Archive for the ‘Rudy’s Blog’ Category

An SF Con and a Visit to Madison

Today’s topics are a trip to an SF con near Chicago, and a visit to Madison, Wisconsin.

Flying over the Rockies to Chicago, looking down at a little town by the edge of the mountains. So archetypal, somehow. I can never believe that some people want to close the plastic shutters on their seat windows in the plane. So they can—do what? Look at a video? When right outside the window you’re seven miles above the ground looking down at cloud castles and landscapes heretofore unseen by human eye?

I was what they call the “GoH” or “writer guest of honor” at Windycon, a small (1,000 attendees) SF con held in a hotel in mall parking lot Lombard, Illinois, nearly an hour’s drive south of Chicago. My writing isn’t very popular among the people who go to cons, so it tends to be a discouraging experience for me to go to a con.

I mean, I already know that not all that many people read my books, but to be on a panel and to look out at a small group of people of whom only one or two has read me, and usually that was a long time ago…well, it’s not something I enjoy. But I figured it was time to try a con, and the GoH honor drew me in, and I wanted to have a look at Chicago.

At any con there are always a few fellow mutants in the mix, case in point, Greg Ketter, owner of the Dreamhaven Books in Minneapolis. I’ve known this guy for over thirty years and—hallelujah—he had a few of my books for sale in the dealers’ room. Nobody else had them in stock. And even Greg didn’t have any of my recent self-pubbed Transreal Books novels. All the more reason to have Night Shade Books reprint nine books from my backlist, a worthy project now underway.

The hotel bar was cozy, with a Chicago feel. Even though I don’t drink anymore, I love places like this. They feel safe, they’re like my early adolescent images of the way the world was going to be. Sitting here, I’m looking forward to my panels and my big talk!

Previsualization: My handlers lead the circus animal from his cage in the shadows behind the tent. He blinks at the bright light, slightly confused. He attempts a growl, someone throws a soda can at him, he snarls. Kafka territory.

I bought a great Cthulhu T-shirt (modeled on Sheppard Fairey’s Obama poster). “Cthulhu for REAL Change.” Got it from Barb VanTilburg of OffWorld Designs—she runs it, and her husband Ray designs a lot of the shirts. They drive from con to con in a big van, selling their wares, kind of a gypsy existence.

The thing about cons…they’re not all that much about the actual books, they’re about the media…comics, video, movies, TV, t-shirts, and free-form user-designed costumes. A con is kind of like a reef, with all kinds of curious critters living on it. A short-lived reef—what Peter Lamborn Wilson calls a TAZ, or a Temporary Autonomous Zone.

Speaking of making costumes—or what the fans call cosplay—these two guards were pretty cool. Another upside was that a con staffer called David Iverson got me a good audio of my “Welcome to You Cyberpunk Future” talk which I posted as a podcast. The con organizers were nice to me. Many thanks in particular to Daniel (Gundo) and Teresa Gunderson for inviting me, and to Marinda Darnell who helped me settle in and stay afloat.

I liked giving a reading of my story, “Attack of the Giant Ants” to a group of twelve (few but fit). [Check out the 2014 podcast of me reading this.] And it was sweet when a handful of tru-fans showed up to get their copies of my books signed. Always refreshing to see those old, and sometimes forgotten, items in the hands of someone who treasures them.

Of course a lot of the people getting signatures are just dealers, looking to flip some product, but, hey, their activities are in some sense generating value for my brand. But the ones I love are the elite core who really do care about my work, the ones who say, “This book changed my life.” I live for that.

Despite the good moments, I did have a very strong flash of “What am I doing here?” when I awoke on each of my three mornings at the con. It’s usually like that. And then I feel guilty and ungrateful for tiring of these dear and all-too-human souls. This annual event is their source of joy, their gay holiday of fun and magic, and they look forward to it, and work on it, and plan for it, and make all the pieces come together, and I, the aloof interloper, I have grave doubts. So I’m a horrible person. What a payoff.

“Why can’t you just relax, Rudy?” says my wife’s voice in my head. “Be happy for them that they’re having fun. They’re touching. Love them.” Well, maybe my wife wouldn’t go that far. Maybe that’s Jesus’s voice, or the Buddha’s, or the White Light’s…

One day I left the con for three hours to go see the Thor: Ragnarok movie on an Imax screen in a 19-screen AMC theater across the parking-lot, between the hotel and the JCPenney store. What an overdone heap of bombast and glitz, that Thor flick. Fun at times, though. Jeff Goldblum was great, teasing Thor and saying “the -ass place or ass land” instead of Asgard. So Beavis and Butthead. And you could order food from your seat in the theater, I got an open flatbread with a Philly cheese steak on it, so delicious in the dark, gobbling it like a wild animal (released from my cage in the shadows behind the tent).

Anyway, I got through it, and, like I say, there were a few good moments amid the con ennui. I kept being polite to people, even delivering a saintly homily at the opening ceremony about how it warmed my heart to see their joy at their little communal festival.

Well, okay, I was nice to everyone except for a fellow panelist on a “What are your fave books? panel. It was all the GoHs on the panel: GoHs for science, art, videogames, writing, cosplay, and signing (in the sense of translating talks into sign language in real time).

The panelist sitting next to me wouldn’t shut up about some dipshit fantasy books, lavishing cliché praises upon them, trading heartfelt hosannahs with a another motor-mouthed fellow panelist, who claimed to be the “moderator.” And they get onto William Goldman’s Princess Bride (a fine work but, I would humbly submit, not the greatest novel ever written).

And I manage to break in and mention that Goldman wrote a good coming-of-age novel called The Temple of Gold and that it was, in a way, a bit like Catcher in the Rye. And the panelist next to me cries: “The Temple of Gold is SO much better than Catcher in the Rye!” And I’m like, “Well, they’re different.” And the panelist is like “No, Catcher in the Rye is whiny garbage!” And, without turning my head, I deliver what is, for me, the mild-mannered math prof / SF writer, a withering put-down. “And you’re an…English teacher? Hm.”

And then I rode an Uber to the airport, which was closer than downtown Chi, and at the airport I got a regional bus to Madison, Wisconsin, where daughter Georgia lives. Wife Sylvia was already there. She’d side-stepped the con. It was a four hour trip, I hadn’t done a long bus ride in decades, especially not alone, and it was kind of fun. That unplugged feeling.

Here’s a random shot of an intersection near our mid-journey stop in Janesville, Wisconsin. What if you just got off the bus in some place like this and tried to make a life? Turing a corner in time.

The University of Wisconsin football team is a big deal in “Mad Town,” and some impish sculptor erected an amusing monument next to stadium. It’s a statue shaped like an obelisk of about two thousand concrete footballs. I love it, although some people think it’s silly. But I like art to be witty and fun, as opposed to bombastic and grim.

Madison has a great art museum, thanks to UW, and we went around the place in the company of a certain impish grandchild. Dig this shot of her silhouetted against some art-glass and a window. If you shoot enough, sometimes you catch a good one. Or, as my self-deprecating mother-in-law Pauline used to say of herself, “Sometimes even the blind hand finds an acorn.”

Here’s a work in this museum that really got to me. “Untitled” by David Klamen. Of course it’s “untitled,” because you can’t see the picture in the picture, there’s not enough light, and it’s all black, and here it is, and you’ve been searching for it your whole life, and you can’t see it. Like a dream. What made Klamen’s painting really perfect in this setting is that the museum architecture kind of matched what you see in the picture.

One last shot for today. This is the hook on the inside of the bathroom door at Mickies Dairy Bar on Monroe Street in Madison, not far from the stadium. I figure the hook’s been in place for forty or fifty years. Look how deep it’s dug into the wood. Awesome. Nothing is ever over, nothing is lost, god is everywhere.

About Writing, with Pixel-2 Photos & More.

Upcoming events: My 2011 painting “A Skugger’s Point of View” will be part of the group show ILLEGAL, curated by Kal Spelletich at the Luggage Store gallery on Market St. in SF. (“P. S. We don’t sell luggage.”)

===Poster for the “Illegal” show in SF. Opening party Friday, Nov 10, 6-9.

And I’ll be at Windycon 44, an SF con in Lombard, Illinois, near Chicago, from Nov 10 – 12, as Author Guest of Honor, doing some panels and giving a talk.

===Either this is Rudy’s painting “A Skugger’s Point of View,” or it’s Rudy’s view (including peripheral vision) of his audience while he gives his talk on “Cyberpunk Future” at Windycon in Lombard, Friday, Nov 10, 8-9.

By the way, all the images in the rest of this post were taken on my new Pixel 2 phone camera over the last few weeks. I’ll say a bit more about this furhter down.

I’m rockin’ it on Return to the Hollow Earth these days, really pushing it along. I’m about a third done. It’s common to think of novels and films as having three acts. I’ve written Act I, with two more to go.

===Rudy at the Luggage Store gallery, shyly joyful.

With the two acts to go on my book, I need to concoct twice as many events as I’ve already described. I worry about this, as I already have had so much stuff happening. And I can’t easily see that far ahead. Foggy road. But it’s always like this. The muse feeds me one scene at a time. And I hardly even pretend to make outlines anymore.

To keep me going, I always have a few big upcoming scenes in mind. This is my twenty-third novel, and by now I’ve learned not to not to hoard my big scenes for later. Don’t vamp while planning to do the big scene later. Write it now. The muse always feeds me more big scenes once I’ve written the ones I already have. It’s can be nerve-wracking to work this way. To depend on the unseen and unseeable muse to step in, over and over, always handing me the next cue card. But it keeps working.

But I do a lot of stuff to get ready for the muse. I find ways to, like, invite her to sit down by my campfire here in the darkness. I use logic a lot—I do have a Ph.D. in mathematical logic, after all. And I know a little bit about physics. So when something physical is happening, I might run some formulas and numbers to find out what has to be done. And when this is working well for me, the numbers turn out different than I expected, and this forces certain new decisions about how to write a scene.

===I’ve been writing so much that my body is sore all over, and I need to start doing daily yoga again.

I have a number of large creatures in Return to the Hollow Earth. There’s the giant flying nautilus with hydrogen in its shell. They’re call ballulas. The one in my novel is named Cytherea and she belongs to Edgar Allan Poe. My guys ride in the ballula through the hole in a maelstrom at the North Pole. Normally ballulas eat people so—logic dictates—I need for my guys to have, um, magic telepathic gems that can control Cytherea.

===Here’s Rudy Jr. at the Luggage Store gallery with me, in front of googly eyes, and with a badass look.

And there’s these fat flying shrigs, who are pigs in front and shrimp in back. Size ranging from a cow to to a three-masted ship. Very dumb. And there’s a couple of krakens, three miles long, and one of them, Jumungo, is swimming in a circle underwater below the Arctic Sea to keep that maelstrom open (more logic here) and the other one, Fafnir, catches shrigs to eat and to feed to Jumungo, who is slowly, slowly brooding upon a clutch of two dozen eggs on her stomach.

===Kelp in Big Sur. Or neurons in my brain. A ganglion. As above, so below.

To help the process along, I write a book of notes in parallel with each novel. When I’m done the novel and the notes are about the same length. At first, when I’m wiseacreing for the swing of thought (a phrase from Gurdjieff’s intro to one of his books), the notes are much longer, and they continue growing all along, but at some point, I get into a bloodlust writing frenzy and the novel pulls ahead.

===Secret of the universe, revealed in a parking garage. The secret is, however, ineffable and cannot be spoken.

And all along, when I don’t know what to do in the novel—or don’t feel like doing it—I go and put something in the notes. Making drawings, maybe, or a timeline, or a case-by-case discussion of what might happen next, or a to-do list of things I need to fix, or kvetching about not getting enough writing done. And none of this is actually where the ideas come from. The ideas come, as I’m always saying, from sudden random thoughts, fed in by the muse. General principle: if an idea seems too wackball and out there to use…then probably you should use it. Readers enjoy being surprised, so the book should keep surprising the writer too.

===I generally do not write about psycho human lurkers in the basement. Squid, okay, or krakens or man eating ballulas, but not lurkers. Too mass media. I write escape literature, right?

I got excited about the new iPhone 8 and iPhone X, but then after reading about them and about the competitors on the web, I decided to break out of the fold and get a Google Pixel 2 phone—as I mentioned above. Some say the Pixel 2 camera is better than the cameras in the new iPhones, although, of course, this kind of thing is endlessly debatable. The Pixel 2 has only one camera lens (unlike the high-end iPhones which have two lenses), but supposedly it makes up for this by automatically shooting a bunch of images and munging them together for each photo, achieving high dynamic range (detail both in the bright and the dark areas), knocking down motion blur, and suppressing low-light high-ISO artifacts.

===Wow! The tree is God. I think the built-in HDR (high-dynamic-range) is what makes this looks so good. Also the Google Photo app’s “auto” setting is usally very nice.

On the Pixel 2 camera, AI, in other words, is supplanting lens glass. Good image is all about having a lot of info about the thing you’re shooting. More info means more photons. Big glass lens means lots of photos being processed. But one might argue that if you quickly, sneakily, take ten shots each time you press the shutter release, then it’s like your lens had ten times the area. This sounds good, but even so the fine details and the low-light shooting of a camera phone is not as yet able to match a heavy duty big lens.

Anyway I’m quite happy, and even pleasantly surprised, and even at times wowed by the Pixel 2 shots. As I said, all the images in this post were taken on my new phone camera over the last few weeks. Although, as I just said, if you zoom in, the detail sharpness never matches what I’d get on my trusty Fujifilm X-100T with the largish wide-angle glass lens, or on my monster-lens Canon 5D. But, as the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you, and this often happens to be the Pixel 2 which, although larger than my old iPhone SE, fits in my pants pocket.

It has been a bit of an ordeal for me to leave the familiar and well-thought-out user interface that that Apple products provide. By now I’ve put in maybe fifty solid hours of, tweaking my Pixel 2 settings, posting on forums, searching for info on the web, and experimenting. I’m still not totally happy with my new workflow from camera to desktop to online posts. But I’m getting there. It’s too complicated and geeky to go into here. But if you’re a phellow photo phreak, you can check my forum discussions online. Disclaimer: I’m often wrong.

Other recent events now: Halloween, Michael Blumlein, Big Sur, walking around Los Gatos, and Blade Runner II! Photos of all that here, with quick comments.

Halloween, we went up to SF and went around Bernal Hill near Precita Park. Kids line-up. I don’t admit to knowing any of these rag-tag urchins.

Some of the adults in costume too. Love this psychedelic garage. The woman’s wig glows, not sure how.

And a house of freaks all dressed like people from “Wizard of Oz.” That might be the wizard himself with the glowing glasses. One woman had a little house atop her head, she was the house that fell on the bad witch.

===Rudy, Michael Blumlein, Carter Scholz, Kim Stanley Robinson, Richard Kadrey

Sylvia and I went to a talk by Michael Blumlein, a fellow Freestyle Cyberpunk Transreal No Wave SF SF writer. We all had dinner together an a new Hungarian restaurant called Duna on Valencia St. Nice easy place, good food, decent prices. So great to sit around with other writers. They understand. The months and years of work at the keyboard, the fuck-all scraps of recognition, the derisory levels of pay, the sweet solace of the craft, the joys of discovery, the pleasure of forgetting you’re alive while you’re lost in the subdimensions.

The big Blum himself. Last year we thought he might be dying, but he keeps hanging in here and maybe even getting better, which is great. We like having him around.

Sylvia and I drove down to Big Sur a week or two after they opened up the bridge, or overpass is more like it, just south of the village itself. On the way home we stopped at Phil’s Seafood in Moss Landing. They had a great bluegrass band playing, “Glad to Be Here.” One of those gifts from the gods, to sometimes happen up on wonderful music.

Wonderful food too. At Phil’s you order at the counter and sit at a picnic table, and they have tables out back on a sand dune sloping to the beach and the sun was setting, so fabu, with the *ping* crescent moon up there. It’s so good to be alive. And every day is the only day.

With that bridge open in Sur, we could go to Pfeiffer Beach (public park, although very nearly unmarked from the highway). The turn off is about a hundred yards north of the new bridge or, as I say overpass. Went down to see the wonderful square hole the big seastack rock, with the surf coming through, a magic door to another world, which I used in my novel Mathematicians in Love. I put the Pixel 2 phone video on YouTube to make it lightweight enough to fit into this post.

Cosmic gnarl brimming through.

And magical sun rays through the pines. Pfeiffer Beach is one of my favorite spots in the world. Oddly enough it is the setting for several scenes near the end of Marlon Brando’s movie “One-Eyed Jacks,” now out on a Critereon Blu-Ray at last. So I went and bought that DVD, can’t seem to stream the new hi-res version online. Marlon was such a physically beautiful man, and had such a perfect “bad attitude.”

Warming up at Rudy Jr.’s hose before Halloween, dig the baby pumpkin and the hand. Alien objects. If you ever really look hard at a human foot or hand…how strange.

So that’s almost enough photos for this blog post. A month’s worth. This is me waking up as Blank Reg from Max Headroom after a night of uneasy Franz Kafka dreams about metamorphosis…

And a still photo from the new Blade Runner movie, which I liked very much. I posted a bunch of stuff about it over at FaceBook. The photo above, that’s the hero K and a 60 foot tall hologram of his girlfriend Joi, who is a hologram even when she’s small, a hologram run by some AI software that poor K is in love with. The image, to me, captures something at the core of a person’s relationship to the internet. The internet so big and sexy, toying with you, pretending as if you, as an individual, matter.

Never mind. The daily world is always just outside my window, incalculably rich and detailed, always free.

The past, not now
The future, not yet
Between two nots

Ballula, Mt. Um, Louisville, Mammoth Cave

“Riding a Ballula” oil on canvas, October, 2017, 24” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I’ve been working on my next novel, Return to the Hollow Earth. I have these giant flying nautilus creatures in the book—they were also in my prequel The Hollow Earth. Their shells are filled with hydrogen, and you can ride in them like on a hot air balloon. The catch is that the ballula are man-eaters, with a giant beaks. But my characters have magical rumby gem stones that give them control over this particular ballula, whose name is, by the way, Cytherea. They plan to ride her down through the giant maelstrom called the North Hole, and thus return to the Hollow Earth. There could be some problems along the way… More info, as always on my paintings page.

A few weeks back, Sylvia and I drove up to the “cube” atop Mount Umunhum south of San Jose. You can see the cube from all over the valley. It used to be a radar installation in the 60s, but it’s been abandoned for years. The site was polluted and closed to visitors ever since we came here over 30 years ago, but now at last it’s open.

They did a great job on the park, everything really solid. Dig this three-trunk bench.

So high above Silicon Valley. With a cloud. Always rocks me how quickly you can get to the wilderness from crowded old San Ho.

Mysterious hatches on the sealed-up building. Mutant monsters within.

The cube’s bigger than I realized. Like ten stories high.

They painted the whole thing with varnish, just sealing it over.

We were in Louisville last week, I was there to give a talk on Cyberpunk at a conference. Sylvia, daughter Georgia, niece Siofra and I had fun walking around downtown Louisville, they have a neighborhood called NuLu, for “new Louisville.”

Hipster home store. Love this poster of invertebrates. My perennial pals.

A band was playing in a street fair. Dig the speaker and the musician.

We had a great Vietnamese Pho soup at Pho Ba Luu, a touch of San Jose.

If you follow this blog, you know how much I love colored walls, especially with telephone wires.

Me in a mirror.

Sylvia, Georgia and I went out for a ride in a riverboat on the Ohio, for old times sake, we did that once when the kids were young. I have a scene about the paddle boat, “The Belle of Louisville” in my novel Wetware.

As always I was digging the analog blobs of light on water.

And the big red paddle wheel on the boat. Secretly this boat (not the Belle of Louisville, but her sister) had meaty propeller screws and this paddle is just a-freewheelin’.

The taffrail. If that’s the word.

One of the natural wonders near Louisville is the famous Mammoth Cave, about a hundred miles south, near Glasgow, Kentucky. My badass big brother Embry drove the two of us down there in his Porsche, past Elizabethtown, near Glasgow, an hour and a half on the freeway—when I was a kid it took more like three hours. Later we drove back partly on a two-lane back road, balm to my soul, those rolling green Kentucky fields, little ponds, beautiful horses in the fields, little white-painted clapboard houses and churches, creaky old wooden tobacco barns for drying the harvest, some of it visible right now, five-foot-long sheaves hanging upside down. Tobacco is slipping in value as a crop—I look forward to seeing Kentucky get into growing pot.

I had only the faintest of memories of Mammoth Cave, of the entrance, it’s a portal in the side of a gully, twenty or thirty feet high, and inside the ceiling arches higher, up to fifty or even a hundred feet at times, with gray rocks and cave dirt all around, the path with railings, the path itself hardpacked dirt or stone, and, surprisingly, no dripstone or stalactites in view. Turns out the cave is the path of a former underground river, the Green River, which by now is running along a fresh tunnel that lies several strata lower—it keeps burrowing deeper, with the slightly acidic water eating through the limestone.

The channel we walked in was like a big subway tunnel, with electric lights illuminating the yellow/orange bands of stone. Kind of boring, actually. We were in a crowd of about 120 people, walking very fast, Embry and I trying to stay near the head of the pack to be near Ranger Ashley, a talkative young lady. At one point, beside a large rectangular formation called the Giant’s Coffin, she turned out the electric lights, and then she extinguished the candle of her single lantern, and it was amazingly dark. Not one photon coming in, and deeply silent. Like being totally blind. You’d have a really hard time trying to walk out of there alone—particularly in the old days when the cave didn’t have paths and railings

Here’s Embry in the cave. So many years gone, and we’re still kids. Ranger Ashley told us a great story about a guy in the old days who was lost, and he blew out his candle, expecting to see the light of some other candle not too far away—but it was all black and, oh-oh, he didn’t have a match to light his candle and he was alone in the dark for 39 hours. He thought he heard footsteps—which was in fact the sound of his hammering pulse in his inner ear. To drown out the sound he began banging two rocks together, and he was still banging them when they found him.

We wriggled through a narrow spot called “Fat Man’s Misery,” and that was kind of fun, although I worried about my weak left leg giving way, and me falling down and popping out my hip or being unable to get up. I brought along a hiking stick of Embry’s and was glad for it. The hike was really quite taxing, and eventually were 300 feet below the surface, so low that we were in a zone that fills with water when the yet-further-underground river when it’s running high in the spring. Then we had to climb a seven-story-high staircase, like the “fire stairs” in the corner of an office building, exhausting, I was drenched in sweat.

What a joy, then, to enter the “twilight zone” where we could see faint light from the land of the living, and even greater joy, to see the green leaves of the trees, and the faint blue Kentucky sky, the breezy, living free world up there. Like how it feels whenever I get out of the hospital after some geezer crisis.

Back home I got this shot of the full moon’s shadow on our deck. Sylvia and I love watching the moon’s cycle every month.

“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.

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