Click covers for info. Copyright (C) Rudy Rucker 2021.


Jingle Jangle

April 6th, 2022

Ten or fifteen years back Bruce Sterling told me that the blog as a communications medium would die. And I felt he was wrong; I was like, “I’ll never stop.”

But by now I do like tweeting a lot. The haiku-like comression of a tweet with a single image, yes. And most recently I’ve been using Medium to post excerpts from my voluminous works.

But the blog still has a place. I line up a few dozen of my recent photos or paintings and rant about whatever comes to mind.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have an iron-clad rule that there never needs to be a clear and literal connection between my texts and my images. Surrealism is the law of my land.

One a good day, the jingle jangle of texts and picturs congeals and things fit. Here we go.

This is a reflection I saw in my TV screen after a nap. I take a lot of naps these days. I’m 76.

Sylvia always has a stash of sticker ads for son Rudy’s monkeybrains.net, the very ISP that hosts this very Rudy’s Blog that you’re reading. She posted in good company outside Whale City Bakery in Davenport, CA, this week.

Up at Four Mile Beach, I grabbed a crude photo of a slightly put-upon surfer. The shadow of his board is nice and sharp.

Always gotta get one more photo of rocks and water. The pocks on that stone! The tangles of light ‘neath the water. Last week I had a horrible freaky dream that I was repeatedly turning into a tangle of writhing light. Please wake me!

“Los Gatos Hills” acrylic on canvas, March, 2022, 30” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I’ve been painting really a lot lately. I’ve hardly been writing at all ever since I published Juicy Ghosts. Well, I wrote one short story that I sold to Asimov’s.  It’ll be appear this summer or fall. But other than that, nothing. I’ve been distracted. But the muse of Painting is still with me, and I’ve been cranking them out. I’ll work a few of them into this post.

Sylvia and I are restless these days. We drove over the foothills east of San Jose to get to a Berkeley-run ag farm near Grant park. Spotted a large herd (also called a “sounder”) of wild pigs. So great. I didn’t initially realize they were wild, and I got too close before taking my photo…so mos of them are more or less running away.

A great gnarly oak tree on the farm near Grant park. It has a face on it, right? With its tongue sticking out.

Branch with an S-curve on it. I painted a group of these recently. And I added in the trees’ roots.

“Spring Oaks & Roots” acrylic on two 30” x 24” canvases, February, 2022. Click for a larger version of the painting.

The California oak trees are quite different from the ones back East. And I can see many of them from my window, and around my neighborhood. I love the gnarly way they twist and turn. They’re long-lived trees, and they grow slowly, and—I suppose—they “think” a lot about which direction to grow next, so often they “change their minds” and veer, creating these wonderfully gothic designs. We have several species of oaks. Some keep their leaves all year long, almost like holly. But others shed their leaves in the fall, and sprout new ones in the spring (which starts in January or February).

I started with three of those trees here. And then I decided to do a second canvas—with the roots. To liven things up, I put tiny pairs of eyes on the roots. I sold this one two days after I posted it Wish it was always that way! The saucer paintings tend not to sell as well.  I think maybe people worry that if they hang a painting of saucers, then their friends will think they’re crazy.

Inside a more or less abandoned barn on this Grant park farm. Love the cracks between the planks, and the high window, and the dangling rags. Like a cathedral.

An underpass outside the barn. Cows use it. I’ve photopgraphed the underpass before, but I need several tries to get some of these things right.

“Golden Eyes” acrylic on canvas, May, 2020, 30” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Rooting around in my basement art storage, I came across this painting that seemed not to be listed on my paintings site. The unusual thing about it is that the background is completely done with some metallic gold acrylic paint that I had; I think someone had given me the tube, and normally I wouldn’t use metallic paint, but this time, what the hell.  I like the way it came out.  When I’m at a loss, I can always cover a canvas with UFOs or with eyes.

Another familiar scene: I tossed a rock into a small pond on this hill behind our house called Saint Joseph’s hill. I’m always trying to get the ring of ripples right.

I like this ever-more-rickety shack in these woods, and I like to say that it’s a bus stop…like a Twilight Zone bus stop, and if I stand there long enough, a barely visible bus will pull up and carry me off to the afterlife. Thus far I’ve managed not to stand there long enough. But it’s coming.

Another often-treated motif of mine: a certain giant aloe near a weathered and rusted barn. Old California.

“Visitors” acrylic on canvas, March, 2022, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

On this one, I kicked out the jams and went wild with UFOs. I like to paint a certain type of UFO that has its lower edge tipped up and an eye peeping out. I’m thinking of a primordial beach here, kind of an Adam and Eve scene. But as kind of a joke I have them holding up their fingers as if they’re hailing taxis. “Adam and Eve Hail a Ride.”  Their heads are illuminated by the higher light emanating from those giant UFOs.

Visiting the farmers market off Alemany Avenue near Bernal Hill in San Francisco. Vintage spot, with more-or-less permanent murals depicting the goods that might be sold in the slots. This was at one time the honey booth.

For a zillion years a show called Beach Blanket Babylon played on Green Street in North Beach in SF. And finally it closed, and this winter they’ve had a kind of acrobatics show called something like “I Love San Francisco.” Sylvia and I managed to go; it was fun. Not overly difficult moves, but everyone lively and joyful.

For reasons unknown they dragged an antique phone booth into the show. How important those things used to be.

Enter the  unicyclist in the overcoat. Sylvia and I were so happy to be out and seeing something live.  What a weird couple of years it’s been.

I made my way to Castle Rock Park south of Los Gatos and walked to a great bluff.  Lots of madrone trees, all wriggly, and with bark like an animal’s skin.

This one in particular was insanely gnarly. With a little stub like a beak. I made a painting of it.

“Bumpy the Tree-ee” acrylic on canvas, January, 2022, 28” x 22”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Sylvia makes quilts, and she’d just made a really pretty one.  And I was thinking it would be nice make a harmonious patter of colored squares.  I would have put patterns into the squares like Sylvia does, but that seemed to hard.  So I had a grid, and obviously I was going to put some critters on it.

And I had in mind that the painting could in some way represent the next novel I’d like to write.  And I wanted to have three kids in it, so I put them in.  And for the main critter—I used that small madrone tree from Castle Rock Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I made friends with the tree (a they, and not a he, she, or it).  And visualized them as being a character in my novel too,  I gave them some extra gnarl.

Not just a  tree anymore—a tree-ee.  Name?  Bumpy, because of the way a madrone feels when you run your hands along its smooth orange bark.

Down at Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz, we saw kids crawling around like deep-water starfish on the giant concrete rip-rap jacks that stabilize the point by the harbor lighthouse.

Love this lighthouse and the jacks.  Each of them has a number on it.  Always wonder how they got there.

My Swarthmore College roommate from Senior year stopped by.  Gregory Gibson, well known as an author in his own right.  We used to love to get drunk together and talk about being writers. We made it!

Sylvia says I look “wider” than Greg now.  Not exactly fat but…wide.

I often walk up on Saint Joseph’s Hill behind the Jesuit home, and they have a special mound of metal waste.  I’m constantly photographing it, always trying to get the perfectly illuminated and perfectly focused shot.

And here’s eager, alert daughter Isabel and her kind husband Gus at this spot. Love the big waste container and the palms too.

The other day I was scanning photos out of the old family albums. Look at this photo of Rudy Jr, a few moths old, so cheerful, and not much bigger than my foot. Happy times.

Isabel and Rudy and Isabel wearing colanders like WW I helmets.

And number-one daughter Georgia uneasily viewing the changing of cousin Siofra’s diaper. Siofra’s Irish mother Noreen used to call them “nappies.” That name always cracked me up.

Moire patterns, the overlap of present, future, and past. What lies ahead?

The Best of Rudy’s Worlds

March 11th, 2022

The Best of Rudy Rucker Bundle from Jason Chen includes twelve volumes. I describe the bundle on Jason’s site, and I also describe the bundle on this blog post.  On this post, I descrbe them chronologiccally, then I excerpt some reviews.

In 1972 I wrote my Ph. D. thesis on the mathematics of higher infinities—and turned it into a novel about the transfinite afterworld: White Light. It was also an SF novel about Rudy’s my life—which is something I like to do. I call it transrealism.

Soon after this, on a research grant in Heidelberg with my young family of five, I stzrted my well-known cyberpunk tetralogy SoftwareWetwareFreeware, and Realware—an early example of digital immortality. I won the Philip K. Dick Award for Software and for Wetware.

You might say The Secret of Life marks my coming out as an alien. As my character faces his true nature, he takes on a series of awesome powers. He can change his face, shrink to the size of a thumb, fly around the Eiffel tower—and hand out joints to everyone at his college’s annual student assembly. And this is important because government snipers are out to kill him. Why did youth rebel in the 60s? This SF transreal novel will help you understand how it happened.

In Mathematicians in Love, I return to his roots. Two young mathematicians compete for the love of two women across space, time and logic—spinning out Dr. Seuss-like mathematical mumbo jumbo along the way. Berkeley grad students Paul and Bela have discovered the mathematical underpinnings of ultimate reality. Bela starts a wild rock band. And Paul hacks fundamental reality. But there are side effects.

Another combo volume: The Hollow Earth and Return to the Hollow Earth, one of my most demented—yet logical—constructs. Earth is hollow, like a tennis ball. And you’re weightless in there! The gravity cancels out. The wondrous Hollow Earth holds jungles, seas, native tribes, flying pigs, killer nautiluses, giant ants, live flying saucers, and giant sea cucumbers. In The Hollow Earth, our young narrator Mason Reynolds leaves his farm, accompanied by Otha and the dissolute Edgar Allan Poe—and falls through a thousand-mile hole in the ice of Antarctica. And when Return to the Hollow Earth ends, they’re in modern-day Santa Cruz, California.

Saucer Wisdom is the ultimate transreal extravaganza. Some nut is taking trips to the future in a UFO, and bringing back reports for Rudy Rucker to write up? Yes, I’m one of the characters. Profusely illustrated with line drawings. And with two prefaces by Bruce Sterling.

The surfing SF novel Jim and the Flims is set in Santa Cruz, California . . . and in the afterlife. Jim Oster ruptures the membrane between our world and afterworld, creating a two-way tunnel between them. His wife is killed in the process. And now Jim faces an invasion of the aliens—who resemble blue baboons and flying beets. Aided by a posse of Santa Cruz surf-punks, Jim plunges into a mad series of adventures in the underworld—where he just might find his wife. Jim and the Flims is like classic myth retold for the 21st century. Except that it’s funny.

Turing & Burroughs. What if Alan Turing, founder of the modern computer age, escaped assassination by the secret service to become the lover of Beat author William Burroughs? What if they mutated into giant shapeshifting slugs, fled the FBI, raised Burroughs’s wife from the dead, and tweaked the H-bombs of Los Alamos? Welcome to Turing & BurroughsA Beatnik SF Novel, compulsively readable, hysterically funny, with insane warps and twists—and a bad attitude throughout.

The Big Aha. Biotech has replaced machines. Qrude artist Zad works with living paint. His career’s on the skids, and wife Jane threw him out. Enter qwet—it’s quantum wetware! Qwet makes you high and gives you telepathy. A loopy psychedelic revolution begins. Zad and Jane travel through a wormhole and meet the aliens. Stranger than you ever imagined. What is The Big Aha?

Million Mile Road Trip is my hilarious, and uniquely gnarly science fiction version of the classic road-trip story. When a seemingly-innocent trumpet solo opens a transdimensional connection to a parallel universe containing an endless plain divided into basin-like worlds, three California teens take a million-mile road trip across a landscape of alien civilizations in a beat-up, purple station wagon— with a dark-energy motor, graphene tires and quantum shocks. Their goal? To stop carnivorous flying saucers from invading Earth. And, just maybe, to find love along the way.

Complete Stories. Every one of my science-fiction stories, a trove of gnarl and wonder, from 1976 through 2022. Includes collaborations with Bruce Sterling, Marc Laidlaw, Paul Di Filippo, John Shirley, Terry Bisson, and Eileen Gunn. Ninety-six tales in all.

And—Juicy Ghosts. Telepathy, digital immortality, gossip molecules, and artificial ghosts, set amid a pitched battle to oust the evil forces of the nanopercenters, the Citadel Club, the Top Party, and the falsely elected President Ross Treadle. Rudy’s wildest world yet.


For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you’re feeling generous), you’ll get the basic bundle of four books in any ebook format—WORLDWIDE.

  • Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker
  • The Ware Tetralogy by Rudy Rucker
  • Million Mile Road Trip by Rudy Rucker
  • Juicy Ghosts by Rudy Rucker

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $20, you get all four of the regular books, plus EIGHT more books, for a total of 12!

  • Complete Stories by Rudy Rucker
  • White Light by Rudy Rucker
  • The Secret of Life by Rudy Rucker
  • Saucer Wisdom by Rudy Rucker
  • Jim and the Films by Rudy Rucker
  • Turing & Burroughs by Rudy Rucker
  • The Big Aha by Rudy Rucker
  • The Hollow Earth & Return to the Hollow Earth by Rudy Rucker

This bundle is available only for a limited time via StoryBundle. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub, .mobi) for all books!


#1. Juicy Ghosts, 2021.

“Rudy Rucker’s great new novel, Juicy Ghosts, represents a wise man working at the peak of his powers. Ripe with satire, humor, empathy and tough-minded political hardball, this book exhibits all the shining Rucker talismans, from telepathy to immortality, from gonzo shenanigans to chaotic redemption. With a stellar cast of high-tech lowlifes, male and female both, dialogue that crackles and amuses, and a fire in its belly, Juicy Ghosts outlines a path into our mutual future that is painted in rainbow bioluminescent neon colors.” — Paul Di Filippo.

Juicy Ghosts is some of Rudy’s best stuff, it flows wonderfully, and the characters are great. A thing of absolutely breakneck pace, with high energy throughout. Nonstop insanity.” — Marc Laidlaw, author of The Gargoyle’s Handbook and writer of the videogame Half-Life.


#2. Million Mile Road Trip 2019.

 

“There’s an alien under the bed and another on the lawn. This is Los Perros, Calif. — playground for Rudy Rucker, setting for his newest novel, Million Mile Road Trip. And things are only going to get stranger from here. What it cooks down to is music. What it cooks down to is a jubilant looseness. A freak collision of dialect and voice and neurons well-greased, and a man who wants to tell a story about three teenagers going on a road trip through alien worlds without leeching any of the inherent strangeness from it. This kind of thing, you just jump in and hang on, warmed by the goofball joy of it all, buoyed up by the high, jazz-cat bebop of the language, the glazed stoner rhythms. And by the end of it, your mind will be inevitably expanded — open to the possibility of almost anything.” — NPR Review

Tipping his hat to Thomas Pynchon, Jack Kerouac, and Douglas Adams, Rucker immerses readers in a fantastical road trip adventure that’s a wild ride of unmitigated joy. Rucker populates his story with boldly surreal, humorous personalities and environments and moves it at a frenzied, ever-increasing pace. He ties everything together with internal consistency, playful use of language that keeps his ideas alien yet accessible, and a solid grounding in fourth-dimensional math. This wacky adventure is a geeky reader’s delight. —Publishers Weekly

Rucker has outdone himself in creating the most bizarre and surreal and overstuffed cosmic ecology of his career. The vast majority of the concepts are brand new. And the abundance of alien characters is the richest yet of his oeuvre. Yes, it’s all obvious now—Rucker is Lennon & McCartney rolled up into one. — Paul Di Filippo in Locus Online


#3. The Ware Tetralogy 1982, 1988, 1997, 2000.

“Rudy Rucker is one of the modern heroes of science fiction, one of the original cyberpunks. The early cyberpunks only had a few writers who could be meaningfully called punks — writers like John Shirley and Richard Kadrey — but there was only one who could truly be called cyber: Rudy Rucker. Rucker is a mad professor, a mathematician and computer scientist with a serious, scholarly interest in the limits of computation and the physics and mathematics of higher-dimension geometry. But that’s just about the only thing you can describe as “serious” when it comes to Rucker. He’s a gonzo wildman, someone for whom “trippy” barely scratches the surface. His work is shot through with weird sex, weird drugs, weird brain chemistry, and above all, weird science.” Cory Doctorow

Rucker’s writing is great like the Ramones are great: a genre stripped to its essence, attitude up the wazoo, and cartoon sentiments that reek of identifiable lives and issues. Wild math you can get elsewhere, but no one does the cyber version of beatnik glory quite like Rucker. Rucker does it through sheer emotional force. It’s not his universes, it’s his people and how they relate to each other — and to the spiritual. That’s what Realware has going for it: healing and a calm sense of spirituality. — New York Review of Science Fiction.

Reading a Rudy Rucker book is like finding Poe, Kerouac, Lewis Carroll and Philip K. Dick parked on your driveway in a topless ‘57 Caddy … and telling you they’re taking you for a RIDE. The funniest science fiction author around. — Sci-Fi Universe.

Rucker has written a generational saga that spans sixty years of mind-blowing change. Without sacrificing any of his id-driven wildness, Rucker has developed into a benevolent, all-seeing creator … Realware brings to a fully satisfying conclusion this landmark quartet. — Isaac Asmiov’s Science Fiction Magazine.


#4. Mathematicians in Love, 2006.

“Rucker cleverly pulls off a romantic comedy about mathematicians in love. This excursion into alternative versions of Berkeley, California, is full of quirky, charming life-forms human and otherwise and ruled by a god who’s the female jellyfish-creator of Earth. All this seethes around Bela Kis; Bela’s roommate, Paul Bridge; and Bela’s girlfriend, Alma Ziff, who ping-pongs between them in a sometimes acute, sometimes obtuse love triangle. Bela and Paul struggle for their PhD degrees under mad math genius Roland Haut by inventing a paracomputer ‘Gobubble’ that predicts future events. Rucker’s wild characters, off-the-wall situations and wicked political riffs prove that writing SF spoofs, like Bela’s rock music avocation, ‘beats the hell out of publishing a math paper.’ “ — Publisher’s Weekly

Mathematicians in Love … percolates with off-the-wall characters and trippy extra-dimensional shenanigans. Nobody writes math-based science fiction like Rudy Rucker does. He keeps the tone light and the action playful, even as his characters grapple with the meaning of tragedy and the ultimate mechanics of the universe. A definite high point in Rucker’s singular writing career.San Francisco Chronicle

All the pleasures of a Rucker novel come forth abundantly: playfully weird higher physics and math; bizarre conceptual psychedelia; distinctively Calfornian counter-cultural comedy; zany romance; doppelgangers; generally happy endings. … Mathematicians in Love is an engaging and entertaining book, light yet thought-provoking, funny yet of some gravity. It deserves success.— Locus


#5. The Hollow Earth & Return to the Hollow Earth 1990 & 2018.

“It’s more fun than anything I’ve read in I don’t know how long, and it’s certainly the reigning king of the ‘hollow Earth’ novels. Rucker has an enviable imagination, an astonishing ear for language, and a rare sense of proportion and humor. I wish books like this would come along more often. — James P. Blaylock.

“Rudy has written the Great American Science Fiction Novel.” — Marc Laidlaw.

Rudy Rucker seldom repeats himself.  Consequently, when Rucker does venture back to previously explored territory, you can be fairly confident that there’s good reason. This is certainly true in the current case, as he returns, after nearly thirty years, to the steampunk milieu of his 1990 novel The Hollow Earth.  … The two books co-exist quite harmoniously, despite the large gap of years twixt their composition. The blending of typical Ruckerian cosmological insanity with 19th-century mindsets proves to be a stimulating concoction. Toss in some time-travel frissons at the end, when some metafictional stagecraft happens, and you have a book that is dense with the kind of intellectual “eyeball kicks” for which Rucker is justly famous. It’s a tribute to the wild-eyed tales of Poe and his peers that is also an up-to-the-minute 21st-century SF production. — Paul Di Filippo in Locus Online



#6. The Big Aha, 2013.

“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.

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.

Rucker has been writing like a mind-meld of Gödel and Burroughs on acid, but with some sort of academic overmind trying, and for the most part succeeding, to run the result through a logical scientific-refereed-paper process… But there is something else to this novel, a characterological sweetness combined with a political passion the nature of which might cause Rucker to deny that it is political… What Rudy Rucker presents and champions is the last and finally successful battle in the culture war dating back to the Transcendental Movement of the nineteenth century that peaked in the 1960s. — Norman Spinrad,  Isaac Asimov’s SF Magazine.


#7. Turing & Burroughs, 2012.

“Rucker’s novels have an angle of attack reminiscent of the Thomas Pynchon of Gravity’s Rainbow and the Terry Southern of The Magic Christian. Turing & Burroughs is all of that and more. Much more. Turing & Burroughs is centrally the story of an imaginary gay affair between William Burroughs and Alan Turing. Rucker being Rucker, this central story line is not even half the bizarre, fascinating, scientific, sexual, and historical content of this delightfully humorous yet somehow thematically serious novel.” — Norman Spinrad, Asimov’s SF Magazine

A delightful alternative history romp set in the middle of the 1950s. Rucker immerses the reader in the beat milieu, with the added twist that here they really are pod people, and loving it. … This novel engages the reader to such an extent that it’s easy to overlook the extensive research that went into making it authentic, not just superficially, but in depth. — John Walker, review in Fourmilog.

Rucker’s “Beatnik SF Novel” deftly combines historic characters and wild flights of imagination in a spin-off of our world’s history. … Rudy Rucker has produced an SFnal tour de force. … The prose in Turing & Burroughs can flow like a drug-stoked dream. — Faren Miller, review in Locus Magazine


#8. Jim and the Flims, 2911.

“Jim and the Flims is a wild psychedelic romp that recasts the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in the 21st century surf-punk/slacker world of Santa Cruz and its earthly and extra-earthly environs. Hilarious, profound, visionary, and genuinely moving, it vaults to the top spot on my list of favorite Rudy Rucker novels… A key component of Rucker’s genius, it seems to me, lies in his ability to tackle his subjects on a multitude of levels simultaneously. There’s a fractal beauty to it. If you’re just into a weird and funny story, you’ve got it. If you dig mythic resonance—look no further. If theoretical physics is your bag, Rucker’s witty allegories will delight you. Philosopher, Phil Dick fan, armchair theologian: there’s something to challenge, satisfy, and delight any alert, intelligent reader.” —Paul Witcover, Locus

Jim and the Flims…Rudy Rucker’s weirdest, craziest, colorfulest book yet? That’s saying a lot, I know. But when it is at its most bizarre, it is also most hilarious. Nobody else writes like Rudy. —Marc Laidlaw, author of Kalifornia

I love Rudy Rucker. The guy is simply incomparable when it comes to writing science fiction, managing to seamlessly blend highly intelligent existential and scientific speculation with wildly satirical and insanely imaginative plotlines…You can imagine my delight when a copy of his newest release, Jim and the Flims, landed on my doorstep. In this novel, Rucker reimagines the myth of Orpheus as only he can – Jim Oster is a former surfer dude, part-time stoner, and current Santa Cruz mailman who dabbles in high-tech research. —Paul Goat Allen, review on Barnes & Noble Book club


#9. Saucer Wisdom, 1999.

With two prefaces by Bruce Sterling.

“It’s brilliantly funny, prescient, and as fully engaging as a coffee-fueled late-night conversation with a slightly manic genius. From the aloof-yet-naughty aliens … to the detailed, personalized visions of future people’s technology, Saucer Wisdom shines with a humanity firmly rooted right here on Earth… It seems that ‘the William S Burroughs of cyberpunk’ can’t help but write good books.” — Amazon.com.

With Saucer Wisdom Rucker has reached a new peak. Saucer Wisdom is absolutely one of the best books of the year. Rucker has … grown up, elucidating the wild-eyed, gonzo ideas of his youth with the clear-eyed, well-honed craft of a mature writer at his creative peak.   — NOVA Express.


#10. The Secret of Life, 1985.

“Rucker is an artist well worth discovering, reading, and keeping up with. The Secret of Life sparkles with deadpan wit and a natural storyteller’s flair, blending mathematical speculation, such concepts as Hilbert space, rock’n’roll, drugs, and sex with imaginative ideas worthy of H. G. Wells.” — Washington Post Book World.

One of the writers we will follow into the new future. — Raleigh Spectator.


#11. White Light 1980.

 

“In White Light Rucker commandingly synthesizes mysticism, pop imagery, the great mathematicians and their ideas, ‘head culture,’ and even voodoo into a novel that takes us on a wild journey to infinity, to the Absolute, and back again. As for sheer writing, there’s probably no one like him.” — John Shirley.

White Light is a marvelously inventive and lunatically logical story, where not only is the scaling of infinity a mad, convincing adventure, but where ordinary human happiness matters too movingly.” — Ian Watson in Vector.

“An adventure through time and space, the likes of which only a collaboration between Umberto Eco and Lewis Carroll could attempt. With traveling companions ranging from Einstein to the devil to a giant beetle named Franx…each turned corner of White Light is another gleeful surprise, another celebration of cleverness and imagination… This novel belongs to the tradition of science fiction pioneered by H. G. Wells, where the science is the source of intrigue that adventures grow from and propel the protagonists.” — Amazon editorial review.


#12. Complete Stories, 1976-2022.

Every one of Rudy Rucker’s science-fiction stories, a trove of gnarl and wonder, from 1976 through 2022. Includes collaborations with Bruce Sterling, Marc Laidlaw, Paul Di Filippo, John Shirley, Terry Bisson, and Eileen Gunn. Ninety-six tales in all: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Enlightenment Rabies,” “Schrödinger’s Cat,” “Sufferin’ Succotash,” “A New Golden Age,” “Faraway Eyes,” “The 57th Franz Kafka,” “The Indian Rope Trick Explained,” “A New Experiment With Time,” “The Man Who Ate Himself,” “Tales of Houdini,” “The Facts of Life,” “Buzz,” “The Last Einstein-Rosen Bridge,” “Pac-Man,” “Pi in the Sky,” “Wishloop,” “Inertia,” “Bringing in the Sheaves,” “The Jack Kerouac Disembodied School of Poetics,” “Message Found in a Copy of Flatland,” “Plastic Letters,” “Monument to the Third International,” “Rapture in Space,” “Storming the Cosmos” (With Bruce Sterling), “In Frozen Time,” “Soft Death,” “Inside Out,” “Instability” (With Paul Di Filippo), “The Man Who Was a Cosmic String,” “Probability Pipeline” (With Marc Laidlaw), “As Above,” “So Below,” “Chaos Surfari” (With Marc Laidlaw), “Big Jelly” (With Bruce Sterling), “Easy As Pie,” “The Andy Warhol Sandcandle” (With Marc Laidlaw), “Cobb Wakes Up,” “The Square Root of Pythagoras” (With Paul Di Filippo), “Pockets” (With John Shirley), “Junk DNA” (With Bruce Sterling), “The Use of the Ellipse the Catalog the Meter & the Vibrating Plane,” “Jenna and Me” (With Rudy Rucker Jr.), “Lucky Number,” “The Million Chakras,” “Aint Paint,” “Terry’s Talker,” “The Kind Rain,” “Hello Infinity,” “MS Found in a Minidrive,” “Guadalupe and Hieronymus Bosch.” “The Men in the Back Room at the Country Club,” “Panpsychism Proved,” “Elves of the Subdimensions” (With Paul Di Filippo), “2+2=5” (With Terry Bisson), “Visions of the Metanovel,” “The Third Bomb,” “The Imitation Game,” “Hormiga Canyon” (With Bruce Sterling), “The Perfect Wave” (With Marc Laidlaw), “Tangier Routines,” “Message Found In A Gravity Wave,” “Qlone,” “Colliding Branes” (With Bruce Sterling), “Jack and the Aktuals” (Or,” “Physical Applications of Transfinite Set Theory), “All Hangy” (With John Shirley), “To See Infinity Bare” (With Paul Di Filippo), “Bad Ideas,” “Good Night,” “Moon” (With Bruce Sterling), “Fjaerland” (With Paul Di Filippo), “The Fnoor Hen,” “Hive Mind Man” (With Eileen Gunn), “My Office Mate,” “Yubba Vines” (With Paul Di Filippo), “Loco” (With Bruce Sterling), “I Arise Again,” “Apricot Lane,” “Where the Lost Things Are” (With Terry Bisson), “Laser Shades,” “Petroglyph Man,” “Attack of the Giant Ants,” “Water Girl” (With Marc Laidlaw), “Totem Poles” (With Bruce Sterling), “Like a Sea Cucumber,” “The Knobby Giraffe,” “Kraken and Sage” (With Bruce Sterling), “Emojis,” “@lantis” (With Marc Laidlaw), “Fat Stream,” “In the Lost City of Leng” (With Paul Di Filippo), “Surfers at the End of Time” (With Marc Laidlaw), “Juicy Ghost,” “Everything is Everything,” and “Fibonacci’s Humors” (With Bruce Sterling).

For more information, visit our the StoryBundle website.

Be High

February 16th, 2022

About three weeks ago, I went for a hike in Castle Rock Park, alone, going far, and I talked to a plant for a long time. A madrone with a duckbeak snag and a moss beard.  I haven’t used pot or alcohol for twenty-five years, but I still like to be high.  When I find the way.  After all, it never was about getting high.  It’s always been about being high. And here’s the guy I was high with.

Amazing creature.  The skin of these madrone’s so smooth and bumpy.  I want to put him—them into a story.  I’m going to call them Bumpy the Tree-ee.

The way I met Bumpy—I was sitting on this overlook at Castle Rock where I can see across valleys and the Santa Cruz mountains, all the way to Monterey Bay…and I was pushing.  Trying to get high. And not making it.  Kind of despondently thinking, I know I used to get very excited by this spot, and…what was I used to do to get into this scene so heavily? Without having to burn a bone of the good old green.

Don’t take out your phone Rudy.  The road to High sure as f*ck doesn’t run through checking for emails, text messages, Twitter , and new stories on the Washington Post.

The wonderful doughy flesh of the madrone trees. They look like trees sculpted by someone unconcerned with the normal standards of how trees should be shaped. Fat branches sprout out thin branches instead of stepping through the intermediate stages. The trunks have great wens and buboes, elephant wrinkles and stomach-paunch folds; they puddle out at the base.

I decided to paint Bumpy. I’d been trying to get a new painting going, and all I had was this tasteful grid of colors that I kept changing.  I was inspired by Sylvia’s latest beautiful quilt, with wonderful colored squares, and circles inside the squares, and each square/circle divided in four. But I settled for plain old bland squares.  And then obviously I needed more.

I was on the point of putting faces into the squares—thinking the faces might represent characters or critters in my novel, but that felt boring, also the canvas isn’t very big, so the faces wouldn’t get much pop.  And then I decided to put in maybe just three faces, maybe to be characters in a story, and to have the middle of the canvas filled by Bumpy the Tree-ee.

“Bumpy the Tree-ee” acrylic on canvas, February, 2022, 28” x 22”. Click for a larger version of the painting. For more info see my Paintings page.

The painting took me a long time, like seven or eight sessions, when usually I can finish in four.  I kept adding to it.  Making the tree gnarlier.  Working on the kids’ faces.  Doing the color backgrounds over and over.

I’d like to put Bumpy and the three kids into a story to be a prequel or sequel to  my story “Everything Is Everything,” which I’ve rewritten quite a few times.  It’s a story about endlessly regressing scale.  Lower and lower size levels.  And it’s useful to remember that trees have extensive root systems. Bumpy’s root system might go down through transfinitely many size levels. He might be, in some very real sense, omnipresent, with a tendril always closer than you think.

I don’t want to do the stale thing of saying atoms are solar systems. For that matter I don’t want to hang out on the atomic level at all.  Hell, I already did that in my very first novel Spacetime Donuts—which I wrote in 1976, some 55 years ago.

I want to go down to the subdimensional level below the atoms.  I love that word “subdimensions.” But it’s a little misleading.  If we have Absolutley Infinite “Conway space” like in the Surreal Numbers post I did a while back, we’re talking more about size scale more than about subdimensions.  Maybe I better say infinitesimal, or no…transinfinitesimal.

The Mathematician Godfather makes you an offer you can’t understand.

The painting above is one of my favorite in the permanent collection at SF MOMA.  James Roseqnuist, “Leaky Ride For Dr. Leakey.”  I’ve never seen an explanation of the painting, but I have a theory.  First of all, Dr. Leakey was a British anthropologist.  But let’s just think of him as a man who’s perhaps interested in sex.

Sex?  Well “ride” suggests intercourse, right?  And we see a Pop Art glamor girl looking out through the star-path zigzags on the right.  And the central image shows an assemblage that’s screwed together.  And it’s dripping.  And pencils…well what other words start with PEN?  A Leady Ride for Dr. Leakey…and, harrumph, a thoroughly enjoyable one.

Am I high yet?  Jive can get me there.

Mystery guests behind the moire curtains. And when I see their “faces,” I scream until my voice cracks and goes silent.

Adventure.  Something to think about besides the three bringdowns: past remorse, present fear, future tasks.  Better: past happy memories, present is NOW, future is wide open.  No need to worry about it.  It ain’t here yet.

The third year of Covid coming on.  Wow.  Maybe nothing matters anymore.  Should I write another novel?  I’ll be 76 in March.

Last night I was thinking maybe I really am done with being a novelist.  Ageism is real. People tend not to care what I do, even if it’s good. And Age is real as well, that is, my powers are fading. At this point I’m sometimes repeating myself.

Novels take so long, and they’re so hard for me to sell anymore. If I’m bopping around the size scales, it could become a picaresque novel.  All that world-building.  Kind of frenetic, and tiresome to think about..

In a way I’m up for writing a transreal novel about getting old and dying, I did the afterlife in White Light. I danced around it in Juicy Ghosts, but didn’t fully go in there—although I guess teepsapce is a bit like the afterlife.

Get a grip, Rudy.  You don’t want to write a novel that’s about getting old and dying. That’s too much like real life.

Hi, Jack.

The broken clock all gone.

Time frozen.

Sylvia and I went down to Seabright Beach near the harbor in Santa Cruz. Very low tide, the riprap jacks deep in the sand, only a stub of the timeflown lighthouse.

Planet of the Apes. This was once a great city. And everyone was high.

The lean, faceless natives gathered, sounding shrill cries. They led us to a feast of roast carrion on a smoking pile of dried kelp.

The world is fun.

How To Write: Getting Ideas, Part II

February 3rd, 2022

Where do I get my ideas for science fiction?

This continues my earlier post on the topic. The material is taken from interviews.

That 3d plastic slug was 3d printed for me by Chuck Shotton.

Interviewed by Heath Row for The National Fantasy Fan, July, 2009. New York.

You asked how I between the value of expanding my consciousness by getting high verse the risks of excess. Ever since I turned fifty, I strike the balance by being clean and sober! When I was younger, like so many writers, I liked to think that getting high gave me creative inspiration—and maybe, now and then, it did. At the very least, it brought me into contact with some colorful people. But at some point, the cost began seeming too steep.

What I’ve found over the recent years is that I don’t actually need any kind of chemical input in order to have strange ideas. Come to think of it, I even had unusual ideas when I was an kid. That’s just how my mind happens to work—you might say that I’m lucky.

These days if I feel dry or uncreative, it helps to simply do something different. Go on a bike ride, go to the beach, see a movie, talk to people or, if I have the time and the money, take a vacation trip. And even if I don’t do anything much, in a day or two the images and ideas come dripping back in. Sometimes it just takes a little patience. So far, the Muse keeps showing up.

Interviewed by Maximus Kim for 3 AM Webzine, November, 2010, Los Angeles

I was a big fan of pot when I was younger. But over time, pot and alcohol got to be more trouble than they were worth, and I got some help and managed to quit using them.

I was rarely high when I was writing—it tended to make the writing seem too hard. But there were times when I might pencil in some revisions while I was high. Or I’d jot down some ideas about my work in progress, if I was high at a concert or walking in the woods, ideas for wacky dialog or bizarre turns of my plot. I’d write them on the piece of paper that I always carry in my back pocket. Some of these ideas would be good, some not.

Artists sometimes fear that they’ll lose their inspiration or their edge if they sober up. And I worried a little about that. But over the years since I quit, I’ve found that I’m just as wild as ever. The weird ideas percolate naturally out of my mind. It was me all along.

The upside of being sober is that I have more energy than before. And I’m much less likely to get into depression and remorse. But I still worry a lot more than I’d like to. That’s how I am.

***

Although I have a Ph. D. in mathematics, I never took a course in computer science or in writing. So I am in many ways self-taught.

Writing was the craft I wanted to learn the most, and I got my first start at it simply by writing a lot of letters to my college friends. I used a typewriter, just as I imagined professional writers would do. I had an Olivetti portable. Later, after grad school, I got a rose-colored IBM Selectric, a lovely machine, currently enshrined in my basement.

Part of learning to write is a matter of learning to imitate the writers that you admire. I read a lot, and, over the years I imitated Hemingway, Kerouac, Terry Southern, Pynchon, Burroughs, Vonnegut, Phil Dick, Robert Sheckley and many others. Thanks to some fortunate fluke of my mental makeup—and to years of practice—I find it fairly easy to mold words into patterns that I like.

If you read a lot, you develop a large inner library of words and phrases that you love, not to mention a repertoire of story twists, attitudes, and styles of thought. The inside of a working writer’s head is like the backstage wardrobe room at a theater. In your apprenticeship you stock the wardrobe room, then you began assembling costumes from it, and perhaps at some point you’re designing entirely new garments of your own.

We place the greatest value on the things we discover ourselves. School is really a matter of teaching you how to go about your investigations. The real knowledge consists of the things you find on your own.

***

It’s not a good idea to lean too heavily on existing SF books and movies. Those are a pool of old ideas. For the new ideas, you need to look at the actual world. Pay attention to the things you see in your daily life, and the things you see in the media. If you notice something odd, imagine dialing up the oddity to a still higher level.

It’s also good to let go of logic. SF stories are in some ways like fairy tales. Go ahead with any weird, surrealist notion that you have. You can always invent some bogus scientific justification later on!

***

It goes without saying that science needs to push even harder on the problem of finding non-polluting sources for energy. It still could be that there’s some wholly new kind of energy source we’ve never thought of—perhaps something involving dark matter, string theory or quantum foam. After all, two centuries ago, nobody knew about nuclear power or even electricity.

Biotech or genomics seem like huge new frontiers for science. Just as computer chips have replaced gears, I see tweaked organisms of the future replacing chips. In five hundred years we may not have any machines at all. Everything around us will be, at some low level, alive.

Interviewed by Eduardo Almiñana, for Androide magazine, October 2011, Valencia, Spain.

It’s not a good idea to lean too heavily on existing SF books and movies. Those are a pool of old ideas. For the new ideas, you need to look at the actual world. Pay attention to the things you see in your daily life, and the things you see in the media. If you notice something odd, imagine dialing up the oddity to a still higher level.

I’ll never stop being a cyberpunk, not that it’s a commercially viable label to use anymore. We started writing cyberpunk because we had a really strong discontent with the status quo in science fiction, and with the state of human society at large.

Two big thematic notions in cyberpunk are, firstly, the blending of human minds with machines, and, secondly, our psychic migration from physical reality into a web-based virtual reality.

Mainstream thinkers still don’t seem comfortable with the notion that digital reality and mental reality are points on a continuum. Another cyberpunk teaching that’s not so widely known is that digital things can be squishy, funky, and smooth. Like my moldie robots in Freeware that are made of soft, flickering plastic that’s infested with smelly mold.

It’s also good to let go of logic. SF stories are in some ways like fairy tales. Go ahead with any weird, surrealist notion that you have. You can always invent some bogus scientific justification later on!

I got into chaos theory when I helped write a popular science software package that was meant to accompany James Gleick’s book Chaos. I think the fundamental insight is that you can have a completely deterministic system that, over time, generates outputs that appear really intricate, complex, and gnarly. People used to suppose that if something was orderly and logical, it would have to be boring and predictable. And that anything really interesting would have to involve randomness. But the chaotic zone lies in between the two. The secret is that if a computation takes a considerable amount of time to run, then its output can seem completely surprising—because you can’t mentally carry out that amount of computation in a tractable amount of time.

***

I never really understood the ideas in economics, in fact I almost failed to graduate from college because I couldn’t stand going to economics lectures. Hate, hate, hate the stuff. It’s like studying Bible stories or pseudoscience—economics has so little connection to daily reality. For instance, it’s completely obvious that companies can’t in fact grow forever, year after year, without hitting some debilitating limits. But the so-called value of a company is based on how much they grow from quarter to quarter. Economics as practiced by bankers is complete horseshit, but they’ve bought out all the politicians, so nothing reasonable ever gets done. In the long run, of course, the situation will resolve itself. Meanwhile we’re seeing a resurgence of the dystopic SF novel!

Interviewed by Brendan Byrne, for BoingBoing, New York, January, 2012

Although cyberpunk is now viewed as a successful subgenre of SF, it was indeed controversial when we started. But that’s the way we wanted it. If nobody’s pissed off, you’re not trying hard enough.

***

Math is a great source of cool SF ideas. And the style of mathematical thought is good training. Often in math you start out with a particular set of axioms and explore what you can deduce from these laws. Creating an SF world is a similar kind of thought experiment. You make whatever wild and crazy assumptions you like, and then see what follows from them.

But, really, when I’m writing SF, I’m just as likely to work the other way around. That is, I’ll start with some cool kind of special effect—like, let’s say, our Earth unfurling to become an infinite plane—and then I’ll dream up some relatively plausible hole in physics that makes my scenario possible.

If you’re willing to jiggle the laws, you can fit everything together in a logical way—and if you ponder the ensuing logical consequences, you come up with some gnarly extra effects for free.

On the subject of math, it’s also worth mentioning that, culturally speaking, mathematicians are about as close to living and breathing aliens as you’ll ever see. Weirder than stoners, weirder than computer hackers, weirder than SF fans. My people.

***

I’ve also gotten a lot from Silicon Valley. Cellular automata, or CAs for short, aren’t as well-known as fractals, but they’re equally beautiful. They’re like self-generating videos. You can get a CA running on your computer screen and it’s like watching a living oriental rug, or an out-of-control lava lamp with little bugs swimming inside. Over the years I spent hundreds or maybe thousands of hours staring at CAs. They ate my brain. A pure software high.

Landing in Silicon Valley in 1986 was a real stroke of luck. I kept on writing, but I got into being a professor of computer science for my day job. And I did some work as a software engineer at a big company. I was riding the wave—surfing those pixels for twenty years, out there in it every day, rain or shine. It was good. But now I’m glad I’ve retired from programming and from teaching CS.

When I see an old movie, like from the 40s or 50s or 60s, the people look so calm. They don’t have smart phones, they’re not looking at computer screens, they’re taking their time. They’ll sit in a chair and just stare off into space. I think someday we’ll find our way back to that garden of Eden. The machines will melt away.

First we’ll turn our devices into little plants and animals—that’s biotech. And then we’ll get to what I’m calling hylotech. This means that we’ll find a way to talk to objects and see that they’re quantum-computationally alive. And then it’ll be as mellow as the 50s again.

***

When I was younger I was more attracted to immortality than I am now. I think I was worried there were various things I might not live to do—travel, fatherhood, publishing. But now I’m more accepting of death. Nothing lasts. The petals whirl, the leaves fall, the river flows. Why fight it? You get the one lifetime and it’s enough. At some point you have to let go.

I think people who obsess about becoming immortal are loses on an ego trip. They don’t want to accept that the world will go on just the same without them. Certainly, as technology advances, we’ll see people living longer. And, at the more SF end of things, you might look for injectable nanobots to repair your body, or the use of fresh tank-grown clone bodies, or the ability to upload your mind into an artificial android body. I wrote about the last of these in my novel Software, thirty years ago. But in reality I don’t see any of these things happening very soon.

***

The “singularity” means different things to different people. In a way, we’re already well past a singularity, which was the coming of the computers. But in the early 2000s, people had a feeling that a much bigger change is coming very soon. There’s a hope that if you can just hang on for, say, another thirty years, then the nanobot or clone-body or digital-upload version of immortality will be available. Note that many of those spreading this promise are also offering to sell you expensive vitamins to help you hang on. They’re selling snake oil. It’s a con.

The reason I called my early 2000s novel Postsingular was because I wanted to leapfrog past the current wave of bullshit—and get out into the raw, energizing zone of all-new cutting-edge SF. There’s still a lot of wonderful stuff to explore. We haven’t come close to exhausting the riches of this world.

Interviewed by Nas Hedron, for The Turing Centenary, Brazil, September, 2012

I’ve always been bored by the idea of rigid, clunky, machine-like robots. I wanted robots to be funky and wiggly and sexy. I think it’s likely that if we ever have really useful and intelligent robots, they’re going to be more like tentacled octopi than like brittle ants. Of course thirty years ago, when I started writing about flickercladding and piezoplastic “moldie” robots in my Ware novels, this wasn’t at all a familiar idea.

Having gotten used to the idea of soft machines, it became natural for me to turn things around—and to have the cellular structure of human flesh become as malleable as the material of a computer display.

In my Ware novels there’s a drug called “merge” that lets people melt together inside a tub called a love puddle. In my novel Turing & Burroughs, a person who’s a skugger can turn into something like giant slug. There’s a scene where Turing and another skugger have sex by twisting themselves around each other while hanging from a rafter at Burroughs’s parents’ house. Mrs. Burroughs throws them out.

Reading a draft of this passage, my wife said, “Oh, you’re always doing this, having people merge together, it’s so icky.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but that’s sex, isn’t it? That’s how it is.”

We’re biological organisms—we’re not computers, and we’re not machines.

Interviewed by Aaron Marcus for UX, December, 2012, Berkely

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, now available 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.

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.

Interviewed by Monica Byrne for Damien Walter’s blog, December, 2014, Durham, North Carolina

In the’70s, when I was trying to publish my very first novel, Spacetime Donuts, I got a provoking comment from the SF master Frederik Pohl: “This is a fascinating read, but it’s not science fiction.” Naturally my feeling was that SF had to change. Indeed, much of the SF of that time seemed flat and uncool to me.

I was coming from a place where my favorite writers were Kerouac, Pynchon, Borges, and William Burroughs. I wanted to do the Beat thing of having my novels reflect my life; I wanted to have fabulous yet logical twists in my stories; and I wanted to use rich language. I believed in SF the same way I believed in rock’n’roll. Selling to the mainstream literary market wasn’t something I even wanted to try.

Eventually I was able to get Spacetime Donuts serialized in an SF zine. And then, early in the ‘80s, with White Light and Software, I was able to start publishing my SF novels in paperback. And then cyberpunk hit, and I had a few good years. My cyberpunk novels had a transreal core. Like in Software, the old man Cobb Anderson is modeled on my father. And the mad Sta-Hi Mooney, he’s a guy I used to hang around with. Of course, to some extent, both of these characters are me. As Phil Dick wrote in the afterword to his transreal A Scanner Darkly, “I myself, I am not a character in this novel: I am the novel.”

When I was younger, it made me uneasy to realize that I see the world differently than most people. Or at least I see things differently than most people admit to. And my oddball impressions of reality are something that I happen to be eager to talk about. Even though, at times, it feels like society’s forces are working to silence me.

But I was never the only outsider. I always have few bitter, rebellious friends whom I can relax with. Generally these are fellow mathematicians or hackers or SF writers.

At another level, I’ve come to realize that pretty much everyone alive has strange, idiosyncratic views. People pay lip service to the mind-controlling propaganda imposed upon them by the media—but deep down they don’t believe much of it. And that’s why there’s an audience for those who dare to step forward and speak.

Unconventional and transgressive ideas—they resonate with people. Momentarily surprised and awakened—an audience will laugh. It’s a laugh of recognition. My books tend to seem funny. But I’m not exactly a humorist. I’m trying to tell the truth.

***

Would I have thought of transrealism without drugs? Oh, sure. It’s not useful to try and reduce an artist’s ideas to drugs. Like, was Hieronymus Bosch high? Would it matter? You don’t really see other people painting like Bosch, no matter what they ingest.

This said, in the old days I did like smoking pot after hours, and I took psychedelics three or four times. Part of the appeal of getting high may be that it makes reality feel like SF. We tend to maintain an ongoing subconscious narrative about the world—naming and classifying the things we hear and see. When you disrupt that, you’re in a position to see the world raw, rather than seeing it as you’ve been taught.

And, as you mention, it’s possible to get into this mode of perception without being high. My writer friend Gregory Gibson terms this “the ongoing Venusian space-probe sensation.” It’s the sense that you’re seeing the world as if you’re a space probe sent by “Venusian” aliens, and you’re observing humans and their customs from the outside.

Interviewed by G. Brown for the fanzine nerds of a feather, flock together, May 2015, Los Angeles

Another angle for changing SF from within is to start writing about a set of ideas that haven’t really been touched upon yet. That’s a true and hardcore kind of SF endeavor. It’s not easy. You have to get yourself to look at the present day world with new eyes—as if you’re a Martian. You pretty much want to forget about all the SF plots and futurist-type prognostications. In the same sense that your characters shouldn’t mirror characters in existing works, your ideas shouldn’t mirror futurist ideas that you might read in magazines.

A good rule of thumb here is that if most people believe something—then it’s wrong. Consider: a hundred years ago, the human race pretty much didn’t know jack shit about science or modern technology. A hundred years from now, just about every single bit of tech that we’re using today is going to be gone. What’s going to replace it? Anything you want. Make up the weirdest shit you can think of. Be optimistic. Why not a new force of nature? Why not aliens from the subdimensions? Why not telepathy with every single object that you see?

Pile on the bullshit and keep a straight face. As the immortal David Lee Roth said, “It’s not who wins or loses—it’s how good you look.” If you and your friends can make your books fun and quirky, then maybe the soggy, stodgy SF ship of state will change its course.

Or maybe at this point it’s impossible to change the commercial genre known as SF. In 2015, there’s an alternate path. What if you sidestep the SF publishing niche, and shoot for mainstream publishing from the start?

It could be that the whole SF publishing industry is on its way out—or down. There will still be some great science-fiction books, yes, but they’ll be called something else. Transreal, visionary, speculative—like that. And the hidebound old trad SF label might really be fated to descend into subliterature. Maybe in ten years nobody will even consider publishing a good SF novel under the old SF rubric. Maybe the old category has been eaten by parasitic Martian blimps with electric news-crawl letters on their sides, or by institutional politics left and right, or, more simply, by cultural dynamics and the processes of media change.

It’s a bit sad. For me, it’s like I grew up in a nice small town—cue the silo-fulla-corn nostalgia routine—and I go back thirty years later and it’s all strip malls, and the city core is stone cold dead. As the Pretenders put it in My City Was Gone: “Ay, oh, where did you go, Ohio?”

The big loss for us mad-scientist, freakazoid, pinpoint-pupil SF nut-cases is that the mainstream market is harder to break into than SF publishing. Here in the nest it’s kinda okay for us to write funny. Me, back at the very start I was so daunted by the whole Brahmin Mandarin New Yorker vibe that I never tried selling into that market at all. I liked the idea of being an SF writer. I liked the image of being a rock and roll musician instead of an orchestra violinist.

But…if the orchestras are trying playing rock and roll, however ineptly, why not try for a gig with them? If you keep your soul, you’ll still be writing SF. Maybe better than before. Educating the squares. Showing them where it’s at.

Many paths, many futures.

Write on.

Interviewed by Liz Argall for Lightspeed, February, 2016, Seattle

Transrealism means writing fantasy or SF that is in some way based on your actual life. You’re steering clear of received media ideas and trying to write about your daily reality in a warped way. SF tropes become objective correlatives for your psychic drives. At times, I’ve based transreal novels on specific swatches of my personal history—such as college, say, or my experiences working at a software company. But these days I’m more likely to write what I call cubist transrealism. That is, I don’t go for a full reality-encrypted roman a clef. Instead I shatter my daily experiences into surreal frags and tessellate them into a tale. The juxtapositions generate the story and plot.

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I think it might be easier to write a sad ending than a happy one. Sad or meh endings are a cultural default. People think a downer ending is tough, and hard, and realistic, and it’s bravely facing facts. So when you write a happy ending, you have to do it with the right touch, or people might think you’re corny or weak. But if you nail a happy ending, people like it. I almost always give my novels happy endings. People already know that life’s a bummer. So why rub that in their faces? We’re talking about escape literature, friends. Fairy tales. Entertainments.

Interviewed by Jeff Somers for B&N SciFi & Fantasy Blog, April, 2019, Hoboken

I’m blessed with a knack for drawing on both sides of my brain—the techy science side, and the dreamy literary side. I always wanted to be a writer. I was a huge fan of the SF master Robert Sheckley, and of the Beat author William Burroughs. And Jorge Luis Borges and Thomas Pynchon. And Flannery O’Connor. I studied math in college and grad school. Math always appealed to me. So clear and so intricate—the hidden machinery of the world. It is, as you say, a delicate balance to have a book be lively, with romance and fun characters—and also to have it be based on logical science ideas. In studying math, I learned about starting out with some set of assumptions like, say, Euclid’s postulates or the axioms of transfinite set theory, starting out with a set of rules and then deducing what follows from them. In my SF novels, I’ll make some wild, far-out initial assumptions. But from then it’s logical, and I get to see what ends up happening. I don’t really know in advance, not before I write the novel. That way it’s surprising and fun. I’m not trying to teach things to my readers. I want them to be amazed and to laugh and to be carried away.

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An odd recent phenomenon is that lots of mainstream authors are writing SF. But they won’t admit it’s SF. Lifelong literary-SF writers like me find this … irritating. It’s like the upper crust authors can dip down into our world—but they don’t want to let us out. Even if we’re writing high lit. I always think of Kurt Vonnegut’s line, “I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled ‘science fiction’ … and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal.”

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Let’s talk about the thought-experiment aspect of science fiction. When you turn your speculations into an SF story or novel, you go deep. You live in that imaginary world with your characters for weeks or months or even years. You unearth unforeseen glitches, and you move to higher levels of strange. Before I write a novel, I need an idea for something odd that I want to see happening.

One thing on my mind lately has been telepathy—I call it teep. I think it’s technically close enough that I could write about a teep biz startup. And I see a way to make it new. Another beckoning theme is politics. It’s stressful to write about that stuff. But these days, there’s a feeling that authors should speak up. So I plan to edit a special political SF issue of Flurb later this summer.

Looking further ahead, I want to write about a heretofore unnoticed force of nature. It’s at the subquantum level. It relates to dark energy, and to consciousness. And once we get it tune with it, we’ll have all the free energy we need, and we’ll be able to live inside electrons, like in my novel Jim and the Flims, and to predict the future from soap films, like in Mathematicians in Love, and to levitate, like in Million Mile Road Trip, and to talk to rocks, like in Hylozoic. But I know there’s something more than even that, something wilder and deeper, something super new that will, in retrospect, seem obvious and natural. We’ll be, like, why didn’t we think of that before! I hope the muse shows me.

Interviewed by Robert Penner for Big Echo, July 2019, Indiana, Pennsylvania,

Mathematics is a rich storehouse of shapes and processes and forms. You don’t necessarily have to be a trained mathematician to appreciate these riches. But you do have to read some popular math books.

The biggest new technique for exploring math is computer simulation. Realtime self-generating graphics. I’m an avid devotee of continuous-valued cellular automata. They’re like gnarlier, funkier versions of Conway’s classic Game of Life. I put these into my early cyberpunk novel Software—as constantly moving patterns within the piezoplastic skins of my robots.

Chaos, fractals, and Stephen Wolfram’s work have changed the way I see the world, and the way I think about it. I wrote about this in my non-fiction tome The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul.

It’s kind of hard to explain the ideas in just a few words. A key insight is that that any interesting natural process—like an ocean wave, or a leaf twitching in a breeze—a process like this is fundamentally unpredictable. It’s too complex and gnarly for there ever to be a quick, short-cut way to know in advance what it’ll do next. But, and here’s the kicker, these processes are not random. Unpredictable, but not random.

That’s also the nature of your mind. You don’t know what you’ll do next. But that doesn’t mean you’re mentally flipping a coin. You’re like a chaotic, incompressible computation. Things emerge. You’re dancing with nature’s gnarl.

A mathematical idea or a story is elegant if it looks simple and clear, but a lot of deep thought that was needed to create it.

It’s hard to do this because you can’t think faster than you can think. Especially if you’re doing something like writing a story or designing a math gem. You’re running at the maximum possible flop. Your only hopes of a happy outcome lie in experience, patience and grace. And if it comes together—it’s elegant. A gift from the Muse.

Interviewed by Cody Goodfellow for Forbidden Futures, November, 2020, Portland

When I was younger, there was a certain default space-opera future that SF was supposed to be about. And cyberpunk was about breaking out of that. Fuck the Space Navy! Misfits doing crazy shit, that’s where it’s at.

I’ve done pretty well. Better than I expected as a raw youth. I used to nurse that less-than-famous writer’s dream of future veneration—a dream that’s like believing in Heaven, or Santa Claus. I’ve let that dream go. Even if it happened, what good would it do me when I’m dead?

I’m just glad I can still write at all, here and now—and be read. And if I get a real publisher with a real advance that’s great. And if not, I’ve learned how to do a Kickstarter to get some money for the book, and how to self-pub paperback and ebook editions. I don’t know if everyone realizes that you can actually do that for free. It took me awhile to figure it out. I call my imprint Transreal Books. So either way, I get my books out there. I won’t shut up.

For me, stuff like space-travel feels used up. Unless you were to do the space travel in a car instead of in a spaceship—like I did in my recent Million Mile Road Trip. But there’s so much that’s untouched. Biotech has endless possibilities, and there’s ubiquitous physical computation, and the hylozoic notion that everything is alive. See my pair of novels Postsingular and Hylozoic for more about that.

And I keep wanting to write about that totally new thing that we know someone is going to discover in the next hundred years, and I keep not quite getting there, but by dint of making the effort to think that hard, I’m finding new stuff. Not actual “true scientific theories,” but fun ideas like new kinds of wind-up toys. The store is big.

For decades I read Scientific American to keep an eye on what’s new. But sadly they’ve turned to shit—small fonts and articles about—gak—sociology and political policy and economics? As if. Nowadays it’s enough to keep a loose eye on Twitter, and see the wonders trundling past—like a holiday parade that never ends. Grab hold of anything you see—and tweak it a little bit, and make it your own. Connect it in some way to your actual personal life—that’s the move I call transrealism. And go a little meta—that’s a trickier tactic I’m always trying to master—flip your idea up a level, and into something having to do with states of consciousness, or with the nature of language, or with the meaning of dreams. Go further out. There’s still so much. We’re just getting started.


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