I think of them as being “Swiss Swing” ride, but I don’t think anyone else uses this phrase.

I think I first got really really scared of them when Sylvia and I rode one at a small town Upstate New York carnival in, like, 1976, and the chains were totally puny, like chains you’d have on a swing in your backyard, and we were sure one of them would break. To make I worse, we were swinging out over a crushed, blood-stained “death-car” that the cops had carted to the carnival site to frighten potentially reckless teen drivers.

Look, Ma, no head!

Last week I was in SF for digi.lit, which is LitQuake’s conference about how to succeed in digital publishing. The talks (including mine) weren’t super interesting, although I did pick up a few tips, and I met some nice people. One suggested tactic that I might try, at some point, will be to pay to be part of a mass ad emailing by an outfit called BookBub. Publicity being the biggest prob for self publishers.

My new books, I feel I should mention yet again, are my Beat memoir/novel All the Visions and my SF Transreal Trilogy: Secret of Life, White Light, and Saucer Wisdom.

Skipping some of digi.lit talks, I went to the nearby Museum of Asian Art, where they have a really interesting show called Gorgeous. They’ve paired pieces from their collection with pieces from the temporarily-closed SF MOMA. I’ve always liked the big Koons sculpture of Michael. Koons really is a Warhol for our age. He employs, like, 120 people to fabricate his works, truly a factory process.

The Tibetan Buddhists have a wonderfully gory notion of art that makes you think about the end of the road. Dangling eyeballs, skull brimming with blood’n’brain, what more do you want?

Speaking of fabricating off-kilter works of art, I’m working (slowly) with Bruce Sterling on a new story.

Love the word “howdah.” It means the seating cabin that you set on top of a royal elephant. This was in that Glamour show as well.

The final room of the show is a really strong jolt, quite wonderful. In back, a dimly lit Rothko, in the front, a wonderfully crafted bronze sculpture of a Buddha of some kind. I opened up my head inside this room, forgetting myself or, rather, watching the pieces of myself float by. Best art-rush I’ve had in a long time.

Oh, one more painting I saw this month, this one at the Legion of honor. It’s a smoothly painted and equivocal rendering of Thalia, the muse of comedy. Given a choice (not that you always are), I’ll always choose comedy over tragedy.

Looking for Visions

Photo by Susan A. Poague.

I was out at Four Mile Beach north of Santa Cruz with my wife and some friends yesterday. Pulling on a piece of kelp here, wanting to extract a nice long tentacle. The stalk snapped, I fell on my butt, it was fun. A jolt.

This month I read a picture book by Chet Van Duzer, Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps. Found it in Strand Books in NYC. A fascinating theme—and very fitting for me, as I’m in the process of deciding what to put in my next SF novel. Looking for the funky, gnarly monsters that live beneath the blank spaces of my world map.

Here’s a detail of the best and most influential monster-bedecked map of the sixteenth century. By Olaus Magnus.

“Sea Monsters” acrylic on canvas, June, 2014, 18” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

So I went and did my own sea-monsters-map painting. Something that made me laugh was the fact that the old-timers believed that every kind of land animal had a sea version. A lot of their confused ideas arose, I think, from occasional glimpses of seals, sea lions, and walruses. Be that as it may, they were sure we could find a sea pig, a sea elephant, a sea Elvis, whatever.

To finish off the narrative of my painting, I put in a youth questing for a princess in a tower. Her expression cracks me up. She’s bewildered, bemused, like, “Oh no.”

On the painting front, I published a new edition of my Better Worlds book of my paintings. You can buy it in paperback or, more immediately, you can browse it for free as a big webpage. It takes a minute to load this page the first time, but it should load pretty fast after that.

Good news from NYC! Dover Books will be reissuing my early nonfiction book The Fourth Dimension this fall. And they made a nice cover. I dig the green, and the mathematical rabbit-hole in the middle, and the transparency of the subtitle. I wrote a short new preface.

Meanwhile I’m just trying to do my jigsaw puzzle before it rains anymore. The puzzle is what goes into the next novel. Dig this book skimming across my dining table like a flying fish. This book is a useful enlightenment book called It’s Up To You by the Tibetan guru Dzigar Kongtrul. The thoughts and emotions in my head aren’t “me,” nor is there any “me” to have a head. So “I” can relax. Let the clouds drift.

Yes! But meanwhile I want to write another novel anyway. Writing helps me forget that I’m alive—a goal for many an artist. First I’d thought my next book might be a YA (young adult) book about an NYC kid. And then I’d thought it might be a sequel to Frek and the Elixir. And today I’m thinking it might be kind of a YA novel—but about an alien on another world. A, like, lizard boy, disturbed by thoughts of fragrant scales and leathery-skinned eggs. Only something stranger than that. I could dream up a whole cosmos, or at least a one-molecule-thick FX illusion of one.

Long story short, I’m looking to escape from consensus reality once again. Alone with the dino-birds in the cosmic stadium. Pull that stalk.


*Two new books out in ebook and paperback today!
* Transreal Trilogy and All The Visions.
*Click the cover images below to visit the book pages.

Transreal Trilogy book page.

Transreal Trilogy includes three of my “transreal” novels, that is, SF about my own life.
* The Secret of Life: A 60s college student learns he’s a saucer alien.
* White Light: A hipster math professor travels to the afterworld.
* Saucer Wisdom: A troubled author tries to write about alien abductions.

All The Visions book page.

All the Visions is a short autobiographical novel that I wrote in 1983. Wanting to emulate Jack Kerouac’s composition of On the Road, I typed All the Visions on an 80-foot scroll of paper instead of using separate sheets. The book describes the adventures of Conrad Bunger: mathematician, writer, seeker, rebel, freak.

Browse Transreal Trilogy and All The Visions for free on their book pages.
Buy the books at Transreal Books.

Many thanks to the 170 people who backed this publication project on Kickstarter.
It’s a new world in publishing.
And I’m still rockin’.

The mystery tour is now boarding.

Paintings Sale. The “Tentacles” Show in Monterey.

I’m putting all of my paintings on sale for three weeks, with $150 off the price of every canvas. Such low prices that I almost hate to do it. But I have limited storage space and I keep painting new ones, so some of old guys have got to find new homes. You can find the current prices under the “Buy Paintings” link on my Paintings page.

Meanwhile I finished a new painting this week, Cows on the Run.

“Cows on the Run” oil on canvas, June, 2014, 30” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

This landscape shows the hills above Alum Rock Park in East San Jose. I felt the picture needed something extra, so I went for a saucer and a hungry, starfish-shaped alien. And everyone knows how aliens feel about cows. Even the cows know! I painted the cows a little large for how far away they’re meant to be—but these cows are important, and I wanted to give the viewer a good look at them. They kind of make me laugh.

Those white-flowered plants in the foreground are meant to be a certain plant that you often see in California. For years, I’d though these plants were Queen Anne’s lace, but, on our hike in the hills, a somewhat eccentric, but botanically well-informed, volunteer-ranger-type guy told me these plants are in fact poison hemlock, originally native to Greece (cf. the death of Socrates.) What makes this confusing is that “hemlock” can also mean a type of pine tree.

This weekend we were down in Monterey. We went kayaking from a very handy spot, right in an interesting area of the bay near the aquarium, it’s Adventures by the Sea, at their 299 Cannery Row location. Such clean clear cool water, so many seals and sea otters. Lovely.

And after that we checked out the Tentacles show at the Monterey aquarium. I’ve learned to go there later in the day, like after 2 pm, when most of the school tours have cleared out. We visited with the cephalopods and the jellyfish. Old fictional faves of mine. I’ve worked cuttlefish and/or jellyfish into very many of my novels. They’re about the most alien creatures sharing the planet with us.

By the way, the first time I saw a jellyfish show was in May, 1992, at the Monterey aquarium with Bruce Sterling, and we wrote our classic tale “Big Jelly” about giant jellyfish, you can read it free online.

I do have to say that the quality of the Monterey aquarium experience has gone down over the last twenty years. At this point they seem to be pandering to distractible kids on school tours. Or something.

In the old days, the place was like a quiet cathedral, dimly lit, no distractions, no ceiling-high models, no flashing lights, no horrible ambient music, no braying amplified narration. Just you and the sea creatures.

But now they’ve gone all multimedia on our asses. And the special exhibits don’t have nearly as many actual aquariums as before. I don’t like it. Yes, I’m old.

But they did have a few of my faves there. I liked these “stumpy cuttlefish,” especially set off by a young woman’s manicured hand. We wave our fronds, whoever we be.

And they had an impressive tank of nautiluses, about twenty or thirty of them. I had some giant, man-eating flying nautiluses in The Hollow Earth (pb, ebook, or free CC). Love these guys. Ninety tentacles, baby.

One of the best tanks held some critters that I thought were cuttlefish, as their tentacles are fairly short, and they have those nice, undulating cheerleader-skirt-fins all around their midriffs. We’d seen a couple of these while snorkeling off the north shore of Oahu last year, and we’d been proud and happy to have “seen cuttlefish.” But it turns out these are “big-fin reef squid.” Very good performers in a tank, not cringing, just relaxed and doing their thing.

We did see a tank full of orange-and-white striped “common cuttlefish,” as well, but I didn’t get a good photo of them, maybe because the cuttles teeped into my mind and hypnotized me. They’re very interactive, coming up to the glass and waving their facial squid-bunches of tentacles at you if you wriggle your fingers near the glass. Hail Cthulhu!

I’m kind of thinking of having an undersea cephalopod civilization on our own Earth in my vaguely planned Frek 2 novel…

Frek 2? Recalling Early Glimmers of Frek 1.

These days I’m caught up by the idea of writing a book aimed at younger readers. I really liked Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema . On my end, I’m starting to think about writing a sequel to my 2004 young reader novel, Frek and the Elixir—you might call that one Frek 1. It was marketed as a regular “adult” SF novel, but the hero was twelve years old, and the material is kid-friendly. I’d like to come back and do a Frek 2 where he’s fourteen.

I’ve been thinking about a Frek sequel for a while. You can find a January, 2008, blog post of mine that includes an an interview on Frek and the Elixir and Postsingular, where I say a bit about this…although some of my thoughts on Frek 2 have changed—and I’ll get into that in some upcoming posts.

For some happy reason a photo of Frek and the Elixir appeared in a Barney’s ad. A high point. The way it happened was, I seem to recall, that the photographer just happened to be reading Frek, and they wanted a shot of the model looking “brainy,” so they gave her lorgnette-type glasses and had her holding the book. No doubt she insisted on taking Frek home and stayed up all night reading it…

Looking back through my book-length writing notes for Frek and the Elixir, online as a free PDF file, I came across an entry I wrote in Tucson on December 15, 2000. This was when I had the first glimmerings of the book that turned out to be Frek.

[===Begin old Journal Excerpt===]

I’m in Tucson to give an after-dinner talk at a conference on genomics, which is the latest word for what we were calling biotech or genetic engineering. Supposedly genomics is to biology as electronics is to electricity. A modern, high-tech spin on an old-school science.

I haven’t been able to locate any of the conference people at the resort, so I pretty much wonder why the f*ck I’m here. My room is in the basement, and I’m down here typing on my laptop.
I keep thinking about On the Road, which I’m rereading this week. I got a copy at City Lights in SF last week. I’d always fondly thought of my novel Secret of Life as being my On the Road, although now, rereading Road, I have to admit I don’t hold a candle to Jack. I did what I did, that’s enough, and I don’t need to go and pretend I did more. My routine of comparing the cyberpunks to the Beats—what a crock.

As I writer, I’m more inner-directed, more self-centered, less generous and less lyrical than Jack. The way he describes the weather and the sky and the sunsets! And, most specifically, my Secret doesn’t have any character like Dean Moriarty—I don’t have a really complex foil for the narrator.

[Rudy with college friend Roger Shatzkin at the W Hotel in NYC.]

So now my clever simian mind turns to thinking about how I might better ape the Master. What if I did an SF novel that set out from the start to be an homage to Road? That might be fun. It could be a picaresque planet-hopping kind of thing. Call the homage novel, say, Galactic Kicks. It could be transreal or I could do it as a pure fabrication. Or a mix. Another plus is that it would be way to do a space-opera thing, which I’ve never yet tried.

My Dean Moriarty character would need to be tragic—Dean’s tragic quality feeds the richness of Road. Over the course of the book, Dean is losing his mind. A desperate downward spiral. But maybe I don’t want to write a book like that. Maybe I’d like a galactic kicks quest that was a little more G-rated and little sunnier.

Anyway, reading another page of Road here in my dismal room, I read this amazing scene about sleeping in a cheap all-night movie theater in Detroit. He says, “The people who were in that all-night movie were the end.” Love that use of “the end.” Jack talks about how the theater’s double bill of movies goes deep into his mind, because he’s seeing and hearing and sleeping through these movies over and over during the night.

All my actions since then have been dictated automatically to my subconscious by this horrible osmotic experience.

What a beautiful line. What a genius to write that. Yes, Jack’s unmatchable. As it happens, Jack himself addresses the issue of trying to model your work on the work of an unmatchable artist. He writes about some musicians trying to play right after the legendary jazz pianist George “God” Shearing has performed.

Everybody listened in awe and fright…and the boys said “There ain’t nothin left after that.”

But the slender leader frowned. “Let’s blow anyway.”

Something would come of it yet. There’s always more, a little further—it never ends. They sought to find new phrases after Shearing’s explorations; they tried hard. They writhed and twisted and blew. Every now and then a clear harmonic cry gave new suggestions of a tune that would someday be the only tune in the world and would raise men’s souls to joy.

Galactic kicks, man, galactic kicks. Two gone wigged cats roistering across the Milky Way in 3001.

What if my hero’s road pal is human-sized alien cuttlefish? My version of Neal Cassady. The cuttlefish looks “demure” just like Kerouac always says about Dean Moriarty. I saw some cuttlefish at the Monterey aquarium the other day, and they did indeed look demure, their bunched tentacles pointing tidily down, their hula-skirts wavering about their middle. Neal Cassady as a cuttlefish, yas. Love it.

[===End old Journal Excerpt===]

Video Page for “Transreal Trilogy + All the Visions”

Hard at work on some mad-scientist-type project in the 1994 AMD chip-fab clean room…

We’re closing in on the conclusion of my Kickstarter project, Transreal Trilogy + All the Visions! Campaign ends on Friday.

Please think about helping me do this thing! It’s not much different from ordering an ebook or a paperback in advance.

As an added-on stretch goal, I’m going digitize some of the old videos from my basement cupboard archives, many of these coming from the time periods when I was writing my transreal SF novels The Secret of Life, White Light, Saucer Wisdom, and when I was writing my beat scroll memoir All the Visions. The idea is to make a nice rich media page to accompany the launch of the Transreal Trilogy + All the Visions project.

One old video I’m particularly eager to revive shows me at an international high-academic psychiatric convention, reading the All the Visions account of a hedonistic 1979 Manhattan day when the famous cinematographer Eddie Marritz and I wandered high in the city, the reading including honks from a squeeze-bulb bicycle horn I brought along. The reading filmed by one and the same E. Marritz using state of the art equipment, a SONY helical scan jobbie.

Another tape I want to get out there shows a series of public access TV shows I made in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1985. One time our dog Arf came on camera with me. The series was called Brain Food, and featured my diffuse reviews of books, authors and artists I happened to be thinking about—including Anselm Hollo, William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, Edgar Allen Poe, Steven Levy’s Hackers and Thomas Bass’s The Eudaemonic Pie, Margaret Atwood, and J. G. Ballard. “That was damn good,” one local guy told me in the weeks to come. “Made me laugh. Not like the regular stuff on TV.”

And I’d like to post my educational live-computer-demo videos on Chaos and on Cellular Automata. And the evening when Rudy Jr. and I performed our collaborative story, “Jenna and Me” in San Francisco. And the stage performance of my 3D-Mandelbrot-set play, As Above So Below, in Fort Worth, Texas. And a 1983 video of me reading from Master of Space and Time in Sweetbriar College, near our home in Lynchburg, Virginia. All kinds of footage in the archive, and with a few extra bucks from the Kickstarter, I’ll finally get some of this stuff digitized and online for the historic record.

So kick in something for the final stretch of the Transreal Trilogy + All the Visions campaign and help me make it happen.

If not for me, then for the keen and alert members of the next generation!

Paintings For Four Novels

Yeah, baby. In July I’ll be reprinting three of my SF novels (together in one volume) plus a scrolly Kerouac-like novel All the Visions. Here’s four of my paintings that approximately depic the four novels I’m talking about.

And, as of today, I have enough backers to fund my Kickstarter project, Transreal Trilogy + All the Visions for this! You can essentially pre-order these books now—as rewards via the Kickstarter page.

The Secret of Life

The young hero comes to realize he’s a saucer alien with startling superpowers. And yet he finds love.

White Light

A rogue math professor makes his way to the cosmic, absolute, white light that lies atop a transfinite ladder of cliffs and across a beyond-endless plain. The ultimate road trip.

Saucer Wisdom

Quirky underground author “Rudy Rucker” encounters a saucer abductee who’s seen the future.

All the Visions

A thirtyish 1980s hipster types his memories onto an 85-foot-long scroll.

The New Volumes!

Coming in July.

“Rucker Songs” by Roy Whelden & Karen Clark. “All the Visions” Rant.

In 1994, the composer and musician Roy Whelden made a beautiful album called Like a Passing River. The tracks includes several sections of me reading from All the Visions. Roy mixed my voice with performances by the American Baroque ensemble, and with the singing of soprano Karen Clark. The result is wonderful; it is kind of a transcendentalized operatic version of All the Visions. You can buy the Like a Passing River album, or individual tracks from it, via iTunes, via Amazon, and in other places. Meanwhile, Roy and his music publisher, New Albion Records, have agreed that I can post a few of the tracks from the album as podcasts. You can play the songs without leaving this page, just by clicking on the play bars where they appear in the post below.

Rucker Songs


“Rucker Songs” is the most amazing cut on the album. It’s about my notion of God as a white light, and includes a line I really like, which Karen begins with.

“Oh man we are in heaven, for sure for sure.”

In composing “Rucker Songs,” Roy built a hauntingly lovely operatic oratorio onto on that, followed by a bridge of wondrous sine-wave-humming, leading to a sprachgesang or spoken-song passage including my line, “What’s the point, can’t somebody tell me,” and then goes into my vision of flying “into the light” and reaching a zone with “no space, no time.”

“Give us this day our daily rush, on the nod as thou art in heaven.”

I actually wrote that line. Words to live by. And we get to hear Karen Clark’s great lush opera voice singing it. I’ve always kind of wanted to hear lines like these when I listen to religious songs. Karen caresses and burnishes the words.

I Was At the New Year’s Eve Dance, or, I’m Going To Die


“I Was At the New Year’s Eve Dance,” which might also be called “I’m Going To Die,” is a recording of me reading a passage describing my my teenage realization of the inevitability of death—which took place at a party at the Riverview Valley Country Club in Louisville, Kentucky, 1962.

“It first hit me when I was sixteen: you’re going to die.”

In setting up this song, Roy uses a few bars of “Teenager in Love” by Dion and the Belmonts, which fits, as I myself sampled this song in my line: “I know the answer: sometimes I’m happy sometimes I’m blue.”

Surf it, bro.

What’s the Point?


“What’s the Point?” isn’t really a song, it’s more just a recording of my voice, wondering what’s the point of existence—this is near the end of the novel, it comes from the long passage that I’m reprinting below, yes, I’m running the final long passage of All the Visions here. You might want to listen to “Rucker Songs” again after you read it.

By the way, you can also access these three podcast songs via by clicking the icon below.

As most of you probably know, I’m running a Kickstarter project, Transreal Trilogy + All the Visions. I want to reprint three of my SF novels plus a scrolly Kerouac-like novel All the Visions. You might think of today’s post as providing you with a musical and spoken word material relating to All the Visions, as well as this mammoth reprint of the book’s closing rant:

Final Section of All The Visions

So what’s the point? I mean, it ought to add up to something, shouldn’t it? A guy telling his life story, at length, but it doesn’t really come to anything. Well…I guess I would have been glad to read it, glad to see the footprints in the sands of time, yes, glad to know there was once someone vaguely like me, and will be again, no doubt, we are a hive, us humans, no individual death really matters, like when we were at the beach last year and Conrad Jr. caught a lot of crabs—crabs are so stupid that all you do is lower a fish-head or chicken-neck down in the water and the crab grabs it and won’t let go and you pull up the string and net him and put him in a bucket with the other crabs you caught, unless you haven’t caught any crabs yet, in which case the bucket is empty—and we cooked them for supper, they screamed when I threw them into the boiling water, but screamed so high that it was hard to hear, but not quite so high a scream as lobsters do, we cooked the crabs for supper and poor Conrad started crying, because, you understand, these crabs and him had been out on the dock for several hours, doing a number together, biped catching crustacean, and now the poor crabs were dead, but the consoling factor was that, after all, there are still a whole lot more crabs in the ocean, the race of crab not one whit diminished by these individual deaths,

no man is an island, if you think of it the right way, “no man is an island,” means that in fact an individual death doesn’t matter, it’s the whole thing, the gestalt that matters, so that, as old Bill suggests, our best way for space colonization would be to send out probes full of bacteria or viruses, just so they have that buddy-buddy double-strand of DNA, ribonucleic acid, the genes, if you think about it, the genes are sitting down deep in us—we are in fact big space probes for the genes, we are meat robots that the genes build in order to reproduce themselves, the other form of immortality being, yeah, software backups, but the final is the realization that even these stabs at immortality are relative, try like 10-to-the-30th years from now, man, when most of the protons have broke down, or 10-to-the-100th years away, and, really if you think about it, what difference would it make if the world lasted forever, and would it even matter if you yourself didn’t have to die, oh, it would get too old, but still, something in one’s soul does kind of leap up at the thought of immortality, but it’s a con, we have to learn not to fall for it, not get sucked in, because mortality is an essential part of the human condition,

like in Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon writes about the angels looking down, “all unaware of the dark beauty of the death-sentence we labor under,” the dark beauty, take me now Jesus, well, give me 35 more years, I wanna be 72 when I croak, and I’m past the midpoint, up here in real time real time real time, auughh, it’s not real for you anymore, my time, or for me, it’s ripped back from me by the current, the flow, I’m going to die, oh so what, who cares, it’ll be a relief for sure for sure, though there’s no rush is there , but still…as I thought once, “Death is the only thing that makes life bearable,” I mean how awful it would be to stand forever on a cloud, all stiff, strumming it, listening to hymns, nasty God walking past to pee on the floor, a chance of a peek up the bluesky folds of Mary’s skirt to her skin more whiter than a harp of gold, strum it, baby, there must be some way out of here,

I’m a desperate man, but why bother to be desperate, why do anything when you can groove, though grooving gets so boring, well, not boring, really, it’s the hangovers and the stoneover dissociation that’s hard to take, year after year, “And do your folks say you are a stranger / do your friends think you be too weird / it’s hard to learn to live with so much danger, bay-bih / year after year after year after year,” psycho rant stifflegged dead pig axe cross the stage, making everyone feel better they aren’t up there, scraping it right down to the rind, what’s the point, what’s the fucking point, man, why are you alive, why is there something instead of nothing, what’s the answer, “The answer,” sez Wittgenstein, “is experienced as the vanishing of the questions,” right, I kin dig it, but hey, the questions come back don’t they, you have to come down and make some money, baby, the questions come back later, you get the answer fine,

you fall asleep, you lose it, lose it totally, gag me with a chain-saw, baby, lose it totally and then start scratching your head, showering lice-eggs across the schizo-scenario and wondering why be working so hard just to get a stiff dick soft, get a stomach full, horrible animal functions, the way that if you really really have to take a shit you can’t think of anything else, just kind of crab-scuttle around, do the limbo under the pay-toilet door, find a guy already in there, flub-gubba-geep, go on outside and “lay your load upon the road / when toilets weren’t invented,” all this hassle to keep the system at maintenance level, putting bug spray on yourself, all the work to keep your hair oiled and your butt clean and your fillings in, your socks up, your wounds disinfected and bandaged, your eyesight corrected, your hearing amplified, your behavior modified, reformed-alcoholic radio-evangelist republican-congressman, yes!—your fungus damped, your itch scratched, and the piece of food picked out between those two dancey molars, the brain amused with TV paper book magazine drug cigarette booze coffee frisco-speedball organ-music-piped-in-from-the-catacombs-of-Thoth, the frisson, my dear,

“Give us this day our daily rush, on the nod as thou art in Heaven,” in heaven, oh man we are in heaven for sure for sure…or maybe it’d be better to be in Hell and limp, instead of forever in Heaven with your tremendous aching stiff salute, with God’s horrible bunion feet the size of mountains and you’re in fact standing on them though you don’t realize it, just singing, and feeling the better for it, soothing the itch the flaw the egg the lurking scream the origin of the species, the way Brits are supposed to always say “D” instead of “R,” The Gdeat Pydamids, those guys thought they had something going, one would imagine, those Egyptians mounding up those rocks and sand, Chariots of the Gods????????? naw, the power of the weak, what man can do, Izzy Tuskman used to yell at me, “What man can do,” is, uh, turn other men on, like, “Take this my body which is given for you,” do you think I’ll go to hell for writing that? Oh what’s the point, can’t somebody tell me please, not that I’d listen, I’ve got it all figured out, I tell you, I know the answer and it’s “Sometimes I feel so happy / sometimes I feel so blue,” I mean surf it, bro, hang ten, ho-dad, slide in and out of the reckless wash of snit-snit bubbles, each a galaxy in itself, and what can we ever know of the fish who swim below, just be there, why why, just do this, do that,

as a good “bad-attitude” attitude keep in mind that if enough people believe anything it’s probably wrong, eternally subject to revision, the idea in history, though each time you figure it out you still have to go to sleep and again wake up and again start over—a day is such a very long time, why would anyone want to live forever, throb, the Muse getting in bed with him…throb, he’s up again, out of bed, around the bend agin, over and over, until, if you’re lucky as John Lennon, some mushroom from West Yakshit blows you away, or if you’re lucky as Aldous Huxley, your wife shoots you up with acid, meanwhile JFK croaking on TV in the nurses’ room, and your old lady’s like shooting you up every time your stroke-twitched big wise forever-talking mouth tries to move, uh uh uh, “yes dear, take another hit of chemicals…and fucking die, man, and shut up,” into the light now darling, into the light, go now, go peacefully into the light.

Yeah, baby. Back me if you can. Transreal Trilogy + All the Visions.

“Hungry Bird.” Why Write a Journal or a Blog?

I finished a new painting yesterday, “Hungry Bird.”

“Hungry Bird” oil on canvas, May, 2014, 18” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I like how he’s about to eat a yellow square from the underlying pattern of squares and rectangles. Maybe he’s come into this abstract world from the funky analog world and he’s eating it. I did that background pattern a couple of weeks earlier, and then one morning I saw an article in the paper, with a photo of a hungry baby black-crested night heron. Some bird had been evicted from their nests near Merrit Lake in Oakland.

I saw this nestling on the local TV news last night, doing well, saw him gulp down a whole big fish in one bite. Followed by a yellow square…

[Photo by Paul Chinn, SF Chronicle.]

This week, among other activities, I’ve been looking through my 25-years-long collection, Journals 1990-2014, which I might try publishing next year, like in 2015. I’m in my fourth full revision of the thing, wrestling it down to a more reasonable size, and revising it for better flow. I came across a bloggable entry on the topic of why I would enjoy writing a journal at all. And these reasons could just as well apply to why I blog. I came up with seven reasons.

Identity. After my roles of husband and father, the most essential thing about me is that I am a writer. For me to write is to be myself. When I’m writing, I feel I have a reason to exist.

Companionship. I don’t speak as clearly as I write. And it’s rare that anyone wants to listen to me talk at any great length about my arcane interests. A writing page is a patient conversational partner.

Self-discovery. In writing, I unearth thoughts I didn’t know I had. And then I rewrite, organizing the thoughts into clear patterns.

Social utility. The journal or blog writings can seed commercial works. If people enjoy reading what I write, I’m performing a social good. And I can get money and recognition for this.

Transcendence. I become an observer rather than just a participant. I get out of myself. I see things from a broader perspective. I forget my quotidien worries.

Craftsmanship. I enjoy honing and exercising my craft. Writing a journal or a blog works at multiple levels: choosing the mot juste, building balanced sentences, forming paragraphs that express well-formed thoughts, writing posts or journal entries that have an essay-like cohesion or perhaps a narrative zap, orchestrating the flow of posts or entries into a developmental arc.

Immortality. When I record what I’m thinking and doing, I’m making a temporary barrier against my eventual obliteration by time’s flow. On a more practical level—I tend to forget things, and looking back on my journals or my blog brings back the past.

I’m having some success with my current Kickstarter project: Transreal Trilogy + All the Visions. Many thanks to those of you out there who are backing it.

Kickstarter for TRANSREAL TRILOGY + ALL THE VISIONS. “Two Ducks.”

I’m running a new Kickstarter project: Transreal Trilogy + All the Visions.

What’s the new project? Four novels bound as two books.
And what is “transrealism”? Your usual life, only it’s an SF novel!

Transreal Trilogy contains:
The Secret of Life: A 60s college student learns he’s a saucer alien.
White Light: A hipster math professor travels to the afterworld.
Saucer Wisdom: A cult author tries to write about alien abductions.

All the Visions is a short, autobiographical, non-SF that novel I composed on the typewriter with an 80-foot scroll of paper in 1983. Inspiration? Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. The underground classic returns in a new edition, smooth and strange.

On another subject, I just finished a new painting, “Two Ducks.”

“Two Ducks” oil on canvas, April, 2014, 20” 16”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

The two ducks might be two people you know, or the warring dyad within yourself, or the cosmic yin/yang. Or all of the above. Which are YOU today…the calm duck or the angry duck?

Either way, dear duckie, I’d be grateful if you can help with the Transreal Trilogy + All the Visions project.

One way of looking at it is that you’d just be putting in advance orders for the books. The paperback, hardback, and ebook editions will be out this summer, in July, 2014.

Free Books, Inverse Power Laws, New Paradigm

I made a new “Free Books” page with links to five of my books that are in free Creative Commons licensed ebook editions, plus five more books that can be read for free online, either as webpages or as PDF files. Ten free books! Go get ‘em.

As I say on that page, I release free editions of my books for several reasons. One is to keep the books alive and in circulation far into the future. A second reason is to allow those unfamiliar with my work to sample it for free. A third reason is to allow open access to my books for research and teaching. A fourth reason is that giving away books builds an author’s “name brand” and may ultimately bring in book sales, speaking engagements, and commissioned story gigs.

We’re seeing a new paradigm for how creative artists support themselves. I’m thinking about writers in particular, but some of this applies to musicians, painters, photographers, film-makers and other kinds of artists as well. I’m thinking in particular of the writers and so on who aren’t in the tiny top one-percent of their field. There will always be money at the top—but surprisingly little on the bottom. The “long tail” doesn’t do artists much good once the tail is only a hairs-breadth above the zero axis.

This phenomenon has to do with the pestiferous inverse-power-law curve, also known as the scaling law. if you’re the hundredth-most popular writer, you earn a hundredth as much as the most popular one. Instead of a million dollars, you get ten thousand bucks. Or maybe just a thousand (the law may have a scaling exponent). That’s how nature is. It’s not anyone’s fault.

The scaling law applies across the board—to the populations of cities, the number of hits on websites, the heights of mountains, the number of friends that people have, the areas of lakes, and the sales of books. The Nth biggest one racks up something like 1 over N as much as the number-one biggest dpes. Or there can be a scaling exponent, and maybe the Nth-ranking person only gets 1 / (N-squared) as much. It’s a natural phenomenon, and you can’t exactly be mad about it. Instead you have to deal with it.

I go into this in some detail is section “5.3 Commercial and Gnarly Aesthetics” of my nonfiction tome, The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul—here’s a link to that section of the book, which is currently living online as a huge PDF file. And shown below is a graph, with explanation, having to do with various ways in which author advances might be skewed.

[Drawing by Isabel Rucker for The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul. Caption for this figure is copied below.]

The curve shows the inverse power law Advance = $1,000,000/ Rank. The double lightning bolt indicates where I had to leave out six or seven miles of space so as to fit in the point marking where the most popular writer gets a million bucks. Despite this big spike, the total area under the curve between one and one thousand is only about six million, which represents the total in book advances that society hands out to the top thousand writers. The two straight lines show a couple of options for how a central committee might allocate six million dollars to a thousand writers in a “more equitable” fashion. The horizontal line depicts the possibility of giving each writer a flat six thousand dollars, irregardless of popularity. And the sloping line shows the option where the most popular writer gets $l0,000 and the thousandth most popular writer gets $2,000.

Why is nature filled with inverse power laws, also called scaling laws? Oddly enough there doesn’t seem to be any really clear explanation—I’ve seen attempts, but none of them quite add up. My personal opinion is that the explanation has something to do with the fact that natural processes are, as Wolfram has it, universal computations…you can see my conjecture to this effect buried in the text of my Lifebox tome here.

So what-frikkin-ever, that’s the computation-theoretic underpinnings of why artists have it hard. The practice is that, in order to make it, it helps to have patrons, whales, special gigs. Kickstarter is part of the answer here—asking your fanbase to directly support you and, yes, fishing for a few deep-pocketed whales in the fanbase.

And having the name recognition can impel people to ask you to give talks, or do some kind of consultation. Early on I might have been so flattered that I didn’t ask for money when some business was asking me to give a talk or a reading to their employees. “You’ll make it up in increased books sales,” was the belief. But now it’s backwards. Your income from book sales is in the toilet, and it’s gonna be staying there for the foreseeable future. So you ask the businesses to pay you to speak.

But what if the people inviting you say, “Oh, we don’t do that.” That can be tough. If it’s something like a small SF gathering, and they clearly don’t have money, then there’s no use pushing. But schools will pay, and businesses can pay. Always ask. If people with serious money want to stonewall me, there’s the building-the-brand and egoboo temptation to knuckle under and speak anyway. But I’m doing that less than I used to. I get a bad feeling when I knuckle under to a fat cat. They gotta give me something, even if they want to call it “travel expenses” instead of “honorarium.”

The street performers in Manhattan pass the hat, of course, and to make sure you don’t melt away, they pass the hat just before their best and final trick. I’ve never actually been in a position of literally passing a hat after a talk. Sometimes you do it indirectly, like in a book store where people are supposed to buy your book, or at a more informal gathering where you try and sell some of your books directly from the podium, books that you brought in the trunk of your beat-up traveling-snake-oil-salesperson or country-musician-type car.

But on my new “Free Books” page I am, for about the first time, electronically passing the hat, that is, I put a “Make a Donation” button the page.

In the same vein, I’ll be launching a Kickstarter for my next project on May 1. It’ll be called “Transreal Trilogy + All the Visions.” But that’s another story. Stay tuned!

Rucktronics, Inc., marches into the future!

NYC Photos, April, 2014. Post #2. Plus Brainwash Reading

Last week I did a reading at this cool café / laundromat near 7th and Folsom St. in San Francisco. The Brainwash. And here’s a podcast of my reading, which was about twenty minutes long, including some brief Q&A.

I read the ending of the new edition of my Kerouac-style scroll novel, All the Visions. In May I’ll be planning to run a Kickstarter for a Transreal Trilogy + All the Visions project. The trilogy will contain reprints of The Secret of Life, White Light, and Saucer Wisdom.

The event was organized by David Gill, who teaches at San Francisco State, and who runs a small SF magazine called Pravic. He’s shown here playing SF-style boop-whoop music on his computer. He doesn’t always look like this—I asked him to look like a sinister mad scientist, a request to which he responded with a perhaps disconcerting alacrity.

We had a decent crowd, including such luminaries as V. Vale, Marian Wallace, Ted Hand, and Dave Pescovitz.

So now let’s jump back to NYC. This is the foreshortened curtain at the new Woody Allen musical version of Bullets Over Broadway (seen from below). When the curtain came up some flapper-type dancers were in that same pose. Best musical show I’ve ever seen. Great to forget yourself in the laughter of a crowd.

Times Square is so freaking chaotic. Especially when, as I already mentioned, you don’t know which direction is which when you come up from the subway. Times like this, Google Maps on your cellphone isn’t all that helpful—the currents are too strong to let you figure it out, and maybe it’s not a great idea to be blindly waving around your phone in a crowd of a twenty thousand louche strangers. So you bumble along like an molecule in a rushing river.

Huge limos ply the streets.

People hurrying past. Such an anthill. And you’re one with the ants.

Buskers all over the place, good music. Classy Bethany (?) fountain area in Central Park, string quartet, kind of. The walls are, like, Renaissance.

The new World Trade Center tower is almost done. With the antenna it’s supposed to be 1776 fee tall. A fairly simple design, but strong, iconic. Takes awhile to get onto the grounds, like with airport-style searches and all that, although eventually I guess it’ll have to be wide open so people can actually be using the place.

Those big memorial holes are still there, they give me a lump in my throat, unexpectedly. Such a graphic image of death…you flow down in the sparkling waterfall, your life’s course runs in maturity along that calm plat area, and then it’s down into the deep dark hole of death.

We hit Washington Square Park just for old time’s sake. Like this tree. You do get hungry for plants in Manhattan.

Busker with a grand piano at Washington square. Playing good stuff.

I always like looking at Wall Street and Lower Manhattan too. No idea what this structure is, but it looks nice with the people. Kind of a Federico Fellini vibe.

All the way down at Battery Park where you can get the ferries, I saw an easy photo, wharf pilings and a number.

And then back uptown.

I like the buildings reflected in each other. It’s the One World Trade Center again here.

A slanted bottom façade on the building on the left.

And the makeup mirror in our bathroom…

Trip to Manhattan, April 2014. Post #1.

My wife Sylvia and I are back from a week in Manhattan. I saw my agent and some editors, bought books at the awesome Strand, saw Woody’s great new musical, “Bullets Over Broadway,” hit the museums, ate well, enjoyed the crowds—all the wonderful old and new buildings, all the amazing faces. I shot a bunch of photos, and I’ll be blogging them in the next few posts.

This is in Battery Park, at the bottom of Manhattan where you get the ferry to Staten Island or to the Statue of Liberty. Street performers stand on little ladders, swathed in bronze-looking robes, with Statue of Liberty masks. Here’s two of them going off duty, hiking up their skirts. One of them was a five-foot-tall Puerto Rican lady.

Huge crowds in front of the Metropolitan museum, like the crowd in, say, Bosch’s painting of Jesus on the way to the cross. So much life, so much consciousness. Even now that everyone has a camera, people might kind of glare at you when you photograph them…that can make the picture better.

Click for a larger version of this photo.

One day we rode the subway to Brooklyn Heights, found this little area by the Brooklyn Bridge called DUMBO (a deliberately off-putting acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), and got the city ferry up to 34th St. in midtown Manhattan. Beautiful long ride, only $6. I merged two shots of lower Manhattan for the image above. You can see the new World Trade Center building, they also call it One World Trade Center. I put all that stuff in the sky as a way of merging the different colors of sky that were in the two photos I used.

A wedding party was shooting group pictures there under the Brooklyn Bridge. Love that gold ruching in the one dress. A lot of the New Yorkers have these great old-school accents, it’s a joy to listen to them, it feels as linguistically off-beat as being in, like, Scotland.

We did some time in the shopping areas of course, both Fifth Avenue and down on Broadway in SOHO. This shot is in the downtown Bloomingdales. I dig those horizontal fashionista hands, just so.

A richly graffiticized truck; with a portrait of a graffitist who has spray-cans for his/her eyes. I never actually saw anyone using one of the new public rental bikes.

Dig this sinister subway entrance near the MOMA on 53rd St. With 666 for the address. The guy is kind of mysterious and glamorous.

Public art sculptures by Tom Otterness.

One of the subway stops downtown had this little bronze statue of a tiny, wondering, uncertain couple, they’re about three inches tall. Me and my wife feeling this way at times. Like when you come up out of a subway and can’t decide which way is uptown or downtown, and the sky’s so gray you can’t find east and west.

This is in the 5th Ave Uniqlo store. I dig what a fractured, collage-looking grid the scene was. You can see me in the middle, reflected in a mirror…I’m riding down an escalator. Such a mental charge to be in these wild scenes all day.

On that ferry ride, we saw some great crumbly Bladerunner-type scenes. New York is always falling down, always being built back up. Like a human body.

Saw this guy on Wall Street, right outside a huge brokerage house. The giant blow-up rat had only the most tenuous connection with the issue that he was protesting about. It wasn’t like he was saying brokers or rats, no, he was exercised about some fine point about methods of asbestos removal, like maybe he hadn’t been able to get the contract to do it. But if you’ve got a giant blow-up rat, why not use it?

Kept seeing this image of the singer M.I.A on the cover of Wild magazine on news-stands. My kids use the word “ferosh” (short for ferocious), for this kind of expression. Photos of newsstand offerings is time-honored tradition among city street photographers, you understand.

My Top Twelve Links

The talented and wonderful people at my web hosting site,, have a Webalyzer service running that lets me look at the numbers of hits and visits that arrive at the various pages that I maintain on the web—mostly blog posts, but with a few book-title-specific pages as well.

And today I thought I’d run a list of my top twelve most popular links, in descending order of popularity. During the month of March, 2014, so far, these twelve top links have garnered traffic ranging from 140 thousand visits for the top link down to a thousand visits for the twelfth link, with the middle-ranking links in the 10 thousand visits range.

For some unknown reason, the image shown above is my most popular. It’s my painting “Fractal Skate Posse,” from 2010, and it’s in the collection of my awesome ski/skate/surf-photographer nephew Embry Rucker III.

And now we’ll move into the list. It would be logical if I illustrated each link with an image from the linked-to page. But fun trumps logic. And I have a backlog of new and old photos here. So, as I so often do, I’m going to illustrate this post with completely random unrelated photos having no obvious connection with the links.

[Amazing rainbow spotted off our porch this week.]

(1) “Anselm Hollo 1934-2013

This is the link that gets over 140 thousand visits a month. No idea why. It’s a fond reminiscence of my dear departed Finnish-born poet friend, Anselm Hollo, with excerpts of a couple of his wonderful poems.

[I like the cryptic signs on phone poles.]

(2) “In Her Room. My BETTER WORLDS Art Book.”

This one features my online art book about my paintings.

[An Alice In Wonderland style talking flower seen in Oxford where Lewis Carrol taught.]


I’m guessing that people in Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Third World are using this page, which features a complete PDF of a computer science textbook that I wrote about programming videogames. I doubt if anyone is using the particular game framework that I designed, but the book has some good info about other software engineering and programming topics as well.

[ Jellyfish warning glyphs. Dig the pain zigzags coming off the distressed stickperson’s legs. And the jellies are like brains with dangling spines.]

(4) “The Free CC Version of Rucker’s WARE TETRALOGY”

I’m really glad that I released the WARE TETRALOGY as a free CC book. It sells fine as a commercial ebook anyway. But having it be free means that it’s in some sense immortal. People will always be able to find it. And it’s fitting to have my core cyberpunk series be out there on the web on its own.

[Always good to see a snake. Sinuous.]

(5) “COMPLETE STORIES by Rudy Rucker, as a Free Webpage”

Easy to see why this link is popular, as it’s a giant web page with all of short stories on it. As with the Ware novels, I do releases like this to keep my work alive.

[A 1930s junker car in a guy’s yard in Pinedale, Wyoming. Crumb’s Mr. Natural had a car like this.]

(6) “Visit to Manhattan”

I love shooting photos in NYC. So much to see.

[ Puddles on our porch. Hail, nature, perfect in every part!]

(7) “Beauty in Chaos”

Learning to see chaos in the natural world is a valuable skill. It makes life more interesting.

[Really dig the new lamps in our library. And the high window of sky. ]

(8) “Golden Gate Bridge, Futurism, & the SF Biz”

Spending a night near the GG bridge, on the Marin side of the bay. I was a paid speaker at a futurism con. Great gig.

[Another spot I’ve photographed many times. Always trying to see it new. Carrying a camera helps. It’s like I get into a conversation with the camera. “You see that?” ]

(9) “The Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton”

The Lick is an amazing, other-worldly spot near San Jose, definitely worth a visit. But no way would I ever ride my bicycle up there, as people nowadays like to do.

[Love the annual Jiffy Mart freestyle bicycle-flippers at the Los Gatos Xmas parade. So anachronsitically unsafe.]

(10) “Dave Eggers, THE CIRCLE. Gengen SF.”

The Eggers novel strikes me as an important event relative to our understanding of what the web is doing to our heads. I use the word “gengen” to refer to the ever-increasing wave of SF-genre books which are successfully marketed as general audience books.

[Get a wideangle lens, turn it at an angle, and a home becomes a weightless space station!]

(11) “My Dive Log, 1995-2009”

I love the alien-worlds, zero-gravity sensations of scuba diving. Getting almost too old to do it anymore. My records thus far.

[ Greg Gibson and me near Los Gatos, at the time I was starting to write my novel SAUCER WISDOM. Greg is in the persona of my UFO-abductee character Frank Shook.]

(12) “Four Dimensional Portals To Other Worlds”

I’m forever seeking a magic door to another world. That’s why I write SF.

Free BIG AHA Paperbacks at Scribd Reading

Added March 28, 2014:

So I did my reading and Q&A session at Scribd yesterday. A good, responsive crowd.

I made a podcast of the event. You can click on the icon below to access the podcast via Rudy Rucker Podcasts.

Here’s a zoom of that group shot.

Original post below:

A talk, reading, and Q&A about writing and about The Big Aha , a cyberdelic novel which Rudy funded with a Kickstarter campaign.

“Rudy Rucker’s latest novel, The Big Aha, is pure transreal Ruckeriana featuring extreme biological and quantum technologies, steamy techno-sex, nasty aliens from higher dimensions — and all soaked in the unique atmosphere of the magical 1960s. … This is a great example of how science fiction publishing is being redefined.” — Giulio Prisco, io9


When? Date: Thursday, March 27. Doors open at 5:30 PM. Event begins at 6. Runs till about 7.

Goodies: Free coffee, tea, wine, non-alcoholic beverages and snacks
Plus free copies of The Big Aha in paperback for the first 30 guests or so. And maybe some other titles as well. Get more info and register to attend via Eventbrite.

The Big Aha gloriously and objectively exists on an absolute level with all of Rucker’s classic work, chockfull of crazy yet scientifically rigorous ideas embodied in gonzo characters and plots. Like a jazzman, Rucker takes his intellectual obsessions as chords and juggles them into fascinating new patterns each time out…a rollercoaster ride that is never predictable and always entertaining…straight out of some Kerouac or Kesey novel, yet with a twenty-first century affect. Rucker is remarkably attuned to a new generation. Ultimately, all the craziness and whimsy and otherworldly menaces of Zad’s mad odyssey induces true pathos and catharsis in the reader.” — Paul Di Filippo, Locus Online.

Where? At the Scribd space, 539 Bryant St. , Suite 200, near Bryant & Second, near South Park.

What is Scribd? As I understand it, Scribd has always been an ebook-sharing site where pretty much anyone can upload any non-pirated text. Recently they’ve been putting more focus on selling commercial ebooks and, even more than that, they’re starting a subscription service that’s something like the Netflix model. For $8.99 a month you can read any ebook that’s distributed via Scribd.

I’m not sure whether or not Scribd’s business model will take wings and fly, but it’s worth a look. They’re offering passwords for free two-month trials, and they have a bunch of my books on their site right now. And, as I mentioned, Scribd is paying for some of my paperbacks to give out at this event, which is pretty great.

Hope to see you there.

And by the way, I’ll be taking down the fourteen paintings in my Big Aha art show at Borderlands Books on Thursday, Mar 27…the show was extended from March 15. SoI’ll be taking the pictures off the walls a couple of hours before the Scribd talk. Come by Borderlands in person about 3 or 4 PM, and I might make you a deal…with no mailing costs. I’ll have some quality prints with me too.

Living Petroglyphs?

I finished a new painting, “Hawaii,” (doing one last touch-up on March 14, 2014, which is the image shown here.) It has three big plants and three petroglyphs, although the guy on the right is perhaps morphing into something more.

“Hawaii” oil on canvas, March, 2014, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

This painting has to do with an experience I had about seven years ago, and which I’m currently trying to fashion into an SF story. For the rest of this post, I’ll just edit some of the relevant passages from my 1997 journals. And, following my usual fashion, the photos will have nothing to do with the subject matter at all.

[Photo taken from the air near Salt Lake City in winter. I call this one, “A New Map of the World.”]

So in August, 1997, my wife Sylvia and I spent a few days at a somewhat generic resort hotel on the big island of Hawaii. The place was called something like the Royal Wak. With its parking-lots, golf-club, and shops, it formed a asphalt island atop a desert of black a’a lava stones.

Among the local sights in Hawaii are the petroglyph markings.

[Paul Mavrides with his black velvet painting of the Challenger disaster.]

Stones bearing petroglyphs are viewed as sacred, but I noticed that the Royal Wak hotel developers had broken up some of them to decorate the little shops around the hotel. Sad broken glyph frags sitting in, like, the flower bed of a Benetton, with educational labels by the glyphs.

I was cuprous about petroglyphs, and I found a little book that talked the glyphs being in places where there is a lot of power, or mana. One big spot is in a lava field near the volcano Mauna Loa. Another was near out hotel, a spot called Puako.

[Greyhound Rock, north of Santa Cruz, CA.]

We went and saw the Puako petroglyphs two times. They’re in a field of smooth pahoehoe lava, which has cracks, making a background pattern like the plates of a turtle shell. The petroglyphs show men, animals, spirits. Many of them are drawn with their heads towards Mauna Kea, the highest peak on the island.

It’s hypothesized that the men etched onto the rock are perhaps projections of the artists, like shadows. I imagined the early Hawaiians of 1300 AD jumping up in the air, looking at their shadows, then drawing that kind of design.

[Rudy at a Pixies concert in San Jose, February, 2014. Hat knit by Georgia Rucker.]

The Puako petroglyph field is in a spooky place, overgrown with introduced exotic kiawe or mesquite thorn trees. In the old days, it was blank lava here, like the slopes of Mauna Loa. So much mana there that it’s a little scary.

There was a menacing warning note at the bottom of the sign at the petroglyph field: “Those who defile or mistreat the petroglyphs must bear the emotional, physical and spiritual consequences for those and those around them—we can take no responsibility for these effects.”

Somewhat foolishly ignoring this, I walked onto the petroglyphs with my shoes off—in my socks—to get a better photo. Immediately I felt like I was trespassing, that I had intruded.

[Anxious tourist, who appeared in an early draft of the “Hawaii” painting. Sylvia’s advice on this detail: “One word, Rudy. Palette-knife.” But I documented him before I scraped him off. He reminds me a little Bill Burroughs in the Amazon jungle, or rather, of a fellow-traveler whom Bill would have made fun of.]

A bit later, dizzy from the August sun, we lost our way and forked off onto a false path in the woods. The criss-crossing shadows of the kiawe branches seemed petroglyph men all over the ground, twisting at odd extra-dimensional angles like A Square coming up out of Flatland, and threatening, nay pursuing me, intent on extracting a terrible vengeance for my defilement of their field.

Back in the room, I heard a knock on my hotel-room door. I peered out through the peephole. A petroglyph is in the hallway—an intense stick-figure of a man, like figure made of glowing fluorescent-light tubes. I didn’t open the door.

[Rudy with old college room mate Kenneth Turan, now the famed film critic of L.A. Times and NPR. Great to see him up in San Jose this month. Photo by Patricia Williams.]

I did a two-tank scuba beach dive near Puako the next morning. It was good. There was an eel garden at a drop-off to the continental shelf. There were about a hundred eels, silvery green, each with its tail tucked into the smooth white sand, and its body floating erect, wobbling this way and that. A few eels were swimming around free, adjusting their position. They had long slit mouths partly open. Behind them was a huge, huge form slowly moving, a leviathan of the deeps. An extraterrestrial

I felt a sense of mystery, of vastness, a sense enhanced by incipient nitrogen narcosis. The guide and taken me a little too deep.

[Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz.]

After the dives I talked to my guide about the petroglyph who was stalking me. He asked, “Is it all the petroglyphs that are after you, or just one of them in particular? Maybe you can get a second petroglyph to help you deal with the first one. Maybe the first one was from a burial site. And the helper-petroglyph might be a turtle.”

“Where would I find a turtle petroglyph to help me?”

“There’s a lot of petroglyphs by the good fishing spots. Meet me this evening and I’ll show you. I go spearfishing near hear at night. The fish are asleep and you can dive and just pick them up. It’s like a supermarket.”

And then? Wait for the finished story…if I manage to write it.

[“Grandpa’s Birthday,” oil, 24 ” x 20 “, March, 2013. Note 67 candles, some on cake, some on strawberries.]

And, by the way, tomorrow, March 22, 2014, is my 68th birthday! I’m happy to have made it this far. It’s been interesting the whole way.

Spring in California

So, yeah, I enjoyed the rain and now it’s spring.

Love this bank with the exposed root. All the unknown underlying aspects of the world.

Went out to the beach one foggy morn with daughter Georgia, her husband, and their two darling children. The piles of washed up kelp amaze me, so beautifully crafted, for free, discarded, Nature’s bounty.

Awesome heap of seals beside the Santa Cruz dock these days. They wriggle over each other, and “nobody” gets that worked up. Some barking for show, some teeth-baring, but very rarely an actual bite.

Gotta dig that neon Stagnaro’s fish sign. Certain things belong in neon, and one of them is the icon of a fish.

My neighbor Gunnar turned eighty last week and one of the other neighbors gave him a party.

Exciting to go over before hand and see the colored lanterns, and then it was dark and the lanterns were in full play. Party lights.

Markings on cracked asphalt are always an easy photo. Add in a bird and you’re got a composition.

We saw a newt up on a Los Gatos hill, not sure if s/he had slept in this hole or was just hiding in it. Newts, the way they wriggle, always remind me of the way Deadheads dance, repetitively raising the arms and legs.

As for me, I’ve been working on some Transreal Books productions, preparing some of my backlist books for re-release. Editing, proofing, designing. I’ll talk more about this in a few weeks when I launch a new Kickstarter to fund the new editions.

I’ve got a birthday of my own coming up, and I can only hope to emulate the example of the eighty-year-old Gunnar, shown here getting funky and way way down.

Spring Clearance Sale on my Paintings

It’s time for another sale on my paintings.

I have no room left in my storage racks, and I’m painting more than ever. Please buy one! I’ve cut just about all the prices by $100 or $200. Check out the prices now. I know some of you said you’d like to buy Frog Man, so here’s your chance!

“Frog Man,” oil on canvas, January, 2014, 20” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I finished a new painting last week (shown below). The way this one came about is that I was finished writing an SF story “Laser Shades” for a very cool art book, The Superlative Light, by the photographer Robert Shults. The book consists of photos taken in a very-high-power laser lab.

“Laser Shades,” oil on canvas, February, 2014, 24” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

While I was working on the story, I wasn’t quite sure about how to end it, and then I made my new painting as a way of previsualizing a big scene. The guy in the painting is wearing special laser-proof shades and he’s (rather unwisely) holding a fetal “egg” in the path of a yottawatt laser beam. A yottawatt is about the power of the Sun. That zapped egg is going to hatch out some kind of weird person, so look out!

Eventually I’ll post the story online, but not yet. I’ll let Shults’s book come out first. Also I might read the story somewhere this spring, and if I do, I’ll put up a podcast of the reading.

I was up at Borderlands Books on Valencia Street in SF yesterday to see my old friend and way-gnarly SF writer Dr. Michael Blumlein doing a presentation on his new book of stories, What the Doctor Ordered. It was a good show. Learn more about the book on Michael’s home page.

Speaking of Borderlands, my Big Aha show of paintings there has been extended until March 29, 2014. So if you’re a local, you can check out some of my latest paintings in person. And then buy one!

And speaking of art projects, Sylvia and I saw this man Scott Weaver doing a demo at The Exploratorium in San Francisco early in February. His life’s work is a giant toothpick sculpture, kind of depicting San Francisco as a whole. He’s been tinkering with it for thirty-five years Weaver also has a toothpick hat that he sometimes wears while discussing his work.

Dave Eggers, THE CIRCLE. “Gengen SF.”

I just read the new Dave Eggers book, The Circle . It started out a little slow, but then it became a page-turner. I plowed through it in two days, thinking a lot about the characters and the ideas, and when it was done, I missed having it to read.

I liked the book a lot. It got to me.

The “Circle” is a company something like Google + Twitter + Facebook. They’re working to take over the world, ultimately controlling all information and all elections, and making it impossible (and illegal) for anyone to be offline. The main character is Mae Holland. She starts out as something of a free spirit, but she’s also ambitious, a striver, and very much a people pleaser. And by the end, she’s a self-deluding and heartless zealot. You empathize with her, pity her, and end by despising her—which is just what you’re supposed to do. The book is something of a moral fable.

Being a science fiction writer, I’m interested in the fact that The Circle is a science fiction novel by a mainstream writer, and it’s being marketed as a general audience book. Not that these general audience books use the “SF” genre label. They’re “visionary,” “speculative,” “dystopic,” “novels of the near future,” and so on.

[Happy moment for a writer. Sitting on a hillside with a manuscript to correct.]

I’d been wondering what exactly to call these books. I don’t necessarily want a bitter, negative word for them…I don’t want to be like a crusty old-time Mission hipster throwing rocks at a Google bus. So I posed the what-do-you-call-these-books question on Facebook, and a person with the screen name “Post Script” coined what I think a the perfect word. Gengen.

Gengen is a cozy word, pleasant to say, and this is important for a new coinage. I see the gengen move as working in two directions. The name can be read either as “general audience genre” book, or “genre book that’s broken out to a general audience.” It isn’t inherently disparaging to either side. You can be an SF writer moving onto the general shelves, as William Gibson has done and as Kurt Vonnegut did before him.. Or you can be a denizen of the general shelves, safe in your position, wanting to get wild and write a genre book—like Margaret Atwood, Gary Shteyngart, Jonathan Lethem, Chang-Rae Lee, and nnow Dave Eggers.

(By the way, re. “gengen,” someone might protest that there are other genres besides SF. That’s fine, and if someone wants to have a gengen discussion about the detective or romance or western genres, sure, why not. Gengen is a type of move, a sidling between the genre ghetto and the shopping street. But it’s gengen SF that I’m talking about in this post, and often as not I’ll just call them gengen for short.)

There’s more and more gengen books these days—the SF mode has acquired a trendiness, a cachet. And really that’s good. I like reading SF books, and if they’re gengen by a talented writer, so much the better.

[View from the poetry room in City Lights Books.]

Of course, some pro SF writers might jeer, “The Brahmins are wading in the funky Ganges where we hardcore SF sadhus have wallowed for, lo, these many years.” Or, “Are we lowly science-fiction pros expected to be grateful when a mainstream writer stoops to filch a bespattered icon from our filthy wattle huts?” Not, harrumph, that I would ever say those kinds of things. Yes, I do write literary SF, and I don’t get much recognition in the general market, but I don’t want to be all bitter and resentful about this, at least not all the time. Today I want to talk about gengen and about Eggers’s excellent The Circle.

In discussing gengen, critics often namecheck Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. And there’s much of Brave New World in The Circle.
Mae and her Circle bosses formulate three sayings that could have been lifted directly from 1984: “A Secret is a Lie.” “Sharing Is Caring.” “Privacy Is Theft.”

The Circle does lack certain things—I’m thinking of cyberpunk flash, wild SFnal speculations, and rollicking laugh-out-loud humor. But that’s not what Eggers was trying to do, so there’s no point bugging him about it. The Circle totally nails the points that he wanted to hit. Like the pious holier-than-thou and insanely-naive attitude of techies who want to run everyone’s lives and have everyone be so much better and cleaner than humans are meant to be. They even use that old line, “Why would you want privacy unless you have something you want to hide?” And there’s a cutting riff on the self-aggrandizement of a cubicle-dweller who feels brave because she “liked” someone’s strongly political post. And Eggers really gets the brutal, brutal work schedule of computer types.

My mind was blown by a couple of scenes where Mae goes into zombie-mode feeding-frenzy bloodlust-clicking-frenzy and spends hours or even a whole night working the social sites, building up her rankings, raising her various virtual scores, all of these scores being precise numbers you understand—Eggers goes ape on this, and has a one-or-two-page paragraph where every clause contains a number that Mae is pumping for better job security and higher self esteem.

And reading those scenes, I was repelled, but also, I had to think, “My god, this is me. I do this.” Obsessively spinning from Twitter to Facebook to email to my iPhone messages to the work on my new blog post to the latest tweaks of the HTML on my umpteen webpages, then back to Twitter to Facebook to… I’ve spent whole days like this, lost in the clicks, returning to each site over and over, hungry for comments, for Likes, for reviews, for response…

I think of a pigpen that my friends and I used to enjoy visiting at the Rutgers Agricultural School campus, back when I was in grad school at Rutgers in 1970, a tidy pen, with a feeding-trough at the near end, and a hinged metal flap over the trough, and every so often a pig would come to the trough and nose up the flap, the younger ones did this more often, and usually there wouldn’t be anything in the trough, and the lid would click on the way up and then clank back down. No mail. No comments. No likes. Click clank. Or maybe there’s one left-over nugget of chow. Great streamers of saliva. Possibly an exultant squeal.

Another thing in The Circle that got to me was that Mae starts out with a pantheistic or nature-worshipping side to her. She likes to kayak out into the San Francisco Bay, enjoying the company of the watchful seals, loving the light on the water, even exploring a deserted little island by night, wholly in the now, fully analog, not even thinking of checking her phone.

That’s when I loved Mae the most, when she was doing these kinds of things that I myself place great value on, getting outside and into nature, and leaving all the computer crap behind. I’m sure Eggers himself has this side to him, or he wouldn’t have been able to evoke it so movingly. And then—what a bummer—the Circle bureaucrats kind of crush Mae for going offline like this. And from here on in her personality is pretty much destroyed. She loses her contact with the natural world—and she loses her soul. Echoing Winston Smith in 1984.

So yeah, The Circle is a great book. Viva gengen.

See the Facebook comments on this post.

See the Facebook comments on the "gengen" word .

Ripping Vinyl to iTunes

The ripping-vinyl-to-iTunes process has two main stages.
(1) Getting the info off the viny disks and into mp3 files.
(2) Importing the mp3 files into iTunes in a usable form.

Here are the links to my old (but recently revised) posts on this.

(1) Ripping Vinyl to MP3s for iTunes

(2) Managing Music in iTunes

Taming those wiggly audio wave forms.

By the way, the second post can be useful whether or not you’re in fact ripping from vinyl—it has some good info about making iTunes more transparent and more accessible to your control.


I just finished writing an SF story called “Laser Shades” for an interesting book project, The Superlative Light, by the photographer Robert Shults. Shults got some good funding for his book, and I think it’ll come out in late 2014 or in 2015. Eventually I’ll post my story where you can see it too.

In any case, I have a little free time just now, so I went back to a kind of obsessive time-wasting project that I was into back in 2011: ripping some of my old vinyl records to MP3 files that I can load into iTunes and copy to my smart phone.

[A happy hacker using VR goggles to guide a little camera-equipped drone helicopter around Steamer’s Lane in Santa Cruz.]

In 2011, I wrote those two blog posts describing how I’m doing this, and I linked to them at the start of today’s post. I’ve found it’s important, when I’m doing something ultrageeky, to write down what I did—because this is the kind of info that I tend to forget in a few months, and certainly in a few years. Learning how to do something intricate on a comptuer is like learning all the part-numbers for a 1975 Ford Galaxie carburetor and memorizing the thing’s little manual. Impossible to retain.

[Just before midnight on New Years Eve in Pinedale, Wyoming! (Lo-res smartphone photo.)]

So I went back and found my two old webpages, and used the info, and upgraded it a little bit. And here, for your own use are the links to those pages. My two prereqs for the software tools I used were
* To find free, reliable, non-malware-type software to do what I needed, and
* To be able to use the software pretty easily.

[My 2013 painting “Fractal Skate Posse,” see my paintings page for info, prints and my Jan-March 2014 show at Borderlands in SF.]

I’m a Windows user, so some of the wares I found are in fact available only for Windows. Finding good free software for the Mac OS can in some cases be a little harder, but if you know of some, do put a comment on this page or on the pages I’m directing you to.

One final note on this issue—by “free” software, I don’t mean commercial software that comes with a “free trial” which a crippled, or partly disabled, or money-begging mode—or outright malware! “Free” means solid, programmer-written wares that you find on a reliable programmer-run site like Sourceforge.

So now dig out that crufty old turntable and rescue such massive gems as Ton-Loc’s “Wild Thing,” simple as wallpaper but somehow quite wonderful.

“All the Visions” Painting. Our Yottawatt Sun.

I just finished another painting this week, All the Visions.

“All the Visions,” oil on canvas, February, 2014, 24” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

The painting is based on a photo taken in 1983, I think I used the timer on my camera and shot it myself. Possibly my photographer friend David Abrams shot it. But I’m guessing that I shot it, as I have the color print.

This has to do with a Kerouac-style novel called All The Visions that I wrote on a single long scroll of paper that year in Lynchburg, Virginia. (The photo shows a warm-up session when I wasn’t yet using the scroll). You can’t see the UFO in the photo, but it’s clear in the painting. I plan to reissue All The Visions via Transreal Books later in 2014 — it appeared from a small press, Ocean View Books, in 1991. I still have that rose red IBM Selectric typewriter in my basement. The acme of modern writing equipment in 1983. I wrote a lot of books on that thing.

Otherwise I’m just hanging out, doing some work on a revision of All the Visions, also starting up on an SF story having to do with an extremely powerful laser. I’m thinking its power is at the yottawatt level.

I like these sequences of power prefixes, Kilowatt —> Megawatt —> Petawatt —> Exawatt —> Zettawatt —> Yottawatt. There’s a Wikipedia page explaining it.

Our Sun’s luminosity is 385 yottawatts. But we don’t get the full benefit of all this light. Earth gets a steady illumination of about 174 petawatts from the Sun. How much does sunlight cost? How much would it cost to keep the light on? Well, a kilowatt-hour costs 12 cents. Call it 10 cents. Sun gives us about 170 petawatts. So an hour of that is 170 trillion kilowatt hours. So sunlight cost is 12 cents * 170 trillion per hour, which is about 20 trillion dollars per hour. Average that out over 7 billion people. About $3000 dollars per hour per person. Call it two million a month. “The power bill’s here!”

I’m glad that it’s raining today. All this weather for free. And that amazing yottawatt sun driving the whole thing.

Gave Two Talks: Dorkbot & Transhuman Visions

I gave two talks this week. Wednesday I was at the Cyclecide Swearhouse in San Francisco, reading from The Big Aha for a Dorkbot event. I didn’t tape it, but some video may appear on the dorkbot archive page for this event in a week or so.

Photo above shows Jericho Reese, Rudy Jr., me, Isabel R., and techie Mark Powell in his anti-tech T-shit. In the background we have John Law’s Doggie Diner icons.

Another picture of Mark Powell…reading a poem “I’m on TV!” Love how fervent he looks. It was a great evening for me, hanging out with the cool Dorkbot crowd.


Today I was at the Transhuman Visions conference at Fort Mason in San Francisco and gave a talk called “The Big Aha: Cosmic and Robotic Consciousness.” It went over well, got some big laughs. You can click on the icon below to access the podcast via Rudy Rucker Podcasts.

And you can view my slides online as a PDF file.

After my Transhuman talk, some nice people talked to me for awhile, and I took a picture of them shown below. Didn’t get all their names but starting second from the left, that’s David Dye, Jr. and Sr., Dan Dye, and a guy called Scott. These four forward-thinking men bought copies of my books.

One other event worth noting. I happened to mention one Frank Shook in my Transhumans talk, and incredibly, I ran into this man soon thereafter, the hero of Saucer Wisdom. Frank has resurfaced in the persona of an antiquarian bookseller Gregory Gibson, running a front organization called Ten Pound Island Books. His cover story was that he was at Fort Mason for the Antiquarian Book Fair.

Frank, who tends to disorder and undermine any and all aspects of consensus reality insisted I was talking about “transhumance,” instead of “transhumans.” And, now that Frank has said this, there is indeed a Wikipedia word “transhumance,” applying to nomadic people. A strange and powerful entity is Mr. Shook. I believe he’s re-manifesting himself because I am making some plans to republish my long-suppressed Saucer Wisdom exposé.

Journey to Winterland

I haven’t done a regular blog post in awhile—in the first part of January, I was busy promoting The Big Aha and my art show. And in the latter part of December, my wife and I were on a trip to Wisconsin and Wyoming, visiting our daughters and their families.

So I’ll mention some upcoming events, and then I’ll run some of my snowy trip-to-the-midwest photos.

Next Wednesday, Jan 29, I’m part of a wild line-up of Dorkbot entertainment in SF. “People doing weird things with electricity.” I’ll be talking about how to get high off quantum mechanics—which is a theme of The Big Aha. I’ll probably run a slideshow of some of my paintings as well.

A couple of days later, Saturday, Feb 1, I’ll be part of an equally louche speaker-list at Transhuman Visions, a con at Fort Mason.

I’ll try and podcast one or both of these talks. I finally got a decent pocket voice recorder (it’s a solid little SONY digital recorder…I hated that piece-of-crap Zoom I was trying to use, the one with the inscrutable controls and a display as unreadable as a new San Francisco parking-meter’s).

Speaking of this, see a click-link for Rudy Rucker Podcasts just above. You can find the podcast of my Big Aha talk, reading, Q&A, and art tour there already

The Big Aha reading at Borderlands was good. Some of my artist/author pals showed up, including Paul Mavrides and John Shirley, also Richard Kadrey and Michael Blumlein, these two guys shown above. I wish I got to spend more of my time talking to writers.

So now wah-wah-wah back to December 22, 2013. Flying from Sunny Californee to Salt Lake City and on to Madison. I just love the views you get when a plane’s about to land. Especially cool with snow on the ground. I view that image above as Gilbert Shelton’s cartoon character Philbert Desannex, implemented as vast grayscale Mormon-land earthwork. Philbert’s big wobbly nose is pointing to the left.

Fun with daughter Georgia in Madison. Her husband Courtney made these amazing cut-out snowflakes with the grandchildren…he’d researched the web about cool ones to make. This awesome young woman YouTuber Vi Hart has a great video on topic.

Nice and nostalgic to be out there in winterland, a part of my early past. Xmas-tide sundown in winterland, wow.

Sylvia and I stayed in a hotel with, of all people, the Harlem Globetrotters, out on some intense performing tour. I saw them in the Kentucky State Fairgrounds in 1956. They didn’t look much older. Goose Gossage! One morning it had snowed still more and we walked around the Madison capitol building. Snow always very nice on heavy-duty Beaux-arts-type architecture.

A beautiful Christmas together.

Caught the plane to Jackson, Wyoming, to visit Isabel and her husband for New Years Eve. Flew over a Magic Mountain.

Isabel and Gus live in Pinedale, a little wilder than Jackson.

We were staying in an inexpensive motel a few blocks from Isabel’s house. It enjoyed walking the half mile to her house and taking pictures along the way. I do my best photos when I’m alone and I’m, like, having a conversation with the camera.

The patent mysteries of solid, well-used sheds.

There’s the one house where the guy keeps an endless amount of junk in his yard. He’s just ouside the town line, so he can do as he pleases. I’m inordinatley fond of this one particular rusted old car. I think of it as “the R. Crumb car,” because it looks like one of Crumb’s drawings, maybe like the car on the cover of Zap Comix #0, or was it #1.

For me, a big highlight of the trip was that I got to go cross-country skiing with Georgia in Madison, and then again with Isabel in Wyoming. This picture shows me at the start of a blizzard off-trail on the edge of a huge canyon holding Fremont Lake, at the tip-ass-end Wyomingwhere. I was really proud and happy that I was able to get out on the trail one more time. Yeah, baby!

I’ve still got more trip pix, but I’ll save them for a later post.

End of the Year

It’s getting on towards the end of the year.

Nice shadow of some stained glass. I like to think that our universe is like the stained glass, the cosmic One is the light, and bright shadows are what we see.

We saw the Los Gatos Christmas parade a few weeks back. I wasn’t shooting all that well that day, but I like this mysterious news-photo-like shot of a baseball player in an old Cadillac.

Always love the kids blatting their horns.

“Woman With Jellyfish,” oil on canvas, December, 2013, 24” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I redid my painting, “Woman With Jellyfish” this week. It looked too plain, and now it’s bright. Christmassy.

My painting show reception and a readingfrom The Big Aha be at Borderlands Books on Friday, January 17, from 5 to 7. I’m planning to hang most the paintings that appear as chapter heads in The Big Aha.

I wish you a peaceful holiday season!

Up to My Usual Activities

The Big Aha is out in ebook, paperback and hardback now. I’ve ordered a bunch of the paperbacks and hardbacks to mail out to my Kickstarter backers. Still waiting them to arrive. This whole process has more steps than I’d quite imagined. But I’m almost done.

Late-breaking news: A great review of The Big Aha by Giulio Prisco, published in Skefi’a and reposted in io9! The book’s first review and it rocks. Whew.

Early warning: There will be a release party and an art show for The Big Aha at Borderlands Books on Valencia Street in San Francisco on Friday, December 17, 2014. I’ll be mentioning this again…

What next? Over the last few months, I got back the rights to my three old “transreal” novels White Light, Secret of Life, and Saucer Wisdom . What is transrealism, you may ask? Read my 1983 manifesto on the topic.

I’ll probably be republishing those three novels via my Transreal Books early in 2014, as ebooks for sure, and probably as paperbacks as well.

While I’m at it, I might as well republish my old memoir/rant All the Visions . I originally typed All the Visions on a giant long scroll of paper, emulating the divine Jack K. working on On the Road. My usual activities.

Keeping the ball in the air.

Another project I’m looking towards in 2014 is to assemble my electronic journals into a fat book. I have about half a million words on disk for the period 1990 – 2012. I’m editing that and pruning it down. Maybe I can squeeze it into a single 800 page volume. My role model here is the phonebook-sized Andy Warhol Diaries of 1989. I read that sucker for about a year, a couple of pages a day. Would be nice to make a book like that.

Some of today’s photos are from an recent outing to the fields and cliffs above Four Mile Beach and near Davenport, north of Santa Cruz. This is a Davenport photo. The shot-up-sign archetype. “Words suck,” as Beavis and Butthead used to say.

There’s a nice balance between agriculture and ecopreserve on the coast above Santa Cruz. Fields of, like Brussels sprouts, fine. The point is that there’s no McMansions, no hotels, no roadside attractions. Just the cliffs and the beaches. Although, of course, there is the Whale City Bakery in Davenport, always worth a stop.

We saw a huge number of pelicans out there. There’s been a vast school of anchovies in the Santa Cruz Bay lately, and the birds, seals, dolphins and whales have been gorging themselves.

There’s always some surfers around, sometimes quite a few of them, but as it cools down and gets windy, you don’t see many people actually walking on the beach. If you’re willing to take a little trouble by, like, walking a half mile from your car, it’s not that hard to find solitude in the unpopulated zones of California…and, really, most of the state is unpopulated. The cities are just small spots. Our beloved anthills.

Something heavy and cosmic about seeing pelicans against a sunny sky. People used to wonder where the dinosaurs went, but now it’s commonly said that the thunder lizards didn’t “go” anywhere. They just evolved into birds. Pelicans are pterodactyls…but with feathers. Pterodactyls 2.0.

My cinemetographer/photographer friend Eddie Marritz was in San Francisco, and we had a tapas dinner with him, his daughter Leda, and Leda’s husband Tim Conkling. Tim’s a game programmer who recently started writing games on his own. Among other things, Leda runs an interesting writing blog with her friend Steph: Small Answers. A new post every Monday. I love the Marritz family—I got to know them because I went to college with Eddie’s brother Don.

This is a photo of Eddie that I shot on film, developed, and handcolored—sometime around 1970. I was in grad school. Had a lot of free time back then. No computers.

What else? These are some of the roots that my wife mashed for a Thanksgiving side dish. Handsome fellows, no?

Beautiful little slough behind Four Mile Beach. Very hard to even see this hidden bight of water, the topography is kind of weird. I love that S curve. Nature gives us so much, everywhere, all the time. When I remember to notice.

But, like I always say, we humans are part of nature too. Building our intricate hives. And those can look cool, too. This chandelier in the new Los Gatos library is made out of a giant wood shaving that’s knotted around on itself. The highlight is that slanting plane of sunlight. I rushed this shot, not wanting to alarm the library patrons, but you can improve a slightly blurry shot in Lightroom. Not necessarily sharpen it to death, but play with the sliders till the picture’s effects look intentional or preordained.

This was an easier shot, bang, it jumped at my eye. The back of a building along Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz.

I’m having a sale on my paintings this month, and I’ve managed to sell three of them in the last week. Check out the insanely low prices if you’re interested in a special New Year’s present for yourself or for a loved one.

Beauty in Chaos

I took a walk up on St. Joseph’s Hill in Los Gatos yesterday, bringing my camera along. The camera is always good company on a walk. You show things to it, and it helps you see.

I’ve been going up in the Los Gatos hills maybe once a week for the whole twenty-seven years since we moved here in August, 1986. So I’ve taken this walk about a thousand times. It’s always new. That’s the thing about nature.

Nature is a fractal, that is she has endless layers of detail, which bloom out faster than a mere linear rate. That is, if you look twice as close, you see three times as much.

Also Nature is alive, and always changing. As is the sky. Always the same, always different. Chaos.

The perennial Dover Books company reissued my 1987 popular science book Mind Tools last week. I’m happy to have good old Dover keeping one of my titles alive. When I was a boy in Louisville, I used to send off for Dover books on science.

I wrote Mind Tools in Lynchburg, Virginia, right before I moved to San Jose and became a computer scientist. I was gearing up for the transition from math to CS. In Mind Tools, I looked at the four main areas of math from the viewpoint that “everything is information.” The areas? Number, Space, Logic, and Infinity.

I drew a lot of illos for the book. While I was working on it, my little rented office in decaying downtown L’burg was like a mad scientist’s lab, with all these little models I was building. I had this idea of finding dot-diagrams to illustrate the “shapes” of most of the numbers less than a hundred or so. I wanted to have a supply of these images at my hand for drawing on friends’ and relatives’ birthday cards. You can find these particular “Mind Tools birthday dot” drawings of mine online here.

Here’s a phone pole near my house. I like the natural collages that we humans put together. You can look at cities or human development as being natural artifacts like anthills or beaver colonies or wasp nests or seashells—we’re living organisms, and we assemble this stuff. We’re part of nature.

There’s this one ancient shed that I often walk past in the hills of Los Gatos. I love its peeling pale green paint, and I hope the owners never fix it up. Beautiful branching crack here, and to make it lovelier, the paint is arched up into mathematically rich concave surfaces.

I always love looking at treelines along mountain ridges. The nice thing about natural curves and surfaces is that they don’t accord with any really simple algebraic formulae. They emerge as processes, not as graphs of simple equations. But the processes themselves do have mathematical qualities, but the details of the end results are unpredictable.

It’s chaos, in a good way. In a chaotic process, you can have simple natural laws that are producing results that are even in principle unpredictable. Why unpredictable? Because there are multiple systems involved (rocks, geology, trees, wind, rain) and because the systems are interacting over extended periods of time. As a rule, the only way to “predict” a natural process it to watch it run, and when it’s done, that’s your “prediction.”

We travel into the future at a rate of one second per second. No shortcuts.

More human colony-organism type activity here. Apparently the humans cap their “rebar” metal rods so that they don’t poke out their own eyes. Faint strands of symbiotic spider silk augment the “warning” tape. (See this higher-resolution image of the photo for the spider silk.)

Back to that weathered old pale green shed I love. Dig the hinge, isn’t it perfect? A semiotic heft to it. Hello, god.

A eucalyptus branch lying on the ground. Blown down by the wind. The plants don’t mind. They’ll rot into the ground, be eaten by ants, whatever. The endlessly cycling fountain of life. We’re part of it too. Your body will cycle, but your life is an “eternal” pattern in spacetime.

Hazy light on this winter day. Already looks like sunset in the mid-afternoon. The laurel trees grow in clumps.

Selfie shot for the day. Weird thing about iPhone camera: If you’re taking a horizontal shot of something in front of you, you have to have the “volume” buttons down, but if you are taking a selfie shot you have to have the “volume” buttons up. Otherwise the image appears upside-down on many (but not all) viewer apps. No use raging at these kind of things—you just learn about them and deal with them. Like an insect gathering seeds.

My self-deprecating “self-portrait,” called Louisville Artist, used as a chapter illo in my new novel The Big Aha , which features a new psychedelic era…only this time the drug is quantum mechanics. Jam your internal One/Many oscillator all the way over into the mystic mode! Check out the book for free (or buy it rather cheaply) online.

Bernal and the Mission

I’m pretty much done publishing The Big Aha now, although there still keep being little tasks. It’s easy to put a paperback on Amazon via their CreateSpace. But it’s been slow getting the final version of the paperback edition on Lightning/Ingram so that retailers other than Amazon can distribute it. I have a feeling that Lightning is a little overwhelmed these days, with the still-cresting wave of self-pubbers.

[I took some photos near Bernal Hill and 24th St. in the Mission recently. I always wonder about shoes on the phone wires. Love this shot. Did the Witch of Oz crash here on Halloween?]

Indeed Ingram now has an alternate interface to Lightning which is called Ingram Spark (Spark as in baby Lightning, I think.) See this page for some comparisons of possible earnings via Lightning, Spark, and CreateSpace.. The main financial difference between Ingram Lightning and Ingram Spark has to do with the discounts that you can offer to retailers. (As if there was any real money in these quixotic ventures.) Self-pub maven Aaron Shepard doesn’t like Spark, see this post and scroll down to see his earlier ones as well. All very chaotic, as usual.

Anyway, let’s look at some random snaps.

Our son Rudy Jr. and his wife Penny had a Halloween pre-trick-or-treating get-together. This young hipster woman Annalise, she was wearing a dress with a lift-up flap labeled “Hello Titty,” and the flap covered a plastic window revealing part of her breasts. She told me she’d made a satirical superhero video called Hello Titty, and you can see it online. San Francisco art.

Another time, in mid-November, my wife and I walked from Bernal Heights down to Precita Park with our granddaughters. I saw a nice California chestnut tree, laden with fruit. Always an easy move to silhouette things against the ubiquitous wires.

It was a sunny day. I’m always into shadows.

Later we were in a playground on 24th Street, which is in some ways like Mission Street, very Mexican and Latino, but it’s a narrower street, and homier. One of the swings was like a flat UFO, I dug how it looked against the buildings in the background. The cube and the triangular prism.

That particular playground has a huge Aztec-type serpent sculpture that snakes all around. A little girl running next to it here.

There’s a very cool alley with murals off 24th Street near Harrison, it’s called Balmy Alley. Some the murals are kind of disconcerting, as they express the locals’ growing discontent at the potential gentrification of their neighborhood. The cops busting Mexicans and having coffee with white tech workers. The developers tearing down low-rent Victorians to put in glossy condos. You can see an evil invader monkey with a dollar sign in this amazing mural. I forgot to note down the muralist’s name, but maybe somebody can tell me.

You can see a ton of Balmy Alley images via Google Image search. And you can get higher level info from the muralist organization Precita Eyes, which has an center on 24th St, and even gives tours.

Other venues…here’s a cell-phone shot of the sun glaring on a Target Sign near Union Square in SF. Merry frikkin’ Xmas.

A lady with her T-Bird in Los Gatos. Old California.

The Precita Café. I like those festive colors and lights against the night sky. Kind of European, somehow. SF is a bunch of other countries.

England #4: Black Pharoahs? Homeward Gyre.

So now I’m slowly getting my life back, after the frenzy of putting together the various editions of The Big Aha and Notes for The Big Aha…see the book’s website for more info on all that.

Today let’s dig down into my remaining stash of photos from our trip to London and Oxford in early October, 2014. Come with me to Oxford by way of yon quaint and elegant Christ Church College garden gate…

Saw this lady frosting custom cakes all day long in a bakery within a roofed market. Felt a little intrusive to be taking her picture. But, wow, a cake factory.

I love shadows of odd shapes. Chains for manipulating the shutters of an Oxford dress shop. Very smart outfits on sale, rather dear.

Ah, giant lily pads. The SF fantasy of living on them, like a frog. You’d want to be fully amphibious for that. Last night, dropping off to sleep, I was imagining people who were somehow gene-tweaked to swim as fast as Jet-Skis. In the waves off Kauai.

The chapel at Christ Church College in Oxford has this cool window. The jigsaw-looking panels were pieced together from shards recovered from church windows broken during WWII. A nice symbolic thing. Shards of our personalities reconstructed into bopper minds someday, perhaps.

The last hotel we stayed in was the Pelham, right across the street from the South Kensington tube station in London. A really nice place, with a great view. Expensive, but not quite as bad as some of the other places we came across. On our last night, I watched a BBC showing of a documentary movie of the Stones playing a 50th anniversary concert in Hyde Park this year or last year.

It was great how happy the Stones were, Mick and Keith so jubilant, at peace, plying their trade. I’d like to write like that.

I’ve seen this big statue of a pharaoh in the British Museum before. The striking thing here is that—wow, the pharaohs were Black! Africans, my man! Such a lovely sculpture, so smooth and, what, over a thousand years old.

Another cool piece in the British Museum, shows some Assyrians swimming. They’re holding inflated bladders to help stay afloat. Dig the fish.

The British Museum was insanely crowded, a rainy Sunday, as full as Times Square on New Year’s Eve almost. You have to feel a bit ambivalent about the pieces in the museum as well—all of them looted from weaker nations by Imperial Britain back in the day. But, whatever the details, it’s always amazing to reach back in time and see the endless flow of human craft and intelligence. We really haven’t changed all that much in the last few thousand years.

Mandatory Ionic column outside the British Museum.

What’s this photo doing in here? It’s a hallway on the Stanford campus. Oh, it’s the tunnel leading from my British experience to my next level of existence.

Here comes God! A dodecahedron.

And now, tracing a long smooth gyre, I drift down to my home planet. But which part is land, and which part is sky…or is it sea?

What? You haven’t been to the BIG AHA page yet?

Bookmarks For Making Ebooks and Paperbacks

So The Big Aha is selling and getting out there. Nice post on it by Cory Doctorow in Boing Boing.

I’ve been working with publishing ebooks and paperback POD (print on demand) books for nearly two years now. It’s been a long learning process, and I’m nowhere near done. Like hacking my way through a jungle with a machete.

Generally, the best way to get an answer to a question is to Google search with the main words of your question and look through the links that you find. The official help files for given software products aren’t always the best sources of info.

As a public service I thought I’d make the following links available. I’ve grouped them into two sections: Epublishing and POD Publishing. I like to keep my links alphabetized, so I’ve prefixed the titles of my most-used links with “AAA.”

Last updated November 19, 2013. Permanent version of this post is online at

The categories listed include:
Calibre (free program for converting between EPUB, HTML, and MOBI)
Dreamweaver (Adobe program for working with HTML files)
Lulu, NOOK, and KDP (ebook distributors)
CreateSpace and Lightning (POD book distributors)
ID (InDesign, Adobe program for designing print books)
There ought to be some links for Sigil (free program for creating EPUB files), but there aren’t.

Some of my early musings on Ebooks can be found in my ebook, How To Make An Ebook. See also my series of blog posts on the same topic. I’m so worn out from making my The Big Aha, that I don’t have the energy to write a How To Make A POD Book. So for now this list of links must suffice.

Have fun. If you can call this kind of thing fun



AAA E-junkie (Sellers) – Admin
AAA ISBN My Identifiers | Bowker | Identifier Services
AAA KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing): Bookshelf
AAA Lulu
Adobe – Digital Editions
BARNES & NOBLE | Rudy Rucker
Calibre User Manual
Dreamweaver Troubleshooting links
ebook how to – CNET Reviews
Ebook Conversion — calibre User Manual
Ebook convert straight quotes to curly quotes
eBook Formatting Paul Salvette in Bangkok:
Ebook, making your text Kindle-Friendly
Ebook: EPUB, MOBI, AZW and PDF Formats
Ebook: Fonts used in various eReaders?
Ebook: Fonts, CSS Font Stack
EPUB A Basic Sigil Tutorial
EPUB adding to iBooks via ITunes
Epub avoid split into several html files? – MobileRead Forums
Epub Format Construction Guide – HXA7241 – 2007
EPUB Open Packaging Format (OPF) 2.0.1 v1.0
EPUB Overview — Sigil v0.4.1 documentation
ePub putting on Your iPad
Epub Reader For Windows 7
EPUB Reader Windows Software
EPUB Sigil Splitting Pages
EPUB tables MobileRead
EPUB to MOBI Conversion [Left Margin Problem] « Morning Cup O’ Joe
Font Size and Color — Support —
HTML – image as large as possible
HTML Anchor Bookmark Tag Links
HTML CSS Cheatsheet
HTML Fix Dreamweaver problem with large DOC import
HTML for the Kindle with Blockquote
HTML for the Kindle with Blockquote
HTML into ebook Sample Code
HTML online preview TryIt Editor
HTML td tag
ISBN buy and use at
Kindle Cover Size
Kindle eBook how to| Amazon Kindle 3 and Kindle DX Review and News Blog
Kindle from PDF
Kindle Guide Flags in a MOBI. “Start”
Kindle OPF, Guide
kindle-guide.pdf (application/pdf Object)
Lulu Book Distribution
PDFs splitting into multiple documents
Piracy Alert (Scribd)

POD Publishing

AAA Lightning Source Log In
AAA Log In – CreateSpace
AAA Login ISDN on Bowker
Amazon Author Central
Color Acrobat 9: Output Preview and Conversion « Layers Magazine
Color. ID PDF, Pantone colours look dull in Acrobat Professional
Color: AdobeRGB, sRGB or what?
Color: Work Process for Best Colors…
CreateSpace Bleed on Cover Template
CreateSpace Book Cost Calculator
CreateSpace Community: Creating a PDF for Print
CreateSpace Gutter Margin
CreateSpace Margins
CreateSpace Post Editorial Reviews on Amazon
CreateSpace Pre Order sales
Createspace vs. Lightning Source Costs
Createspace., Craddock’s Be Not Content
CreateSpace: Cover Template
CreateSpace: Self Publishing and Free Distribution for Books, CD, DVD
CS Entering addresses to ship to customers?
Dreamweaver: “Clean Up Word HTML” Error
htaccess file for limiting access to a directory
ID Anchor A Graphics Frame
ID Baseline Grid
ID Chapter names in header
ID crashes at startup
ID Creating book files
ID EPUB CS6 Export as EPUB
ID EPUB Exporting EPUB
ID Export to HTML
ID Fix Italic Overrides
ID Flow: Adding Text with Flow
ID Flow: Why is Smart Text Reflow so hard?
ID Headers
ID Highlight Overrides Script
ID How to Anchor Objects InDesign (not very helpful)
ID Import Graphics
ID Import Styles
ID Import Word file
ID Improve justified type settings
ID insert page spreads–Allow Pages To Shuffle
ID Justification
ID Keep Words Together with No Break
ID Keyboard shortcuts
ID Laying out frames and pages
ID Making a Book file (video)
ID Margin Sizes
ID Margins and Columns
ID Master pages
ID optical margin
ID Optical Margin
ID Page Numbering Tricks
ID Place graphics in a graphics frame
ID Print/Don’t Print Frame Outline
ID Remove Defaults and Saved Data
ID Running Header Text Variables Chap Title
ID save as Ebook
ID Suggested Layout Tips
ID Table Of Contents
ID Tabs and indents
ID Thread and Flow Text
ID Unlink a text file (the hard way)
ID Use Odd Page Break between Chaps
ID Why ugly <span> tags in EPUB Export? Local overrides.
ID Working with graphics frames
ID Working with Word and InDesign
Image Word Resize Image Macro
InDesign Page numbering
Indie Author: Lulu vs. CreateSpace: Which Is More Economical For The DIY Author?
Lightning Color Shephard New 2013
Lightning / CreateSpace Pricing: Shepard Plan B (old)
Lightning / CreateSpace Pricing: Shepard Plan C (new)
Lightning B&W pricings
Lightning Book Cost Calculator
LIghtning Color prices
Lightning cover template
Lightning Creation Guide
Lightning Source 101 (Lightning Source Inc., print on demand, self publishing companies)
Lightning Standard vs Premium Color
MONKEYBRAINS – Support – Basic Auth
Proof Better-Looking Full Justification for Paragraphs in WORD
Proof Remove dupicate words in WORD
PS Em dash and en dash in Photoshop text — Photoshop for Windows —
PS Fixed size selection
Reviews (Booklist Online)
Reviews (Library Journal)
Reviews (Publisher’s Weekly)
Rudy’s Blog Making a High-Quality Picture Book
Word: Removing Unused Styles

Two New Paintings. “Eyes,” “Woman With Jellyfish”.

“Woman With Jellyfish,” oil on canvas, November, 2013, 24” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting. [I revised this painting on December 19, 2013, and the new version is shown here.]

I’d gone to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with my wife, and we’d looked a big tank of sea nettle jellyfish. I made a little photo of my wife by the tank, and at first I wanted to paint that. But in the end, the woman in the painting didn’t look at all like my wife, and the painting’s viewpoint suggests that either we’re looking out from inside the tank at the woman, or maybe the jellyfish are floating around in the air instead of being inside a tank. Once I realized the woman wasn’t going to be a portrait of my wife I gave her green hair and made her look kind of cantankerous and space-punk. Maybe she’s “talking” with that big jellyfish.

Possibly she’ll turn up in a story or novel that I write in the coming year…now that I’m done with The Big Aha.

“Eyes,” oil on canvas, October, 2013, 20” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

This was an easy painting to make—I just did a lot of eyes. I didn’t particularly try to make them scary. I was more interested in them looking alert. I had fun with the colors, getting all the shades to be fairly even intensities of mild pastel colors. I think I might do a painting of “Snouts” next, with pig-snout disks.

As always you can find more info on my paintings at my Paintings page.

THE BIG AHA goes live!

The Big Aha
A Novel by Rudy Rucker
From Transreal Books. Paperback and Ebook. (Hardback coming soon.)
330 pages and 14 illustrations.
Biotech has replaced machines.
Qrude artist Zad Plant works with living paint.
Career’s on the skids, wife Jane threw him out.
Enter qwet—it’s quantum wetware!
Qwet makes you high, and gives you telepathy.
A loofy psychedelic revolution begins.
Oh-oh! Mouths in midair, eating people!
Zad and Jane travel through a wormhole—and meet the aliens.
Stranger than you ever imagined.
What is the Big Aha?
Browse the entire The Big Aha novel for free as an illustrated web page.
Buy ebook and print editions of The Big Aha.
More info at the website for The Big Aha.
And one more thing: Notes for The Big Aha , a book-length writing journal.

Click for a larger version of The Big Aha cover flat.

Ramp up for THE BIG AHA. Locus interview talk about it, May, 2013.

My new novel The Big Aha will be going live quite soon. Available in paperback and ebook via Transreal Books.

By way of building towards the official release, I’m gong to post some background material. Here’s excerpts of an interview taped by Liza Groen Trombi for Locus magazine in May, 2013. The complete interview appeared in the June, 2013, issue, and I recently added it to my “All the Interviews” document online.

I also made a podcast of my tape of the interview. You can click on the icon below to access the podcast via Rudy Rucker Podcasts.

So, okay, the rest of today’s post is me talking to Liza about The Big Aha in May, 2013, when I was about 85% done with writing the novel. I’ll put in some images of my paintings that I used as chapter illustrations for final version The Big Aha.

The Big Aha is set in Louisville, Kentucky, where I grew up, and I’m enjoying that. If you stay in Louisville, then all the people around you are people you’ve known your whole life, and you can pretty much say anything to them. Nobody cares. I’ve been visiting Louisville lately, and it’s strange.

I enjoy writing books about genomics and the biotech revolution. I think that’s going to be one of the really big technologies of the 21st century. We’re still just barely wading into that. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that in a century or so, lots of our devices won’t be manufactured machines anymore. They could be plants and animals that have been designed to behave in ways that we consider useful. Even things like a knife or a glass, it’s easy enough to imagine plants growing such things for us. Primitive peoples drink out of coconut shells, but we could tweak it so it’s more what we like. And for communication devices, there’s all this interest in squid skin—that would be a great visual display. Electric eels send out electromagnetic pulses, so that could be the basis of wireless communication.

I wrote a book a few years ago called Frek and the Elixir, set in 3003, where everything was biotech. I wanted to come back to a world like that. In The Big Aha , I wanted to have a book where the technology is based on living things. It’s not set too far into the future, more like 2100.

I was born in 1946, so the Summer of Love was the year I graduated from college. I really liked that period. It was over so quickly. It was getting really good, and suddenly it was over. I wanted to have a story where something like that was happening, but I didn’t want it to be based on drugs. By now everyone has ossified opinions about drugs, they’re for them or they’re against them. It sort of closes the imagination.

I wanted to have something to give people a cosmic experience. I thought, “I’ll use quantum mechanics.” As a science fiction writer, there are various nebulous “bogosity-generator” tools I can use. Something about quantum mechanics that interests me is there are two modes in quantum mechanics. You can think of the world as evolving in a smooth wavelike pattern, but then as soon as you start measuring things, you find a choppy discrete pattern. It’s what they call the quantum collapse, the collapse of the wave function.

In my own mind, I feel like there’s a pulse, where I’ll sort of merge into the place around me and then snap back. Say it’s a nice day, and you’re not really verbalizing to yourself, you’re not really forming opinions in your mind, you’re not doing anything consciously. And then you snap back and you think, “There’s so-and-so, I have to ask them for something; it’s such-and-such o’clock, I have to get in the car and go somewhere.” There are two modes, and I call them the cosmic mode and the robotic mode. It’s almost like sonar—you ping out with the cosmic mode and you pull back with the robotic mode.

The gimmick in The Big Aha is that people get quantum wetware. “Wetware” is already an intriguing word—it’s what’s going on in your body, your DNA, your chemicals. And then make it quantum, so you can consciously control how rapidly you do the oscillations between the cosmic mode and robotic mode. So my characters are party people, they just wedge their minds open to the cosmic, and they’re cosmic all the time. It’s like they’re acidheads, but they’re not taking any drugs. And they can teep each other. And instead of mechanical technology it’s all biological, so instead of a car you have a road spider, and you ride on its back. The animals you create can have quantum wetware as well. You can get in the vibe with them, and make them change their form. And so the world becomes more spacey.

Then, of course, you always need something bad to happen in a novel. It’s always good to have an alien invasion. So there are these things like mouths sticking into our world from another dimension, and they’re eating people. I call it The Big Aha because people always have the dream of getting a Big Aha experience! The big vision beyond the white light. My characters are seeking that. There’s also the Zen idea: “I was looking for enlightenment but it was here all along.” Just for a moment, you feel it—the big aha.

At this point [that is, in May, 2013] I’m not sure who’s going to publish The Big Aha . I’m unsure about my chances with publishers. And I’m starting to wonder if they’re worth the months or even years of waiting, and the begging for such meager pay.

I’m putting a little more sex into The Big Aha than I used to do for my Tor books. David Hartwell once said to me, “If you’re talking about the 13-year-old audience, there are some 13-year-olds who are very interested in sex, and some who aren’t. And you can guess which group is the one that reads science fiction.”

Not that The Big Aha is mainly about sex. But maybe it’s hard for me to judge what’s acceptable. Like I’ve been out there so long that I don’t even know what’s supposed to be normal. In any case I’m having a lot of fun with the book.

I like using the classic tropes of SF—I call them the “power chords.” That’s how I thought of cyberpunk, as a way of taking the classic SF things, like alien invasions, telepathy, giant ants, and making them rock a little harder. That’s what I’m doing in The Big Aha.

I’m confident I can publish The Big Aha with Transreal Books. Maybe I’ll do a Kickstarter. We’ll see how it goes. [End of interview material.]

And it went good! The release is soon!

England #3. The “Gherkin.” With Lewis Carroll in Oxford. More V&A.

The last two or three weeks I’ve been laboring on the files for my novel, The Big Aha, and its equally-sized companion, Notes for The Big Aha. Putting them out in ebook, paperback and (what the heck) hardback, also as free browsable webpages. Soon come. I’m sore from the long hours at my computer.

But let’s return to a more restful time…my recent trip to England with my wife.

Happy at the vast outdoor courtyard within the Victoria and Albert Museum. Old, but not as old as I look in some other photos. Good pink light off those striped red and white stone walls. Great museum cafe behind me. English children splashing in the great fountain pool in this enormous courtyard.

A must-catch bot-shot, taken from a bridge in Green Park, near Buckingham Palace. Enchanted towers.

Okay, this was one of my favorite things in London, a very large new building called the Gherkin, set in the financial district, plump and gravid, like a living UFO about to spawn.

I had a nice sandwich at a Pret a Manger near here. Great food chain all over London, I’ve seen them in NYC too. Hunching over my sandwich on its wrapping paper, grunting with pleasure. I come to your world from the Gherkin, yes.

Great contrast of the Gherkin with the old gray stone buildings around it.

On the Tower Bridge, another fab spot. Awesome ye olde metal smithing of the bridge. That’s a new building called the Shard in the background. The new buildings are really taking over, there’s still just a scattering of them, and they still seem interesting and cute. Like when you have two gophers instead of two hundred.

This building is called, I believe, the Walkie Talkie, although I might have called it the Toaster. It’s a lot fatter at the top than at the bottom. Like a cartoon building. Supposedly it’s easier to make odd-shaped structures now that we have computerized blueprints. The reverse of what you might have thought. Computers free us to design odder-looking and less-boring shapes.

In London, maybe because I wasn’t a native, the crazy people seemed cuter than in the US. This man in front of the old Tate museum is doing a Scottish jig while carrying signs relating to the Bible and to global politics. Seems more like an eccentric than a dangerous psycho like back home.

I like these silhouettes in the National Museum. We visited a Peter Bruegel painting there, The Adoration of the Kings. I first saw that painting in London around 1995, it was when I decided to write my As Above, So Below novel about Bruegel’s life.

A note I made in my Journals after that first visit: “The gallery note by the picture says that Bruegel put soldier in his pictures because for most of his life the Netherlands were occupied by Spanish soldiers. This touch makes it seem so real. Makes me want to write Bruegel’s life. The rainy Flemish day.”

Love the curves of the chair and the table. Someone taking the trouble to design and build these things, someone taking the trouble to put them in a cafe. Civilized.

Gotta get your shot of Big Ben. All that detail. It appears over and over in movies, setting a time in the viewers’ minds.

Happy in the National Museum cafe, photo shot with Sylvia’s phone.

So now we’re in Oxford, walking around town. Lots of parts are fenced or walled off, these are the “colleges.” Hard to quite understand how it works, all these separate colleges, each with dorms, dining hall, teachers, and student body. Parts of a university.

I was here in 1976 for a math conference, a Logic Colloquium, I wrote about it in my autobio Nested Scrolls. I talked on “The One/Many Problem in the Foundations of Set Theory.”

This is the Sheldonian Theatre, used for university ceremonies and for little concerts. We saw an awesome string quartet playing Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” interleaved with an Argentinean composer’s semi-joking “Four Seasons” pieces written in riposte to Vivaldi, so eight pieces in all, SO frikkin’ civilized.

Looking up at the Sheldonian ceiling during the string quartet, I saw this (just a cell phone snap). The place was designed by Christopher Wren, architect of the famed St. Paul’s cathedral of London. I had some fun looking at the odd polygonal shapes on the ceiling of the Sheldonian, speculating about how Wren put them together, and about how one would go about constructing this pattern in some convincingly unique way. Visualizing a short article in Mathematics Magazine about this, but not quite getting the key insight.

This is Christ Church college where my man Lewis Carroll, a.k.a. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, spent most of his life. He went to the college, then stayed on, teaching mathematics. His Alice came out in 1865, when he was 33. On its grounds, Christ Church has a very large meadow that runs down to the Thames on one side and the Cherwell on the other, both rivers rather narrow here. You can walk slowly around the meadow in an hour and I did this with great joy, thinking about Carroll being here, and imagining his creatures among the cows.

Here’s the meadow…surely Lewis Carroll often enjoyed this view. Symbolic to see the stump, the fallen tree, the missing Lewis Carroll. I sat on it for awhile drawing sketches of Wonderland creatures in the field.

Greedy goose eating an apple core I gave her after I (greedy too) at the apple. This is by the Thames by that Christ Church meadow where Lewis Carroll used to hang.

Birds landing and taking off in the Thames.

Walking around Lewis C.’s meadow I was alert to transformations in the plants an animals. Here’s a tree with a pfumpf-pfumpf face. Dowager Dough tree.

Sitting by the Cherwell for a peaceful half hour there, I’m looking at the leaves on the passing stream, thinking of them like planets in the galaxy, and that one drop of water on the one leaf is a tarn, a sea, home to thousands of microbes, like us lifing on our Earth, drifting amid cosmic debris.

A side-arm of the Cherwell, not flowing, overgrown with duckweed, marvelous name for a plant. Carroll had a friend called Duckworth, he was a master of classics and published, I seem to recall, a book on Vergil’s Aeneid, which I read with my class read in Latin IV in high-school.

Another Carroll creature near the Christ Church meadow. Weirdly animate, this tree, no? Claw, living fork.

Leaving the meadow, I see a bum by the stream, with shopping bags, the ducks edge up to him, he alternately feeds them and shoos them away.

A trim woman jogs past. Bum holds out his thumb as if to hitch a ride, guffaws. She smiles and runs on.

I walk on a bit further, then pause on a tiny hillock by the stream to admire the longhorn cattle in the meadow, behind them are the dreaming spires of Christ Church College and all Oxford.

“Oxford” means a placve wehre they herded cattle across the Thames, which is called the Isis River here as well.

Still more semi-animate plant/animals in the Oxford botanical garden next to Christ Church. This teeth like a Milne heffalump, with great walrus teeth.

And now the bum approached me. Naturally he was Lewis Carroll. Naturally he led me though a series of melting stone walls. to a secret tower room—his ghostly lodgings for, lo, these 200 years.

Naturally he produced a tiny, battered teapot of his own design, and poured out a dram of that magic elixir which has brought me to this “Wonderland” from which I send this very last message to my old workaday world…

And here are the mean, mocking flowers from Through the Looking Glass. Carnivorous plants, by the way.

A few more of them, plotting against Alice.

A pamphlet of paint chips on the lawn. A group of passing tourist youths gawks at me taking this picture. Are they missing something?

In the streets. Just love those dreaming spires of Oxford. So frikkin’ quaint. Would be nice to live here for a couple of years, somehow connected with the university. Going to seminars. Craving something academic, I went into the great bookstore, Blackwell’s, right by the entrance to the campus, and picked up a wonderful book on vector calculus called Div, Grad, Curl And All That. I’d read it before, when teaching a course on this stuff, but now I reread it passionately, getting hyped on a studious frame of mind, reviewing the fact that Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism are couched in the language of vector calculus with it’s div, grad, curl and all that. Reading it in the coffee shops, in the room.

I couldn’t do some of the problems in the book, and when I got home, I managed to get a solution manual from the publisher. But haven’t gotten back into the frame of mind to read through them. Not on vacation anymore, back here at home.

A British churchyard, in a Cotswold village not far from Oxford. Old as I am, I don’t like graveyards very much anymore. They used to seem quaint and thought-provoking, but now they seem creepy. Bony Death is getting too damned close to my heels.

The wee kirk with kneeler pads crocheted by the ladies of the congregation. British much?

Fab clouds in the Cotswolds, with rain coming on. I would have liked to wander down the lanes and paths here for days, but somehow didn’t manage that. You do what you can on a trip, bouncing around, working with what you’re able to make happen, working with what does happen.

This is one of my favorite snaps from the trip. The clouds echoing off the roof line.

The White Hart hotel in Stow on Wold. Gotta get back here sometime. We were in the area visiting Sylvia’s childhood friend Andrea, who’s a landscape artist. Great to be in her home. She drove us over to check out Stow on Wold. An SF reader thinks of Arthur C. Clarke’s jovial stories, Tales From the White Hart.

Let’s roll back to some more shots from London.

Love this Greek boar-head mug in the Victoria & Albert museum. Thousands of years old. People have been so clever for so long. So many of us making things.

Love this type of sculpture. The lovely woman. The neoclassical rococo schmeer. The elegant handling of the transparent stone drapery across her face…I forget her name, was it Truth? Liberty? The Dream Of Freedom?

Love this kind of sculpture too. It’s glass art, I think, in the V & A, a spiky red egg about a foot long. Mounted vertically, standing on one end, but I turned the picture sideways. More dynamic this way, more like a UFO. A door opens in the tip of each spike and out step 279 ants from Mars. “Can we interest you in some real estate? We’re offering very nice homesteading tracts in Nix Crater, with extremely pliant settlement terms.”

In the art glass gallery some more. Losing myself in the reflections and refractions. You can see on the of ants from mars on my shirt collar, twittering into my ear.

Love the free-sweeping wrought-iron loops. Like shapes you make with an oldtime sparkler or a newtime glo-stick. The work by a guy in Villingen, Germany. I went to a boarding school for a year near there, in a town called Königsfeld, where all the grown-ups called each other Brũder and Schwester. Brother and Sister.

Dig the old master with the Hell’s Angel goatee. The ubiquity of art.

Outside Westminster Abbey. That insanely green English grass. The abbey like a stone fractal, detail upon detail within.

Nice statue of Death here, he’s poking at someone with a spear. The opposite of St. George and the dragon. Can’t make out Death’s profile too well here…he just has his upper teeth and his lower jaw is gone. Dig the ribcage showing through is cloak, and his bony foot. Taking Death really personally and immediately, these oldtime artists.

Doing the postcard thing. I guess that’s the House of Parliament, seen out the side door of Westminster Abbey. Complete with English puddle.

The food market inside the fabled up-market Harrods department store. Seemed like largely foreigners shopping in here…tourists or rich people from the Middle East. Beyond luxury.

Arty mannequins posed by the escalators in Harrods. The walls decorated in an Egyptian theme. I saw a guy buying a $10K Hasselblad camera “for a friend” like he was buying a handkerchief. Not really a camera nut, not asking questions, just like, “I suppose this is a good one. Or should I get the Leica?” The whole place kind of nauseating after awhile.

Art Nouveau door on Harrods. Like the red and white striped stone building in the reflection, lots of buildings like that around London.

Nice blue-painted plywood wall closing off a yard or something. The paint worn in a nice way. I like how natural patterns don’t repeat.

Walking through an alleyway in London Chinatown, not far from Covent Garden. Nice to get off the crowded sidewalks into an alley.

Steam venting in the Chinatown alley. The buildings all solid and brick.

Sunset from our room in South Kensington. That whole chimney-pots thing. Mackerel sky. Golden, changing every second. Like I always say, if it were for some reason difficult to see clouds, what a fetish of them we’d make. But how little I remember to stare at them. The world going all out, every moment of every day. Taking a trip helps me wake up.

Lavender, mauve, purple, violet, I’m never quite sure about that zone of color names. Nice against the classic pillar.

From the design section of the V&A museum, a 1920s fabric with faces as sheets of paper. A witty way to represent writers putting themselves forward.

Photo like this is pretty much a no-brainer. A bot could catch it. Spire with leaves. St. George and the Dragon.

Meanwhile a lone human figure ceaselessly rummages in the mazes of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Lost in Borges’ Library of Babel.

England #2. Crowds, Churches, Pubs

In London, we rode around a lot in those classic double-decker red buses. Public transportation. They’re better than tour busses—you get up on the high level and you really see a lot. And you’re with the locals. And if you get on the wrong bus, doesn’t matter, you’re still seeing London. One “wrong” bus led me to one of the biggest bookstores in the world: Foyle’s. My old hacker pal John Walker had recommended it to me. Spent a half hour there, comfortable, reading new science books.

I was surprised how crowded London was—I have this nostalgic tendency to think of London as lonely and foggy like in an old black and white movie, with echoing footsteps on the damp pavements. Many of the sidewalks were filled to capacity people—particularly a shopping area like Oxford Street on a weekend. And the subway trains can be as full as in NYC or Tokyo.

Looking up a site about sizes of city-sprawls or “agglomerations,” I later found Tokyo at #1 with 34 million, New York at #10 with 21 million, London at #24 with 13 million people, and San Francisco (including the whole Bay Area, that is, Oakland and San Jose) at #46 with 7 million.

Lots of white people in London—in NYC or the SF Bay Area you don’t see quite as many. And these English white people, they’re really white…they’re, like, the archetype of whiteness. In the US, we’re programmed by decades of Madison Ave propaganda to think of them as the norm, the Platonic ideal. Many of them are indeed very beautiful or handsome.

I saw a lots of pairs of young women going around together, like hunting teams, with, almost invariably, one blonde and one brunette. The bare legs often quite doughy. Tough-looking short-haired pasty-faced guys as well. Many interracial groups.

Many Indians, Africans, Arabs, and West Indians are in London as well—blow-back from the Imperial days. These two West Indian guys were doing a show in a big square at Covent Garden.

The deal with these outdoor shows is that you yell for a really long time, it’s your chance to shine, and maybe your eventual tricks aren’t all that amazing—these guys were leading up to a limbo routine. But the crowd enjoys the shouting, the rhythm, and the simple feeling of being in a horde.

Peaceful in the churches of course. Sleeping sarcophagus people in Westminster Abbey (or is that the leg-weary Rudy and Sylvia in their hotel room.) Westminster an amazing place, one of those tourist attractions that far outstrips expectations, so full of stuff, with so many levels of detail. Like a fractal.

I was ultra-psyched to see Isaac Newton’s grave. Newton! The laws of motion, calculus, the spectrum, gravity—Newton! “He invented calculus?” said Sylvia dubiously. “I don’t think that’s much to be thankful for.” I stood there for awhile, communing with Newton’s big soul. I dug that they had special spot for the graves of scientists, and other spots for artists, and for writers.

Awed and unsure, a woman makes her way past the (replica) sacarphogi in the Victoria and Albert museum. One of those symbols-of-our-daily-life photos.

At one point we managed to attend a church service in Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s cathedral. I liked sitting there with the lovely, echoing choir music. I was counting things—like the number of panels set into the arches. Odd numbers like 11 and 13. Clever numerical rhythms in the stilled stone.

Studying my guidebook, I’d learned of this seriously old pub on (yes!) Fleet Street called “Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.” Rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Samuel Johnson lived practically next door, and it’s believed (at least by the pub’s aficionados) that Johnson went in there from time to time with Boswell. Like he’d say, “Let’s take a walk on Fleet Street.” Possibly reticent here, as Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was also, in the old days, a brothel.

The name cracked me up, so we went in there, a windowless place with many nooks and crannies, populated by yuppyish workers from the nearby law courts, dank, echoing, unchanging. Inspired by the Johnson connection, I got Boswell’s “Life of Samuel Johnson” for my Kindle from, and started reading it every evening. Soothing, mildly amusing.

[Photo above was taken near the way-too-crowded Portobello Road Market on a Saturday in Notting Hill, with two old guys playing John Lee Hooker songs behind the woman checking her phone.]

Another day we stopped by a more congenial pub, the Spread Eagle in Camden Town, with windows, couches and old wooden tables. It was a Sunday, and people were settling in for the afternoon, certainly drinking and laughing, but in a more sociable, slow-paced way than in an American bar. One couple was even playing the Jenga stacking game—the pub had a stack of games behind one of the couches. Like a lodge, kind of. Or a shared living-room. Albeit with a large puddle of questionable liquid on the floor outside the basement bathrooms—a bit manky, that. Even so, I’d happily frequent the Spread Eagle if it were in my neighborhood. You could even sign up to have a convivial Christmas dinner there. And in the evenings—well, I think of James Joyce’s phrase, “shoutmost shoviality.”

The wallpaper in our hotel bedroom had elephants on it. Back in the day, the sun never set on the British Empire, right?

And the nice lady guard at Buckingham Palace holds a machine gun.

England #1. Apples, Jetlag, V&A Hoard

I’ve been in England for two weeks with my wife, and along the way I visited my daughter and her family in Madison, Wisconsin, on the way. It was a nice break, and I didn’t do any writing at all. I took quite a few photos. I’m going to put up a series of posts with the images along with whatever relevant or irrelevant comments I happen to think of.

Views from the air are amazing, and almost all of them are good. Even if you’re shooting with a cellphone through a plastic double window. I like the stripes of alternating crops here, I think they call this contour farming.

My grandchildren caught a beautiful frog near the family garden patch. They let him/her go after awhile.

My grandson doesn’t have any guns, but he and I built some futuristic little models with his Legos. Bascially, all you need for a gun is a right angle. One of their neighbors had a yard sale which included some Legos, and the seller had perhaps ignorantly sorted the Legos by color. So I bagged a bucket of the black Legos. What the seller probably didn’t realize is that the black Legos are the quarks, the tau mesons, the Higgs particles of the Lego world—that is, all the weird special-purpose, triple-hinge, worm-gear, fantastically rare gear-axle kinds of Legos are black. Very useful for ray-guns.

We went apple picking and were initially wondering if it was okay of we ate some free extra apples off the trees, but the farmers said go ahead. The trees were way overloaded, with scores or hundreds of fallen apples beneath each tree. A big year for the crop.

I always like getting out in the countryside. Always fun when there’s a window framing a view of a landscape. A living hologram.

So then we made it to London. One of the first places we wanted to visit was the new Tate Modern Museum, housed in a retrofitted power plant by the Thames. They’re especially known for a vast “Turbine Room” that’s used for special giant ultramodern displays but, unfortunately that room was closed for a year-long upgrade of some kind. In any case the funky galleries have a rich hoard of modern art. The image above is from a Russian revolutionary poster and the caption is, naturally, “KAPITAL.” The Ur-Unca-Scrooge.

There’s a nice footbridge across the Thames near the Tate Modern, and we noticed some new buildings in the financial district of a London. They have special names for them—the Gherkin, the Shard, the Cheesegrater, the Walkie-talkie…only the last two are visible here. Much more on the Gherkin in a later post…

So I had jetlag the first couple of nights, snapping awake at 1 am and staying awake till about 4 am. I’ve learned just to go with the flow on jetlag. I get up and read something, or play with my computer. At this point I was reading Thomas Pynchon’s wonderful new novel Bleeding Edge as an ebook—my paper version seemed a bit fat to lug along. I’d go in the bathroom to read so Sylvia could keep sleeping.

On the second day, we hit the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington district of London, not far from our hotel. I’d never been here before, it’s an amazing place. Kind of like the Smithsonian in DC, or like the craft sections of the Met in NYC.

Like, the ceramics gallery has a mashed together collections of pots from all over the world and throughout history, all jammed into case after case of displays, sorted by style or by theme.

In a central area of the ceramics section they had some modern stuff like a dangling cascade of blown glass lamps, trailing down a couple of hundred feet into the lobby area.

Loved this porcelain white hot dog, tied sacrificially to a cutting stand. Wheenk!

Regarded from below and turned on its side, the dangling chandelier becomes a particle-beam tingler-ray.

A really vile-looking bagpipe. What is it about those things? Tools of the devil, morphed genitalia, squealing skugs. Squonk!

That’s it for today. Back in California, I have jetlag again, and I’ve been awake since about 4 am this morning. Time to go lie in the sun in my beloved patch-of-grass back yard. No place like home.

“In Her Room.” My BETTER WORLDS Art Book: Paper and PDF.

I finished another painting recently.

“In Her Room,” oil on canvas, September, 2013, 22” x 22”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

This is a painting of our bedroom, showing my wife’s mirror and some of the things on her dressing-table. That painting on the left is by her, it’s called Kate Croy. I got the idea for the painting when I was coming into our room, and it was dark, and the hall-light behind me was on, haloing my silhouette in light, and I saw myself in the mirror. I like the little objects on the dressing-table, they’re like symbolic icons in a medieval portrait. That green shape is a bridge between two realities.

I put together a revised 2013 edition of my art book, Better Worlds. The book includes high-quality images, and a descriptive catalog of my paintings. {And I revised the book yet again in early January, 2014.}

You can access the book in two ways. First of all, you can buy it as a quality paperback. This high-quality art book sells for well under the list price of $25.

I’ve also made a free and lightweight PDF file. This small 2K file includes all the book’s text, that is, the picture-by-picture catalog commentary, but with only small thumbnails of the paintings.

And, as always, you can browse large images of my paintings on my paintings page.


Designing THE BIG AHA. Commas, Fonts, Serifs.

I’ve been working on my books as usual. Rolling right along. Photo of a Santa Cruz roller rink below.

I’m done with the copy-editing and proofreading for The Big Aha , and it’s in good shape. I went through some soul-searching about the serial comma, that is, which do I prefer” “Gray fur, yellow teeth and a naked pink tail.” or “Gray fur, yellow teeth, and a naked pink tail.”

In principle, I’d prefer always to use the serial comma, as then I don’t have to think about it. But maybe sometimes I leave it out without noticing. So I might use it and not use it in the same document. And copy-editors like uniformity. So the copy editor suggested that I take out all the serial commas in The Big Aha.. And at first I went along with that, and then, later today, after putting up my first version of this post, I changed my mind.

[Patio at the legendary Phil’s Fish Market in Moss Landing. We happened to get there at 10 am and it was empty. Had an awesome grilled salmon sandwich.]

Backing up a little, yesterday, after I took them all the serial commas out, some of the more complicated lists became hard to read, so then I put serial commas for some of them. Like “The myoor was shaking, the plants were warbling, and the unborn gubs were cheeping from within the myoor’s flesh.”

It’s considered okay to do that, that is, to generally not use serial commas, but to put them in when it seems really necessary. Not that the readers generally notice either way.

But then, this afternoon, dammit, (and goaded somewhat by my correspondent Mark Dery) I decided I did want my serial commas back, all of them, and I put them back in. Fortunately I had a backup version of my original MS and I could find the serial commas by searching for “, and” — I mean that turns up other commas too, but it does show you all the serial ones.

What writers think about…

This photo was taken during a ride along the edge of the percolation salt ponds in the SF Bay near the San Jose Airport. Up at the north end of 1st Street in Alviso above San Jose. I was riding there with my 79-year-old friend Gunnar, who’s generally fitter than I am. The water drains back and forth between the ponds with the tides and you get cool vortices.

Anyway, this week I’ve been working on the book design for The Big Aha. Picking a font is a process that I’m still getting used to. I didn’t want to use the ubiquitous Times Roman—it’s nice, but I want the book to look not quite so generic. I used Garamond on Turing & Burroughs, and I was pretty happy with that until my cantankerous book dealer friend Gregory Gibson said, “Garamond looks…squatty.” That is, the vertical strokes, like in a t or an m, are shorter than in some other fonts, and the thick parts, like in the diagonal of an s, are a little fatter than normal.

Here in realtime, they’re tearing down a nearby neighbor’s house. It sold, and the new owners want more of a mansion on the big lot. It’s kind of sad and wistful to see an old house being shattered. And how easily they’re destroyed! Mortality.

Back to the fonts. My friend Michael Blumlein recently published his story collection, What the Doctor Ordered, with Centipede Press. The publisher is labeling it Horror, but I’d put it closer to Literary Fantasy. I wrote an intro for the collection. It’s a really nice-looking book, and I thought the font was cool, so I asked the publisher what he’d used, and he said Electra.

Now, Electra isn’t one of the more common fonts that you’d find already living on your computer, so I went and bought it online from, it’s like $30 for the regular letters and $30 for the italics, and more if you want the bold faces, or even the “display” versions that look good when blown up to huge sizes for signs. It’s conceptually interesting to buy a font.

After setting The Big Aha book in Electra, I decided I didn’t like the look of it. A little too spidery, with the letter elements overly thin, so that, at least to my eye, the letters felt a little gray or even broken. Maybe Centipede Press used a different version of Electra, I don’t know…but their book does look great.

Anyway, just to be safe, I went to a classic font that I could find on my computer, Caslon, that is, the Adobe Caslon Pro font. I like this one a lot. For me the idea of a font is that it should feel comfortable and be totally easy to read.

I was at a little BoingBoing-organized conference in San Francisco a few weeks ago. Longtime SF character John Law was there with samples from his Doggie Diner collection. John was an early activist in the Billboard Liberation Front—tweaking public signs in meaningful ways.

Saw an awesome octopus at the Monterey Bay Aquarium this week. His mouth isn’t open, but it’s the pinhole sphincter opening at the center of the star of tentacles, where they all meet, not that you can make that out in this dim-light iPhone shot. Inside the mouth lurks the dreaded cephalopod beak! I think about those beaks all the time. The ultimate vagina dentata. The octopus’s “head” is a big watery sac, used for breathing and for siphon squirts.

The actual “body” isn’t much bigger than a rabbit, it’s a lump on top of the tentacles, and its hidden in the false head sac. For sex, the male passes the female a spermatophore or “nuptial gift,” a packet of sperm, and she opens it days or weeks later, when she’s ready to lay eggs, in a spot that’s safe and with plenty of food. After the eggs hatch, the mother dies.

Love, love, love the tentacles. So serif. Which leads back to…

A little more talk about fonts. I can’t believe that people ever set a book in a sans-serif font. The serifs—those little blobs and curlicues at the corners of the letters—are such a help to the reader. Like handholds on a rock wall. Two more font bugaboos: using a really small font, and using gray letters instead of black or, even worse, white letters on a gray background. I think sometimes people use small fonts to save paper and cut production costs? Are you kidding me? Like giving a TV dinner to someone in a restaurant. Or a miniscule photo of a sandwich.

Dig these sweeping architectural lines at the San Francisco Opera. Love this place. Sylvia and I saw Mefistofele there this week. Not the greatest musical score, but a wonderful production, completely over the top. By no means what you’d call “sans-serif.”

Getting back to my rant about font design—one bad thing that that can happen is, I think, that a book or (more often) a web page might be designed by someone who doesn’t actually read.. They want to be different and cool and hardcore and they don’t actually like text. So—they go with 9 point Arial beige type on a brown background.

When doing a web page, such a person might compound their affront by putting in hard line breaks so the text doesn’t flow into new box-shapes, and they fail to use a screen-size-limited page width, so if you try and enlarge the web page by zooming the view, the text block grows right off the edge of the screen and you have to scroll back and forth like chicken pecking up cracked corn…but you don’t peck for long before you give up on reading the story. And the text-hating designer wins. But, hey, who reads, right?

Recently Sylvia and I found this amazing huge Richard Serra sculpture behind the Cantor Museum at Stanford. It’s like walking around inside a huge typographic letter, say an S or an 8. Before I experienced them in person, I used to think Serra’s sculptures were dull. Like sans-serif fonts. But when you’re inside one of them, it’s a whole experience. Emotional. Fear, awe, joy, mathematical exaltation.

I saw some jellyfish at Monterey too. Sea nettles. Love these guys. Being there reminded me of visiting that aquarium with Bruce Sterling years ago, and we wrote our epic tale, “Big Jelly.” You can read it free online. Readable design…

Gnarly SF Reality. #2: Change the World

This post and the previous one are drawn from an essay called “Gnarly SF” which appears in my Collected Essays. You can read the complete essay online as part of the Collected Essays. I split my excerpts into two pieces: “What is Gnarl?” in my previous post, and “Change the World,” which is today’s post. The illos are drawn from my backlog of photos.

Our society is made up of gnarly processes, and gnarly processes are inherently unpredictable.

My studies of cellular automata have made it very clear to me that it’s easy for any kind of social system to generate gnarl. If we take a set of agents acting in parallel, we’ll get unpredictable gnarl by and repeatedly iterating almost any simple rule—such as “Earn an amount equal to the averages of your neighbors’ incomes¬ plus one—but when you reach a certain maximum level, go bankrupt and drop down to a minimum income.”

Rules like this can generate wonderfully seething chaos. People sometimes don’t want to believe that such a simple rule might account for the complexity of a living society. There’s a tendency to think that a model with a more complicated definition will be a better fit for reality. But whatever richness comes out of a model is the result of a gnarly computation—which can occur in the very simplest of systems.

As I keep reiterating, the behavior of our gnarly society can’t be predicted by computations that operate any faster than does real life. There are no tidy, handy-dandy rubrics for predicting or controlling emergent social processes like elections, the stock market, or consumer demand. Like a cellular automaton, society is a parallel computation, that is, a society is made up of individuals leading their own lives.

The good thing about a decentralized gnarly computing system is that it doesn’t get stuck in some bad, minimally satisfactory state. The society’s members are all working their hardest to improve things—a bit like a swarm of ants tugging on a twig. Each ant is driven by its own responses to the surrounding cloud of communication pheromones. For a time, the ants may work at cross-purposes, but, as long as the society isn’t stuck in a repetitive loop imposed from on high, they’ll eventually happen upon success—like a jiggling key that turns a lock.

But how to reconcile the computational beauty of a gnarly, decentralized economy with the fact that many of those who advocate such a system are greedy plutocrats bent on screwing the middle class?

I think the problem is that, in practice, the multiple agents in a free-market economy are not of consummate size. Certain groups of agents clump together into powerful meta-agents. Think of a river of slushy nearly-frozen water. As long as the pieces of ice are of about the same size, the river will move in natural, efficient paths. But suppose that large ice floes form. The awkward motions of the floes disrupt any smooth currents, and, with their long borders, the floes have a propensity to grow larger and larger, reducing the responsiveness of the river still more.

In the same way, wealthy individuals or corporations can take on undue influence in a free market economy, acting as, in effect, unelected local governments. And this is where the watchdog role of a central government can be of use. The central government can act as a stick that reaches in to pound on the floes and break them into less disruptive sizes. This is, in fact, the reason why neocons and billionaires don’t like the idea of a central government. When functioning properly, the government beats their cartels and puppet-parties to pieces.

Science fiction plays a role here. SF is one of the most trenchant present-day forms of satire. Harsh truths about our present-day society can be too inflammatory to express outright. But if they’re dramatized within science-fictional worlds, vast numbers of citizens may be willing to absorb them.

For instance, Robert Heinlein’s 1953 classic, Revolt in 2100, very starkly outlines what it can be like to live in a theocracy, and I’m sure that the book has made it a bit harder for such governments to take hold. John Shirley’s 1988 story, “Wolves of the Plateau” prefigured the eerie virtual violence of online hackerdom. And the true extent of the graft involved in George Bush’s neocon invasion of Iraq comes into unforgettably sharp relief for anyone who reads William Gibson’s 2007 Spook Country.

Backing up a little, it will have occurred to alert readers that a government that functions as a beating stick is nevertheless corruptible. It may well break up only certain kinds of organizations, and turn a blind eye to those with the proper connections. Indeed this state of affairs is essentially inevitable given the vicissitudes of human nature.

Jumping up a level, we find this perennial consolation on the political front: any regime eventually falls. No matter how dark a nation’s political times become, a change will come. A faction may think it rules a nation, but this is always an illusion. The eternally self-renewing gnarl of human behavior is impossible to control, and the times between regimes aren’t normally so so very long.

Sometimes it’s not just single regimes that are the problem, but rather groups of nations that get into destructive and repetitive loops. I’m thinking of, in particular, the sequence of tit-for-tat reprisals that certain factions get into. Some loops of this nature have lasted my entire adult life.

But whether the problem is from a single regime or from a constellation of international relationships, one can remain confident that at some point gnarl will win out. Every pattern will break, every nightmare will end. Here is another place where SF has an influence. It helps people to visualize alternate realities, to understand that things don’t have to stay the same.

One dramatic lesson we draw from SF simulations is that the most wide-ranging and extreme alterations can result from seemingly small changes. In general, society’s coupled computations tend to produce events whose sizes have an unlimited range. This means that, inevitably, very large cataclysms will occasionally occur. Society is always in a gnarly state which the writer Mark Buchanan refers to as “upheavable” in Ubiquity: The Science of History…Or Why The World Is Simpler Than You Think (Crown, 2000 New York), pp. 231-233.

Buchanan draws some conclusions about the flow of history that dovetail nicely with the notion of gnarly computation.

History could in principle be like the growth of a tree and follow a simple progression towards a mature and stable endpoint, as both Hegel and Karl Marx thought. In this case, wars and other tumultuous social events should grow less and less frequent as humanity approaches the stable society at the End of History.

Or history might be like the movement of the Moon around the Earth, and be cyclic, as the historian Arnold Toynbee once suggested. He saw the rise and fall of civilizations as a process destined to repeat itself with regularity. Some economists believe they see regular cycles in economic activity, and a few political scientists suspect that such cycles drive a correspondingly regular rhythm in the outbreak of wars.

Of course, history might instead be completely random, and present no perceptible patterns whatsoever …

But this list is incomplete … The [gnarly] critical state bridges the conceptual gap between the regular and the random. The pattern of change to which it leads through its rise of factions and wild fluctuations is neither truly random nor easily predicted. … It does not seem normal and lawlike for long periods of calm to be suddenly and sporadically shattered by cataclysm, and yet it is. This is, it seems, the ubiquitous character of the world.

In his Foundation series, Isaac Asimov depicts a universe in which the future is to some extent regular and predictable, rather than being gnarly. His mathematician character Hari Seldon has created a technique called “psychohistory” that allows him to foretell the large-scale motions of society. This is fine for an SF series, but in the real world, it seems not to be possible.

One of the more intriguing observations regarding history is that, from time to time a society seems to undergo a sea change, a discontinuity, a revolution—think of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, the Sixties, or the coming of the Web. In these rare cases it appears as if the underlying rules of the system have changed.

Although the day-to-day progress of the system may be in any case unpredictable, there’s a limited range of possible values that the system actually hits. In the interesting cases, these possible values lie on a fractal shape in some higher-dimensional space of possibilities—this shape is what chaos theory calls a strange attractor.

Looking at the surf near a spit at the beach, you’ll notice that certain water patterns recur over and over—perhaps a double-crowned wave on the right, perhaps a bubbling pool of surge beside the rock, perhaps a high-flown spray of spume off the front of the rock. This range of patterns is a strange attractor. When the tide is lower or the wind is different, the waves will run through a different repertoire—they’ll be moving on a different strange attractor.

During any given historical period, a society has a kind of strange attractor. A limited number of factions fight over power, a limited number of social roles are available for the citizens, a limited range of ideas are in the air. And then, suddenly, everything changes, and after the change there’s a new set of options—society has moved to a new strange attractor. Although there’s been no change in the underlying rule for the social computation, some parameter has altered so that the range of currently possible behaviors has changed.

Society’s switches to new chaotic attractors are infrequently occurring zigs and zags generated by one and the same underlying and eternal gnarly social computation. The basic underlying computation involves such immutable facts as the human drives to eat, find shelter, and live long enough to reproduce. From such humble rudiments doth history’s great tapestry emerge—endlessly various, eternally the same.

I mentioned that SF helps us to highlight the specific quirks of our society at a given time. It’s also the case that SF shows us how our world could change to radically different set of strange attractors. One wonders, for instance, if the world wide web would have arisen in its present form if it hadn’t been for the popularity of Tolkein and of cyberpunk science fiction. Very many of the programmers were reading both of these sets of novels.

It seems reasonable to suppose that Tolkein helped steer programmers towards the Web’s odd, niche-rich, fantasy-land architecture. And surely the cyberpunk novels instilled the idea of having an anarchistic Web with essentially no centralized controllers at all. The fact that that the Web turned out to be so free and ubiquitous seems almost too good to be true. I speculate that it’s thanks to Tolkein and to cyberpunk that our culture made its way to the new strange attractor where we presently reside.

In short, SF and fantasy are more than forms of entertainment. They’re tools for changing the world.

Gnarly SF Reality. #1: What Is Gnarl?

This post and the next one are drawn from an essay called “Gnarly SF” which appears in my Collected Essays. You can read the complete essay online as part of the Collected Essays, but I decided to extract two blog posts from it. Also note that the essay appears in my small collection Surfing the Gnarl, 2012, brought out by the estimable PM Press of Oakland, California.

I’m going to split my excerpts into two pieces: “What is Gnarl?” in today’s post, and “Change the World,” which will be in my next post.

The illos are drawn from my backlog of photos. As is customary in my blogs, the only thing linking the images to the text is the Surrealist principle of juxtaposition.

I use gnarl in an idiosyncratic and somewhat technical sense; I use it to mean a level of complexity that lies in the zone between predictability and randomness.

The original meaning of “gnarl” was simply “a knot in the wood of a tree.” In California surfer slang, “gnarly” came to describe complicated, rapidly changing surf conditions. And then, by extension, something gnarly came to be anything with surprisingly intricate detail. As a late-arriving and perhaps over-assimilated Californian, I get a kick out of the word.

Do note that “gnarly” can also mean “disgusting.” Soon after I moved to California in 1986, I was at an art festival where a caterer was roasting a huge whole pig on a spit above a gas-fired grill the size of a car. Two teen-age boys walked by and looked silently at the pig. Finally one of them observed, “Gnarly, dude.” In the same vein, my son has been heard to say, “Never ever eat anything gnarly.” And having your body become old and gnarled isn’t necessarily a pleasant thing. But here I only want to talk about gnarl in a good kind of way.

Clouds, fire, and water are gnarly in the sense of being beautifully intricate, with purposeful-looking but not quite comprehensible patterns. And of course all living things are gnarly, in that they inevitably do things that are much more complex than one might have expected. As I mentioned, the shapes of tree branches are the standard example of gnarl. The life cycle of a jellyfish is way gnarly. The wild three-dimensional paths that a humming-bird sweeps out are kind of gnarly too, and, if the truth be told, your ears are gnarly as well.

I’m a writer first and foremost, but for much of my life I had a day-job as a professor, first in mathematics and then in computer science. Although I’m back to being a freelance writer now, I spent twenty years in the dark Satanic mills of Silicon Valley. Originally I thought I was going there as a kind of literary lark——like an overbold William Blake manning a loom in Manchester. But eventually I went native on the story. It changed the way I think. I drank the Kool-Aid.

I derived my notion of gnarl from the work of the computer scientist Stephen Wolfram. I first met him in 1984, interviewing him for a science article I was writing. He made a big impression on me, and introduced me to the dynamic graphical computations known as cellular automata, or CAs for short. The so-called Game of Life is the best-known CA. You start with a few lit-up pixels on a computer screen. Each pixel “looks” at the eight nearest pixels, counts how many are “on” and adjusts its state according to this total, using a fixed rule. All of the pixels do this at once, so the screen behaves like a parallel computation. The patterns of dots grow, reproduce, and/or die, sometimes generating persistent moving patterns known as gliders. I became fascinated by CAs, and it’s thanks in part to Wolfram that I switched from teaching math to teaching computer science.

Wolfram summarized his ideas in his illuminating 2002 tome, A New Kind of Science. To me, having known Wolfram for many years by then, the ideas in the book seemed obviously true. I went on to write my own tome, The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul, partly to popularize Wolfram’s ideas, and partly to expatiate upon my own notions of the meaning of computation. A work of early geek philosophy. Most scientists found the new ideas to be—as Wolfram sarcastically put it—either trivial or wrong. When a set of ideas provokes such resistance, it’s a sign of an impending paradigm shift.

So what does Wolfram say?

He starts by arguing that we can think of any natural process as a computation, that is, you can see anything as a deterministic procedure that works out the consequences of some initial conditions. Instead of viewing the world as made of atoms or of curved space or of natural laws, we can try viewing it as made of computations. Keep in mind that a “computer” doesn’t have to be made of wires and silicon chips in a box. It can be any real-world phenomenon you like. Does this make the world dull? Far from it.

Having studied a very large number of visually interesting computations called cellular automata, Wolfram concluded that there are basically three kinds of computations and three corresponding kinds of natural processes.

Predictable. Processes that are ultimately without surprise. This may be because they eventually die out and become constant, or because they’re repetitive. Think of a checkerboard, or a clock, or a fire that burns down to dead ashes.

Gnarly. Processes that are structured in interesting ways but are nonetheless unpredictable. Here we think of a vine, or a waterfall, or the startling yet computable digits of pi, or the flow of your thoughts.

Random. Processes that are completely messy and unstructured. Think of the molecules eternally bouncing off each other in air, or the cosmic rays from outer space.

The gnarly middle zone is where it’s at. Essentially all of the interesting patterns in physics and biology are gnarly. Gnarly processes hold out the lure of being partially understandable, but they resist falling into dull predictability.

Anything involving fluids can be a rich source of gnarl—even a cup of tea. The most orderly state of a liquid is, of course, for it to be standing still. If one lets water run rather slowly down a channel, the water moves smoothly, with a predictable pattern of ripples.

As more water is put into a channel, the ripples begin to crisscross and waver. Eddies and whirlpools appear—and with turbulent flow we have the birth of gnarl.

Once a massive amount of water is poured down the channel, we get a less interesting random-seeming state in which the water is seething.

Now, the pay-off for this whole ine of thought is that it becomes possible, via some computer-science legerdemain, to argue that all of the interesting processes of nature are inherently unpredictable.

What, by the way, do I mean by “predicting a process”? This means to have some procedure for determining the processes result very much faster than the time it takes to simply let the process run. Saying that a gnarly process is unpredictable, means there are no quick short-cut methods for finding out what the process will do. The only way to really find out what the weather is going to be like tomorrow is to wait twenty-four hours and see. The only way for me to find out what I’m going to put into the final paragraph of a book is to finish writing the book.

It’s worth repeating this point. We will never find any magical tiny theory that allows us to make quick pencil-and-paper calculations about the future. Sometimes scientists—or science-fiction writers—have speculated that there’s some compact master-formula capable of predicting the future with a few strokes of a pencil. And many still have an internal faith in some slightly more sophisticated restatement of this.

But we have no hope of control. On the plus side, the gnarly is a bit better behaved than the fully random. We can’t predict the waves, but we can hope to ride them.

As a reader, I’ve always sought the gnarl, that is, I like to find odd, interesting, unpredictable kinds of books, possibly with outré or transgressive themes. My favorites would include Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, Robert Sheckley and Phil Dick, Jorge-Luis Borges and Thomas Pynchon.

Once again, a gnarly process is complex and unpredictable without being random. If a story hews to some very familiar pattern, it feels stale. But if absolutely anything can happen, a story becomes as unengaging as someone else’s dream. The gnarly zone lies at the interface between logic and fantasy.

William Burroughs was an ascended master of the gnarl. He believed in having his work take on an autonomous life to the point of becoming a world that the author inhabits. “The writer has been there or he can’t write about it… [Writers] are trying to create a universe in which they have lived or where they would like to live. To write it, they must go there and submit to conditions that they might not have bargained for.” (From “Remembering Jack Kerouac” in The Adding Machine: Selected Essays, Seaver Books 1986.)…

In order to present some ideas about how gnarl applies to literature in general, and to science-fiction in particular, I’m going to make up four tables to summarize ho gnarliness makes its way into science-fiction in four areas: subject matter, plot, scientific speculation, and social commentary.

In drawing up my tables, I found it useful to distinguish between low gnarl and high gnarl. Low gnarl is close to being periodic and predictable, while high gnarl is closer to being fully random.

Keep in mind that I’m not saying any particular row of the table is absolutely better than the others. My purpose here is taxonomic rather than prescriptive. Rather than using the words “predictable” and “random” to refer to the lowest and highest levels of complexity, one might use the less judgmental words “classic” and “surreal.”

Just so you have a general idea of what I’m talking about, here’s how I see some of my favorite authors as located on the complexity spectrum:

Complexity Level  Sample Authors
 Classic Golden Age F&SF.  J.R.R. Tolkein, Isaac Asimov, Kage Baker.
 Lower Gnarl  Robert Heinlein, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow, Karen Joy Fowler.
 Higher Gnarl  Charles Stross, Robert Sheckley, Phillip K. Dick, Eileen Gunn, me.
Surreal  Douglas Adams, John Shirley, Terry Bisson, Anna Tambour.

Let me stress again that I admire the work of all the authors in this table. The point here is simply to point out that one can use various modes and approaches to writing SF. Note that some authors may write novels in various modes—Terry Bisson’s Pirates of the Universe for instance, is high gnarl and transreal, rather than random and surreal.

Things I Saw This Summer

I’m emptying out some of my backlog of “to blog” photos. Today’s are mostly from this summer. I have some free time now as I finished assembling the second draft of The Big Aha—as I mentioned in my previous post.

When you revise a painting, you basically keep ruining it and then trying to fix it. When you revise a novel, it’s more of a positive, steady-progress feeling. You just keep making it better. Part of the difference is that painting lacks an Undo function, that is, what Windows users call the Control-Z key.

Photos are something else entirely. Seeing moments and patterns while they’re there. And then—the less obvious and more digital part—tweaking them in Lightroom or Photoshop. The tweak stage has become an integral part of the process for me although, yes, I know there’s some who claim it’s purer to go with the original shot. No point arguing about it. Many roads to Rome, and all that. I just know that I enjoy the tweaking as an exercise of craft, and (thanks to Undo), I’m free to play with the picture until I’ve got what seems to be to be the very best image.

Balloon flower at a kiddie birthday party. Note the stegosaurus piñata as well. As a boy, I only knew of piñatas from Donald Duck comic books. Now in California, they’re rather common. They are strong and leathery, not brittle. The kids whack and whack and eventually the piñata handler lowers the thing near the ground and the kids tear it apart like coyotes on a wounded wild piglet.

Awesome arch off Anacapa Island, part of the Channel Islands near Ventura, CA. We stayed at a nice cheap Vagabond motel in Ventura and rode a ferry out to the islands two days in a row. This summer’s big outing. I went snorkeling here. I was really scared, as the water was so cold and deep and clear, and the place so isolated. So cold I felt like a frozen French fry in boiling oil, not that that makes sense.

Very funky old infrastructure on Anacapa, which is mainly cliffs and a seagull rookeries.

Took this at the cafe at Nepenthe, the insanely crowded yet insanely scenic stop on Rt. 1 near Big Sur.

Back on Anacapa, two seagulls stand guard.

A gnarly tree stump at Moonstone Beach near Cambria. A pretty spot, although the motels here were an insane ripoff in terms of prices. I think a lot of people are there to see the Hearst Castle. Feels like the world population has doubled in the last, what, thirty years?

Awesome aloes near the Mission in Santa Barbara. Kind of cephalopods, no?

Admirable hunks-o-cheese topiary patterns in Cambria.

The elephant seals near Gordo, between Big Sur and Cambria. Supposedly only one male gets to mate with all the females in the herd, and all the other males are continually cringing and challenging, trying to work his way to the top. That one on the left bellowing looks a lot like a U.S. Congressman, no?

Festive flags against a mackerel sky in Santa Barbara. There was a passageway there with some nice cafes, and we went to the same one two days in a row. Not quite as good the second day.

I love Virgin of Guadalupe imagers (this one is in the Santa Barbara mission). The Mandelbrot-set aura. And note the polychrome faux marble on the wall.

A wedding party ramping up for the ceremony at a spot called Ragged Point south of Big Sur. There’s a little-known (to me) series of sights down there.

Odd view through an underpass in Cambria on Moonstone Beach. Like that’s the afterworld or a visionary Peaceable Kingdom on the other side.

The historically giant Moreton Fig tree in Santa Barbara near the passenger train station. The ridges of the roots make veal-pen type separators, forming little sleeping areas for some of the numerous homeless people in S.B.

Timeline for My Transreal Novels

As I often say, I’ve written many of my SF novels in what I call a “transreal” style. This means that, although the novels deal with science-fictional scenes, the characters and situations in the novels are to some extent modeled on me, the people around me, and events I’ve experienced in my life. I had this idea back in 1983, very early in my career. You can find “A Transrealist Manifesto” as part of my Collected Essays, which I recently put online.

I’ve always thought that, in a loose sense, my transreal novels could be thought of as parts of a single extended work, and back in 1990, I made up a table for six of the novels, trying to show how the books might fit together. (You can find that table in the very first answer in my compilation All the Interviews, which is, as of today, 382 Q & A pairs long.)

This week, my friend Paul Di Filippo happened to send me a link to an article about Jack Kerouac’s thirteen-novel cycle, the Duluoz Legend.

So I spent August 30, 2013, making up an extensive…

Timeline for Rucker’s Transreal Novels

Book Title R’s “Name” R Life R Activities
Frek and the Elixir Frek Huggins 1956-59 Boyhood in Louisville
The Secret of Life Conrad Bunger 1963-67 College, engagement
Spacetime Donuts Vernor Maxwell 1968 Being a hippie
Master of Space and Time Joe Fletcher 1969 Newlywed, grad school
Mathematicians in Love Bela Kis 1972 Getting a Ph. D. in math
White Light Felix Rayman 1972-78 Math professor at Geneseo
The Sex Sphere Alwin Bitter 1978-80 On a grant in Heidelberg
The Hollow Earth Mason Reynolds 1984-86 Lynchburg, Virginia
The Hacker and the Ants Jerzy Rugby 1989-91 Programming at Autodesk
Spaceland Joe Cube 1991-94 The Silicon Valley scene
Saucer Wisdom Rudy Rucker 1995-97 Being a writer
Jim and the Flims Jim Oster 2008 Brain hemorrhage, near death
The Big Aha Zad/Lennox Plant 2009-12 Remembering Louisville

And I even came up with thirteen novels to put in. Note that some of the correspondences are more of a stretch than others. And some of the novels incorporate elements from more than one period of my life, and could have been positioned at different points on the timeline. Given a choice, I’ve tried to order the table in what seems to make for the best flow.

I chose not to include my six specifically cyberpunk novels in he transreal timeline table. These are the four Ware novels, and the pair Postsingular and Hylozoic. My cyberpunk novels do include characters and situations drawn from my life, but they are so purely science-fictional that they don’t really match with specific periods of my life.

I also left out my beatnik SF novel Turing & Burroughs, and my historical As Above, So Below: Peter Bruegel. These novels are, at least in a fanciful sense, biographies, and thus are less readily seen as transreal, although there are, as always, transreal elements.

I’m finishing the second draft of The Big Aha today, and I’ll be sending it to my copy-editor/proofreader. I’d kind of forgotten how much work it is to write a novel. Who knows, this might be my last one.

The end of the Ruduoz Legend?

Well, once I’ve had eight months or a year off, I’ll probably want to jump back in.

More Gibberish About Genemodding

I wasn’t quite satisfied with last week’s post, “Genetic Engineering With An SF Interface.”

At this point I’m into revising the fourth out of fifteen first-draft chapters of my novel The Big Aha. And I have some lingering questions about how my characters go about tweaking the “nurbs,” which are the biomodded or tweaked organisms of the future—pretty much used in place of any of the manufactured things we currently use.

There’s also some stuff called nurb gel, which is a kind of primordial slime or universal tissue that can be converted into nurbs.

And my characters have acquired something they call “qwet” for “quantum wetware.” It allows them to get their minds into a cosmic mode, which feel fairly psychedelic, and which allows for telepathy or teep with other qwet people. Nurbs can get qwet too.

I’m interested in how the coming of qwet makes a difference in how we manipulate our nurbs. I’ve organized this installment (extracted from my Notes For The Big Aha volume) into a Q and A format. I realize it’ll seem a little cryptic, but you might have a little fun with it. As usual, I’m sticking in a bunch of my photos.

Q: How can the coming of qwet (that is, quantum wetware) make a difference in how we shapeshift our genetically engineered nurbs?

A: Thus far, all I’ve had qwet doing for us was giving us teep (or telepathy) and making us high. It would be good if qwet also had some more techie kind of effect. So let’s say that it allows you do to a vast and nontraditional computation in your head by staying in cosmic mode for a longer period of time, and thus solve the genemod design problem in your head, that is, the problem of figuring out the correct DNA changes needed to give a biotweaked organism some particular properties.

No need to explicitly call this mental process a “quantum computation,” as that phrase is a little tired. I might equally well call it a cosmic computation. Or cosmic logic, yeah baby. (Reminds me of a salon in Santa Cruz called “Hair Logic.” Only kind of logic you’re gonna get in Cruz…)

Anyway, once qwet gives you access to cosmic logic, you can indeed figure out how a genemod design (a.k.a. a DNA retrofit) in your head. And then you use your qwet teep to do the genemod installation, that is, you put the changes down onto every DNA molecule in the nurb’s body.

By the way, a quantum scientist might object that, if teep is always oblivious, then there could a bit of a problem with teep-tweaking a nurb, as this seems to entail transmitting permanent information via the teep link, in that you are literally “writing” something into its DNA—and this might meant you’re sending a signal faster than light. But I can somewhat undercut the objection by saying that you’re really just convincing the nurb to want to look a certain way once it gets around to it, and that the effects aren’t instantaneous. Or I might say that qwet teep works via a higher-dimensional channel to which the the usual signal-speed strictures don’t apply.

Q: How does genemod installation work?

A: The basic idea is that, by using quantum entanglement, you apply a genemod to every single cell of a receptive nurb.

The genemodding process works via a cascade of quantum vortices into the target organism’s cells. Like a tornado that fractally spawns sub- and subsub- and subsubsubtornadoes and so on, all the way to a molecule-sized force fields that reaches into the individual cells and alters their DNA.

In the pre-qwet days, people used a tool for this, an old-school machine. Call it a genemodder wand.

But now we qwetties can do it by looking at nurbs and getting into harmony with them. When you do this, you experience a mental image like that tornado-spawning process I just described.

To smooth the way for the installation, we’ll assume that the target nurb has been made qwet. Someone might argue that this isn’t necessary, given that we were able to use genemodder wands to install genemods even when the nurbs weren’t qwet. But perhaps the genemodders used a great deal of energy, and in order for the low-energy emanations of a human brain to be efficacious we can require that the target nurb indeed by qwet. Makes things more symmetric. You qwet a nurb and think things at it.

Q: Who invented the technique of using cosmic logic for genemod designs and qwet teep for installing the genemods?

A: Junko Shimano and Loulou Sass. Junko gets most of the credit, as she has a Stanford degree in Wetware Engineering, whereas Loulou is more like a carnie or a punk.

Q: Why does The Big Aha involve shapeshifting our nurbs?

A: The idea sort of started with Loulou’s Levolver game, a public realtime competition to design the coolest nurb, starting with a blank, accessible wad of nurb gel. I invented the game mainly so I could give Loulou an interesting skill. And working out its details is causing me this huge amount lot of trouble. I could just drop the Levolver game, but at this point I’d rather not.

And in any case, shapeshifting a nurb is also part of Zad’s eventual artistic process. in the old days when they did DNA retrofitting with a genemodder wand, Zad didn’t know how to mod a nurb. But now, in the new age of qwet teep genemodding, Zad can remodel a nurb—or build one from scratch out of nurb gel. And this opens up a new art career for him.

I also have a scene where Loulou does a genemod on an earring in Ned’s store. And someone might do this to the flying jellyfish nurbs, later on. Or try to. Note that a nurb doesn’t have to do what you tell it to. It might be in some sense “inaccessible” so that you can’t possibly genemod it. See the question after next for more on this point.

Q: What about the self-shapeshifting done by the mover nurbs and by Zad’s nurb copy, SubZad?

A: True shapeshifting is always done via DNA retrofitting, that is, via genemodding. But some nurbs do enjoy a weaker type of shapeshifting—via internal springs. This isn’t really so different from the fact that a human can “change shape” by flexing muscles and bending joints.

Gurky’s mover nurbs are shapeshifters in that weak sense of using internal springs. Or of flipping into one of several stable modes, like a Zeeman catastrophe machines. Yes, I did have Craig turning one of movers into a ball. But that’s not so different from a person squatting down.

I’ll call the mover nurbs “golems,” as that’s a colorful word, but I won’t use that word for any other kinds of nurbs.

SubZad can shapeshift his arms, making them long. I was thinking of him as being like the comic book Plastic Man, or like the Barbapapas in the kids’ books. But let’s say we’re doing this special arm-stretch via internal springs as well, akin to the stretching of an octopus’s tentacles.

Q: How do we prevent mischievous or terroristic genemods from being installed upon people, animals and nurbs?

A: This is crucial. It must be impossible to tweak the DNA of very important kinds of nurbs such as house trees. You don’t want some nut to abruptly collapse a well-populated hundred-story house tree into a flat patch of lichen and thereby kill everyone in the building. You also don’t want people to be tweaking your own personal DNA against your will.

So we’d need two kinds of nurbs: tweakable and nontweakable. Accessible or inaccessible. Raw nurb gel is accessible, which is why you can make it into whatever you like. Commercial nurbs—like horns of plenty or roadspiders—are generally inaccessible.

But some commercial nurbs, such as jewelry, are accessible. There can be weak access restrictions, akin to write permissions on a computer file. Usually the write permission on an accessible nurb is limited so that only the owners (or the owner-approved agents) can redesign them at will. Akin sunglasses whose tint an optician can change.

To make the write-permission be fairly secure, we can suppose that a nurb knows its unique owner—not as a number or a name but as a personality with an accompanying DNA signature.

Living natural organisms are by default inaccessible. Being accessible is the exception, not the rule. You can’t ever make a inaccessible nurb or organism become accessible. But you can permanently make an accessible nurb become inaccessible. It’s a one-way irreversible transformation. Like an amputation.

The inaccessible/accessible distinction applies whether you’re trying to tweak the nurb with an older genemodder wand or with the newer process of qwet teep.

Q: What does it mean for a nurb’s DNA to be accessible? Why is it impossible to make an inaccessible nurb become accessible? Why is naturally occurring DNA always inaccessible?

A: A DNA molecule being accessible means it’s possible to get into a quantum entanglement with it.

Accessibility is a physical property, not a software encryption trick.

I’m imagining something like a little antenna on the DNA. It’s not a naturally-occurring thing. Let’s think of the antenna as something four-dimensional, like the Mophone antennas in Spaceland. I wouldn’t want to say much about the higher-dimensionality of the tweak antennas in the novel; I don’t want to push the readers too hard. But a 4D antenna is a reasonable concept within the framework of The Big Aha, where our universe is immersed in N-space, with a parallel partner universe not so far away, and with completely different island universes out there as well. So why not take advantage of this SFnal bounty?

Anyway, if you try and attach one of these antennas to a normal strand of DNA, you’ll end up breaking the DNA and killing the cell. You can only have the antenna if it was designed into the component base-pairs of the DNA. And it is fairly easy to break off the antennas without hurting the DNA>

Q. What is nurb gel?

A. It’s a wad of amoebas or maybe slime-mold cells. Nurbs. With DNA antennas, that is, fully accessible. Zad used some nurb gel with a color interface as paint. And you can use nurb gel as a universal modeling clay. Zad makes nurbs like the Mr. Normals and the SubZad out of it. Let’s remember that Zad’s abilities to design or to shapeshift nurb gel only developed after he became qwet and gained the ability to use cosmic logic to design tweaks, and gained the ability to install the genemods via qwet teep with the gel.

[Skate shop in Santa Barbara, CA]

Q:What happens when Gaven tries to turn a cattail into a hot dog?

A: Gaven’s shoots out a qwetter beam, and thinks he can use qwet teep to install some meaty genemods onto the cattails. But you can’t genemod natural organisms. They’re permanently inaccessible. Their DNA has no antennas. Being more of a biz guy than a techie, Gaven didn’t understand this.

Perhaps, as an unexpected and comic side-effect, Gaven’s effort does take effect on some accessible nurb gel that happens to be at the picnic. Let’s say Zad had brought a little cup of nurb gel in hopes of making a small painting to impress everyone. And his paint crawls out of his paint tub and is a hot dog. Mild amusement ensues.

Genetic Engineering with an SF Interface

Today I finished a new painting called “Study of Picasso’s Girl Before A Mirror.” Lots of work, so many details kept unfolding. Took six or seven sessions. For the last session, I put the original out of sight and focused on making my version smooth and balanced. Fun. Maybe now I’ll try doing a painting (not a copy) in the Master’s style.

“Study of Picasso’s Girl Before A Mirror,” oil on canvas, August, 2013, 20” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I don’t want to sell the Picasso painting for awhile, want to enjoy having it around, but I’m discounting the prices of my other paintings for a summer/fall sale, check it out if you’re interested.

Now to the meat of today’s post. Biotweaking. Illustrated, as usual, with whatever photos I have kicking around.

In my forthcoming novel The Big Aha our society is using biotweaked plants and animals in place pretty much every type of manufactured good. They call these things nurbs, no particular reason for that, I just like the word (which also has an unrelated meaning in computer graphics, but never mind that.)

One of the difficult things with genetic engineering is going to be figuring out how to make the correct DNA change in order to accomplish some specified alteration to an organism’s body—let’s call this “retrofitting the DNA.”

Unless I’m mistaken, from a computer science standpoint, retrofitting DNA is what they call a computationally unsolvable problem, meaning that there’s no possible algorithm for automatically doing it. The cause of this unsolvability is that there’s no general shortcut for predicting the effects of a specific DNA change—short of putting in the change and regrowing the organism. And, if you’re trying to pick out a desired change from an ensemble of changes whose effects are unpredictable—well, then you’re looking at an unsolvable problem.

But I’m writing a science-fiction novel here, so I’m not going to let this problem stop me. I’ll get around it by invoking one of currently fashionable SF “bogosity generators,” to wit, quantum computation. In an idealized SFictional world, quantum computers can carry out vast parallel computations, and thereby finesse any trouble with formally unsolvable problems.

If I’ve solved the DNA retrofitting problem, then I can make an automatic process that converts high-level changes into DNA changes. It’s a little like a Lamarckian inheritance process—changes to nurb’s body go right down into its DNA and you can clone off nurbs with those same new properties. And quantum computation handles the thorny puzzle of figuring out what precise DNA changes will replicate some externally imposed change in a nurb’s body.

Once you retrofit a nurb’s DNA, you’d need to execute a biological refresh function, regenerating or regrowing all of the nurb’s body, as if by a web-page refresh on a computer screen. Science-fictionally, you can image the refresh happening quite rapidly, like a ripple passing across the organism’s body.

So what we need is:
(Retrofitting DNA Design) quantum computation trick for figuring out DNA changes to reflect desired high-level changes in an organism,
(Parallel DNA Tweaking) an ability to remotely tweak all trillion of a nurb’s cells at once,
(Bio Refresh) a built-in ability for nurbs to refresh themselves like a web page, re-biocomputing their forms from their altered DNA.

As I said, you can do the “Retrofitting DNA Design” with a quantum computer. And you can do the Parallel DNA Tweaking and the Bio Refresh with a so-called tweaker virus that might be, let us say, based on the harmaline molecule—recall Terence McKenna’s fantasy that his use of yage and psilocybin in concert had placed a tiny radio-receiver into each of his body’s cells. I miss Terence.

Anyway, once all this working, you design a web-based tweaker interface that, experientially, feels as if you are molding your nurb with virtual hands—the interface is turning your shape requests into DNA changes and applying the changes to the target organisms’ cells. And the Bio Refresh function, repeatedly invoked, gives you realtime feedback on what your DNA alterations are doing. So it’s like working with paint or with clay.

SF writing advice to self: Load on the miracles, but keep the explanations simple. All I really want is consistency, ease and flash. And be glad I’m not working as a scientist.

My Dive Log, 1995-2009

By way of celebrating my completion of the first draft of my novel The Big Aha, I decided to do something completely unrelated.

I’ve typed up my dive log book entries from 1995-2009 and I’m posting them here, surrealistically illustrated by my usual random accumulation of utterly unrelated recent photos. Well, not utterly unrelated, as most of the images are of ocean or island scenes, including a few from a recent trip we made to Anacapa Island in the Channel Islands in Southern California

My “dive log book,” started in the very nearly pre-digital days of 1995, is a tiny, cheap spiral vest-pocket notebook, very weathered and water-stained by now. Before it utterly disintegrates, I thought I’d digitize the contents.

In the past I also blogged about some of these dives, and if you get really curious about some spot, you can try using my blog search box to find an entry that mentions it.

It’s worth mentioning that my dive experiences have found their way into many of my SF novels and stories. I think in particular of Realware, Mathematicians in Love, Spaceland, Hylozoic, and Jim and the Flims. To me, nothing is more purely alien than a marine invertebrate, and nothing is more like floating in space (or in hyperspace) than a scuba dive. And some of my paintings have submarine themes as well.

Dive Log Book, Rudy Rucker, 1995-2009

10 am. Lovers Cove, Monterey. Buddy named Penny. 18 ft/29 min. 49º. Gumboot chitons. 2900-1000. 11:15 am. 28 ft. 28 min. Rockfish. 2400 lb air to 1000.

8:30 am. San Carlos Beach, Monterey. 52 ft/27 min. 45º. Metridium Fields. Plumose Anemones. Sea Pen. 2400-300. 10:30 am. Breakwater, Monterey. Buddies Penny & Mark. 46 ft/24 min. Sheep Crab. Mating nudibranchs. Seals. Turbid. 2400 lb air to 450.

10 am. Tunnels Beach, Kauai. Rudy Jr. & Jeanette. 52 ft /40 min. 45 ft/42 min. Parrot fish slime cocoon, caves & tunnels, wrasse, candycane shrimp, stingray, Spanish dancer nudibranch. 3000 lb air to 500. Shorty 1/8” wetsuit, 16 lb. weights.

Morning. Poipu boat dive, Kauai. “Bubbles Below.” 40 ft/45 min. 50 ft./45 min. Octopus, underwater current, lots of sea turtles.

Afternoon. Butterfly house, Carmel. Solo dive, panic. Big tank, inadequate weight 24 lb. Scary diving pale seal near me, thought it was a shark. Got tangled in kelp after coming up in wrong inlet. I now see why solo dives are a bad idea! 50 ft/30 min.

Chilleno Bay, Mexico. Boat dive with guide “Leo,” me the only customer. 26 lb. weights, full wetsuit, 3000 lb air. 36 min/70 ft. Guide Leo. Moray eel. Schools of yellow fish. Sea fans and sponges. Visibility ~20 ft. Rocky. Used all the remaining air during safety stop.

Vava’u Island, Tonga. Boat dive with guide Paul of “Beluga Diving.” I was their very first customer. 66 ft/30 min. Weight 13 kg, a bit light. Tongaseka Island, steep cliffs, underwater caves, a white-tip shark. 60 ft/30 min. 14 kg better. Tank valve not fully turned on, my air stopped flowing halfway through the dive, I used Paul’s octopus regulator to breathe, he got my valve open. Dealt with it okay, kind of glad to see I could survive a crisis. A’a Island.

Lifau Island, Haa’pai Islands, Kingdom of Tonga. Guide Roland. 200 bar pressure tank. 45 ft/40 min. Reef 6 km out from shore. A small shark, a big wrasse. Came out and saw whales, a mother and child. 45 ft/40 min. A reef closer in. Great visibility. We wend into lots of caves. Sea fans. A lobster. I hefted a giant clam 3 feet across. Its mantle was mottled like camouflage material. So many new kinds of fish.

Vuna Reef, Taveuni, Fiji. Boat dive, 8 people. 200 bar tanks. Shorty 5 mil suit. Hood on. 70 ft./30 min. Eagle ray big with spots. I had a problem with too much buoyancy, holding onto the bottom. 50 ft/30 min. Turtle. Soft coral that turned white when I brushed against it—the polyps withdraw. Outside a reef on a wall going 200 ft down. 40 ft. visibility. I swam too fast, ran out of air firs. The guide made me go the surface when I het 50 bar of pressure.

Taveuni, Fiji. Rainbow Reef Dives. 80 ft/40 min. Yellow Tunnel. Fairyland of fish and soft coral, red yellow purple blue. Insanely strong current, like fighting a hurricane across top of reef. Needed gloves. 3500 lb of air, used it all. 100ft/49 min. Great White Wall. My buddy saw a hammerhead shark, I was looking the other way. I found a 5 foot Moray eel. The wall went down and down. I got nitrogen narcosis at 100 ft and almost kept going down. Too deep. White corals (soft) down there, then light blue. 15 lb weights, shorty wetsuit with long sleeves.

Kawaihae, South Kohala, Big Island, Hawaii. With a guide from Ocean Sports/ Kohala Dive Shop. Shorty 3 mil long-sleeve suit, with gloves. Two dives. 50 ft/45 min. 40 ft/45 min. 3100 lb tanks. No air problems, I breathed slow. Used my breath to go up and down over coral instead of kicking. Small bright fish, butterfly tangs, surgeonfish. Saw a small spotted Moray eel, a puffer fish. Guide caught an octopus. Saw a helmet shell conch “attacking” a sea urchin in slow motion. A huge algae spore, supposedly one cell.

Puako, Big Island, Hawaii. Just me with guide Benjamin from Ecotropic Divers. Dove next to Neil Young’s Hawaii house. First dive to 87 feet. A garden of eels next to the continental shelf. An extremely big fish looming in the background. Very mysterious. Spacey. I wanted to go deeper. The guide said the biig thing behind the eel garden was a giant puffer fish. Second dive 40 ft. Lava caves. Big trumpet fish, maybe 6 feet long. A big “7-11” crab. Nudibranch. A pair of mating humuhumunukunukuapua’a fish. Leaky mask, leaky octopus valve. Came out in breaking surf with guide, scary.

Tunnels beach, Kauai. Beach dive, guided by Craig of Hanalei Watersports. 40 ft. Stayed near the very first drop, about twenty feet from shore, the guide had a problem with a novice diver from Uzbekistan, she panicked, and repeatedly swam up to the surface. Water turbid. Rudy Jr. along, he got bored and poked his head into a cave. The guide got mad at everyone. He ended the dive and we still had 1,500 pounds of air. The worst dive ever, although fun to be doing it with Rudy Jr. I did see a nudibranch egg ribbon rose.

Tunnels beach, Kauai. With Justin of Ocean Quest (run by George and Jeanette), and one other certified diver. Justin was a surfer from UCSC. 50 ft/47 min. Tunnels wall and coves. 50 ft/61 min. Swam to reef outside of Tunnels. Used dive computer. Turtle sleeping on bottom. Banded coral shrimp—we tried to get it to crawl in our mouths and clean them. Spiny lobsters in a cave. “Spaceship Cave” at outer reef, shafts of light. Good neutral buoyancy. Nice dive.

Presidente Hotel, Cozumel, Mexico. 30 ft. Solo beach dive. Went fine. Sponges with fairy shrimp in the holes. An eagle ray 6 feet across and thick as a fox in the middle. Black leopard spots on beige upper side, white underside. Empty condos in hotel. Strong current. A sunken small barge. I need bifocal lenses in my dive mask, can’t see closer than 4 feet. Huge shoal of silver fish. The guide said, “There’s no thermocline here,” meaning that it stays warmer deeper.

Cozumel, Q. Roo, Mexico. Scuba Du divers. Guide Beto. 90 ft. Palomar reef. Big sponges, no fish, in and out of holes. Drift dive. 3,500 psi to 700. 50 ft. La Ciedra. Strong current. Wore gloves for warmth. 17 lb weight. Next time bring own wetsuit. Huge barracuda. Grouper, parrot fish. A turtle, a shark. Cloud of little fish over coral head with all kinds of sponges shaped like: cone, fingers, heart, puckered bumps, snakes. Imagine that all are cross-sections of a single 4D form.

Cozumel, Mexico. Solo beach dive at our hotel Presidente. 30 ft. Went down and hung out with some coral heads near the shore first thing in the morning. Wore two shorty wetsuits over each other and took 20 lb weight, too much, needed to inflate BC. Moray, peacock flounder, soft coral, anemones. Brittle sea stars inside vase sponges. Brought home an “empty” conch shell, but a pitiful hermit crab started peeking out, hours later, so I threw him back into the sea. A good house never stays unoccupied.

Cozumel, Q. Roo, Mexico. Scuba Du boat dive. Columbia wall. 95 ft. I was looking at the cool way a soft coral wiggled in the wake of my flipper kick, really grokking the chaotic compound pendulum action, then looked at my gauge and it was just this—round thing with marks on it—numbers? Couldn’t tell if they were right side up and didn’t care, and then I knew that I was narced, and I eased up to 90 or to 85 feet and “I” was back. Wonderful huge sponges. My buddy used up his air too fast, and we had to go up early. 60 ft. Shallow drift dive, across the undersea wall, close to the wall, like skiing or sledding, like a dream of flight. I kept stressing about air and time and my buddy’s air, watching him thrash and blow wasteful clouds of bubbles—as if I could control it, feeling also some concern for him and when he seemed too far ahead of the pack and began heading down into the depth, I tugged his fin to slow him down. A randomly assigned buddy, an auto wholesaler from Arlington, Texas, but I had this partners-in-combat tender concern for him. Had lunch with him and his wife afterwards. The quality of time in a dive is strange. There’s no goal, it’s drifty. Nothing to do but see. And hoard your air. Saw some beautiful queen angelfish.

Grand Turk Island, British West Indies Blue Water Dive ship, run by Mitch. Wall a quarter mile out of Cockburn Harbor. It drops from 40 ft to 1000 ft. Site of my first dive, some 25 years ago, the one I wrote about in my memoir All The Visions, where I nearly died or so I thought (mistakenly) for a few minutes. My nose was bleeding when I came up from our unwise dive to 100 ft with brother Embry, and our Viet-vet guide Paul told me it “It’s that air embolism I was warning you about. You only have a couple of minutes left.”). But this time it was no big deal, we went down to 60 ft. Only worry I had was that my overeager dive buddy wanted us to swim ahead out of sight of the guide. I didn’t let him lead me and he glared at me. An asshole. He used up all his air early on the 2nd dive, and then claimed that he only bailed out early because he didn’t want to pee in his wetsuit, which I doubt, as, realistically, who doesn’t pee in their wetsuit. Big deal. I saw some nice schools of tangs amid gorgonian sea fans, got a close look at some Christmas tree worms with my bifocal dive-mask lenses. The mask seems to leak, too bad. Wore a new shortie wetsuit and it was enough. Had an air problem myself on the first dive, sucked it up too fast. The 2nd dive I did fine. 40 lb weight.

Grand Turk Island. Did the McDonald Arch and the Sand River with Mitch of Blue Water Dives. The dives were 45 min to 85 feet and 60 min to 60 feet. Mitch warned me that some other divers had complained about seeing me touch the coral and the sponges. I hadn’t realized this was such an issue, but I essayed not to touch anything this time. At the end, sat at the base of a coral head, looking up at a school of ten thousand little fish, me flicking my fingers to influence their motions.

Grand Turk. Night dive. Blue Water Dives. The guide had an equipment problem and never got in the water, so it was fairly disorganized. 30-50 feet at the Library site. We had flashlights. It was cozy, not scary. Dark, calm, floating. Dreamy. Saw two Moray eels out of their holes, writhing along. Another diver’s Blue Water Dive pressure gauge blew out of its mount and all his air bubbled out. He wasn’t very deep, and just swam up. I saw a cute candy cane shrimp in a hidey-hole in the wall, like an off-duty nurse, gorgeous, alone at her apartment’s dining table.

Grand Turk with Blue Water Dive. Did the Tunnel site. The guide had problems with his boat anchor. We entered a reef hole at 50 feet, came out at 75 feet. Embry was my partner, he was worried about clearing his ears, I think he had a cold, but it went fine. This was near our “Rudy is dying dive” twenty-five years ago. This time we dived down to 80 feet, and jokingly tried to push each other deeper. I had plenty of air.

Lover’s Cove, Monterey, California. Bamboo Reef Dives. Beach dive, a tough schlep. One tank, one dive, 30 feet, 40 minutes. 34 pounds of weight. Stern, angry warnings from the seemingly obsessive diveshop owner not to pee in my rented wetsuit. Kelp forest, sea stars and some bagpipe-like creatures anchored at the bottom end and with two siphons.

Yap Island, Micronesia, South Pacific. Beyond the Reef divers. Dive trip with brother Embry. Main Channel. Shortie wetsuit over dive skin, warm enough, but 12 pounds of weight, not enough. 1 hour, 45 feet. Lionfish, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, Moorish idols (like angelfish), sea pen, clams in coral. I forgot to take off my BC when boarding after the dive. Rainy day, visibility so-so, not enough fish.

Yap Island, Mi’il Channel, with Embry, Beyond the Reef divers. Two dives. Looked for mantas at 80 feet by a “cleaning station” where wrasses wait to chew parasites off the big mantas. No mantas today. Drifted along wall. Gorgeous “china shop” of shelf coral, acres of plates, beige green yellow pink purple, with Zhabotinsky-scroll edges. Very strong current. On second dive, I drifted half a mile after I came up to the surface, towards the open sea, a boat chased me down. Nobody was very worried about this, other than me. School of big gray fish by the undersea cliffs.

Yap Island, me alone in an outboard with two guides who were chewing betel nut, they seemed fairly high Embry was off trying again to see some mantas. Shortie wetsuit, Aeroskin, 16 lb weights. I told my guides some of science-fiction plots and they liked that. Friendly guys. Two dives, both 70 feet max. Yap Caverns, Lionfish Wall, Gilman Wall. The caverns were really rifts and boulders. Bumphead parrotfish. Creamy white nudibranch with tendrils on its back. Schools of big jacks, a turtle, a shark, huge anenome with baby clown fish an eight of an inch long and with a larger parent guarding them.

Palau, which is a separate country from Micronesia. Sam’s Tours. Embry and I rode on a dive boat to the end of the Palau archipelago. First dive, Coral Garden: mostly dead coral, thanks to global warming. Second dive, Turtle Wall: lots of turtles. A big flat bat-fish, eating the turtle’s crap. A big shark very close to us at about 80 feet. Fast current. We were flying along the wall, as if riding bicycles. We hit a thermocline, very cold water. Exhilarating, wonderful dive. Lots of soft coral. We turned back when the current changed and rode it back to the boat. Ran my air down to 100.

2/18/ 2005
Palau, Sam’s Tours. Two dives. A wall. Then Blue Holes, an immense cathedral-like space under a reef. The guide showed us a flashy little bivalve that he called a disco clam.

Palau, Sam’s Tours, two dives. Again an hour’s boat ride each way. The first dive kind of a waste, looking for mantas who didn’t show. The second dive my best ever. Blue Corner. A whirlpool of big-eyed trevalleys far below us like a silver cyclone, the fish three and four feet long. Above us, outlined against the bright surface, a turtle and an eagle ray. Out to sea: dozens of sharks. Sublime. Infinite visibility. And on the way home we snorkeled Jellyfish Lake at the center of a tiny rock island. Millions of jellyfish in the sunlit algae-green water.

Pohnpei, Kingdom of Micronesia. Embry and I in a skiff belonging to the Palau Village Hotel with a guide Tomo and two other tourists. Cut through a harbor and then through mangroves via Dawahk Passage, hit open sea. School of eighteen sharks, excellent. Divemaster uptight about my air, he sent me up with 500 lbs. Pelang Passage, again a problem with the divemaster, he sent up up with 800 lbs. Big sea cucumbers with leopard spots.

Pohnpei. Embry and I with Palau Village Hotel guide and two others. Two big manta rays, 12 feet across, only 5 feet away from us, at a cleaning station, with the wrasses working on them. We watched for 30 minutes. Great. One of the manta crapped, and it diffused over us. Manta baptism. Second dive, shallow, drifting along a reef with fish and soft coral. Unspeakably beautiful and calm. No air pressure problems with guide today. 75 ft dive, came up with 100 lbs.

Grand Turk, Blue Water Divers. 16 lb. Two dives, guide Mitch testing me for Open Water certification. First is McDonalds arch, 90 ft. Light nitrogen narcosis. Buoyancy drops at depth, and you have to swim up rather than drifting deeper. Narcosis always brings with it a sensation of, “I’m not deep enough yet.” Second dive a navigation dive, using a compass and counting my kicks. Count the left kicks only. Fifty kicks is about 200 feet. An eel garden with perhaps a thousand of them, projecting up from the sand, wobbly. Good boxfish. Big barracuda. Climbing out I dropped my weights in 90 feet of water, let them go.

Grand Turk. 4/3 mil wetsuit over a dive skin. 16 pounds, 14 would have worked. A nature dive at Pillory Beach. Good step drop-off, schools of purple creole wrasses at 60 feet. Second dive, Coral Gardens. Gentle wall with five barracudas in a school. One by a vase sponge. I touched a food-begging grouper.

Grand Turk. South side. Dive computer, 4 mil suit and vest, it was cold. First dive 90 ft. Windmills Wall. Sponges, lobster, moray. Second dive, saw three dolphins at start. 85 feet. Cold. Piers of the new cruise ship dock at 60 feet.

Poor Knights Islands in New Zealand. Insanely cold water, 40 degrees. Wore a double wetsuit. Two dives. Saw sting rays, scorpion fish. Visibility terrible, about ten feet. Fifteen mile boat ride to the dive site. Mild cramps after the dive, the extreme cold was very stressful, I felt like I was going to die. Nearly puked on the bouncy ride back.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia. On a liveaboard with my wife for three nights, sailing out of Cairns. Saxon Reef. Two dives along the reef, one left, one right. 60 feet max, mostly 30. Sharks, turtle, giant clam. Scared on first dive that my brain would pop, or that I’d forgotten how to dive. All OK.

Great Barrier Reef. Pixie Pinnacle near Ribbon Reef. Dive 1: 60 ft, 45 min. A big cuttlefish, the size of a beagle. Veils of iridescent fish, like confetti. The Pixie Pinnacle is a solitary tower, we dove to the bottom and circled it as we rose upward, our paths like the stripes on a barber pole. Lots of fish, very bright. Dive 2: Cod Hole. Big fish. Rocky.

Great Barrier Reef. Challenger Bay. Night dive. 50 min. Great. Spawning coral, sea lice, little shrimp in the coral with red, reflective eyes. Hundreds of trevalleys following our flashlights. Numerous smallish giant clams. Brittle sea stars. Clownfish in an anenome in a reef. Parrot fish.

Great Barrier Reef. Pixie Wall. 80 ft, 45 min. Cold. Too much buoyancy. Another cuttlefish. Veils of fish. Along a wall low, came back high, ran out of air, floundering in choppy sea with partner, too tired to swim to dive boat, a small boat came to pick me up.

Interview: “User Interfaces of the Future”

The recent issue 13.2, June, 2013 of UX User Experience: The Magazine of the User Experience Professionals Association is on the theme SF and user interfaces. It includes interviews with me and with Bruce Sterling. You can see the table of contents for free online, but you would have to pay to join the UXPA in order to read the articles online—and you may want to.

In any case I’m free to publish the interview here myself, minus the UX edits. By the way, at any time, you can find nearly all of my email interviews in my massive compilation All the Interviews, which is now up to 382 questions long.

Anyway, here’s my version of the UX interview, with thanks to Aaron Marcus for providing the questions. (I’ll leave the Q & A numbers intact from my “All the Interviews” compilation.)

Q 377. You and fellow cyberpunk SF author Bruce Sterling were featured guest speakers in my plenary panel at CHI 1992, “Sci-Fi at CHI.” We talked about computer-human-interface design ideas in science-fiction. How has the SF scene evolved over the twenty years since then?

A 377. That was a fun con, Bruce and I shared a room. You guys had a reception in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Bruce and I were so impressed by the tanks of jellyfish that we ended up coauthoring “Big Jelly,” an SF story about giant flying jellyfish. You can find the story free online as a sample of my collection, Complete Stories, distributed via my publishing company, Transreal Books.

I see the eventual SF default as being a future in which every kind of manufactured object has been replaced by a tweaked plant or animal.

“Big Jelly” was in fact a step towards that future, in that it’s about biotweak tech rather than about silicon machinery. SF writers ought to be writing a lot of stories about biotech these days, but that hasn’t fully kicked in. There’s an atavistic drift back to space operas with giant metal ships. Like writing SF novels about chariots or wooden ships or giant cars.

A different trend is that during the last decade we saw a lot of hype about the so-called Singularity, some of it with a weirdly religious fervor. The concept is that pretty soon AI will strike it rich, and computers will be as smart as humans. And then we’ll beef up the smart computers with more memory and faster chips, and they’ll design even smarter computers—and we’ll get into one of these exponential growth things. True-believing overweight mouse-potatoes will have their arteries cleaned out by nanomachines, and they’ll upload their minds onto robot bodies—which is actually an idea that dates back to my 1982 novel, Software.

The rank and file SF writers were baffled and uneasy about the Singularity, and for awhile they were leery of writing about it. But then Charles Stross rose to the challenge in his trail-blazing novel, Accelerando, and the rest of us piled on. I even wrote a novel called Postsingular, just to leapfrog over the whole thing. The singularity is SF. We’re telling plausible lies. Postsingular is available in ebook, paperback, and a free Creative Commons edition.

Q 378. How has your own work changed in terms of user-experience issues, that is, novel ways in which computer-based communication and interaction are imagined and/or described?

Q 378. For a number of years I’ve been writing about an interface device that I call an “uvvy,” which is pronounced to rhyme with “lovey-dovey.” It’s made of piezoplastic, that is a soft computational plastic. Thomas Pynchon had a substance like this in his novel, Gravity’s Rainbow—he called it imipolex, and I use this word in, for instance, my novel Freeware, which is a part of the Ware Tetralogy, available in ebook, paperback, and in a free Creative Commons edition.

An uvvy sits on the back of your neck and interfaces with your brain via electromagnetic waves interacting with the spinal cord—most users will want to stay away from interface probes that stick into them like wires. The uvvy functions like a smart phone, but it’s activated by subvocal speech and mental commands. It sends sounds and images into your brain.

Q 379. What do you think about how SF movies and television convey user-experience innovations?

Q 379. The hoariest media cliché for user interfaces is the “face on the wall,” that is, a TV-screen-like image that’s talking to you. But even with Skype and FaceTime, people don’t really seem to very interested in videophone communication.

A rich voice signal is more intimate and expresses more. Speaking of voice, I think the greatest weakness in the current digital smartphone standard is that digital voice isn’t anywhere nearly as rich as analog voice. Often, to save channel capacity, the signal drops when you’re not talking. I feel the digital audio channel needs to be made several bytes fatter, and it needs to be a continuous connection so that you hear the stage-setting buzz of the background noise and—also very important—the sound of the other person’s breath.

You often see 3D hologram displays being used in movie visualizations, and these can be fun, although they don’t tend to age well. My favorite media interface scenes are in the 1995 movie Johnny Mnemonic, based on a William Gibson story of the same name. Keanu Reeves does these wonderful Japanese-theater-type hand-jive moves when he’s manipulating his cyberspace interface. I never understood why this movie wasn’t more popular.

[By the way, in his own interview in UX User Experience, Bruce Sterling mentions that there’s a similar—and better-known—use of gestural interface in the more recent film Minority Report.]

Q 380. Is there any particular aspect of current interface technology that you feel needs to be changed?

Q 380. It’s absurd to see people pecking at their tiny smartphone keyboards. This is so clearly a bad user interface. It’s unnatural, error-prone, isolating, and non-ergonomic.

If you’ve learned to touch type—and this should be a mandatory course in every middle school—then you can use a real keyboard without having to look at it. With a real keyboard, the words flow though your arms and onto the screen.

But there’s currently no good way to have a true keyboard on a smartphone. Sure, you can connect a portable full-size keyboard, but that’s kludgy. And you can, at least theoretically, have the device project a virtual keyboard onto your table top, but that’s going to have horrible ergonomics.

We need, I think, to take another step along the keyboard-virtualization route and get serious about having the device “see” the mock-keyboarding twitches of your fingers. At some point, a more ergonomic set of hand gestures could take hold. Along these lines, I think of the finger-squeezing interfaces that have been installed in the handle-grips of some experimental bicycles. Using your eight fingers gives you a byte per squeeze.

A different solution to the smartphone interface is to forget about hand gestures and go for voice recognition, and this technology seems to be maturing. One problem here is that you’re making noise in public, announcing texts that you might want to keep private. I do a lot of my writing on laptops in coffee shops, and I can’t imagine dictating my stories aloud—including all the corrections. I’d seem like a madman. Not that the people having cellphone conversations with earphones and dangling mikes don’t already seem dangerously insane. I suppose the next step might be to have the device lip read your subvocal speech, or pick up the vibrations from a throat mike.

I also need to say something about pointing devices—mice, track-balls, and touchpads. Over time, using any of these devices intensively is hideously damaging to your body—ask any author or programmer. It’s like a silent, unacknowledged industrial disease that attacks a relatively powerless underclass. Like black lung used to be for miners. We’ve seen demos where a computer camera tracks your eye movements and lets you point by looking. I don’t understand why this feature isn’t being perfected and rushed to market for every desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone.

With all this said, I have a feeling that there’s some as-yet-unimagined solutions that we’ll be using in twenty or thirty years. Possibly we’ll get to an uvvy-style direct brain interface. But for sure we won’t be pecking at smartphone keys and ruining our bodies with computer mice.

Q 381. What kind of user interface are you using in your latest novel Turing and Burroughs?

A 381. Telepathy. For me, that’s the gold standard, the interface that we’re really working towards. At a metaphorical level, telepathy stands for the dream of being perfectly understood by your friends and lovers. And we’re always getting closer.

Even though we tend to ignore this, even print is a first step towards telepathy, but time-delayed. You read this interview and you know what I’m thinking. The phone is another step. You’re speaking and listening to someone who’s far away. Speech is very intimate, very close to the roots of the mind.

An interesting aspect of full telepathy is that you can communicate info in a hyperlink style. When I have a big image to share, I don’t email the whole image, I simply send a hyperlink to the image’s location, and let the user find the image there. With telepathy, instead of wrestling some complicated thought pattern into words, you might simply send a trusted friend a “hyperlink” to the location of this thought within your brain. And possibly they can connect to you and experience the thought as if they’re having it themselves. Note also that with this style of communication no longer need to break down an image into RGB bytes, nor need you code a thought into words.

I’ve put telepathy into any number of my novels, using all sorts of SFictional gimmicks to make it work. In Turing and Burroughs, my characters experience a communicable biological mutation that makes them sensitive to a certain type of brain-generated wave. Also they can shapeshift into giant slugs and have great beatnik orgies.

As with many of my books, Turing and Burroughs is available in paperback, ebook, and free CC editions. Putting out my content. Building my brand.

[Photo by Sylvia Rucker]

Q 382. In the movie The Graduate (1967), the young hero is urged to focus on the future based on one word: plastics. If you were to guide newcomers to the world of the future, what would that one word be?

A 382. One word? Telepathy. Or a reasonable facsimile thereof. At least in terms of user interfaces.

In the tech realm, the answer is surely biotech.

And for a creative person trying to make a living, the key word might be disintermediation, that is providing your creative content directly to consumers. Self publishing, in other words. When you’re distributing things on the web, you want to avoid the various parasitic entities that might leech onto your slim income.

So, regarding the future, I’m suggesting that you be a creative content provider, and that you manage the distribution yourself. DIY, as the punks used to say.

Gubs and Wormholes

I finished a new painting called “Gubs and Wormholes” this weekend, and I’m currently planning to use it on the cover of my novel The Big Aha. If I manage to raise a little more money, I’ll try and organize an art show and a launch party.

Draft Cover for The Big Aha based on “Gubs and Wormholes,” oil on canvas, July, 2013, 22” x 22”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

On Friday I got started on the final “Mother and Father” chapter of The Big Aha. The mother/father pair is:
(a) My married-couple characters Jane & Zad,
(b) My character Zad’s Mom & Dad,
(c) The green gub & the spotted gub shown in the cover image.

All three options at the same time. Plus the transreal echoes into my own life. It’s coming together very heavy and strange.

Just a few more scenes to write. And I know, more or less, what’s going to happen—although, as I always say, I never fully know until I’ve written the scenes. A novel-in-progress has its own hidden life.

I was influenced last week by Stephen King’s excellent novel 11/22/63, which has a lot of synchronicities and overlays. It’s a 340,000-word time-travel novel, and the hero keeps running into heavy harmonies. Here’s a nice passage where the narrator reacts to an intense coincidence:

“…when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? … A universe … surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”

Dancing with who? Your loved ones and your muse—but look out for the dragon.

Full Summer. Home Stretch of THE BIG AHA.

I’m on the home stretch of my novel The Big Aha. Getting great support from my Kickstarter backers. Very stoked.

I’ve been averaging 300 words a day for about a year, which means I’m up to 95,000 words, with the final target probably 100,000 words. I track these things, like a miser counting his coins. The 300 word average means that, on good days, I write 1,000 words, but there’s plenty of days when I don’t write at all.

Just a few more scenes to write. And I know, more or less, what’s going to happen—although I never fully know until I’ve written the scenes. The book has its own life.

I like to print out my latest draft and then maybe lie on a camping mat in a shady spot in the backyard marking it up and scribbling out a new scene. Then type that in, maybe on my laptop on the couch, print it out, and repeat the cycle.

I just finished Chapter 14: Churchill Downs. Featuring that giant “myoor” creature I painted last week. I did about ten or fifteen type/print/mark-up cycles on that chapter. Scribbled & typed papers accumulating like drifts of snow. When I totally can’t face the stress/joy of writing anymore, I get into a painting, go biking, go to SF, or go to Four Mile Beach north of Santa Cruz, photo above.

It’s full-on summer here in Silicon Valley. July. The very heart of it. I love this month. The yottawatt sun! Lurking inside in the afternoons, with the attic fan drawing up air from the cool basement.

On the over-98-degree days, we crank up the central AC for a couple of hours. But I don’t like AC. Makes me feel like I’m riding in an airplane. Or deaf. In Robotic Mode instead of Cosmic Mode—as the qrude characters say in The Big Aha.

I’ll go out for walks in the dizzy heat, just for the intensity of it.

Talking to the plants and digging the gnarl. Clouds—can you imagine how excited people would be about clouds if for some reason they were rare and hard to see? All the things Nature gives us for free. If I can remember to see them.

Still happy about our blessed week in Hawaii. North Shore of Oahu. I’ve been emailing with my old Surfing-SF-story collaborator Marc Laidlaw. Maybe I’ll have time for more “Tales of the Tube” after The Big Aha.

Back at Santa Cruz’s Four Mile Beach here in this picture. I often think of this spot as being where my muse lives. It’s near a stone tower at the south end of the beach. I always like to go here and write EADEM MUTATA RESURGO in the sand, which means “The same, yet changed, I arise again.” That’s an inscription on the gravestone of a mathematician, Jakob Bernoulli, who studied a famous type of spiral curve (the logarithmic spiral seen on seashells such as the nautilus, or the humble snails). It also appears in my novel Frek and the Elixir. For me, it’s an encouragement for writing yet another novel. Since Frek, I tend to write in the wet sand at a beach pretty much every time I’m working on a novel. Good luck…or an invocation of the muse.

In good old California it always cools off at night. Love it when I’m out at Santa Cruz in the evening. If I’m at home, I’ll often do one or two more mark-up/type/print cycles on a lounge chair in back. Obsessive cycles of work…you kind of need to get that way to actually finish a book.

Obsessive or not, I’m really having a good time with my characters and my settings and my aliens these days. I love the things they say. And—oh those gubs! I’ll miss the whole gang when I’m done. On the other hand, it’s been a long haul, and I’ll be glad to sail my whaling ship into port. Laden with gub oil, scrimshaw and ambergris.

Illustrating THE BIG AHA. “The Mr. Normals vs. The Myoor”

I finished another painting for my novel today, more info here: The Big Aha project. The new picture’s title is The Mr. Normals vs. The Myoor.

“The Mr. Normals vs. the Myoor,” oil on canvas, July, 2013, 24” x 18”. Click for a larger version of the image.

The picture has to do with a scene in the closing chapters of The Big Aha. My character Zad has created some creatures called Mr. Normals whom Zad has now sicced upon a sinister giant alien slug called a myoor. The myoor looks scared of them, which is good.

I made the Mr. Normals look like Gyro Gearloose’s Little Bulb in the old Donald Duck comics.

The other day I watched this very heavy Mexican SF movie called Sleep Dealer, which the cool Tucson artist Daniel Martin Diaz turned me onto recently. (Check out Diaz’s amazingly cyberdelic forthcoming book Soul of Science.)

The Sleep Dealer film’s is partly about the US taking advantage of Mexican workers. And the myoor is kind of flowing down across a border, and my Zad character looks kind of Latino in this painting, and I was also thinking about cross-border ethnic conflict here, so at another level the picture is a political parable…not that I would have a clear idea of what the Mr. Normal / Little Bulb figures would stand for under that interpretation.

But primarily the painting is about the events in The Big Aha. The way I painted Zad relates to two earlier paintings of him which I’ll reprint below, Louisville Artist and Night of Telepathy.

“Louisville Artist,” oil on canvas, October, 2012, 24” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the image.

The way I painted the Louisville artist is kind of a self-deprecating joke about my personal self-image, or about the public’s image of artists or writers.

I mention Louisville because I was born there and lived there till I was 17, at which point my parents moved away and I went off to college. The Big Aha novel is in fact set in Louisville. Those tall things in the background are “house trees” that people inhabit in the biotech future.

What about the woman? She’s the girlfriend, Loulou, whom Zad takes up with during a period of separation from his wife. I had fun giving Loulou a really odd hair-do. Kind of Princess Leia thing.

“Night of Telepathy,” oil on canvas, November, 2012, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the image.

In this painting we see Zad and Loulou spending a night together in telepathic contact. What about those rats? Well, there happen to be a lot of intelligent rats in The Big Aha, thanks to “quantum wetware.”

And it’ll all seem perfectly logical in the end…

Hylozoic in Hawaii

Dig this 4 minute video that a UK guy made to illustrate one of my public talks about hylozoism.

You may or may not know that (a) I published a novel called Hylozoic, and (b) that hylozoism is an actual honest-to-goodness official Wikipedia-listed word meaning the philosophical view that everything is alive and conscious.

The guy who made the new “Hylozoism” cartoon video is named Andy Simon, and he’s a recent graduate of Bath Spa University in Bath, England. The audio for the video is drawn from five videos of me that Andy unearthed. He hails from Weymouth, and is presently applying to film schools.

Quite awesomely, Andy uses old toons that feature living objects—and cartoons like this were a huge influence on me as a kid. Synchronistically enough, the video ends with me talking about “the big aha”! A nice poke in the ribs from the divine muse, that. Given that I’m spending all my time these days working to finish my next novel, The Big Aha.

My family and I were on the North Shore of Oahu early this month, fourteen strong, with the kids, the spouses and the grandkids. I have a bunch of photos from there, and I’ll run a few of them today and, here and there, point out some hylozoism connections.

Banyan trees are fairly common on Oahu, I love these things, how they spread out and send now new trunks. They’re the very image of a futuristic biotech house that grows itself. We spent a couple of days in Honolulu, near a park just after Waikiki Beach, and quite a few homeless people were living in this park—specifically, many of them were making the banyan trees their home. Despite Hawaii’s image as a vacation paradise, they have a very large homeless population. One guy told me that Hawaii doesn’t really have a middle class. A few rich people and a lot of poor people.

Anyway the Honoluluans use the park for all kinds of things. I saw a yoga class there as well.

Up on the North Shore, it’s all about surfing. You see surfers doing yard work or working as gardeners just so they can live there, waiting for the Banzai Pipeline type surf in the winter. Saw this cool surf shop in Hale’iwa.

We were staying in fairly old and beat-up bunch of cottages, very calm and mellow with nothing but a couple of super high palm trees between us and the beach.

Add in a sunset, and oh, baby.

One day we went to the Waimea Falls park, right by Waimea Beach, famed for it’s forty foot waves.

The park had all these great plants. The plants that sit around in bank lobby or top of your fridge or on your bathroom counter—those plants are dreaming of going to the tropics and getting big.

This one tree was all covered with thorns, scientific name Bombacopsis Quinata. Common name Don’t Climb Me.

I like how this heliconia looks like a tropical bird or fish. Everything alive in teh same kind of way. I was kind of lost in the park for half an hour, dazed by the heat and humidity, intoxicated by the scents of flowers, wandering around very very very slowly. Like a butterfly. Everything alive, even the rocks. Paradise.

The actual Waiamea falls were great. We were about the first people of the day to get up there. Some mellow Hawaiian rangers/surfers were there to give us all life-jackets. We swam across a deep rocky pool to this hundred foot waterfall pounding into the pool. With some effort you could get under the fall, find handholds in the rock, and pull yourself up so that your head went through the waterfall and maybe a little further to the legendary breathing space behind the fall. Where gnomes always hid their gold.

I hung in there for a very long and wonderful minute, letting the water pound onto my skull and my shoulders, and it felt like time rushing past, like a cascade of thoughts and memories, like fire, like the big aha and the White Light.

When I get out, I feel really high and wonderful. I babbled a little about it to one of the cool young guys handing out life jackets, telling him that I’d seen everything in the falls, and he looked at me closely and nodded. “You saw the fire?” he said, then added, “I’ve seen it too. They used to build ritual fires on a platform in there.” He gave me a friendly, brotherly nudge and sent me on my way.

A little later I saw the same guy, walking along talking and laughing with a black Hawaiian woman who was the exact image of a guide named Rayna who’d been with my group on what was one of the very best days of my life, kayaking in the rock islands of Palau near Micronesia, see my old post on this.

“Jake and Rayna start dancing and chanting, crouched, facing each other, their hands shaking in their air, slapping their thighs, vital and joyous as a pair of indestructible cartoon characters. Archetypes.”

So, elated as I was from Waimea falls, and seeing this Rayna look-alike talking with the guy who’d seen the fire in the falls like me, man, it was like seeing a pair of gods some down to Earth, or making themselves visible to me, just for a few minutes, the divine reality a part of my day.

Hylozoic, man. The boulder and the tree.

Full Illustrations For THE BIG AHA

So, cool, the Kickstarter funding for The Big Aha is still going up. Yeah, baby! I’m casting off the shackles of the conventional pub biz.

I’ve formulated a new goal, which is to include an illustration for each of the book’s thirteen or fourteen chapters. This is the kind of thing I’d never be allowed to do with a commercial publisher. But I’ve looked at the production costs and my goal is entirely feasible.

My plan is that The Big Aha will include about fifteen of my paintings as illustrations, one per chapter, plus one on the cover.

So now I’m planning for several new paintings. But—not to kill myself with overwork—I’m going to repurpose some of my older paintings as well. I might use the Big-Aha-vision-type painting above, for instance, which is titled He Sees The Fnoor. Is that a Mandelbrot set in the sky? Or…maybe it’s an alien gub!

Here’s another type of Big-Aha-vision painting that I want to use. This one’s called Dawn. It’s a painting of my wife early in the morning on our back porch. It’s a Zen type of Big-Aha-vision painting—where the Great Enlightenment is right in front of you, if only you can learn to see it.

But don’t worry, I’ll have plenty of gnarly SF-style illos as well! Like the one I’m working on right now—this one’s called The Mr. Normals Versus The Myoor. I’ll let you have a look at it when it’s a little further along. This particular painting will be useful for me, as it’s a previsualization of what I’m going to write in the next chapter.

What’s a Mr. Normal like? Well, he’s a biotech robot akin to Gyro Gearloose’s assitant, Li’l Bulb. Has a lightbulb for his head. What’s a myoor? You’ll see.

Kickstarter Hits Target! “A Gub On Her Bed.”

My Kickstarter campaign to fund my next novel The Big Aha is coming along well—and many thanks to my backers. With any luck we may pass my targeted goal this week. [Update: We passed the target of $7,000 on June 25, 2013.]

Like a door opening up in the heavens! A glorious tunnel in the sky to Parnassus.

Last year I figured out the mechanics of making a novel into an ebook and a print book and getting it distributed online and even in few bookstores. It’s a more complex process than I realized at first—I put most of what I learned about making ebooks into a series of 4 blog posts, “How To Make Ebooks #1 – #4”. And with some trace of irony, I combined this material and cleaned it up a bit to make an ebook called How To Make An Ebook. And making a print book with InDesign is a whole other story, but I’ll blog about that at some later time.

Anyway, the point that I want to make today is that, once you know how to make and distribute your own ebook and print books, one of the main things you’d still want to have a publisher for is to pay you an advance on the royalties for your expected sales.

But, with any luck, Kickstarter lets you sidestep this need. Given that all of my backers will get an ebook of THE BIG AHA (and in some cases an paper copy as well), I am in effect doing advance sales. So in some ways the process is very similar to getting an advance from a publisher.

My readers are in effect my publisher now—and they’re kindly paying me my advance. With no intermediaries. Even better, they’re offering me more than precise remunerations for the goods offered, they’re open-handedly and generously encouraging me to continue my work by paying extra. So there’s an element of getting a grant here too.

I was discussing some of these issues with the writer Tim Pratt last month and he used a word I like. Disintermediation. As in, “Electronic publication really calls for disintermeditation.” That is, selling your creations as directly as possible to your consumers. With fewer and fewer intermediaries.

Sketch for “A Gub On Her Bed.”

Enough biz for the moment.

I have some creatures called gubs in The Big Aha . They appeared fairly early in my novel—I wrote about them in blog post called “Gubs and Raths” in November, 2012. At that point I just viewed as insignificant pests, on a level with dogs or pet pigs or rabbits.

But now, as I’m moving into the final chapters of my novel, I’m realizing that the gubs are incredibly powerful alien beings—very nearly at the level of gods. And I’m trying to get a clearer mental image of them.

So I made a nice lively sketch as shown above, kind of funny, at least to my eyes, messy, it only took a minute or two, and now I’m trying to translate that into an oil painting.

Draft #1 of Painting for “A Gub On Her Bed.”

What’s going on here is that a spotted gub is sitting on the bed in the apartment where my woman hero Jane lives. And Jane’s husband Zad is visiting, and they’re looking with some dismay at the fairly grubby gub on Jane’s bed. The spotted gub’s name is Duffie. They want him to leave.

This is only the first draft of the painting, and, yes, I know it doesn’t look that great yet. It’ll take maybe three more sessions to finish it. The gub looks funnier in the sketch with the slack neck and kind of looking over his shoulder; I want to put more texture into the wallpaper; give the gub some little paws; Zad and Jane should look livelier; there ought to be some object in the upper right corner like maybe a mobile or possibly a tiny distant gub seen through the window. A gubbess.

“A Gub On Her Bed,” oil on canvas, June, 2013, 24” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the image.

So okay, on June 25, 2013, I got the third, and final, version done. Having two people made too much clutter, so I cut it down to just the woman and the gub. And I put a girl gub out there in the sky, she’s green, her name is Sedusa.

I always like the idea of a painting that seems like an illustration of some unknown proverb or fable. At a metaphorical level, the gub might symbolize some kind of marriage problem.

By the way, you can get paintings of mine as rewards for the higher levels of pledging to my Kickstarter for The Big Aha . If I raise enough money, I plan to make a nice new edition of my art book, Better Worlds. And I want to do some more paintings relating to the novel.

One more shift of gears in today’s post.

An issue which one of my backers raised is the question of whether I would miss having an editor—which is one of the other things that a publisher provides.

With commercial publishing in the underfunded state that it is, an author often gets very little in the way of editorial comments anymore. My sense is that the editors are mostly focused on acquisition and on promotion, and they tend not to have much time for tweaking your book.

This said, on many books, I’ve gotten a few telling remarks that really did make a difference. But over the years, I’ve been getting less advice all the time. Possibly at this point, with the experience I have, I don’t need so much editing advice anymore—maybe having an editor is more important when you’re starting out. This said, I do know there’s a danger of an unedited author letting his or her work bloat and become fatuous.

A simple editing option for indies is to show a draft of the book manuscript to a few trusted personal friends whose judgment you trust, friends who are willing to take the time you read your manuscript. Pretty much any kind of comment can be useful. You don’t have to do everything your friends suggest, but if something confuses them or throws them off, then it’s often pretty easy to fix it. And if you feel too unsure of what you’ve done, you can hire a freelance literary editor, although here you may be getting into dangerous waters, that is, you might pay a lot for advice that’s not necessarily very useful.

Whatever! My big issue right now is to write a few more scenes about Zad, Jane and the gubs!

Kickstarter For THE BIG AHA

The big news today is that I’ve launched a Kickstarter project to fund the publication of The Big Aha, the novel I’ve been working on for roughly a year. I’m already getting a good response—and thank you for that, dear backers—so I’m optimistic that the project will be funded. Thanks also to Mark Frauenfelder for mentioning the project on BoingBoing, which is a huge help.

I plan to publish The Big Aha with my own Transreal Books. I’ll probably use one of my paintings on the cover, maybe the one above, which I call The Lovers, and which depicts the notion of telepathy. I’m still doing some more paintings relating to the book, so it’s not certain I’ll use this one.

Now, I probably could have placed The Big Aha with a commercial publisher—but that’s been getting harder over the last few years, with longer waits, more anxiety, less promotion, less actual editing, less proofreading and smaller advances. Less fun. We’re in a phase shift time, a transition from one era to another. From thuddy dinosaurs to nibbling mammals, maybe.

Going totally indie like this, I feel like I’m escaping into a promised land. Doing the Kickstarter move gives me renewed enthusiasm about making a final push to finish The Big Aha. I’ve been working on it off and on for over a year. I wrote the first two chapters early in 2012, and then spent seven months learning how to self-publish, then I got back into The Big Aha in the fall of 2012. And now I’m pretty near the end. I’ve been really pushing on the book all spring, and it’s been a little draining.

Something else I want to mention today is that I had a big interview in this month’s issue of Locus, the magazine of the SF & fantasy field. I’ve reprinted the story’s lead pages above, and you can read some excerpts free online. As it happens, some of the things I talked about in the interview were The Big Aha , self-publishing, and the option of using Kickstarter to raise funds for a book launch.

The interview is by Liza Groen Trombi, who also took the photo of me. Francesca Myman designed the illo, putting one of my paintings in the background. Thanks, guys! And thanks to the younger writer Tim Pratt, also of Locus, who gave me some much-needed encouragement about attempting a Kickstarter.

“Ant and UFO,” oil on canvas, May, 2013, 20” x 16”. Click for a larger version of the image.

One last thing. Near the end of May, I took a couple of days off from the writing and did a quick little painting Ant and UFO—the usual suspects. To start with, I searched the web for good images of ants and I found a nice clear drawing in an exterminator’s ad. After I’d painted the ant, I wasn’t sure at first about what else to put in, and then I had the idea of having a tiny UFO—I love paintings UFOs, they’re easy to paint, and they carry a lot of symbolic weight. The ant’s body was at an odd angle, and I had the idea of having her standing on three blades of grass, which made for a nice composition.

The last few weeks I’ve been planning the final chapters of The Big Aha, and gearing up for the Kickstarter launch. Feeling like a chicken with his head cut off, a little bit. Maybe I’ll take a break and do another painting today. I’ve got these meddling semi-divine beings called “gubs” in The Big Aha, and I’d like to paint one of them who’s sitting on a bed in the apartment of my characters Zad and Jane’s apartment, and they kind of wish he’d leave, as he’s a fairly grungy gub, a little like a dappled Gloucestershire pig with a pointed anteater nose.

The Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton

I mentioned that I went to watch the Science Fiction Writer’s of America Nebula Awards meeting in downtown San Jose last week. Right next door in the San Jose convention center was a comics convention, with a hundred times as many people attending.

Some women had dressed up and were hanging out outside the paying entrance to the con so people could talk to them and take their pictures. Being stars. A vintage comix con scene. A guy was dressed up like a bull called Bull-It. Also vintage. Often we have people like this mixed in with the writers and editors at SF cons, but this time we were at separate meetings.

I’ve been out hiking pretty often around my neighborhood lately, beating cross-country through brush up towards St. Joseph’s hill above Los Gatos. I’m using my new wide-angle lens a lot. It takes very sharp images, so I can crop down to, like, tiny postage stamp area out of a picture to get surveillance-style photo like this. Afghanistan on Route 17!

When I get to the top of the hill, and it’s a steep, long climb, I lie down under this one particular tree and mark up my latest print-out of plans or text from my nearly finished novel The Big Aha. I call this my “field office.” I’m so exhausted by the time I get up here that the ground feels incredibly comfortable, and my mind is empty, and I’m happy.

Another surveillance image, this one is a pair of free binoculars near the observatory up at the Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton near San Jose.

The first part of the Lick Observatory was finished in 1888. This building has an old-school refractor (with lenses) telescope installed. This guy James Lick paid for it, he’d wanted to have a pyramid larger than the Pyramid of Giza erected in his memory on a full city block in San Francisco, but the city fathers nixed it.

The over-a-century-old scope is kind of beautiful against the ribbing of the dome. The scientists don’t actually use it anymore, they have a more modern reflecting telescope up there they use instead.

We went up there the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend—our concept was not to do the obvious thing and to drive to the beach in Santa Cruz—this way we didn’t have any traffic probs. But there were a zillion bicyclists riding up the 4,000 fee to the observatory. People are so intense about exercise anymore, I wonder why that is.

In any case, they were having fun. And then they got to do an insanely long coast downhill.

There’s a bunch of other domes for ‘scopes up on Mt. Hamilton. Pushing up like puffball mushrooms.

The big reflector ‘scope is in this vaguely Art Deco building, nobody around in the daytime, with the ‘scope behind a glass wall. I like the single word PULL here.

Click for a larger version of “The Theory of Everything.”

Inside the building I got a wide-angle picture in the entrance hall that I really like. I call this “The Theory of Everything,” my idea being that we have all of these very precisely located and well-describable object arranged just so in this clear-cut space, and there’s a curious domain wall beyond which is the bright-matter zone called outdoors, with a car particle visible. But here inside the dim ocher room, our system works. You can even see a water fountain particle, as predicted by our theory.

The had this one cute little dome, the Automated Planet Finder, and it looked like Sonic the Hedgehog with a Mohawk.

Later we parked halfway down Mt. Hamilton and walked a bit along a trail off the “Two Gates” point in Grant Park, and I saw this amazing Oriental-tapestry-type oak tree. Having left my superduper theory-of-everything 5D camera in the car, I took a lo-res surveillance photo with my smart phone that sort of captures the idea, after I tweaked it like a mofo in Lighroom. But I still want to go back there and really nail the image for my as-yet-incomplete report on this zone of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Golden Gate Bridge, Futurism, & the SF Biz

My wife and I were up at the Marin headlands and at the Cavallo Point Lodge in the Fort Baker Park this week.

It was a conference sponsored by the Institute for the Future (IFTF), and organized by David Pescovitz. A lot of corporations and agencies sent people to join in discussions with futurists of IFTF about the coming age of “Networked Matter.” Pescovitz had the great idea of getting six SF writer to write stories about this theme, and he bound them into a little book. The stories will, I believe, appear on the BoingBoing web site as well, and at that point I’ll link to my story, called “Apricot Lane.”

I’d never known this little park exists, it’s off Alexander Road, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I had fun walking around taking photos.

The tack I took in my story is that it wouldn’t be good for us if all objects were in some way linked to the web, endowed with a bit of AI, and able to communicate. As I put it in my story, “Everything in the world was on the make. Everything was potentially a bully, a snitch, a shopkeeper, a do-gooder, a scammer, a marketeer, an enemy, a beggar, a bore, a landlord.”

The Golden Gate Bridge itself is a networked object now. It looks at your license plate and debits your account for the cost of a toll. In my story I was imagining that even sidewalks might start doing this. Exacting a micropayment for each step on the civic concrete. If you’re broke, you walk on the dirt at the edges. Otherwise some freelance social workers might come after you to earn some payments for themselves.

Mark Frauenfelder of BoingBoing was at the networked matter conference for a bit, I had lunch with him, it was good to reconnect. He was in town for the Maker Faire. I actually used to have a column in BoingBoing when it was a print zine, like 25 years ago.

After the networked matter do, I went to Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) Nebula awards in San Jose, kind of a random whim. I haven’t been a dues-paying member of SFWA for many years, but the event was handily nearby. I did the dinner and awards and all; I went mainly for the schmoozing. Saw some old friends—Terry Bisson, Stan Robinson, Dave Hartwell, Karen Joy Fowler, Sheila Williams, Greg Benford. Didn’t manage to talk to many younger writers.

After 20 or so novels and some 70 published stories, I’ve never even been nominated for a Nebula, so attending the awards event wasn’t the best thing for my mental serenity.

In any case, Bob Silverberg did a very nice job of hosting, with many jokes and jabs. It felt vaguely like the Golden Globes awards, with the audience around dinner tables. And, when Gene Wolfe was given the SFWA Grandmaster award he give a very touching acceptance speech, about his perennial worries about being liked or admired as a writer, and how he opens up his old books now and then, and thinks peacefully to himself, “Yes, this … this is a good book.” And at his level, he’s bummed that he never got a Hugo. There’s always a next floor.

Sitting at the banquet, I realized it’s very likely I never will get the SFWA Grandmaster award myself, but it really doesn’t matter, get that through your head, Rudy, be happy for the things you have.

Good things: I’m almost done writing The Big Aha. And I’ll have a cover story interview in the June issue of Locus , the magazine of the SF and fantasy field.

The writing’s been really enjoyable lately. Writing a novel means facing blank canvas every day, for hundreds of days, every day it’s impossible, but somehow you do it.

And in some sense, the novel is writing you. The world, or the muse, or the muse-in-the-world dances with you to the rhythms of the work. And you have something fun to think about, a mental world to visit.

And then you’re done, and out of Eden, and trying to peddle the thing once again, and it’s just a stack of paper, a slew of bytes. And I’m now segueing into that stage. Less enjoyable than writing! But interesting in it’s own way.

If all else fails, there’s always the self-publishing option, which I took with my last novel, Turing & Burroughs.

A new wrinkle on self-pub or small-press-pub is that you can try to raise something like a book advance via Kickstarter. I’ve been intrigued by the recent successful Kickstarters launched by the talented young writer Tim Pratt, like this one he did for a Marla Mason novel.

It’s a strange new landscape in publishing. The Berlin Wall is falling down…

Photo Clearance

More photo clearance today with whatever comments come into my head.

I like how the wideangle lens has so much depth of field. That five-sided mirror has always caught my fancy. Almost like something you’d see in a ghost story. There was a time in high-school when I’d seen too many scary episodes of “Outer Limits” that I was scared of things coming out of mirrors. And of disembodied hands.

This is out past Four Mile beach north of Santa Cruz. Wide open. You walk a ways along this cliff and you see a lot of seals.

A very deserted spot, this cliff north of Four Mile. As soon as the seals heard me taking a picture, a lot of them began humping into the water. Love the babies, the size of dachshunds.

This one is quite an old photo, of a table-top steam engine, built for fun or for teaching, spotted in the wonderful and quaint Museum of the History of Scientific Instruments in the Perle Du Lac park by Lake Geneva in Switzerland.

In old Manhattoes in a snowstorm, and the buildings looming.

(This name for Manhattan was in fashion in the late 1880s, see Herman Melville, in Moby Dick: “There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs — commerce surrounds it with her surf.”)

The prickly pear in our backyard cactus garden. I actually brought in a single pad of this cactus after a visit to Maui about eighteen years ago. The pad’s been very slowly growing out new pads, but recently I moved the plant out of a pot and into the garden it’s been going wild. Love that tasty green color in the small pad.

I don’t know if I mentioned that my autobiography, Nested Scrolls, is out in paperback as well as hardback and ebook now. I could use a few more comments on the Amazon page for the book, so if you liked it and have a spare moment…

Just recently I came across a great review of the book by Rob Latham in the LA Review of Books.

Some of son Rudy’s welded college-days artwork on the back porch. These pieces are old friends by now.

You can’t go wrong photographing the Flatiron Building in old Manhattoes. One of my irregular pilgrimages to the offices of Tor Books.

In certain moods, almost anything I look at seems worth photographing. Especially when I’m playing with a new lens!

Gnarl All Around

I’ve accumulated a backlog of photos to blog, but I don’t have any long essay-type thoughts today. All my energy is going into The Big Aha, which is about 80% done. I’m pushing pretty hard on it. During the closing phase of a finishing the first draft of a novel, I sometimes think of a predator who’s wounded his or her prey, and is now crashing through the underbrush, frantic to finish the hunt. Blood-lust writing frenzy.

I got a new wide-angle lens the other day, a Canon 24 mm. I’d been making do with an old Leica lens on my Canon body, but the old lens didn’t have autofocus, nor image stabilization, nor did the automatic metering work with it. I will say that the Leica glass has a certain creamy warm quality that I like. But the Canon lens in incredibly sharp.

So I walk around my house photographing pieces of it. Like this banister. Not that every photo I’m running today is shot with the wideangle lens.

My usual morning regimen, is to do yoga on a mat in the back yard and correct a printout. At full resolution, this text is readable, thanks the new lens’s image stabilization, but maybe not readable in this shrunken rez. Lying in the back yard on a nice morning while crafting some prose is about my favorite activity.

This photo’s taken with the Leica lens, and it has the creamy texture. Every hat is a UFO.

I’m writing all day, and in the evenings I like to get away from the printed word, so we’ve been watching more Netflix than usual, a mixture of streaming and DVD. Finished off the second season of The Hour, a nice BBC show, although I have to turn on subtitles for shows like this, otherwise I miss about 30% of the dialogue. The Lillyhammer series isn’t bad either.

Switched over to a 100 mm zoom lens for this photo last night. As spring rolls on, there’s different cadres of bugs that turn up, all of them hatching at the same time. These guys were on the globes of our street lamp, making me think of astronauts on a moon.

The 100 mm lens is, for reasons I don’t quite understand, categorized as a “macro” lens, meaning you can do super close-ups. Hard to go wrong when you’re shooting a rosebud, although the depth of field is only a few millimeters deep and I have to click at the right moment to catch the image I want, given that my body is never quite still. Love the “bokeh” here, that is, the out-of-focus quality of the background.

The sun comes up really bright these days, blasting flat across Silicon Valley into my garage and bounces great caustic curve light splashes off my car. I looked up how bright the sun is, viewed as a lightbulb, and it’s said to be about 300 or 400 septillion watts. The prefix for septillion is “yotta,” in the same sense that “tera” means trillion. There’s an official committee that decides these things. So the sun is a 300 yottawatt bulb. Or, as a waggish friend commented, one might shop for a energy-saver 60 yottawatt sun.

I try to get out into the hills every couple of days, I never get enough of nature. Free gnarl. I think this is a eucalyptus trunk, they grow with a spiral grain, which makes them stronger I think. Last night it was really windy here, and the eucs were waving like seaweed. Always nice to be reminded that we live at the bottom of an ocean of air.

Sometimes I go hiking with my neighbor Gunnar. He’s originally from Norway and still has quite an accent—you have to know him for awhile in order to easily understand what he’s saying. He’s close to eighty, and is livelier and fitter than me. He never goes to what I could call “a real doctor,” preferring various kinds of Indian or Chinese healers. Seems to be working for him.

Gunnar and I were down at the foot of a waterfall in Castle Rock park, which is only about s twenty minute drive from my house. Incredible that I only go there once every year or two. It’s such a great place. What do I have to do that’s more important than being in the woods?

Oh, yeah, I have to be at home running my machines.

Converting my gauzy N-dimensional dreams into 2D art.

On the Road, Satori, and The Big Aha

I feel like I’m the only person I know who saw the movie version of Kerouac’s On the Road recently. I liked it a lot, I saw it twice—the first time on it’s release date, which was also my 67th birthday.

[Photo I took on one of our own Wild West road trips, first posted 2010.]

The movie didn’t get much publicity, and it wasn’t in the theaters very long. Hard as it is for this old geezer to believe, most people in the younger movie-going generation haven’t even heard of On the Road, and they have only a hazy notion, if any notion at all, of who Jack Kerouac was. Father Time plows us under.

The movie includes a lovely 1949 Hudson car that Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Luanne Henderson and Ed Dunkel drive from NYC to Algiers, Louisiana to visit William Burroughs, and then on to San Francisco.

As it happens, this very car, the one used in the film, is on display in the Beat Museum in San Francisco, just across Columbus Ave from City Lights Books. You can see the car for free, and if you pay a couple of bucks you can go in and see such Shroud-of-Turin level relics as Jack’s plaid coat.

Thinking about On the Road, I happened to recall a great passage in Chapter 11 where Jack describes him and Neal spending a night sleeping in an all-night movie theater in Detroit. I found the book online as one giant webpage, and searched that to find the key word “osmotic.”

For thirty-five cents each we went into the beat-up old movie and sat down in the balcony till morning, when we were shooed downstairs. The people who were in that all-night movie were the end. Beat Negroes who’d come up from Alabama to work in car factories on a rumor; old white bums; young longhaired hipsters who’d reached the end of the road and were drinking wine; whores, ordinary couples, and housewives with nothing to do, nowhere to go, nobody to believe in. If you sifted all Detroit in a wire basket the beater solid core of dregs couldn’t be better gathered. The picture was Singing Cowboy Eddie Dean and his gallant white horse Bloop, that was number one; number two double-feature film was George Raft, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre in a picture about Istanbul. We saw both of these things six times each during the night. We saw them waking, we heard them sleeping, we sensed them dreaming, we were permeated completely with the strange Gray Myth of the West and the weird dark Myth of the East when morning came. All my actions since then have been dictated automatically to my subconscious by this horrible osmotic experience.

Love that last sentence.

Onward. These days, as I’ve been mentioning, I’m working on a novel called The Big Aha, and I’m nearing the end. And I want to come up with an explanation of what I mean by the psychic state that I call “the Big Aha.”

What I term the “cosmic mode” in the novel is an intuitive, immediate knowledge of the world — what we might call a mystical grasping of the world in its unity. A characteristic feature of cosmic-mode knowledge is that it avoids distinguishing between the knower and the known, the subject and object. You see the world as One.

In what I call the ”robotic mode”, we have a discursive, analytical knowledge of the world — rational thought. In the robotic mode you stand apart from the thing known. You see the world as Many.

The point is not that mystical, all-is-One, cosmic-mode knowledge is preferable. Both the cosmic and robotic modes of knowledge are real, and both are important. But it is very hard — perhaps impossible — for us to see the world in both ways at once. At any instant we see the world either as One or as Many.

Moving from Many to One tends to be a gradual process, the result of some kind of deliberate calming of the mind. But the passage from One to Many is usually sudden. At a given instant you may be sunk into a complete unity with the world. And then an instant later you are talking about your experience, standing outside yourself, making distinctions. The difficult thing is to catch the instant when you are still between One and Many. I sometimes think of this instant as the slash mark in the One/Many problem, that is the problem of how the world can be both One and Many at once.

[World seen through my legs while doing yoga.]

In his essay, “The Meaning of Satori,” which appears in his book The Field of Zen, the author D. T. Suzuki says this instant is the fleeting enlightenment that Zen calls satori. “The oneness dividing itself into subject/object and yet retaining its oneness at the very moment that there is the awakening of a consciousness — this is satori.”

This sort of satori is fleeting, but not rare. One could almost say that the natural rhythm of thought is an oscillation between One and Many. As you look around the room there are constant microlapses of attention. You reach out and merge with the world, then draw back and analyze. At one instant there is only is-ness, at the next there is a person cataloging his perceptions. One-Many-One-Many … at a rate of, say, three cycles per second.

Here’s a picture of this taken from my nonfiction book Infinity and the Mind, my bestselling book ever. It represents the mind of indicating a person who repeatedly sinks down into blissful union with the One, only, each time, to snap back to ordinary rational consciousness. The points labeled “S” might be the satori points.

There is a sense in which waking up each morning is a satori. On a good day (no alarms, no clock to punch) you float up from sleep into an idle state of is-ness, not even thinking who or where you are. But this is too good to last . . . whisk clickety-click, and you’re planning your day Is it possible to notice the moment of switch-over?

When I was doing my research for book Infinity and the Mind, I came across a guy called Benjamin Paul Blood who was, one might say, one of the first-ever drug-mystic’s in the United States. He would equip himself with a handkerchief soaked in ether, hold it to his face, sink into unconsciousness, and then, as his nerveless hand fell away, he would wake back up. The experience of moving abruptly from artificial trance to normal awareness struck him as central, and he wrote something very interesting about it in an 1874 pamphlet, The Anaesthetic Revelation and the Gist of Philosophy. In the long quote below, I added three little clause numbers to make it easier to follow what he’s saying:

I think most persons who shall have tested it will accept this as the central point of the illumination: [i] that sanity is not the basic quality of intelligence, but is a mere condition which is variable, and like the humming of a wheel, goes up or down the musical gamut according to a physical activity; [ii] and that only in sanity is formal or contrasting thought, while the naked life is realized only outside of sanity altogether; [iii] and it is the instant contrast of this tasteless water of souls with formal thought as we “come to” that leaves in the patient an astonishment that the awful mystery of Life is at last but a homely and a common thing, and that aside from mere formality the majestic and the absurd are of equal dignity.

Satori, man.

Up until now I have been describing the interface between One and Many as something that one moves back and forth through in time. This is a bit misleading. In Suzuki’s words, “Satori is no particular experience like other experiences of our daily life. Particular experiences are experiences of particular events while the satori experience is the one that runs through all experiences.”

In other words, the One and the Many run about together in and out of every word ever uttered. The world is One and the world is Many. The One/Many split is the heartbeat of the universe, the charged tension that makes things happen.

What happens in my novel The Big Aha is that my characters find a way to “jam open” the switch between the cosmic and the robotic mode, and they stay in cosmic mode for long periods of time, being One with reality, but without losing their ability to function.

And that’s the Big Aha experience that my book’s title is referring to. The Big Aha is that you can remain in cosmic mode and not be flipping out about it.

In writing my novel, I’d had some faint hope of finding a “higher” Big Aha in an alternate world that my characters visit. But I ended up with more of a D. T. Suzuki or Benjamin Paul Blood routine. Although your knowledge of the Big Aha may be sparked by some a unique and a trippy White Light experience, it ends up being being a part of daily life. You recognize the fact that you’re in the cosmic “All is One” mode a lot of the time.

This is all there is. What was I so excited about? What else did I expect?

Coming at this form of the Big Aha from another angle, think of what the great science writer Martin Gardner calls the “superultimate why question” in his essay, “Science and the Unknowable.” You start with, “Why does anything exist?” And, given any answer to that, you can say, “But where did that come from?” So you might as well short-circuit the process. There is no explanation beyond what we’re experiencing here and now.

So….the Big Aha is? Be here now. Mindful. In the now moment.

You figure out the secret of life—fine. But you still have to go ahead and lead the whole rest of your life. Living in the Big Aha.

Leviathan Eats Us Via 4D Einstein-Rosen Bridges!

I had a big SF revelation this week, a breakthrough for my story. Today’s post will include some illustratiave drawings, also some semi-relevant or irrelevant (but nice-looking) photos.

I’m still working on my novel, The Big Aha. I’m about 75% done. Ever since the early chapters, I’ve had these two mysterious glass balls hanging around: the oddball and the dollshead. I wasn’t quite sure what they were going to do for me, but I had a sense that thought ought to be Einstein-Rosen (or “ER”) bridges to a parallel world that I call Fairyland. See my recent post “Four-Dimesional Portals to Other Worlds” for the story on ER bridges.

In the morning I wrote a scene at the start of where something like an elephant is pulled into the dollshead and it disappears. The mental image made me laugh: the fat elephant with trunk outstretched, thick legs star-fished out, thin tail trailing. Passing into and through the little Xmas-tree ball. While the elephant is going through, the ball swells up like a wobbly giant soap bubble, then shrinks back.

Then I went for a lovely and revivifying hike up over St. Joseph’s Hill above our house, the meadows green, the trees bosky, the sky adrift with plump sharp clouds. Lying there, fully at ease, I was wondering how some creature could contain an ER bridge and yet be an animal or monster with a body and a skin and so on. How would that work? I mean, an ER bridge is a wormhole connecting two spaces. How do you wrap a body around that?

I’ve been coughing for six weeks, and I’ve been thinking I might have pneumonia. I took a little nap on some soft long green grass and when I awoke, I felt like I was finally well. And, as an additional gift, I now had an aha moment. I had a vision of a largish creature, maybe as big as a whale, or maybe even bigger. Call him a leviathan. He lives in the parallel world. And the creature has a number of ER bridges within his body. They’re like vacuoles in the body of a paramecium.

I scrawled the two preliminary images below on a manuscript page I’d brought along on my outing. And the next day I drew something more elaborate. I’ll show those later in this post, but first here’s the crude ones.

In order to discuss the situation further, I’ll use special names for two worlds. I’ve been calling them the Universe and Fairyland, but now I’d like to employ a more neutral usage that I coined in Postsingular and Hylozoic: Lobrane and Hibrane. We live in Lobrane, and Hibrane is the parallel world.

The two ends of an ER bridge between two 3D branes or worlds will appear to us like spheres. So, as I’m saying, the Hibrane ends of a group of ER bridges could very well be spherical vacuoles within the leviathan’s body, and these vacuoles connect to oddball-like spheres down here in our Lobrane.

I arrived at this image by thinking of a Flatland model. In the Flatland version we have the two planes with one or more ER wormhole throats connecting them. We draw a big dark glob on the upper plane. The leviathan. And the ER throats are within his body. And—crucial point—his dark flesh extends about 30% or even 90% of the way down each of the throats, holding those throats bulged out. But the flesh doesn’t go all the way down as the leviathan wants to be living primarily in the upper plane.

What happens if a Lobrane person sails in through one of the ER mouths? The leviathan is flexible, possibly even jellyfish-like, so the mouth can freely enlarge. Even an elephant can fit through. Fine. But what happens when you encounter the dark flesh of the leviathan drooping down from the Hibrane?

The traditional panic-mongering SF option is that the leviathan dissolves and absorbs you on contact, subsuming you as food. Or he somehow chews you up and swallows you. And this may sometimes happen. Certainly I’d like to see one of my viallains meet his end this way. Possibly the kindly elephant Darby gets eaten in this fashion as well. Maybe a few of Darby’s bones slide back out or are spit out. Grisly effect in the barn there. Maybe just one big, dramatic bone. The ER sphere burps, and out comes a bloody tibia, three feet long and a foot across.

But we’ll suppose that when my hero and heroine go into one of the leviathan’s ER maws, the creature doesn’t invoke its digestive processes. Perhaps our hero and heroine wallow through the jellied leviathan flesh and emerge from its skin in the Hibrane.

The next day I was thinking about the leviathan as soon as I woke up in the morning, and I thought about it all day, off and on, although in the meantime I had to prepare all my tax papers and bring them to the accountant, also go to the dentist. It was good to have the geometry and topology of the leviathan to think about while I was getting my teeth cleaned. It was as if, for once, I wasn’t really there. Dear Mamma Mathematica!

Anyway, the concept I slowly arrived at is that the leviathan flesh that protrudes down into the ER tunnel can have a mouth in it. On the one hand, the mouth can either lead to a toothed-vagina style channel in which you’re ground up, and then moved by peristalsis into one of the leviathan’s stomachs. On the other hand, the mouth may lead through a channel out to the leviathan’s surface, delivering you via a kind of birth canal into the Hibrane world.

I decided that the likeable oddball should be an ER bridge of the “good” latter kind, a channel to the higher world. And the dollhead ER bridge will be a “bad” one, a route to being devoured.

So below I’ve drawn, on the left, the Flatland images of the two ER balls, and on the right the diagrams of the two kinds of ER bridges involved. The tiny lazy-eight infinity signs inside the two images on the left indicate that really that central region contains the whole endless world of the Hibrane. The images on the left are oddly warped perspective images, but they indicate how a Lobraner would actually see the ER bridges.

Now for more details. When my hero and heroine were handling the oddball in their apartment it didn’t feel like it had a mouth or an opening. It felt like a smooth glassy ball—and I’ve draw it that way in the figure above. We can think of the oddball or dollhead as wearing a rind. A clear outer surface over the actual leviathan flesh. Like a cornea. And when they want to get down to business, they split the cornea, and it drops off like a husk. Or with might better think of the transparent cover of the ball as like a nictitating membrane on the eye of a bird or a reptile. When it retracts, it’s covering, say, only the “back” half of the ball.

Alternately the cover gets soft and you can push through it.

The glassy oddball (with shiny rind still intact) will have a golden brownish sphere in the center, with shiny skin. And in this sphere there’s a puckered slit. After the oddball sheds or opens its rind, the mouth is uncovered. It opens up. Looking inside you’re seeing up along a tube that goes through an ER bridge. The tube may open up into Fairland, in which case you’ll “read” that as seeing a lot of tiny objects inside the mouth.

Fabulous! Eureka! Aha!

I’d been waiting for this series of insights and I wasn’t sure they were going to come, but now the Muse has favored me. Thanks in part to logic and math and weeks of butting my head against the wall and, ultimately, taking a nap on a grassy hillock one California spring day.

Okay, now to watch some Futurama on Netflix. 46 episodes done, and nearly as many to go.

Garry Winogrand. Shooting Wide-angle Lens.

Today’s post is about the photographer Garry Winogrand and wide-angle lens street photos. If you don’t know anything about Winogrand, here’s good lengthy link-laden post by the photographer Eric Kim. Or, even simpler, you can do what I’ve been doing lately, just do a Google image search.

There’s a big Winogrand show at the SFMOMA just now, which is what got me focused on him again. With (here’s links to more Google Image searches) Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus, and Robert Frank, Winogrand was one of the last really renowned black-and-white photographers. In the mid-1970s, William Eggleston flipped the game over to color photography.

Winogrand used a wide-angle lens (I think 28 mm) on a Leica M4 film camera. As it happens, I used Leicas when I shot film in the 1960s – 1990s, and I have a very nice German-built 28 mm Leica lens that, with a slight bit of effort, I can use on my digital Canon full-frame 5D. So for the last week or two, I’ve been shooting “Winogrand” style, using that lens.

With a wide-angle lens, you can stand really close to someone to get their picture. Winogrand was a fairly pushy guy, I think. So I took an ugly picture of myself clutching my new ten-pound-heavy (?) Winogrand catalog. Recently I’ve been trying to make a brand-new ugly face in the mirror before bedtime every day. I’ve got kind of a Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby thing happening for me here. With a 28 mm lens it’s pretty easy to shoot in a mirror. Not that I’m going to pursue that in any relentless kind of way.

Your average pocket digicam has a 28 mm lens zoom mode of course. But those cameras don’t really pick up the tonal range that you can get with a heavy duty SLR with some quality glass. I’d toyed with the idea of buying a new Canon 28 mm lens. But those things, they weigh over one pound each. And, like I say, I had this lens right here. My camera body has paint on it because one of the main things I use it for these days is getting shots of my paintings—walking about I’m more likely to have my latest pocket-sized digicam. But now I want to do the lugging routine again for awhile. Like in the old days.

This is our friend Paul and his wife Lydia. They helped organize an Easter picnic that I went to with my son and his family today. Paul’s theatrical, an artist, and he emcees in his pink rabbit suit. So San Francisco.

Most of Winogrand’s pictures are of people—really his primo shooting spots were the crowded cross-walks in Manhattan. So many faces going by. Legally you can shoot a stranger’s picture and sell prints of it and put it in a book, as long as you don’t put defamatory comments about the person. I’ve never had the right personality for getting up close to complete strangers and snapping them.

Another issue about Winogrand—which I won’t delve into at length here—is that he was really into getting photos of passing women whom he considered attractive. And photos of down-and-outers. There can be predatory aspect to street photography, and it can become disturbing. This said, photos of people really are interesting.

Diane Arbus took a different approach than Winogrand did. She’d hang around with her subjects, at least for a few minutes, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days. Really getting to know them. And in her photos you sometimes have the feeling the subjects are looking at Diane and thinking, “This woman is really strange.”

Winogrand was more about the grab shot—although he said he was never surreptitious about it, he’d be looking through his viewfinder. And he’d try to defuse the tension by smiling at the subject.

When you’re comfortable with it, it easy to grab shots of people with the wide-angle lens. The lens has a large depth of field. You only need to set an approximate distance. (The autofocus feature doesn’t work when you marry an old lens to a new camera like I’m doing.)

Another thing about wide-angle lens photography is that the horizon line becomes less important to you. If you’re using a single-lens-reflex, you’re looking through the lens, turning it this way and that, trying to fit more of the world in, composing you scene. Why is the standard horizontal and vertical so sacred? Let it go. Big inspiration from Winogrand.

People would ask him why his photos were tilted and with a straight face (he was stubborn), he’s insist they weren’t tilted. “That’s how the picture is.”

But, like I say, I’m not going out and shooting strangers. I’m happy with something like the sun on these drops of juice.

It’s kind of disappointment to drop back and do a non-tilted shot. Kind of a Joseph Cornell box thing here. That red rubber thing is the mighty flying Troton, an insufficiently recognized and seldom used beach toy.

Landscapes get a looming, creepy look with the wide lens. This is the brain-wave controller device atop Bernal Hill.

It is of course possible to take bad wide-angle lens pictures. You need to have stuff in them. In the last years of his life Winogrand was living in LA, which unlike NYC, is pretty dead on the streets. And he shot, like, a hundred thousand mostly bad pictures of empty streets with like one person half a block away. Reading between the lines, I get the feeling that he was drinking very heavily at this point. His friendlier critics have struggled for some years to find nuggets in the dross of Winogrand’s later work, and there are a handful. But, hey, sometimes when you’re old, you lose it.

Like this guy…

Four Dimensional Portals to Other Worlds

Today’s post is about the fourth dimension and about the nature of portals between parallel worlds.

As it happens, in the Bay Area this spring there are not one but two classes being taught on the subject of the fourth dimension of space. And I was invited to give guest lectures at both these classes.

People sometimes dismiss the notion of the fourth dimension by saying, “Oh, that’s just time.” But mathematicians and SF writers are interested in a more bizarre kind of fourth dimension—an actual direction of space or, more properly speaking, a direction in hyperspace.

First, as I mentioned in my post of March 11, 2013, I gave a talk at Alan Weinstein’s mathematics of the fourth dimension class at Berkeley. They were using my very first book as a text, Geometry, Relativity, and the Fourth Dimension, by Rudolf v. B. Rucker. And then I gave a talk at Thomas Banchoff’s freshman level class on the fourth dimension at the University of San Francisco.

I recorded my talk at Banchoff’s class, talking about the fourth dimension of space, Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, and ideas about portals to parallel worlds. The podcast ends with a reading of the second half of my story, “Message Found In A Copy of Flatland,” which you can read online. You can find the recording of the talk at the link below, and I’ll say a bit more about the talk further down.

Banchoff has consulted with the artist Salvador Dali about his work. Dali famously included an unfolded hypercube in his painting Christus Hypercubicus, shown below. You can find a video of a full-length lecture by Banchoff on “The Four-Dimensional Geometry and Theology of Salvador Dali” online. Tom is giving a new version of this talk at University of San Francisco on April 18, 2013 at 11:45 am.

Banchoff invented that paper model of the hypercube shown in Dali’s painting. I was discussing this with him at lunch, and he said, “I have a paper model of a six-dimensional hyperhypercube folded up in my suitcase.” So we went to his office where he had the “suitcase” in which he keeps his lecture supplies.

Tom explained this model to me—bascially you use the three extra dimensions (4, 5, and 6) for bending the model around to glue together each of its opposite sides. If I didn’t grasp this as clearly as he did, that’s because he wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the model.

“I thought if it while I was folding shirts onto cardboards,” Tom told me. “I made the model and took it to my thesis advisor. He said, ‘You’ve found a gold mine.’”

Such a mathematician-style talk. Looking at that cardboard honeycomb and saying it’s a six-dimensional gold mine.

My talk depended on a timeworn analogy. 4:3 as 3:2. That is, in thinking about the mysterious fourth dimension, it helps to imagine a flat two-dimensional creature trying to imagine a third dimension. The flat creatures we usually talk about are Edwin Abbott’s Flatlanders.

The drawings I’m showing here were done by my artist friend David Povilaitis for my book, The Fourth Dimension, which is currently available in used editions only, but which is due to be reprinted in a new edition in 2014 or 2015. I’m sorry about the small size of the images I’m showing here today, but these are old scans, I didn’t want to rescan them.

One of the specific things I talked about was the nature of a portal to a parallel world. This is a commonplace in fantasy and SF movies—a magic door to another world. Dropping down to Flatland, we can think of the two worlds as being parallel “sheets” of space. The Flatlanders live on the lower world and some other flat creatures—let’s call them Globbers—live in the upper world.

If we want to make the simplest kind of path between the worlds, we fold up a tab from the lower world and glue it to a tab from the upper world. This is what a door-like portal to another world is like. One problem here is that you need to be very careful not to slide off the edges of the path between the world. Or you might dissolve into Nothingness.

The right way to do it is to use what’s called an Einstein-Rosen bridge. You make a wormhole or throat that runs smoothly from one sheet of space to the other. In seeing this picture, people often worry that the Flatlanders who slide through the throat to the alternate world will end up on the “underside” of that space’s sheet. But you want to think of these sheets as having no thickness so that being on one side of the sheet is the same as being as the other. Or think of the sheets as soap-films with the Flatlanders and Globbers as being like colored patterns in the soap.

Moving up to an Einstein-Rosen bridge between two 3D universes, we can think of our 3D spaces as floating in a 4D hyperspace, and having a “bent” region that connects the spaces. And our 3D spaces have no essential 4D hyperthickness.

In The Fourth Dimension, my character A Square wants to go off to a private place with a Flatland woman called Una. She’s married a jealous Hexagon. In the two images above, we see Square and Una hesitating at the mouth of the ER Bridge. And in the second image, they’ve slid through the portal in the land of the Globbers, and a helpful Globber has wrapped himself around the throat of the ER bridge so that A Hexagon can’t see through.

The image above shows how the situation looks to the 2D Hexagon. He views the mouth of the portal as a circle [in our version we’d see a sphere]. Globland lies within the circle, Flatland lies outside. And the point at infinity lies at the seeming center of the ball—that is, a whole endless world fits into the ball with everything getting smaller and smaller as it approaches the center.

In terms of our space, we can visualize an Einstein-Rosen bridge as resembling a shiny Christmas ornament ball, a sphere within which you seem to see whole world. There are two kickers if the “ball” is the mouth of an ER bridge to another world. (a) The world you see inside the ball isn’t the same as our world. (b) The ball doesn’t have a solid surface, it’s zone that you can walk or crawl through.

I describe an ER bridge in my story “The Last Einstein-Rosen Bridge,” which is also online as part of my Complete Stories. In the story, my character finds the portal lying in an asparagus field near Heidelberg, Germany.

I also describe an Einstein-Rosen bridge in my novel Realware, which is now in print as part of the four-volume The Ware Tetralogy, including Software, Wetware, Freeware, and Realware.

I’ll reprint a scene from Realware where my character Phil goes through an ER bridge, which he calls a “powerball.” In Phil’s case, what’s on the other side of the bridge is a small hyperspherical world, which is why he sees images of himself at the very end.

The powerball came in across the water, low down at Phil’s level, flying straight at him. Phil braced himself, wrapping his arms tight around his knees. The powerball looked like a big, glowing crystal ball, reflecting and refracting light, though not so smooth as a glass ball, perhaps a bit more like a drop of water.

As it drew closer there was an odd effect on the rest of the world: things seemed to melt and warp, distorting themselves away from the magic ball.

Closer and closer it came, yet taking an oddly long time to actually arrive. It was as if the space between Phil and the ball were stretching nearly as fast as the ball could approach. The ball was like a hole opening up in the world. Everything was being pushed aside by it; the sky and waves were being squeezed out along its edges.

Phil looked back over his shoulder; there was still a little zone of normality behind him—the nearest section of the rocky cliff s looked much the same. But so strong was the space warping of the powerball that the beach to the left and right seemed to bend away from him and, as Phil watched, this effect grew more pronounced. In a few moments it was as if Phil stood out on the tip of a little finger of reality, with the glowing powerball’s hyperspace squeezing in on every side. Back there at the other end of the finger, back in the world, Wubwub and Shimmer were peeking out of their cave entrance watching him, the cowards. He fought down an urge to run at them, and forced himself to turn back to face the engulfing ball. What could he see within the ball? Nothing but funhouse mirror reflections of himself: jiggling pink patches of his skin against a blue background filled with moons and stars—his shirt.

And then, like a mighty wave breaking, the warped zone moved over Phil. He felt a deep shock of pain throughout his body, as if something were pulling and stretching at his insides. His lungs, his stomach, his muscles, his brain—every tissue burned with agony.

“Phil! Phil!”

Phil didn’t dare turn; he felt as if the slightest motion might tear his innards in two. But, peering from his pain-wracked eyes, he realized there was no need to turn, for with the powerball centered on him, his view of the world had changed. The entire world was squeezed into a tiny ball that seemed to float a few feet away from him like a spherical mirror the size of a dinner plate. And there in the little toy world, like animated figurines, were Cobb and Yoke. Running toward him. Phil instinctively reached out towards them but—swish—something flashed past his fingers like an invisible scythe. And then—pop—the little bubble that had been the normal world winked out of view, and Phil was alone in the hypersphere of the powerball.

Phil’s guts snapped back to normal; the pain and its afterimage faded. He found himself comfortably floating within an empty, well-lit space that contained glowing air, his body and seemingly nothing else.

See you on the other side!

Anselm Hollo, 1934 – 2013

[Photo of Anselm Hollo with me in Boulder, Colorado, June, 2004. ]

I just learned that my dear friend and mentor, the poet Anselm Hollo died on January 29, 2013. He’d been ill for nearly a year.

I think of a poem of Anselm’s in which he describes a dream of his dead father. He had the dream three months after his father died. The poem, untitled, appeared in his slim and epic 1972 collection, Sensation, and the poem is reprinted in his tellingly titled autobiographical essay, “Anselm Hollo, 1934-,” which in turn appears in his later collection Caws and Causeries. I’ll quote the last half of the poem here.

…I knew where he lay
went on & entered
the room light & bare
no curtains no books
his head on the pillow
hand moving outward
the gesture “be seated”
i started talking, saw myself from the back
leaned forward, talked to his face
intent, bushy-browed
eyes straining to see
into mine
“a question i wanted to ask you”
would never know what it was
but stood there & was
so happy to see him
that twenty-sixth day of april
three months after his death

“& was / so happy to see him”

I took this photo across from the legendary beat Caffe Trieste in North Beach where my wife and I had coffee with Anselm and Jane Dalrymple some twenty years ago. Anselm not there today.

I first heard of Anselm Hollo in 1972 when my writer friend Gregory Gibson mailed me a copy of that pamphlet-like book or chapbook, Sensation , published by a group calling themselves the Institute of Further Studies, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, traditional home of outrider poets such as Greg himself and of course Charles Olson. Not that Anselm was living in Gloucester. Born and to some extent raised in Finland, he was at this point drifting around the US from one visiting-poet gig to the next.

I read Sensation over and over, fascinated by its colloquial style and by Hollo’s trick of putting more than one twist into each poem—later when I met him he once remarked of some other poet’s work, “Just has one twist at the end, that’s not enough.”

Anselm’s poems are nicely musicked, yet elliptical and hard to pin down. What do they mean? No matter, never mind.

Here’s another poem from Sensation, also untitled. The saying that Anselm attributes to his father has stuck with me for all these years.

it is a well-lit afternoon
and the heart with pleasure fills
flowing through town in warm things

yes what do you know
it’s winter again
but the days are well-lit
what’s more
they’re beginning to stay that way longer

that is a fact
and I am moving
through a town
in a fur hat
the third one in my life
or is it only the second?

the expeditionary force
will have to check up on that
back there in the previous frames

while I move forward
steadily, stealthily
like a feather

I am a father
bearded and warm
and listen to words coming through
the fur hat off a page
in the Finnish language
“when there’s nothing else to do
there’s always work to do”

my father said that
in one of his notebooks
and it’s true

I walk through a town
and up some steps
and through a door

it closes

now you can’t see me anymore

but the lights go on, and you know I’m there
right inside, working out

Naturally you’ll want to read more of Anselm’s poems. At present, the most complete collection of Anselm’s poems is Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence: Selected Poems 1965-2000 (Coffee House Press, 2001). You can preview the first 60 or so pages of this book via Google Books. But certainly you should buy it, or get it from your library.

I met Anselm in person in the summer of 1984. My family and I lived in Lynchburg, Virginia, at this point. Some of our new Lynchburg friends invented a semi-imaginary society called the Lynchburg Yacht Club. In the summer of 1984 they organized a big party at the boathouse at Sweetbriar College, about fifteen miles north of Lynchburg.

Sylvia and I were excited about the event, and she even sewed me a new Hawaiian shirt, traffic-yellow with fans and cerise designs, billowing and lovely. At the party we danced to a live jazz band, jabbered, drank and flirted. Some of us rowed in the lake, some jumped in naked.

[Anselm and a woman in a two-dimensional world.]

Kind fate brought Anselm Hollo to the Yacht Club party too. He was in Sweetbriar as a writer-in-residence that year. Although he was a dozen years older than me, we immediately recognized each other as kindred spirits. Fellow beatnik writers. And he’d even read my first couple of SF novels.

Anselm had an encyclopedic knowledge of world literature, and an exquisite mastery of the spoken word. He was wonderfully serious about writing. Whenever I was with him, I felt like I was talking to a sage on Mount Olympus, not that there was anything solemn about him. He’d often break into wheezing laughter while we were batting the ideas around. He had a cosmopolitan accent, having grown up Finnish. Anselm once remarked that every Finn deserved to have a biography written. But Anselm’s short, pungent poems are the most accurate memoirs of all, like X-ray snapshots of instantaneous mental states.

We hung out with Anselm quite a bit over the months to come. Anselm and I enjoyed drinking heavily together and talking about art and reality—and ringing strange changes on the words we heard or used. I remember us taking special delight from a line in Rene Daumal’s book, A Night of Serious Drinking: “I have forgotten to mention that the only word which can be said by carp is art.” Inspired by Anselm’s companionship I self-published a book of my poems called Light Fuse and Get Away, saying it was from Carp Press. [This was a 50-copy Xerox edition, later reprinted in my 1991 omnibus, Transreal!.]

Covers of Rudy and Anselm’s paperback double. Click for a larger version of the image.

When we moved to California in 1986, we saw Anselm a few times. I think he was living in Baltimore part of the time, and then in Salt Lake City. I’d written a scroll-type memoir in the style of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Ninety feet long. No big publishers would touch it, but I met a poet called Lee Ballentine who ran a small press called Ocean View.

Lee agreed to publish my memoir—it was called All the Visions—back to back with a collection of Anselm’s “science fiction poems” that he called Space Baltic. It came out in a nice “sixty-nine” style format, that is, with the two books bound together upside down relative to each other, so both sides of the book function as a “front cover.” The illo above shows the two covers.

To increase the joy of this event, we got the ultra cool hot-rod underground artist Robert Williams to let us use one of his images as the cover of my half. All the Visions/Space Baltic is out of print, but you can find various editions for sale online, new or used, softcover or hardback. (My own press, Transreal Books, is likely to reprint my half in a new edition this year or the next.)

We saw Anselm for the last time when I was a guest teacher at the Naropa Institute (a.k.a. The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics) in Boulder, Colorado, in June, 2004.

We’d been to Naropa years earlier, around 1980, and that time we’d had a chance to hang around a bit with Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Corso. Of course by 2004, the school was less chaotic. But they were keeping it real with Anselm on the permanent faculty/ Anselm was now settled there with his wonderful wife Jane Dalrymple.

The class I taught was about “Transreal SF Writing,” and while teaching the course, I wrote a transreal SF story called “MS Found in a Minidrive”—funny, gnarly, heavy. I worked in transreal stuff about my nostalgia for the days of Burroughs. The storys narrator, is a would-be-writer who’s attending a Naropa writing workshop. You can find the story online as part of my Complete Stories..

I got to read the story at the end of my Naropa week, back to back with Anselm reading some of his latest poems. We had crowd of about 300 people, it was a wonderful night, the best reading I’ve ever been part of, unforgettable. Rocking it with the Master.

On June 12, 2004, I said my last farewell to dear Anselm. We hugged goodbye and he gave me a sharp, sad, knowing look, perhaps the same look I was giving him, both of us aware that one of us might die before we could meet again. He was seventy, and he’d had a quadruple bypass. But he got over that and went on for eight or nine more years. But now it’s over. As Anselm wrote after the death of Allen Ginsberg:

brave old lion
gone out of reach now
through the one door
awaits us all

One more book of Anselm’s to mention, a book of essays and reminiscences, Caws & Causeries, (La Alameda Press, 1999). Anselm is good at stirring up the old “ontological wonder-sickness,” as the philosopher William James termed it. Why does anything exist at all? Why Anselm, why me?

I’ll close with a poem I found reprinted in Caws & Causeries; it’s originally from Anselm’s 1974 poetry collection, Black Book (Walker’s Pond Press). The poem is a remembrance of Anselm living for a few years with his ninety-year-old grandfather Paul Walden in the south of Germany when Anselm was in his early twenties. Walden was an academic chemist with an interest in the history of science.

THE WALDEN VARIATIONS (for Robert Creeley)

White hair
fine fringes
under the brim

old sunshine on twigs

a sturdy

old sunshine on twigs

old sunshine on twigs

& on the pigs
we ate
he & i

deaf alchemist
loud grandson

ate together

teeth fell out

& died

old sun

Adios, King.

“The Two Gods,” 4D, Networked Matter

I’ve been writing a lot lately, working on my novel The Big Aha, and on a short story called “Apricot Lane.” I also gave a guest lecture at UC Berkeley and participated in a workshop at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto. In today’s post, I’ll catch up on some of this.

In The Big Aha I have these two mysterious spheres kicking around, about the size of softballs. They’re called the oddball and the dollshead, although their actual names might be Alef and Zeee.

They’re otherworldly beings of some kind, and in the books’ final chapters they’ll transfer one or two of my characters to a higher world for some extra adventures. This is a standard move from the Monomyth or Hero’s Journey pattern, which was famously described in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces. (Note that, with a few tweaks, you can get a variation on the pattern that works for a Heroine’s Journey as well.)

As I sometimes do when I’m stalled or unsure in a novel, I did a painting of these two beings, and I call it The Two Gods.

“The Two Gods,” oil on canvas, March, 2013, 24” x 324”. Click for a larger version of the image.

They’re like lizards, a little bit, with long tails going off into the beyond. I posted a little about my plans for the oddball before on February 5, 2013, in “The Bogosity Generator Tool in Science Fiction,” and when I wrote that post I was thinking about trying to basing my painting “The Two Gods,” on the start sequence seen in Warner Brothers cartoons of the Merrie Melodies or Loony Toons ilk.

On the art front, my show is still hanging at Borderlands Café on Valencia Street in San Francisco. It’ll be up until March 27, 2013, and I have a video of the show below. I marked the prices of my paintings way down for the show, and I’ve sold four in the last month. More info on my Paintings Page.

Rolling back to earlier this month, as I mentioned, I gave a talk on the fourth dimension at Alan Weinstein’s math class at UC Berkeley. The class is using my very first book as their text, Geometry, Relativity and the Fourth Dimension (Dover Publications, 1977). Incredibly this little book is in its seventeenth printing, with over a hundred thousand copies sold.

Above is a scan of one of my older copies. For the class I got into some illos from my novel on the fourth dimension, that is, Spaceland, which was inspired by Edwin Abbott’s 1884 novel Flatland .

Flatland describes higher dimensions in terms of a two dimensional square being, A Square, shown above in my painting of the square and his wife, who is a line segment. In the novel Flatland, A Square is lifted into the third dimension, and gets a view of our world as seen from a higher dimension. There’s a few issues that come up here. If you tug A Square up into 3D space, do his innards spill out? And how can his flat eye with its 1D retina see much of anything in 3D?

I got into these issues in my novel Spaceland. My solution was that, before a 4D being tugs my hero Joe Cube up into 4D space, Joe is “augmented,” that is, he’s given a bit of a 4D hyperthickness, his upper “side” is sealed off with new skin, and he grows himself a hyperdimensional extra eye that projects out into hyperspace from the center of his brain.

The rather complex image shown above depicts these moves in terms of A Square, up in the higher (3D) space looking down at his father, who is a triangle. If the Square tries to use his normal eye, he only sees a 1D cross section of his father. He needs that higher-D eye to get full 2D images on his retina so he can form mental images of 3D objects.

In the same sense, if you try and use your normal eye to see in 4D space, you’ll only see 2D cross sections of things. And what you want is to have a 4D eye with a 3D retina, so you can look at, like a person, and see all of their inner organs at once. Like the way you see your house in your mind, with every closet and drawer open to your inspection.

A little more fun with the higher-dimensional eye. Suppose that the Flatland creatures aren’t simple squares, but are more like organisms with bones and a stomach. Suppose that “Dad” here has been augmented with some thickness and with a higher dimensional eye. So he can see that flat “Mom” is hiding a knife behind her back.

Mom makes her move, but Dad bulges his belly out into a higher dimension!

I always go check out Telegraph Avenue when I’m in Berzerkistan. Been doing that for forty years. These days the Ave is at a bit of a low ebb. The epic Cody’s bookstore is gone, indeed all four corners of that block are deserted, and, at least on the day I visited, the street denizens seemed to have arranged a pair of trucks so as wall off access to People’s Park. Note the edited street sign.

At least Rasputin’s and Amoeba record stores are still there, not that they’re very flush. All kinds of media stores are fading away…books, CDs, DVDs…all dissolved in the digital torrent.

I’m a bit of a connoisseur of images of the Pig Chef—that traitorous being who delights in slaughtering, cooking and devouring his peers—and I saw this well-executed Pig Chef on a truck by People’s Park. If you’ve never read it, do check out my Pig Chef story, “The Men in the Back Room at the Country Club” in my online Complete Stories. Not to give too much away, in my tale, the Pig Chef is a Sta-Hi-type character who ends up BBQ-ing people and feeding them to alien preying mantises…

Another thing I did recently was to attend Institute For The Future workshop on the theme of objects joining the internet. See the IFTF post on “The Coming Age of Networked Matter.” My host was David Pescovitz, who also does some work at IFTF.

IFTF has commissioned me to write a short SF story on networked matter, the story to appear for free on Boing Boing and in other spots—it’ll be Creative Commons licensed. Madeline Ashby, Cory Doctorow, Warren Ellis will be writing stories as well. For now I’m calling my story “Apricot Lane,” and that’s what I’m working on right now.

I wrote about a rather enjoyable world with tagged and even “living” objects in my novels Postsingular and its sequel Hylozoic. And note that a free CC version of Postsingular exists.

But this time around, for the purposes of “Apricot Lane,” I’m thinking that it wouldn’t necessarily be pleasant if the objects around you could talk to you or exchange information with you.

Thinking along these lines, I remembered the “dogsh*t day” scene in Phil Dick’s novel A Scanner Darkly. Bob Arctor’s car has malfunctioned. He’s pulled over at the side of a freeway with his freaky and possibly evil friend Barris. He’s hallucinating that his engine block is smeared with dog crap, and Barris somehow knows this and is teasing Arctor, smiling at him from behind his mirrorshades. And then Arctor starts to hear the parts of the engine talking to him and he throws up.

He felt, in his head, loud voices singing: terrible, as if the reality around him had gone sour. … The smell of Barris still smiling overpowered Bob Arctor, and he heaved onto the dashboard of his own car. A thousand little voices tinkled up at him, shining at him, and the smell receded finally. A thousand little voices crying out their strangeness; he did not understand them, but at least he could see, and the smell was going away.

Good old Phil.

Visit to Manhattan

My wife and I were in Manhattan for seven days this month, basically just there for a vacation. We stayed at pleasant hotel at 41st St. and Madison Ave, just a block away from the NYC Library on 5th Ave, and close to Grand Central Station. Wonderful to see the perpetual steam-smokestack in the intersection with the slushy taxis doing their thing.

The back of the NYC library after a snowstorm.

We made three trips to the Oyster Bar at the Grand Central Station. Truly the freshest clams and oysters in the world. I graduated this time from littleneck clams to the more-to-chew and almost-too-big cherry stones. Also sampled the legendary “ pan roast,” made in special steel pans-on-hinges behind the counter, and consisting of a pint of piping hot cream with toast and oysters and chili sauce in it—a little overwhelming, but you gotta have it once, although next time I’d get the pricier “oyster clam lobster scallop” version.

As a boy I was fascinated by images of the NYC skyscrapers. The Chrysler is still one of the loveliest of them all. You have to wonder why they can’t make such an interesting building anymore.

The Empire State Building has always been my favorite skyscraper. I love how it pops out at you from around corners if you’re within ten or fifteen blocks of 34th St. Sometimes the Empire poses for you in a perfectly framed photo shot.

I guess I ought to say something about the lost Twin Towers. I always thought they were a little dull to look at, wasn’t crazy about them. I never got around to taking the elevator to their top, I wish I’d done that. I still resent Osama and Al Qaeda for having screwed up the opening decades of the twenty-first century. And I’m glad we’ve got the new tower coming up in the footprint of the old ones. But this trip, we didn’t make it that far downtown there again. We were down at Ground Zero in April, 2012, though, and I posted about it then.

This time we only hit mid-town, uptown, Soho, had a lunch at Sylvia’s soul food restaurant in Harlem, and I made a somewhat abortive solo reconnaissance visit to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, where I ended up getting off at the wrong subway stop (twice) and had to walk about ten blocks, guided by the Google Maps beacon of Spoonbill & Sugartown Books, near 5th & Bedford. Bought an intriguing mental-exercises book, D. I. Y. Magic, by Anthony Alvarado, then had a chai across the street, then schlepped to the Marcy St. subway stop and rode back to *ah* the tall buildings of old Manhattoes. Nothing beats being an ant in the cracks of those canyons.

One of the very first things we did in New York was to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here’s the great entrance hall. A secular cathedral.

A random fop in the galleries of the Met. What often happens here is that we have an intention to see, let us say, galleries A, B, and C. But on the way from A to B, we always pass some heretofore unnoticed gallery that’s filled with amazing, unexpected things. The Met is a fractal.

A design gallery showing a ray-gun-like device that was, if I remember correctly, used to spritz bubbles into water.

I rode the bus down Fifth Ave to meet my old Tor editor David Hartwell in the Flatiron building, another great NYC icon. And grabbed this dirty-window shot. My Pop showed it the Flatiron to me when the two of us visited NYC in 1959. I always feel proud when I have a little business to do here.

My favorite views of the skyscrapers are from Madison Square park at 23rd and Madison, not to be confused with Madison Square Garden. One thing I’ve slowly learned over the years is that sometimes a photograph is better if you use a tilted horizon. The iconography of this building is interesting: the giant CLOCK. They inhabitants might have been selling insurance…

I visited the new MOMATH or Museum of Mathematics which is on Madison Square. I wasn’t super impressed with the space—it was small, and too many of the exhibits were simply computer programs on screens. Changing the physical computer controls to “look fun” doesn’t change the fact that you’re looking at a program you could be running at home. But MOMATH does have a few physical displays that are good, especially this tricycle with square (!) wheels. I was allowed to mount it, and it rides very smoothly—because it’s going on a surface made up of inverted catenary curves.

One other nice thing in MOMATH was this Truchet tile pattern on the wall of the bathroom. Can you see what it says?

A big snowstorm hit Manhattan while we where there—the storm was stronger in New England, but even in NYC we got three or four inches. As California tourists with no particular agenda, the snow was simply fun for us. Wonderful to see it tumbling down in the night, we went up onto the roof of the hotel with our friend Eddie Marritz and his wife Hana Machotka.

The morning after the storm, Bryant Park by the NYC Library was full of views. The trees snow-edges among the towers.

A a traditional snow photo, nice to encounter it in real life.

I might have been waiting for a bus here, taking shelter in the entrance way of yet another wonderful old-time skyscraper, it’s portal clad with bronze.

This was near the bus stop on Madison Ave where we’d embark uptown. Although I love subways, you get to see more from busses. The red balloons advertised a luncheonette.

One snow-day we walked up through Central Park past the back of the Met arriving at the Neue Galerie and its Viennese cafe. I like how some of the buildings seen from the park seem like castles.

Walking through the snowy park, the colors of a tunnel’s tiles popped out. Fleshy, in a way, a dragon’s maw.

We came upon an old friend, the Egyptian obelisk known as “Cleopatra’s Needle,” and mounted in Central Park behind the Met. I like the contrast between the rigid obelisk and the snaky tree. Yang and yin.

I’ve always loved the iron crabs supporting Cleopatra’s Needle. The crabs have human faces, though you can’t see that here, and some have Greek letters on their claws.

We met up with Eddie Marritz at the Neue Galerie. What a great cafe they have. The art’s good too, although in the shadow of the Met, every gallery pales. But good to see some German Expressionists. Looking at all the paintings—naturally we hit the (non-math) MOMA too—I thought of a dozen “new” ways I could try to paint.

New F*ckin’ York. I’ll be back. One of the things I love most there is simply the urban architecture, block after block of insanely large buildings, and so many of them are from the 30s and 40s, and encrusted with lovely detail work. The glass box era was a wasteland, but finally they’re turning the corner and putting some interesting facets, beveled corners, polyhedral slants and spike-towers onto the boxes.

The other thing I love most in NYC is the people. The anthill! Being in it, scuttling and bustling, peacefully anonymous, with a freedom to glance at and browse the moving encyclopedia of humanity.

The “Bogosity Generator” Tool In Science Fiction

As most of you probably know, filmmakers use the term “MacGuffin” to stand for some object that various characters in the tale are competing for. A secret paper, a formula, a stunning gem, a statue of a Maltese falcon…

In Fantasy and SF novels we have a slightly different convention—a special device or procedure or organism with special powers that affect the flow of the story. The writer very often works backwards, that is, they get some visually or conceptually interesting thing happening in their story, and only then posits a gimmick that will make the effects possible.

There must be some standard generic name for these gimmicks, and if so, I’ve probably heard it, but for whatever reason, I can’t think of a completely apt and standard phrase today. Deus ex machina isn’t quite right, as that’s more specifically a miraculous something that saves your characters. Pixie dust is fairly accurate, but it doesn’t have the technological feel that I’d like. I’ve seen handwavium too, and that’s not bad, but I guess I’d like a new phrase for this.

Let’s call what I’m talking about a bogosity generator. Kind of like a tank of helium, useful for inflating your pretty balloon animals so they can bobble across the ceiling. Or, more obviously, like an electrical generator that sets the great streams of sparks to arcing across your mad-scientist lab.

The rules are that fantasy authors aren’t expected to justify or to explain their bogosity generators, but an SF writer is expected to cobble together some kind of semi-plausible, paralogical, science-like explanation—that’s considered part of the fun of SF. The styles of these hand-waving explanations change with the intellectual fashions of the times. Over the years, preferred bogosity-generator-justifiers have included radio waves, radioactivity, the subdimensions, relativity, psi powers, black holes, quantum mechanics, parallel worlds, nanotechnology, chaos theory, superintelligent AI, an escalating technological singularity, bioengineering, and our dear friend the Higgs particle.

One point that’s worth making over and over is that an SF writer’s explanations for his or her bogosity generators serve a creative purpose. The theory behind your bogosity generator is not idle bullsh*t. Why? Because in the process of making up the explanation, you get ideas for new things to do with the bogosity generator.

When you’re thinking about the explanation, it’s like you’re reading an instruction manual for some cool new device. Admittedly, you yourself are writing the instruction manual at the same time that you’re reading it, but the manual is not a complete fabrication—it’s constrained by having to be logical, concise, intellectually appealing, internally consistent and, to a certain degree, externally consistent with some cherry-picked facts of science.

When you get a really fine explanation for your bogosity generator, it’s no longer the case that your story tells a lie . If the explanation is really cooking, the lie tells your story. Yeah, baby. That’s where you want to be. It’s a variation on a carnie grifter saying: “Don’t run the con. Let the con run you.”

It sometimes happens that an author invents the bogosity generator before deciding what it’s supposed to do. You might dream one up early in a novel simply because you know you’ll be needing some explanatory device sooner or later, even if you haven’t quite yet decided what kind of weirdness you’ll be needing to explain. Or you’ll have a nice mental image for a funky bogosity generator, and you go ahead and describe it without even knowing what it does or how it “works.”

This is the situation that I’m in with my novel-in-progress The Big Aha . About a quarter of the way into the novel, I introduced a bogosity generator called an oddball. It has some of the qualities of a MacGuffin, in that some of characters immediately set to work stealing the oddball from each other like the spies vying for that Maltese falcon. But it’s also meant to be a bogosity generator. I’m expecting great things from my oddball. Only I still have to figure out what those things will be—and what’s the “explanation” for the oddball. And I’m glad I still have to figure these things out, as I need material for the second half of the novel!

Here’s some text from the draft scene, where the oddball is introduced. I might mention that by a “nurb,” I mean a biotweaked plant or animal. In the future era where The Big Aha is set, somewhere near the end of the 21st century, tailored organisms have almost entirely replaced machines. “Teep” is telepathy. “Qwet” means “quantum wetware,” which is a bogosity generator of its own, it provides people with teep and with an ability to get their heads into a high “cosmic” state.

A scratched, glassy object sat upon a carved wooden shelf. It was a sphere the size of a robin’s egg, transparent on the outside, with an opaque core. This central core was dark purple. I’d often studied the object, trying to decipher its origins and its purpose, wondering over the sparks of reflected light that danced within. The deeply maroon central core was a spiky compound assemblage, a stilled explosion that resembled a sea urchin.

The really odd thing about this particular curio was that its appearance continually changed. The calligraphic scratches on its surface tended to wriggle and drift; the central core wobbled and varied in size. Once in a great while, if I’d fiddled with the curio enough, I’d see a stumpy cylinder grow out of the central core and out through the curio’s transparent side. This cylinder was like a smooth, leathery tube, but its outer end gave the appearance of having been roughly severed.

My wife Jane called this little sphere her amazing oddball. She’d picked it up in Manhattan, on the East Village beach that bordered the now-submerged Alphabet City district. Jane liked to claim that the oddball had called her by whispering her name. We’d never quite decided what it actually was. At first we’d taken it for a plastic amulet with an embedded holographic display—but then we’d decided it was biological, probably a nurb. Not that it resembled any nurb that had ever gone into production. Nor did it have any obvious commercial purpose. An abandoned experiment? A wild nurb that had emerged on its own?

I centered myself and took the oddball in my hand. It nestled against my palm, and I seemed to feel a faint glow of teep from it. Not something I’d ever noticed before. Was the curio somehow synching with my qwet mind?

Two months ago, I formed the desperate plan of having my oddball be someone’s severed third eye, to be used in concert with hopping from our world up to a parallel world called fairyland. I described this far-fetched idea in my December 10, 2012 blog post, “Cosmic Fairyland 2: Third Eye”.

That was a useful idea in that it helped me to continue writing. But the whole fairyland and third eye thing is too baroque to maintain. It introduced too many extra story elements into my novel. So I’m downgrading the oddball’s abilities. My character Loulou didn’t actually use the oddball to travel through another dimension to a parallel world and then hurl small green pigs, known as “gubs,” into our world for the other characters to see. (Gubs are described in my post of November, 30, 2012, “Gubs and Raths”.)

Instead, I’m now only requiring that the oddball has the effect of allowing Loulou to (a) make herself invisible without in fact leaving our world, (b) to project images and seemingly solid objects into reality, somewhat in the style of what spiritualists call a “physical medium.”

Fairyland was only Loulou’s hallucination, but the oddball allowed Loulou to become invisible, those around her thought she might be off in fairyland, and her ability to reify her imagined gubs made it seem like she might be off in fairyland tossing gubs into our world.

So now I’m trying to get more specific about what the oddball does, and how it works. I’m thinking I’ll say that contact with the oddball allows telepaths to begin converting normal matter into something I call wacky matter. Of course, wacky matter is merely a subsidiary bogosity generator. But it’s getting closer to something useable. I was already thinking about wacky matter a year ago, see my Jan 16, 2012, blog post, “Future Ads. Fun with Wacky Matter.”

So, repeating what I just said, I’ll assume that people who have access to the oddball can turn objects into wacky matter that they control. And later on, people who merely have an understanding of the powers involved in the oddball can create and control wacky matter too.

Let’s back up and describe wacky matter again. Wacky matter is like psychic Silly Putty. It takes on shapes and patterns to match any outré mind state. Peoples’ houses might change into big shoes or have rooms with ceilings one inch tall, or maybe look like Dogpatch scenes from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner. You might dose your surroundings to make them more vibrant, more cartoony, more congenial. Instead of you getting high, your house gets high! Don’t run your con, let your con run you.

Why do I want wacky matter? The Big Aha is about a future psychedelic revolution that arrives in scientific form. It will be kind of perfect if my qwet, qrude, loofy characters can taint the physical world with wacky matter—thanks to their quantum wetware and their oddball energy. Did Kesey and Leary change the world around them? For awhile. And then the world pushed back. We got hit with Charlie Manson and with disco. Wacky matter became a destructive and repressive force.

Over the past year, I’d forgotten all about wacky matter. But recently I stumbled across the contemporary real-tech notion of “metamaterials”—which reminded me of my fictional concept. Metamaterials are engineered to contain regular lattices of atoms that subject light rays and other electromagnetic fields to transformation optics—a bit like a lens does. Supposedly a metamaterial can become invisible via a so-called electromagnetic cloak or “metamaterial cloaking.” As the Wikipedia article puts it, “The guiding vision for the metamaterial cloak is a device that directs the flow of light smoothly around an object, like water flowing past a rock in a stream, without reflection, rendering the object invisible.”

I don’t want to use the word “metamaterials” more than once in The Big Aha, and then simply as a background justification for wacky matter. The thing is, I can barely understand the Wikipedia explanations of metamaterials, and the factuality of the concept limits me, and I don’t want to be playing catch-up-ball. Better to take a little inspiration from the science, but then be working with a completely bogus concept that I’ve invented, and which will obligingly have any properties that I require. Writing my own instruction book for my bogosity generator. Wacky matter, not metamaterials.

I can straight-up use the metamaterial cloaking routine for oddball/wacky-matter invisibility. And projecting images and objects into wacky matter can be explained with a rap about atoms being quantum computers, and the telepaths’ quantum wetware minds getting entangled with the “minds” of the atoms. You can make insubstantial illusions simply by selectively tweaking the refractive index of the air. And for objects, you go ahead and do a transmutation of matter routine.

But I still need to involve the oddball. How is it letting people make wacky matter? Maybe the oddball is helping with the entanglement part.

And, the payoff part, what can the oddball and the wacky matter do? What’s in the back pages of the instruction manual?

I imagine exploding an object into atoms, but have the atoms remember where they came from so you can play the explosion backwards. Like the atoms were connected to their original locations by rubber-band spacetime threads.

I want my qwet-heads to reach the Big Aha, which might be the light visible between our thoughts, the white light of the Void.

Naturally the oddball and wacky matter will pose a threat to the continued existence of the world. The world is a consensus illusion, and the oddball might nudge everyone/everything out of this illusion. We might lose our balance like a tightrope-walker looking down past the rope to the yawning chasm below.

The oddball will want to reproduce. In its initial state, it was blocked from so doing. Unwittingly my artist character Zad helps it begin to spread. He incorporates the oddball into one of his new sculptural artworks, hoping to enhance his work for a big come-back show at the Idi Did gallery. But then the work eats the gallery—and most of downtown Louisville, Kentucky.

Also I need to limn the origin of the oddball. Possibly a wetware hacker made the oddball, partly by accident. Perhaps it evolved—but could the evolution have been directed by…the Big Aha?

[A visit from the Golden Age computer theorist, Ted Nelson.]

One scene I want to do, it’s the ultimate “spaced friend” scene. My character Junko appears one morning and, thanks to the oddball and wacky matter, she’s altered the dimension signature of the spacetime in her body. Her body has, like, two-dimensional time and two-dimensional space. She slides into the commune’s morning breakfast room, sliding across the floor.

“Rough night, Junko?”

Don’t write the bogosity generator, let the bogosity generator write you.

Teep Scenes

So I’m still working on my novel The Big Aha. I reached the halfway point about a week ago. And then I ran into what my old mentor Robert Sheckley called a “black point.” I can’t see the land that I sailed off from, and I can’t see the land I’m sailing towards. A black zone in the sea of story. Whither now?

One obvious step that I took is to print out the first half of the novel and begin rereading it and marking it up. The process gives me a feel for where I am. Also it smoothes out the earlier stuff to match with where I’ve progressed to during this unpredictable growth if this particular “magic beanstalk.” Doing the revision can give me some momentum for the next chapter. And I can take inventory of the various plot threads that I already planted. Pretty soon now I ought to begin reeling them in.

Another thought is that I might as well put in an evil, psychotic, ruthless, murderous, half-mad human villain. I’ve often shied away from using characters like this, as I find them to be unrealistic and counterrevolutionary. That is, (a) I’ve never met anyone that’s really evil like that, and (b) presenting images of such bogeymen is in bad for the public discourse in that it promotes hysterical fear that leads to blind acceptance of police-state-style security measures. Usually, when I have a villain, they’re presented with a modicum of sympathy—like the tortured Jeff Luty in my novel Postsingular. But maybe not this time.

After all, I’m only spinning a tale here, a fairytale, really, so why not have an utterly unsympathetic ogre or a witch? The mad killer is a traditional action-fiction plot device. No need to turn up my nose at this time-honored move. Intense puppet-show conflict is good for the story, it gets the readers’ pulses pounding, and the villains work to set up good ticking-clock crisis scenes— will he kill again?

Looking forward to the next chapter, I’d like it to be an homage/evocation of the psychedelic Sixties. I want something of the flavor of William Craddock’s Be Not Content. .

Maybe even with an introductory line like: “I’m going to fast-forward through the following weeks, hitting highlights. Thanks to our budding scene, people all over the world would be doing qwet teep by the end of November. And then of course, the big problems with fairyland would kick in. But at the start, everything was good. We were turning people on. For many of us, life took on the feeling of a joyful waking dream.”

My rough idea of the flow is that, as I mentioned, more and more people are drawn into qwet—which (a) gives you the ability to jam your head into a trippy “cosmic” mode and (b) gives you a kind of teep, or telepathy, with the other qwetties.

I think of Leary’s Millbrook redoubt, with seekers coming to dabble in acid. I also see the cops starting to bug them. And we want a crisis involving the emerging parallel reality called fairyland.

I’d like giant group qwet teep session, sort of like an orgy, or maybe like an early Stinson Beach Acid Test party or a Furthur bus scene—only it’s in Louisville, Kentucky. And, while deep into the trip, the participants can pick up echoing vibes from qwet teepers in some other town, maybe New York, or maybe just Cincinnati.

Two months seeming like two years. Someone develops an ability to “bookmark” past psychic states, and hops up and down the timeline. Someone else gets stuck in a loop, circling around one particular instant over and over again.

A shrill argument that quantum amplifies out until a building collapses. The qwetties dust themselves off, laughing in the rubble, then restore the structure by talking to the individual atoms. The arguing couple swap personalities. Or mesh, exchanging only the contents of their left brains.

A guy gets fully into the consciousness of a housefly, absent-mindedly slaps it and kills it when it crawls into his nose, he freaks out, spends a day as a dead fly, oozes back. Some qwet tripper gets stuck in the alternate reality of fairyland, and only a few pieces of them come back.

A dream you can’t wake up from. Or you do wake up, but only into another dream, level upon level, transfinitely many of them. Someone gets an early premonition of the Big Aha beyond it all. Beyond mundane reality, beyond fairyland.

Ve going to za Vite Lite, my friend. Za great Alef’s home.

Charles Stross’s RULE 34 — And the Nature of Mind

Before reading Charles Stross’s novel Rule 34, I’d been under the misapprehension that the title was referring to cellular automata or CAs.

[A reversible 1D Ca rule that I dubbed “Axons” in my and John Walker’s Cellab package.]

In the 1980s, the computer scientist Stephen Wolfram enumerated the simplest possible CAs in a list numbered from 1 to 255. Rule 30 is a very good generator of pseudorandom sequences, and Rule 110 is in fact a universal computer, capable of emulating any possible computational process. The CA Rule 34 is, however a very dull one, which produces patterns of parallel diagonal lines.

But it turns out “Rule 34” is hacker slang for the dictum: “If it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions.” (You can find a nice summary of internet rules in this 2009 essay.)

So…Rule 34. Bowling ball porn? Check. Squid porn? But of course. Lightbulb porn? No doubt. Sally Field? Please no.

[Spicy photo of the divine Vanessa Lake with bowling ball, © Vanessa Lake 2012 — found on a Tumblr site called “A Purple Haze of Porn and JD.”]

You can test Rule 34 for whatever entity ____ you want by Googling “porn ____” and then selecting the Image option on the Google results page. You might want to adjust your Safe Search filter level to an ‘adultness’ level you’re comfortable with. Alternately, try searching “Tumblr porn ____” The reason for narrowing down to Tumblr sites is that these pages aren’t encrusted with intense adware (and possible malware).

Anyway, the heroine of Stross’s novel Rule 34 is working in the playfully dubbed “Rule 34” branch of the Edinburgh police department, tasked with investigating the more kinky and dangerous things that the online locals might be getting up to.

In recent years, Charles Stross has become my favorite high-tech SF writer. And he’s not working in the sterile, Arthur Clarke mode of futurology, no, he’s writing druggy, antiestablishment satire, in some ways similar to cyberpunk—a mix of nihilistic humor and apocalyptic speculation. (Here’s a page listing Stross’s US editions.)

In 1995, I read Stross’s novel/story-sequence Accelerando. For several years before this, SF writers have been p*ssing and moaning and saying, “Gosh, we really can’t see past the Singularity.” And then Stross just goes in there and plows ahead. Machines as smart as gods? Why not. Hell, even the Greeks knew how to write about gods. You just do it. Pile on the bullsh*t and keep a straight face.

Accelerando gave me the courage to write my own Singularity novel—which I called Postsingular — it exists in paperback, ebook, and free CC editions. See also the sequel, Hylozoic.

The notion of a Singularity became a quasi-religious belief among some techies, a millennial conviction that computers would essentially eat everything and we’d all be living in a giant videogame. Stross and Cory Doctorow took this line of thought to a maximal level in their recent novel/story-sequence Rapture of the Nerds, quite a wiggy romp.

But Stross and Doctorow aren’t Johnny One-Notes, not messianic Singulatarians. That whole rap is just one particular goof. Stross’s Heinlein-inspired far-future novel Saturn’s Children is more like retro, old-school SF, a book in which the author actually worries about things like rockets having enough fuel to fly from planet to planet within our solar system. And Doctorow’s engaging novels Makers and Little Brother and Pirate Cinema are tightly linked into near-future possiblities