Archive for the ‘Rudy’s Blog’ Category

“Welcome to Your Cyberpunk Future”

I’m in my home town Louisville, Kentucky, to give a talk at the IdeaFestival 2017. I spoke on the morning of Wednesday, Sept 27, a good crowd, maybe 500 people, the tickets to the event sold out. Here’s a panorama of the audience, shot hastily by me from the stage.

Click for hi-res (but slightly blurry) version.

The final draft of the text and images for my talk is below. My performance differed slighlty from the draft, as I don’t read my talks from a script, and I react to whatever the live audience seems to be picking up on. Working the room, getting laughs, like stand-up.

The slides are online in a PDF here—the slides are just the same as the images in this blog post, only higher-res. Maybe by the end of October, I’ll link to a podcast audio recording, which I hope to get from KET TV. Naturally my personal tape recorder turned itself off… KET filmed a video, which at some point should be online as well. I’m having fun at the IdeaFestival. Nice of them to invite me. And it was a good crowd with interesting questions after the talk. Free dinner tonight at a distillery. Party time!

[Musician at a Fellini style beach picnic last week. Honk that horn!]


“Welcome to Your Cyberpunk Future”

Draft of a talk by Rudy Rucker for IdeaFestival in Louisville, Kentucky, talk given on September 27, 2017.

Where I’m From

I grew up in Louisville, and I graduated from St. Xavier high-school in 1963, not that I’m a Catholic. My father Embry was in fact an Episcopal priest at St. Francis in the Fields. But my parents had the idea that St. X had the best science courses. It’s a good school. But I regret not having gone to high-school with girls. I could have gone to Waggener with my best friend Niles Schoening. He died last year. And my St. X pal Michael Dorris died a few years back. It’s terrible to see your friends and loved ones go. They’re lost. No backup.

Embry Sr, Nonny, Embry Jr, and Rudy in 1957

I left Louisville, and went off to Swarthmore College near Philadelphia, and then I got a Ph. D. in mathematics, and had a career. At this point I’ve published about forty books. Some are popular science books about infinity and about the fourth dimension. But most of my books are science fiction novels. Literary science fiction. Cyberpunk and transreal. Cyberpunk is about computers merging into our reality—and about us maintaining our individuality in the face of that.

Rudy with big brother Embry and his motorcycle in Prospect, Kentucky, in 1981

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by the Beat writers Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. It helped that my cool big brother Embry had a subscription to Evergreen Review, which is where these guys were publishing. In grad school I was a hippie, and the 1980s, I was a punk. But at the deepest level I’ll always be a beatnik.

Nevertheless I’m a reliable Louisville boy, and a family man, married to my college sweetheart Sylvia for fifty years now, with three children, and five grandchildren.

Our children Rudy Jr, Georgia, and Isabel in Lynchburg, Virginia, 1978. Cyberpunk kids! One of fate’s jokes was to have me live the home of the “Moral Majority” while I was helping to found the cyberpunk movement.

Being a successful writer doesn’t necessarily pay well, so for most of my life I had a day job. I was a math professor until I was forty, and then the family and I moved to California, and I became a computer science professor. I was faking it, but eventually I knew what I was doing, and then I did some work as a programmer as well. And now I’ve been retired for a dozen years. All I do these days is write and paint and put things online.

What is Cyberpunk?

This talk is called, “Welcome to Your Cyberpunk Future.” Your cyberpunk future is here, and you’re in it, and there’s nothing to be scared of. You’re out in the waves, and you can surf. No need to drown. And it’s gonna get gooder.

Back in the day, William Gibson, John Shirley, Bruce Sterling, and I were among the original cyberpunk authors. The word cyberpunk stood for a certain kind of science fiction literature and film, set in the near future. Gibson’s Neuromancer is a modern classic, and everyone’s read it. I’m known for my Ware Tetralogy novels, starting with Software in 1982. And Sterling generated more press than any of us—with his speeches, novels, and journalism. I co-wrote nine stories with Bruce. He can be annoying. A true punk. But the stories came out great.

Transreal Cyberpunk, a collection of stories by Bruce and Rudy. We self-published it last year, and rand a Kickstarter campaign to fund it. Cyberpunk publishing. “Transreal” means writing SF stories that are autobiographical, or in some way reminiscent of the author’s life.

The word cyberpunk isn’t all that well-known. People aren’t sure if it’s good or bad. The strait-laced and repressive forces in our society might reflexively say cyberpunk is bad. But I’m telling you that cyberpunk is good. Cyberpunk is your friend. Cyberpunk is a key to liberation.

The idea behind cyberpunk is simple.
Cyberpunk = Cyber + Punk.

Cyber refers to two things: to people, and to the world that people live in. That is, cyber is about the merging of humans and robots—and cyber is about the physical world mixing with the virtual world of the internet.

One of my paintings . “The Riviera.” In a way, that’s my wife Sylvia and me.

How do people merge with machines? In one direction, we have intelligent programs imitating people. And in the other direction we have people enhancing themselves with devices like smart phones.

Okay, and what about the cyber merger of physical reality and the internet? In one direction, we have computers creating visual effects and virtual realities that resemble our world. And in the other direction our daily world is being augmented by the internet. We spend a lot of time online, and that means the internet is part of the world we walk around in.

Graffiti art at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. A punk diagrammatic crab.

So that’s cyber, now what about punk? In the classic 1980s sense, punk is about sex, drugs, and rock and roll—and about turning your back on conventional rules. As Bruce puts it, “We get in there with spray cans and grunge up those pristine walls.” Cyberpunk literature and film break out of the1970s-type, plastic, white-bread visions of the future. We leave the worlds of Star Trek and Star Wars—and enter the worlds of Bladerunner and The Terminator and Black Mirror.

In the 1980s, when the first cyberpunk novels appeared, a lot of SF novels were about, like, hereditary aristocrats who were colonels in the Space Navy. Some of us had barely escaped being drafted and sent to die in Vietnam. We didn’t want to hear about serving the whims of our so-called leaders. We wanted stories starring people like ourselves. Misfits, artists, stoners, outlaws, women, gays, and people of color. Not officers and cops and rich people.

Punk means countercultural politics. Like, “You’re not my boss. I’m not even listening. I’m doing it my way.”

Even simpler, punk means GTF&WA. Give the finger and walk away.

Software and Wetware

Covers of Software in paperback, (Ace1982 and (Avon 1987).
When I published my novel Software in 1982, the word was almost unkown—I learned about the concept of software by reading Scientific American and by doing post-doctoral academic research on mathematical logic and the philosophy of mind at the University of Heidelberg.

The idea for the novel seems simple now. The idea: It should be possible to extract the patterns stored in a person’s brain, and transfer these onto a robot, and the robot will act just like person. By now you’ve seen this happen in about a hundred movies and TV shows, right? But I was the first one to write about it. In the 1980s, “soul as software” was such an unfamiliar way of thinking that it took me a year to figure it out.

Wetware in the Japanese and the Italian editions.

To make my Software be punk, I made the brain-to-software transfer very gnarly. A gang of scary-funny hillbillies extracted people’s mental software by slicing off the tops of their skulls and eating their brains with cheap steel spoons. One of them is a robot in disguise, and his stomach analyzes the brain tissue. They were based on some people who stayed at the same crummy motel as us one time.

My second Ware novel is called Wetware and it’s set partly in a robot colony on the moon, and partly in my beloved home town, Louisville. In Wetware, the robots get even. They start building people. The idea here is that DNA, or genetic code, is a type of program for your body. And since it’s all slimy down inside your meat, we call this code wetware instead of software. Wetware engineering it going to be huge in the 21st century. Biotech. Genomics.

All the wares are in my Ware Tetralogy. You can buy it or, since I’m a punk, you can get it free. I don’t totally write for money. I write to change the world. I want to infect your mind. It’s a type of self-reproduction!

Cyberpunk Now

The cyberpunk writers of the 1980s were canaries in a coal mine. We predicted the future. We are merging with computers. And our physical world is saturated with the internet. And punks have evolved into slackers and Xers and grungers and hipsters and Y’s and millennials and whatever’s next. But the attitude’s the same. Give the finger and walk away. Punk’s still here. Welcome to your cyberpunk future!

The good news is that the internet turned out much better than anyone could have hoped. It grew and spread before business or the government could shackle it. Why? Because those people who designed it and released it—they were cyberpunks. I’m not saying they were hipsters, no, they were geeks. But they were cyberpunk geeks. They knew about computers, but they didn’t want to obey the elite. They released the internet into the wild, and there’s no way for the controllers to get it back. It’s on the loose for good.

Here’s some of the tasty cyberpunk aspects of the free internet.

*Without getting permission from anyone, you can put up a webpage and you can post pretty much anything you want on it. Free speech.

*You can use the internet to publish your art or your books—both online and in print. Freedom of the press.

*Put a smart phone in your pocket and you’ve got a universal communication device. Talk to anyone anywhere. Use video if you like.

*You’ve got access to the total world library in your pocket.

*You can get a reasonably helpful answer to any question—just by typing it into the search bar.

*You can outsource some of your brain functions. Photos, addresses, directions, dates, calculations—you don’t have to remember them anymore. They’re online, in the cloud.

*Email and the social networks let you hang with a virtual gang of friends all day. A good session on the web can feel like a party. You’re in cyberspace, and you’re not alone.

Image of my son Rudy Jr’s ISP Customers on left.

That’s all good cyber stuff, but we do still need that recalcitrant punk attitude. The browser and social network companies—they’re into building silos of data about you—so pests can pelt you with ads. At the very least, it’s wise to refrain from answering any and all online questionnaires. And never give out your real phone number. GTF&WA.

Even in a democracy, you don’t automatically keep your rights to freedom. You have to win them back, over and over and over again. If you stop being a rebel, they make you a slave.

Cyberpunk Later

Now I’ll mention four possible forms of future cyberpunk tech.

My painting, “My Life in a Nutshell.” How it feels to be using a keyboard all the time! Based on a Philip Guston painting of a guy obsessing over a bottle.

* (1) Smooth interface. Believe me, people are not going to be pecking at tiny smart phone keyboards in ten or twenty years. Voice recognition will finally work. But it’s embarrassing to be talking out loud to your phone, and it’s slow to have to listen to a computer voice.
We might end up with a patch or a soft blob that sits on the back of your neck and communicates directly with your devices, and even with other people. A cell phone that’s kind of glued onto your body, and it can read your brainwaves. As a computer science professor and a programmer, I would, however, advise you that any suggestion of implanting such a device is strongly contraindicated.

Like, “Report to the surgeon for release 2.1.7b?” Nah, external devices are fine.

This picture shows a pleasant regress or union you might encounter with telepathy. A yin-yang combo of souls!

* (2) Telepathy. True telepathy might be when, instead of sending information to someone else, you simply send them a link to the location where that information is stored in your own brain. And they can access it there without copying it. Read-only permission of course. And then, relative to you, other people are part of your data cloud.

Here’s my wife Sylvia and me in the digital afterlife. Recorded in Wyoming, 2008.

* (3) Digital Immortality. So how about making a software model of a person? So that, like, I can get my friend Niles Schoening back? In the near term, we already have a simple way for mimicking this process, something that I call lifebox software.

The idea behind a lifebox is get a large and rich data base with a person’s writings, plus videos of them, and recorded interviews. That’s the back end. The front end of a lifebox is an interactive search engine. You ask the lifebox a question, it does a search on the data, and it comes up with a relevant answer.

And for the icing on the cake, add a veneer of AI so the answers fit together into something like a conversation. This will be a huge commercial business soon.

(You can read more about this in my nonfiction book, The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul, online as a webpage.)

* (4) Everything is Alive. The best things in the world are what I like to call gnarly. Gnarl is at the interface between order and randomness. Not all lock-step organized—and not just random scuzz. There’s a whole theory to analyze this. The bottom line is that gnarly processes are, in effect, universal computations that can emulate anything.

Nature is gnarly. Leaves sway in an gnarly, chaotic patterns, never repeating, yet always approximately the same. Water flows in gnarly chaotic motion, too, and flames as well. Chaotic processes form intricately patterned shapes that we call fractals. And of course fractals are gnarly too. Our minds and bodies are gnarly as well. Gnarl is where it’s at.

My point is that any interesting natural process is gnarly, and any such process is, in effect, a universal computer. Even a rock sitting on the ground. A stone is, after all, like a jiggling mass of a septillion atoms, connected by spring-like bonds. There’s a lot happening inside a rock. Why shouldn’t it be as intelligent as I am?

My feeling is that, in some sense, every object is alive—some of the Greeks believed this. They called it hylozoism.
Hylozoism = Matter + Alive

Way down the road, we’re not using manufactured tools anymore. And we’re directly talking to the material objects around us. Because every object is alive.

And how exactly do you talk to the objects? Well, if you’re a hylozoic cyberpunk, you’ll find a way.

(More on this in my essay, “Everything Is Alive” in my Collected Essays, and in my novel Hylozoic.)

Cyberpunk forever!


(Unused Extra Bit): Nature to Computation to Cyberpunk Art

Water in a creek reflecting the sky

Nature’s processes form intricately patterned shapes that we call fractals. Fractals are gnarly. Chaotic things leave fractal trails.

You don’t fully appreciate the gnarliness of water and of reflections of light until you analyze these with computer models of them. For a cyberpunk, a computer can be a funhouse mirror of the world. A distorting lens to see through.

Computer model of water using my CAPOW software.

The way to profit from our merge with computers is not to say “we’re just computers.” Instead you want to say “computers can be as interesting as us.” Cyber can sound dull, but if you punk it up, it’s gnarly.

Painting of the computer model. I call it “Alien Taxi.” A computer simulation of nature’s chaos inspires a vision of an alien vehicle.

A cyberpunk artist sees unknown new forms.

Boppin’ Down Karman Vortex Street

My latest painting is a copy.

“Matisse Nude” oil on canvas, September, 2017, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I’ve always loved Matisse’s painting, Large Reclining Nude of 1935. That rectangular blue patch between her body and the arm along the right side. And the joyful curve of her bottom. The painting is in the Baltimore Museum, purchased by the Cone sisters, years ago. Matisse did six preliminary versions of the painting, getting more abstract and calligraphic as he went along, and those are in Baltimore too, you can view them here.

Over the last week I copied the main one. Took four or five sessions. I wasn’t sure it would be possible to get even this close—not that it’s all that close. The thing about painting is that you can home in on what you want…rubbing off and overpainting. I switched to oils for this one, and oils are especially easy to rub off. On the other hand with acrylics, it’s easier to paint over as they dry so fast.

We had the eclipse here awhile back. I’ll quote something I wrote in my anything-but-best-selling Journals when I saw a partial eclipse at home on May 22, 2012.

      There was a cool partial annular eclipse of the sun in the San Francisco Bay Area last week. It was about 6:30 pm, and the sun was going behind the hill that we live on. So I walked up the street to get a better view.
      I’d been using the safe method of studying tiny crescents via a pin-hole-punched sheet of paper, projecting the crescents onto the black back of a book. Wearing shades and walking up our tree-crowned hill, I noticed that the patches of shadow-light cast by the trees and bushes were strangely warped as well, with each dapple-blob molded into a crescent. A sun dapple is in fact a “pinhole camera” image of the current state of the sun!
      I looked up and I saw the eclipsed sun directly with my eyes.
      And, yes, I know you’re not supposed to stare at the sun, and I didn’t. But I could see it, via quick, raking side-long glances. The suddenly huge-seeming sun was a strange crescent, just above the horizon, filtered through the scrim of oak trees, archaic and mythical. The horned sun.
      It felt like a weird sign, a signal from on high.

I’m always looking for chaos in my surroundings. Dig the window light reflecting off some bathroom tiles. Like water, almost.

Sylvia and I were up in Berkeley and we went to the newish BAMPFA, that is, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive. On the wall outside, they were showing a documentary on a famous Berkeley street person who called himself “Hate Man.” He was on the streets back when my son Rudy Jr. went to UC. Hate Man’s doctrine was that if you started every conversation with, “I hate you,” then you would defuse it in advance. It’s a touching and funny film. The Hate Man was more together than I ever realized. His banter with religious evangelists is particularly rich. I can’t find, however, a link to the full documentary online.

Inside BAMFA they had a good show by Ugo Rondinone, “The World Just Makes Me Laugh.” A zillion clown mannequins, each dressed slightly differently, and big bullseye paintings in circus colors.

Also a show by Charles Howard who was active in the 1940s. I kind of like this vintage “modern” style. Those crinkly lines…are they pubic hairs? Phew! Miro used them too.

Reclining Molecule” by Phyllis Koshland, on a wall at new BAMPFA museum in Berkeley. DNA lounging? No, abstraction of a figure. Someone asked me, what kind of a wall does a molecule recline against? Well, the wall is made of second-order, really small molecules, of course. In the molecule’s little house in Moleculeville. I’d like to visit there.

Of all the zillion Buddhas I’ve seen this one is…the most recent. I like the face.

I’ve been hiking in the backwaters of the Los Gatos Creek above Lexington Reservoir lately. Getting some good strong wilderness hits. As reader of this blog will know, I’m crazy about ripples. Analog computation. Chaos in action. Always different, always the same. Mind made manifest.

I found this metal pipe (a surveyor’s marker?) sledge-hammered into the ground with it’s top split like a flower. A metaphor for a metaphor.

There’s this phenomenon I love called a von Karman Vortex Street. It’s when you have a smooth flow of fluid that passes an obstacle, such as this up-poking stick in the stream. The “laminar” flow of fluid is disturbed and that wonderful, yummy thing called “turbulence” sets in. The turbulence takes the forms of eddies, or whirlpools, or vortices, and they line up like wobbly pedestrians on a street, and they shed off smaller eddies, or split in two, and eventually dissipate into a tiny bit of added heat. They show up well here because of the bright sun casing their shadows. “Where you live, man?” “Von Karman Vortex Street.” “Gnarly.”

I like this thing, I bought it from a homeless woman at a special art show at St. Luke’s Church in Los Gatos a year ago. Kind of Boschian. A little like a woman with her arms akimbo, and a sprout of jade plant for her her head, and a hen-and-chicks cactus pup emerging from her fertile belly.

Sylvia and I rode the ferry from SF to Sausalito the other day. Great ride, with the mysterious mechanical gate to the ferry. Cheap, but lots of pushing and sweating to get aboard. And Sausalito itself is kinda…yeccch. Tourist zone! But you hop back on the ferry and get another ride back. The open Bay, ahh.

Pot ads on the sides of buses in SF. I guess it really is the twenty-first century now. And this Sunday they had a whole magazine section on “gourmet pot” in the SF Chronicle. In my day it was more like prison food: “Take it or leave it, this is the one and only kind we got.”

There’s an amazing graffito that I always see by a corner store at Hyde St. & O’Farrel St., a downbeat neighborhood, yeah, but this artist renews his work every year or two, and it’s always just wonderful. Like the Big Bang. No idea if there’s letters in here.

Driving across San Francisco, there’s this like knee, where all the streets bend, passing under 101, as you transition from downtown into the Mission. I always get confused when I’m driving here, but this time I was in an Uber and staring, what joy, out the window. That’s a graffito on the bridge up top. And really oddly modern-modern window shape on the landwhale next to us.

Came across my St. Xavier Tiger Yearbook from Louisville 1963. Touching young Rudy, so tentative, so unsure, not even knowing what to hope for. Don’t worry, little dude, it’ll all work out! And then you’ll die. But not for a long time!

I took my Norwegian neighbor pal Gunnar up into that creek spot I like. His English is quite poor, even though he’s lived here about fifty years. But he’s been meditating his whole life, even living in ashrams at times, and he does in fact say wise and heavy things. Sample: “I am always in the now. And there is no now.” And he says this like it confuses him, and he wants advice.

Gunnar likes to talk about beavers. The Norwegian word for them is bever, pronounced “bay-var.” He used to say it that way, and I would tease him about it, but he’s stopped. “So now that’s fixed,” he says with a chuckle if I remind him. “Something for once.”

We found what could be a beaver lodge in the creek. The tangled part on the right. I think the way a lodge works is that it’s a tangle of branches with dirt packed on top as a kind of roof, and there’s a bit of space between the water and the top of the lodge so that the air gets in. The beavers are safe from wildcats etc. in the lodge.

Beavers at work! When I was a kid, Ipana toothpaste had this logo/mascot in their TV cartoon ads. Bucky Beaver. At the climax of each ad, Bucky Beaver would bite something in half. Really hard. Like, CHOMP! I loved it. And their jingle. “Brusha, brusha, brusha, get the new Ipana…” The warm sea of senility laps at my knees. What if I lie down in it and fill my lungs?

Graffiti aren’t always necessarily a bad thing. Dig these on the abutments of the bridge over the creek. And check out that ring-like branch formation. Subtle alien biotech engine to power the magic door teleportation aspect of this gate.

I never get enough of seeing branches reflected in water. The theme of the double. These days I’m working on my twenty-third novel, my Return to the Hollow Earth, a sequel to my 1987 opus, The Hollow Earth. Has it really been thirty years since I wrote about these characters? I’m happy to be back with them. A high point of the first one, HE1, was when Edgar Allan Poe meets up with his double (thanks to passing through a tunnel between worlds). My climax was modeled on Poe’s climax to his own double story “William Wilson.”

Synchronistically enough, the characters Mason and Eddie Poe in my novel-in-progress just won $3,000 by betting the number 23 in roulette. They get paid off with 15 ounces of gold dust…it’s in San Francisco, 1850, and gold goes for $20 an ounce. So they split it, and they each have a little pouch of gold, and they’re getting out of the Eldorado casino as quickly as possible, and this woman barmaid Persephone follows them, wanting to accompany them on their expected spree.

      “Guard your pocket,” I warned Eddie, and he shook Persephone away.
      “You’re mistaking me for an entirely different class of person,” Eddie told her, always glad for a chance to tell some thumpers. “My cousin Mason and I are tending to his wife and their newborn baby. We only came out for diapers and clabber. We entered the Eldorado in error—Mason here thought it was a church. As for the roulette, well, twenty-three was Grandmother’s birthday. We’re grateful for her holy blessing. And we have no lust for low jinks. Do mark that I already tipped you. Sojourn on, fair maid, and may the Light be with you.”
      “You sober up fast, don’t you?” said Persephone with disgust. She turned on her heel and flounced back into the Eldorado. Eddie pulled out his poke of gold, loosed the rawhide around the pouch, and stared in, as if wanting to confirm it was real.

Yeah, baby!

Road Trip to Wyoming

Three quick plugs.

(1) My new, never-before-published augmented hipster reality story “Fat Stream” came out in the reborn Mondo 2000 online. I wrote it in December of 2016, and five of my usual SF magazine outlets turned it down. Too cool for the room? Or drooling senility? You decide. Read it online. Or listen to me read it to you.

(2) My 1981 hardcore cyberpunk story “Buzz” was reprinted in the Summer, 2017, issue of the far-out Big Echo semi-samizdat lit-crit zine. Issue includes a great piece by Brendan C. Byrne, plus other goodies still to be delved into.

(3) Podcast of me talking to Wilson Walker for KPIX. “If Chatbots Talk, Where Will AI Go?” Fun rap, casual, with wild ideas.

My wife and I went on a two week road trip to our daughter’s town Pinedale, Wyoming. All our kids and grandkids got together by Fremont lake there for a reunion. It was great. About four days in I realized I wasn’t thinking about politics, or about my books, I was just smiling and looking at nature, and at my loved ones and relaxing. A good trip. Here’s my pix.

If possible, I like to avoid driving on Interstate highways. Thing is, these roads are crowded with trucks and cars and you have to think about them. And the edges of the highways are cleared out in band of about a hundred feet wide on either side, so you’re never very close to undisturbed nature. And you don’t actually save that much time. If you drive on a back road, like Route 50 through Nevada, you can go 70 or 80 most of the way anyway.

I like this photo as it has three natural fractals that mirror or emulate each other. The cloud the rock, and the plant, all doing their things, but on different time scales. Cloud fast, plant slower, eroded rock really slow. This was in a little roadside park in Nevada desert. I had a real sense that it would be possible to die of the heat.

Off the interstates, you end up staying in weird small towns like Fallon, Nevada. Found a Motel Six here, it was okay, once we got a ground floor room instead of a secondfloor 110 degree room. The shop windows in towns like this are kind of heartbreaking. Or, looked at a different way, wonderful and surreal. I always say to Sylvia, “We should move here,” and she always says no.

Love the big clouds in the big sky. Dig how this guy is raining.

And another cloud. Beautiful shape. The things nature just does automatically and for free. Runs these wonderful emergent computations that, so very often, end up with self similar fractal forms in which the details resemble the whole.

There used to be a “shoe tree,” that is, a tree covered with shoes—who knows how or why—on Route 50, and some jackass cut it down, and now there’s a new one. Like the only big tree by the road within a hundred miles. An unexplained mystery cult, the resurgence of the shoe tree. As a parent, of course, one feels angered at the sight of children’s new and expensive shoes hanging high on a tree or, in a city, on power lines. Why do they do it? No need to know. Just admire.

We stopped to rest in Ely, Nevada. They pronounce it like Eely, in the sense of eel-like. Not like Eli in the sense of Elijah. This store had “a real soda fountain,” and I was in there to get a root beer float. A summum bonum of road food. One of the young women behind the counter had a cool tattoo.

This old man at the counter, I mean like eighty, not a spritely 71 like me, he started talking about cars, and then it came out that he and his tuned-out wife were the proud owner of this camper van across the street that I’d mistaken for a band’s tour bus. When I showed this to my friend Marc Laidlaw later, Marc said, “For every year that he lives, his van grows a foot longer.”

For the only-in-a-small-town bizarre touch, the windows in the empty building behind the creepazoid camper were filled with mannequins of aliens. I love these scenes that look as if they carry a message, but the message is so obscure and veiled that you never find out what it is.

In my weariness and Red Bull vibration, it seemed to me that this stainless steel public toiled looked like a rabbit. See the ears? One of my Twitter followers suggested that it was a Jeff Koons rabbit.

We spent the night in ghastly Wendover, which straddles the Nevada / Utah border. Massive casinos on the Nevada side. Did get a good meal in there. Slept in another Motel 6 in the Utah side, only this room was, oddly, under an outdoor staircase, and had intense signs of wear. A notch below from what you’d expect from even a rehab halfway house. I don’t mind these things really when I’m on the road. Part of the trip.

To my joy, I found a guy staying a few pods down from us…and the back of his station wagon was stuffed with huge amateur rockets. He was a member of the Utah Rocket Club.

Turned out there was an event called Hellfire 22 at the nearby Bonneville Salt Flats, wherein amateur and semi-pro rocketeers from far and wide would be grouping in the morn to blast their rockets up to two miles into the air. A three-day permission had been obtained from the FAA.

So in the morning Sylvia and I drove down there to check it out.

I hadn’t realized you could just drive any old car out on the fifty-mile-wide and perfectly flat salt flats…but, yeah, you can…although you might not want to crank it up to 120 mph just anywhere, as there are little…flaws…in the surface here and there. So wild to be standing out there. Almost as much fun as being dead, I figured. I mean this is often how the afterlife is depicted. Wham! It’s all white!

We drove in about five miles and found the rocketeers doing their thing. Paradise. I used to worship this stuff as a boy, and then as a father, loved to help Rudy Jr. launch rockets.

And then we made it to Wyoming. Water. Green stuff. Wonderful.

We had campfires and cook fires nearly every night. So fascinating to stare at a fire. It’s that chaos thing again…never exactly repeating, but by no means random. Certain familiar forms…the strange attractors…recurring over and over. Like life itself. Easy to wax philosophical, staring into the flames.

And a really good supply of wood on hand in daughter Isabel’s back yard. She and her husband used to go cut, and then split, the wood, but as middle age draws on they’re dialing that back and…actually buying the wood.

One day we rented a big party boat, the thirteen of us, and cruised around on Fremont lake, which is about twelve miles long. There’s this one spot there I really love, all green, and kind of a campground, but always empty. I was wearing giant “elephant” bell bottoms in this photo, easy to roll up. I got the bell bottoms for a “Summer of Love” dinner we had, celebrating the year 1967. But here I’m in sailor mode, or hermit is what it looks like.

This spot had a tree that was kind of partway into tipping over, but, at least for now, leaning on his/her buddies. Nature just does this stuff and it all works out. Eventually when you really fall down you rot, and that’s cool too.

We stopped in a little cove with a high bulbous rock, and there was a groundswell of support for the notion of mounting the rock. Isabel’s dog Rivers looks especially fine here. Love silhouettes. The 3D / 2D thing.

Our room was at the edge of the lake, and it was fun to look at in its various moods. The lake like the mind, whipped up by the winds of change and maya, right?

On our last days, these people where having a little regatta on the lake…they hauled their boats in…and there were these really savage gusts of wind from the Wind River Mountains and a couple of boats fell over.

I liked being out there, and I was thinking off and on about Return to the Hollow Earth, this novel I’m getting started on just now. I’m not exactly sure how my guys are going to get back inside the Hollow Earth. Probably a maelstrom at the North Pole is the way to go. I found a 2008 blog post about me writing the original Hollow Earth. At the end of that post, I found a funny riff about the Hollow Sun.

There was an article about my novel in the paper in San Jose, and a young but weathered homeless guy came by my office to tell me this news: “The sun is cold and hollow. That light you see overhead is just the interaction of some special rays from the sun with our upper atmosphere. I used to be a very famous surfer, you know. Look.” He pulled out a page torn from an encyclopedia with a grainy picture of someone on a wave. “That’s me. Inside the Hollow Sun.”

Well…maybe that guy was the muse, helping me in advance. Like seedy Mercury, messenger of the gods. Need to think it over. On the trip, at the motels, Sylvia kept telling me I looked seedy. But in a freindly way. Like I’m from the Hollow Sun. Trying to fit in. Hmmm.

Driving home from Pinedale, we took a northern route, mostly along Route 20 through Idaho and Oregon. I love that road.

Passing across Idaho, we went by Craters of the Moon national park, all lava, very fierce and strange. It was super windy…look at Sylvia’s hair.

And my windbreaker like a balloon. So exhilarating whenever you get out of the car on a road trip.

We ended up spending a night in Boise, Idaho. “We should move here.” “No.” They had a kind of hip couple of blocks around 8th and Idaho streets. Ate two great meals, at Fork and at Wild Root. Plus they had a Mission-style alley with street graffiti art, they called it Freak Alley.

We passed through Klamath Falls, which has one of those deserted and kind of heartbreaking downtowns. Nice stone buildings but not much going on.

Klamath Lake has white pelicans on it. I always think of my high-school friend Michael Dorris here. His father was, I think, a Klamath Indian, and there’s even a town called Dorris nearby. Poor Dorris, he died…it’s been twenty years now. Funny that we both turned out to be novelists. I wish he’d come back. Death is so final, and by now I have half a dozen or morr friends my age who are gone for good. My old pals Michael Dorris, Jim Carrig, Niles Schoening, Kathleen Hall, David Hartwell…where are they? Nowhere. It’s crazy. I’m glad for the time I still have.

Finally we were cruising across the fruited plain to Mount Shasta with the rough but lovable burg of Weed, California, at its base.

We stayed at this motel/café that I kind of like, it’s called the Hi-Lo. So vintage, so classic. Is the food good? Are the rooms comfortable? Those questions are, somehow, irrelevant if you can look out your window and see two bright-colored tractor-trailer trucks…with sacred Mount Shasta behind them.

And, ah, that iconic roadside neon with the vibrant evening sky. A good trip. And now I’m home and back to Return to the Hollow Earth.

Sneak in a Hollow Sun? Kind of tempting. but…it’s a lot of trouble to get from Earth up to the Sun. Of course there could be a shortcut trapdoor at the center of the Hollow Earth. Yes!

Or maybe, if I want to go somewhere new, it might be better for the novel to hop to Earth in 2150. What with the time shift from crossing the Hollow Earth’s central anomaly. Be writing some 22nd Century SF, then.

Or all of the above. Keep it bouncing, right? We’ll see.

Podcast #102. If Chatbots Talk, Where Will AI Go?

August 22, 2017. Audio from interview with Wilson Walker for KPIX evening news, taped August 1, 2017. Topic: If Facebook has chatbots that have developed their own language, what does this mean for AI? Should we be scared or hopeful? Press the arrow below to play “If Chatbots Talk, Where Will AI Go?”


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