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England with Barb

Sunday, July 21st, 2024

Early in 2024 I started spending time with Barb Ash, who I met in the Los Gatos Coffee Roasting. Being with Barb makes me a lot happier than I’ve been for the last year and a half. I’m glad I met her.

In May, we went ahead and did a trip to England together, spending ten days at a BnB in London, and a couple of days near Stonehenge, and in Bath. As it happens Barb is a photographer, and some of the time we went around with our cameras, advising each other on shots. I still have my Leica Q2, and she uses a Nikon 7, selling her photos through stock photography sites, and having occasional shows around San Jose.

And of course I often resort to my Pixel 7 phone. “The best camera is the one you have with you.” And all the photos of me are by Barb.

By a humongous monument in front of Buckingham Palace. Can’t remember who it’s in honor of. Probably not Keith Richards

This is a really excellent guitarist we spotted in a tube station. I told him he played like Jimi Hendrix. He said, “Jim Morrison too. All the Jimmies.”

This is what I call a “Rudy picture.” My eye is always picking out abstract patterns. This is an especially rich one. In the downstairs of the V&A, or Victoria and Albert Museum of…everything a Victorian might ever be interested in, one of each.

The cafe at the V&A is outrageous. Amazing baroque ornamentation. Makes you regret that modern times happened.

With my niece Siofra Rucker at a high-end fish and chips place she took us to. Not far from our B&B in the Marylebone neighborhood. Siofra works for an American school in London, and is currently working on an MBA at Oxford, no less.

Barb and me!

Wandering around London is an endless treat. This is near St. Paul’s Cathedral. Love that green.

I think we saw this view from the Tower of London grounds. Some amazing postmodern architecture in London…like two steps beyond. So why NOT have a building shaped like a cartoon toaster. We’ve got the modern materials, and software that can generate utterly strange blueprints.

Cool tiling of the floor of the New West End Synagogue in London.

The New West End Synagogue. Love the Hebrew writing. Barb was particularly interested in photographing the place. We went on a weekday, when no service was taking place, and it was exceedingly hard to get in. Locked up tight, for obvious reasons. But they had a buzzer with a speaker, and I told the guy that were two Jewish American photographers, shooting images for shows and our websites, which is more or less true, except the part about me being Jewish, although I do have a Jewish ancestor or two, a few steps up the family tree.

Inspiring, sacred, other-worldly place.

Staircase at the old Tate art museum, the stairs go up to a coffee shop. Dizzying spiral.

Peter Bruegel, “Adoration of the Kings,” 1564, at the National Gallery, off Trafalgar Square. I saw this painting some years before I wrote my novel As Above So Below, an imagined account of Brugel’s life. My only historical novel. It was this painting which inspired me to write my novel. As noted in my Journals, I saw it with Sylvia on September 12, 1998. Here’s what I wrote.

How clear and fresh the canvas is. The three kings are in a triangle of gaze, each looking at a gift held by one of the other kings. Balthazar looks like Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop festival. He has a beautiful pointed-toe red boot. Fringed chamois leather cape. His gift is a gold ship called a “nef.” It holds a green enameled shell, and within the shell is a tiny live monkey.

The gallery note by the picture says that Bruegel put soldiers in his pictures because for most of his life the Netherlands were occupied by Spanish soldiers. This touch makes it seem so real. Makes me want to write Bruegel’s life. The rainy Flemish day, right here in front of me. I want to go there.

Mary is a hot cutie with full lips. A guy whispers in Joseph’s ear. He’s saying “You’re a cuckold. Mary had a lover.” Joseph looks undisturbed.

In the background are a bunch of interesting characters. A guy with glasses, maybe a money-lender. Also a classic Bruegel fool. And a fat guy like you’d see at the farmers’ market.

Great to re-visit the painting after twenty-six years. And good to show this talisman to Barb.

Here I am with my first cousin Gabriela von Bitter, known as Ela or Mauni in the family. Barb and I had lunch with here in the Charing Cross hotel across from the National Gallery. I’ve only seen her once since I was a boy. Her main memory of me is wat a terrible, spoiled, American child I was, this would have been when I was perhaps eight. Apparently the whole family still remembers that visit. The key story is that my aunt and uncle has us over to their well-worn manor on their estate (a farm). And they offered me some summer sausage salami. But I only wanted to eat the peppercorns in it. So I ate the peppercorns, and put the meat under my couch cushion. Barb listened attentively.

When we went outside again, it was raining even harder. We took a break in a church with a very cool window over the altar. Like a warp in Hilbert space instead of the usual Holy Family with Grandpa God.

A nice photo of Barb when we had high tea at The Parlour in the Great Scotland Yard Hotel off Trafalgar Square. It was pouring rain, and I was stumbling around in watery gutters, staring at my phone map, and thank god I found this spot. Incomparable. Joyous.

Here’s St Margaret’s church at Westminster Abby. near the Houses of Parliament. I like the knobbly look. Like an appetizer tray. We had trouble getting inside at first.

Sun-touched Big Ben with House of Parliament (?) mighty chariot chariot and a tube sign.

We had fun walking along the Thames looking over at the London Eye Ferris wheel. It turns very slowly, like the minute hand on a clock, you get a one-hour ride. But we didn’t get around to it.

Interesting shops in the Marylebone neighborhood where we stayed. These folks were selling…scents.

We got together with yet another of my relatives in London: my cousin Mauni’s son Edward Marr. He’s always been a reader of my SF novels, and I’ve corresponded with him over the years. Recently he was working for companies who distribute magazines. Was fun to hang out with him and hear that wonderful British=style speech.

Definitely a Rudy picture. Love the blobby slug that’s made of twigs and leaves.

We spent most of a day at Portobello Market, full of booths and shops. Liked these veggies in a van.

The sign on this Ukai cafe really appealed to us. We spent some time sitting there…twice, after walking the market up and down.

Some fellow Ukai patrons. To me they seemed like hip Londoners, but who knows.

A Rudy picture of the loos.

Terrific graffiti, and the bloke striding by, and the electric scooter. Perfect.

Cool “stepped” painting in a Portobello underpass. Looks totally different from the two ends.

We finally got into Westminster Abbeyby taking a walking tour. This lady was our tour guide. She had a lot of personality and a British accent and lots of informative asides. I loved her.

Here out guide is pointing out the tomb of ISAAC NEWTON. We calculus teachers like to think of him as mathematician first, and a physicist second. Our hero. Great to see one of our own getting the full treatment here.


Architectural bric-a-brac. But I’d rather see this than a blank wall!

Outside Westminster Abbey, a plinth and a tree embrace. Adam and Eve.

And now were off to see Stonehenge. It’s near the town of Salisbury, which has some quaint old zones. This was the view from our window.

A gate into the “keep” or park around the Salisbury cathedral. Love this ancient stuff.

Rudy picture.

Getting to Stonehenge was kind of hard. You get a taxi from Salisbury, and it drive ten miles to the Stonehenge center which is itself a mile or two from the rocks, and wait in line half an hour for a bus, which takes you to the site, which becomes very crowded over the day. A low rope barrier blocks you from going in and touching the stones which is, on the whole thing, a good thing, as otherwise this photo would have about fifty or a hundred people crawling around. You’re not allowed to touch them. So–in a way it’s a letdown, and the stones are smaller than you might expect—but even so, it’s awesome. Maybe four thousand years old.

Barb on the scene. She herself was up for darting in to touch the stone. “It’s not like the guards have guns.” How we Americans think…

You can’t take just one photo. Love the clouds.

Picnic supply shop. Vape supplies?!?

I seem to be a Druid.

This man drove us back into Salisbury in his taxi. It was raining once again, and it was sort of hard to call a cab. For some reason, as soon as I got in the cab, they guy exclaims, “You’re an author!” And it wasn’t like he’d ever hears of me or seen a photo of me, it was just a random shot. Maybe it was my long white hair. And then he tells me this kind of great story how he’d written a novel, and the authorities had seen it, and they’d called him into the back room and and had forbidden him to ever write a book again. “I can relate,” I tell him. “I get rejection letters like that all the time.” What was wrong with his novel? Well, he’d described how his mates in the army actually talked, and the manuscript accidentally fell into the hands of the police, who’d been searching his house for some other reason, and they passed it up the chain of authority, and that was that. In the US a book like this might conceivably do well.

The floor of a little gallery off the Salisbury Cathedral where we saw an actual copy of the Magna Carta. Seems there are several copies. It’s pretty long and I couldn’t quite get the drift.

Another photo of that same quaint window view.

I think the English call this a barrow.

Our last stop was at a pricey inn named, of all things, The Pig, near Bath. Siofra suggested it to me. Siofra knows of course that I am of course fond of pigs, and that I fact think of them as my totem animal. Barb was dubious, but the place was great.

Bath is a lovely town with tons of ancient-looking Roman architecture, although I understand that a lot of it was rebuilt after WWII. Plenty of cute shops, like this stained glass place.

Excellent “ceiling” a High Gothic church there.

And Barb in an arcade. We’d just been dancing in a square to the tunes of some street musicians. Vacation

This kid was incredible. A juggler on a roller board holding forth on what he was doing, with elements of comedy thrown in.

Pope Rudy.

Last sight we saw was a little pay-as-you-enter riverside park in bath, featuring, among other things, a large carved-wood slug.

That’s all, folks.

And, oh, here’s a painting I made the other day. It has nothing whatsoever to do with our trip.

Podcast #115. “Big Germs”

Wednesday, July 10th, 2024

June 23, 2024. Reading my anti-gun “Big Germs” story at the SF in SF meeting. In memory of Terry Bisson. And huge thanks to sound wizsard Rusty Hodge. Press the arrow below to play “Big Germs.” We’re using the new and improved .m4a sound file format instead of the old .mp3. If you have a prob you mignt need to update your player.


And, if you like, Subscribe to Rudy Rucker Podcasts.

Reading “Big Germs” at SF in SF. Print Sale.

Saturday, June 22nd, 2024

This is the text of “Big Germs,” a revised and abridged story that I am reading at the SF in SF gathering in San Francisco at 6 pm on Sunday, June 23, 2024. This post appears on Medium as well.

A longer and unrivised version of “Big Germs” appeared in BoingBoing on May 22, 2024.

As usual, to liven up my post I’ve pasted in some more-or-less random images, mostly of my pratings this time around. Which is appropriate, as I will in fact be selling some new museum-quality prints of my paintings at the SF in SF show.

Zoe sits on the steps behind her family’s house. Her dog Bowser lies flopped on the damp earth. It’s April in California. Zoe savors the neighborhood sounds, copying her sensations and her comments to an uvvy patch on the back of her neck. An uvvy is a type of tweaked sea slug, and uvvies grant their users a sort of telepathy, which is called teep.

Zoe is making a tangle, based on sights, smells, sounds, and memory flashes. The process? She elaborates her inputs into a virtual quilt. And then, to make it a tangle, she wraps a flow around the quilt. The flow is a network of links or, looked at another way, it’s like the script of a film.

Once you’ve got your tangle you teep it to someone wearing an uvvy. The tangle settles in and—the user gets a sampling of your memories, yens, and dark dreams. And the sample is never quite the same. In a certain sense a tangle is alive, and it has a mind of its own.

Zoe’s early tangles were abstract, like high-tone gallery art. Sounds, not words; shapes, not things. Her tangles resembled silk scarves inside dusty suitcases. Open a case, and Zoe’s visions float.

Then then Zoe changed her style. She started collaborating on her tangles with her pal Bix. More ironic now, more commercial. Barbie Doll houses, Ukrainian Easter eggs, Mondrian paintings. Cheery, antic, off-kilter. Fun.

But all that was then, and this is now. Thing is—three months ago, a school shooter murdered Zoe’s younger brother Nick. Nick with his shrill voice, his many opinions, his skinny, lively legs—eternally active—except when he’d sink for hours into hand-drawing levels for imagined video games. He liked to pretend he was a superhero, leaping at Zoe from a perch atop the couch. But none of that kept him safe.

After the murder, Zoe kept obsessing that there was something she could have done. Like keeping Nick home from school that day, not that she could have known the particular day, but what if? Or at the very least, she could have helped Nick dream up a strategy for escaping shooters.

Zoe had nightmares, and she cried a lot while she was awake. The grief surging at her like a foul, oily wave. She felt guilty about all the times she could have been nicer to Nick, but hadn’t been. Horrible, horrible, horrible.

She got into such a state that for a month she blanked out. Lay in bed all day staring at the wall. Frozen. Finally her friend Bix had jolted her loose by snaking the garden house in through Zoe’s window and seriously drenching her.

“Hydrotherapy!” Bix had cried, with her face a mask of forced joviality. “Be happy!” With her eyes full of tears.

It made Zoe feel sorry for Bix. Sorry for someone other than Nick and herself. And that was a start. She got better. But let it be said that Zoe’s Mom never really did forgive Bix about the damage to the bed and the carpeting. Not that Mom wasn’t glad to have Zoe back. “But did you really have to use the garden hose?”

Bix convinced Zoe to get back to making tangles with her. A good move. The tangles obscured the looming specter of raw grief. Working on art has a way of driving off the other thoughts.

Zoe and Bix’s latest tangle is Dough Ray Me—about a sun god made of cookies. Very pretty, very happy, very meh. Zoe regretted it.

Bix was saying they could demo Dough Ray Me at today’s Sound Off jam in downtown San Jose. Not far from their yup burb of Los Perros.

But Zoe is thinking that if they’re going to the Sound Off, they ought to bring something better. That’s what she’s doing sitting on the back steps. Making something cool. A crooked kraken creeping from a crypt. And who knows how. Just start it and finish it.

Zoe believes that if you’re really tuned in, the synchronicity feeds you the clues you need. It’s like the Muse says hi, and the world collaborates. Like stained glass lit by a heavy Sun.

A car drives past: an assassin. The wind in the trees: the universal mind. The jabber of the neighbor’s gnome-bot: a periwigged colonial gent snipping the gun amendment from the Constitution. A woman coos to her quacky tot: her ponytail is a fountain of tears. Birds in the hedge: triangular beak-cheeps, a bullet factory. A carpenter hammers a nail: the tones rise toward crisis.

The killer rakes his fire across Nick’s thin chest. Sodden blurts of blood. The sad boy’s final cry—cut off. Too much? Leave it in. People need to feel it. And end with coroner samples of Nick’s blood cells, ultra-high-res loops of the live cells jiggling.

“Yo, Zo!” Enter Bix, shyly smiling.

Zoe draws a deep breath. “Greetings, comrade,” says she, in the light tone they use together. “What news from the front?”

“We’re in! I demoed Dough Ray Me to the gatekeeper. She slobbered over it. Your back-story helps. We’ll show it this afternoon. First session of the Sound Off workshop!”

“Plucky gals in tangle tussle,” says Zoe, talking weird for her recording. “Come none, come tall.”

Bix pauses, assessing the situation. “You’re starting a new tangle?”

“We can’t use Dough Ray Me,” says Zoe. “It’s empty. Like an ad for moo. If I’m in this jam, I want to stink.”

“I hear you, girl. But—do you think we can finish a whole new tangle in the next three or four hours?”

“I’m amassing clips, hooks, and scabs as we speak,” goes Zoe. “My quilt billows. Almost done. Five minutes long. This sad old world is beautiful. As for your side of things, I’m thinking we use the same flow you made for Dough Ray Me.”

“Use the same flow twice?” cries Bix. “You don’t understand flow at all. Showy strutter that you are. Vapid, leg-kicking Vegas Rockette.”

“Your pique is counterpoint to my torque,” goes Zoe.


“Now for the quilt’s final patch,” says Zoe, unperturbed. “Bowser!”

As he wakens, the old dog begins scratching his neck, same as usual. His rear leg thuds repeatedly against the damp earth. Zoe nods to the beat, digging it. Bowser staggers to his feet and does a full-body shake, flapping his ears against his head.

“Lucious,” murmurs Zoe. “It’s a metaphor, Bix. And yes, I grasp that you’ll need to change your flow a little. But less than you imagine. Everything fits. Always.”

Bix is getting curious. “The fleas are the victims, and Bowser’s the school killer?”

“The fleas are the guns,” says Zoe. “And Bowser is our tangle. The Nick tangle. We’ll be the horsemen of the catalyst. Terrorizing the gun fiends.”

“Would be nice,” says Bix.

Zoe raises her hands, as if addressing a large audience. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. The long nightmare ends.” She opens her mouth wide and wheezes from the back of her throat, emulating a cheering crowd.

“Brave little trumpeter, you,” goes Bix, pacing back and forth. “But how does the Nick tangle do anything real? It’s just sounds and shapes. Visions and vibes. Yes, a tangle is a alive, and it spawns copies of itself. But—it destroys guns—how?”

“Nick’s blood cells are inside the tangle,” says Zoe. “I copped nanoscale lab videos. Add a few touches, and the simmie cells will morph into true slime warriors for our cause. A cell is as smart as a human, you know. Wolfram’s Law of Computational Equivalence.”

“Pile on the bullshit and keep a straight face,” says laconic Bix. “I want to believe. Say more about how your simmies will morph into matter?”

Zoe looks uneasy, maybe even embarrassed. “Okay, right, we’ll get help. From, um, someone at the Sound Off show?”

“Our session is at four with Schrank, I Did Not, and the two Swillies. They’re sisters.”

“Schrank is teen horror,” says Zoe, thinking it over. “I Did Not is fun with mirrors. Never seen the Swillies live. Are they dank?”

“Tingling tent-worms. Puddles of smeel.”

“We join forces with them,” says Zoe. “They’ll dig your wry, crab-sideways flow.”

Bix thinks for a minute, then nods. “Why not. We act like morons and wrap your Nick quilt in my Dough Ray Me flow and see what the fuck happens.”

The women sit side by side on the back steps, running the fused Nick tangle, in full teep contact. The tangle feels like it’s much longer than five minutes. It’s hella dank.

“Queen of quilts,” says Bix, elbowing her pal. “Sometimes finds even the blind hand an acorn.”

This is a saying the girls like. It comes from Bix’s self-effacing Hungarian grandmother, who says it, not without irony, whenever she gets something right. “Sometimes finds even the blind hand an acorn.”

“Always remember that a tangle is a little different every time it runs,” says Zoe. “Not a circle repeat, but an upward helix. Evolution. The simmies of Nick’s blood cells will learn to do a no-guns thing. And then, I swear it, they’ll turn real.”

“Visualize, realize, actualize,” says Bix. “Blind hand. Ball lightning. Those blood cells are truly Nick’s? Tres sick. We’ll pep them up, yes.”

The women touch their heads together for a deeper level of teep. Bix shapes her flow into a sculpted river with bulges. Not a flat river, you understand, an intricately knotted loop in space.

Zoe cannonballs a virtual Nick into one of the river’s bulges. Then another and another. The dog-paddling Nicks whoop and wave. Bix and Zoe push mental energies around the loop. It glows like lazy neon. And, yes, the grisly blood cells are morphing into kindly, cozy microorganisms. Paramecia and amoebas. The little Nicks whistle to them. They tumble like a cheer squad.

“Big germs,” says Zoe.

“I wouldn’t exactly call them germs,” protests Bix. “Don’t germs have to be bacteria?”

“Any small critter is a germ,” insists Zoe. “Colloquial usage.”

The Sound Off workshop is in the San Jose civic auditorium, a 1930s building styled as if made of adobe, with creamy curves and arches. The arena’s wooden floor has tables and stools, with, um, only a hundred attendees, and maybe two hundred more in the low, smooth, adobe benches along the walls.

Tangles aren’t yet a popular art form. You need to be wearing an uvvy to view them, and a lot of people are paranoid about having a biotweaked sea slug on the back of their neck.

The Schrank crew are dressed in Goodwill chic. Non-binary, like shaggy cartoons. Three of them. They raise their arms for attention and the crowd quiets. Everyone’s uvvy picks up a bombastic trumpet fanfare, as if for some primeval rock show. And then the users get their Schrank tangle downloads. It’s called Granny Goose. Sounds playful, but it’s not.

Experiencing this tangle, Zoe and Bix are in a mild blue sky, in their own forms. Flocks of flagellates and ciliates swoop and wheel like starlings at dusk. Giant microbes. Zoe feels these are her creations, engendered by her hi-def animated images of Nick’s blood cells.

In the next group’s tangle, Zoe and Bix see the protozoa again, translucent and gleaming, bigger than dogs. Nuzzling them.

“They’re more detailed now,” says Bix. “We’re polishing their code.”

“There’s got to be a way to teach them to destroy guns,” Zoe says to Bix.

“I’m almosting it,” Bix responds.

And now it’s Bix and Zoe’s turn.

“Are you ready?” Zoe shouts to the crowd.

“Ready for Nick?” echoes Bix, right with it.

The friends get into a back-and-forth chant. At first it’s out loud, but as they send the Nick tangle to the users, they switch to teep, and it’s not even clear who’s saying what.

“Nick’s dead.”

“He lives!”

“In our tangle.”

“The bangle-wangle!”

“A killer shot him!”

“We’re gonna take the guns away.”

“We’ll grow big germs.”

“We’re gonna take the guns away.”

The tangle kicks in. It’s similar to what Bix and Zoe designed, but—more edgy and jittery. The stage fright is in there, and the dread of seeing Nick die.

The big germs are busy in the tangle, more of them than ever, blobs on every side. Zoe teeps Help Nick as the killer appears. And, yes, as the assassin raises his assault weapon, a paramecium channels a bright beam that crumbles the misshapen rifle into bright dust. And with that, this run of the Nick tangle ends.

Zoe is agog. Their plan—it can work! The hall fills with cheers for the brave save. And under all that are—bellows of anger? Yes, it’s a pair of gun lovers. Low crude beasts with moronic slogans on their T-shirts. One has a beard, the other is bald.

Are Bix and Zoe going to be safe? Odd that Zoe hasn’t thought to worry about this before. She’s been so blindly sure of her triumph. But, at least for now, the haters aren’t coming for her.

With the help of the Swillie sisters, Long Sue and Jeen, they launch an improved version of their tangle again. The tangle spreads to everyone’s uvvies. Zoe sees a movie marquee, with a title in lights. Saint Nick. A heavy stage curtain hangs from the marquee.

An elfin chorus sounds—and the curtain parts.

Zoe and the others imagine themselves to be walking through the opening—and then they’re in the San Jose civic auditorium, same as before, right where they started, and they’re not watching a tangle anymore.

Yes, they’re awake in the actual real world—but something’s changed. Thanks to the craft of the Swillie sisters, scores of big germs are bumbling around, mostly paramecia. Live, translucent mini-blimps the size of hogs. Physically present. Very highly detailed, with nuclei, mitochondria, ribosomes, cytoskeletons—and some spiral organelles that glow.

For no good reason, one of the big germs darts forward and slips its mouth over Zoe’s head. The mouth is like a pouch in the critter’s side. Zoe beats her fists against the floating jelly bag. She tries to scream, but she’s muffled.

The big germ’s outer surface is coated with slimy fur, or no, coated with cilia. Zoe can see the cilia without using her eyes. Uvvy teep. Telepathy. The beating cilia reminds her of tall grass in a breezy field. A second big germ latches onto Bix’s head. Somehow—even in these dire straits—the attack on Bix makes Zoe laugh.

“Oo gloob-a-gloob,” says Zoe’s big germ.

“Ugfa floop,” says Bix’s.

“Talk English,” says Zoe.

“Or use teep,” goes Bix.

“We’re present in your reality,” says a blurry voice in Zoe’s mind. “I’m Franklin.”

“I’m Eleanor.” says the other big germ. “It’s surprising that you meat bags are as smart as us. Good for you.”

“My understanding is that you want to get rid of guns?” says Franklin, still perched atop Zoe. “Easily done. We’ll decohere them.”

“I don’t like having my head in your mouth,” says Zoe. “Why do you have to do that?”

“Makes our teep exchange stronger,” says Franklin.

“Don’t fear that we’ll digest you,” says Eleanor in a reassuring tone. If, that is, telepathy from a giant paramecium can be reassuring.

By now the Swillie sisters Jeen and Long Sue have big germs on their heads too. Silly and laughable, but at the same time it’s scary. The four humans hold hands in a circle. The big germs hum to them via teep, with cascades of images flying by. A vision of things to come.

Zoe heaves a deep sigh. This is going to be okay. This is going to work.

The audience of course has no idea what’s going on. They’re cringing away from the pullulating big germs. As a matter of fact, they’re leaving the building. And the two jerks who yelled are, how typical, pointing pistols at Zoe and Bix.

Swillie Jeen teeps to the big germs, and Zoe watches the signal go by. It sounds like an elf chorus, and it means, “Sic ’em.”

Big germ Franklin projects a jittery beam of energy that zings the men’s pistols into dust. Just like in the virtual reality of their tangle. But this happens in the real world. The big germs are fully actualized.

The disarmed guys run toward Zoe, fists clenched. Big germ Eleanor takes her turn. A sizzle runs across the men’s bodies. They wet their pants, howl “Ki-yi-y!”, and run outside like frightened dogs. How satisfying.

The San Jose civic auditorium is deserted except for Zoe, Bix, and the pair of Swillies. Plus four big germs. The humans slump to the ground, entranced. Their minds are temporarily hosted in the big germs—Zoe’s in Franklin, Bix is inside Eleanor and the Swillies’ minds are inside the two others. The big germs exit the auditorium, taking the humans’ minds along.

Zoe’s in Franklin, and Bix is inside Eleanor, and the Swillies’ minds are inside big germs as well. The four of them drift from the hall.

Thousands of big germs are on the loose outside. An roaring crowd of people swells. Wild rumors fly. People don’t know what’s up, but they want to witness. They cheer, chant, bray, pray, and scream.

“How far will you big germs spread?” Zoe asks Franklin.

Nimbly Franklin and Eleanor connect the women’s vision to an orbiting spy satellite. Looking down, Zoe and Bix see big germs as pinpricks of light. The germs are spreading across the planet with exponential speed—infecting every available uvvy with the Saint Nick portal. Big germs bubble forth from each uvvy, unstoppable, like water from unseen springs.

Looking away from Earth, Zoe and Bix admire the exquisite spangles of interstellar space. And, more than that, they see the paisley seething of the all-pervading subspace whence the big germs have come. Exquisite manna for the soul.

The rattle of automatic weapons fire snaps them back. They hover in their big germs above the now-tripled crowd in San Jose. Passions run high. The word is out: big germs will end guns.

Bix and Zoe had their minds in space for longer than they realized. Aggrieved militias are marching in, weapons raised. They’re blazing away at the big germs, as if hunting ducks. This doesn’t last long. In a concerted effort, the big germs ooze out a blanket of summer lightning that settles onto crowd, coalescing into nodules that find each and every weapon, sizzling them into coruscating dust.

Cries of impotent fury.

The next wave of protest is a squadron of killer drones, heading toward the entrance of the San Jose civic auditorium, bent on destroying the entranced bodies of Zoe, Bix, Jeen, and Long Sue Swillie. Once more, Jeen’s big germ sounds an elf song, and a hundred-fold thunderbolt zaps all the drones at once.

A tasty zzzt. Bright dust falls.

Escalating waves of attacks roll in. The big germs are nimble, implacable, and for real. They take the invasion as a to-do list of things to eliminate. They zap metal guns, plastic guns, grenades, artillery, helicopter gunships, fighter planes—turning it all to dust, and spreading the news to their fellows worldwide. Before long, all that shit-nasty crap is gone.

Meanwhile the day has turned to night. And here comes one last attack, something reallly large, plummeting down from a great height. It’s an H-bomb that some wack war-monger is delivering C.O.D. to poor old San Jose.

Zoe and Bix have the honor of delivering the zap to the H-bomb.

Fa-toom. An exceedingly large amount of decontaminated pixie dust drifts down.

“Oh, lord, that felt good,” goes Zoe.

While the big germs get busy eliminating all the other nukes worldwide, the four humans return to the now-sacred confines of the San Jose civic auditorium—and rouse their bodies.

“How will people live without the joy of killing others at a distance?” asks Bix.

“Thoughtfully,” says Zoe. “In kindness.”

“And if the aggro idiots can’t handle that, they can fight each other with clubs and knives and fists,” suggests Long Sue. “Like in the old days.”

“What if they drag the rest of us into it?” goes Bix.

“Not so easy anymore,” says Zoe.

Jeen sounds an elf-chorus tone that means, I can always upgrade the big germs.

“Wouldn’t want to go too far,” cautions Long Sue. “Don’t want to live in kindergarten.”

“Bix and I will keep things loose,” puts in Zoe. “More tangles. Weirder ones. We’re nasty.”

High five.

Invading Aliens? No, They’re Exchange Students. (With Input from Stephen Wolfram)

Friday, April 5th, 2024

Alien invasions and interspecies war are played-out tropes. In my Sqinks novel, sqink aliens are arriving. And I was going to have it be an alien invasion. But then I thought to ask Stephen Wolfram for a better idea.

Me: What do the invading aliens want from us?

Stephen Anthropology? Understand an alien mind to understand yours better? [And leverage someone else’s irreducible computation.] At least, that’s what I would want.

Me: That’s a bit cryptic. Her’s a follow-up question. If we regard minds as computations, these are “irreducible” computations, that is, processes whose outcomes cannot be readily predicted. The only way to predict the outcome of a thought process is simply to emulate it all the way through. This restriction applies to everyone, even to aliens. So how would looking at human thought processes give an alien some “leverage” on predicting their own thought processes?

Stephen: If I’m so curious about how a whale thinks about the world, and believe I might “expand myself in rulial space” / “expand my paradigms” by knowing … perhaps the aliens will be curious too. I don’t think it’s so much leveraging a single human mind as the whole consistent(?) structure of knowledge/language/culture that we’ve built up. Though of course I’m projecting 🙂

Me. And here I am mulling this over…

Wolfram’s not talking about the irreducible nature of the evolution of an individual mind, but about the evolution of a social group. And that goes back to “anthropology.”

In Sqinks I might say that each sqink is here to partner up with an individual human to get to know their social mind and social mode of thought. Like people buying dogs…or dogs seeking masters…or kinky lovers seeking alien mates.

Or like an overseas exchange student lodging with a family. Let’s go with that. A sqink lodges with a human family. And later, dig this twist, the human host lodges with a sqink family!

Perfect! Multichapter scenario! My hero and heroine lodging with the sqinks. Almost breaks up their romance—but love conquers all.

Think of a “farmers market” scenario where some people are taking sqinks home with them, encouraging the sqinks with gifts. But not every human shopper is selected for a partnership. Maybe the quality of your gift to a given sqink has something to do with whether they move in with you. Or your vibe.

Also note that if the sqinks are telepathic, the partnership doesn’t absolutely have to involve “moving in together” right away. Maybe once in a while they don’t move in immediately, but they find you later on. Like a back-alley sex-worker or drug-dealer comes to your house. Like, they’re waitin’ for you at home.

“Eek, sqink!”

“Don’t worry, I’m your new assistant.”

This is a nice gloss on acquiring a (possibly uninvited) AI assistant. Like the “Copilot” that shows up on my Windows toolbar now. Or the “AI Overview” that Google pops up after a search. Perfect. The copilot or overview is mining my data, but helping be with its hive-mind record of its compatriots mining the other humans.

That’s a good transreal hook. The sqinks “are” AI assistants. Student exchange? How would it feel to turn the tables and go be a lodger in the cyberspace land of AIs?

But of course it’s much more interesting to think of the Sqinkland that I have in my novel, where the organizing principle of cause-and-effect is replaced by universal synchronicity. More interesting, put I’m having to put in a lot of work to figure it out! As the old SF writer’s motto goes: Pile on the Bullshit and Keep a Straight Face!

Going back to having a sqink lodger, if a sqink lives with you, they’re certainly going to give you good (probably good, unless your sqink has nasty ulterior motives, and eventually it will) advice about what to do. Just like how Microsoft Copilot or Google AI Overview knows stuff from the web.

To be continued…in my novel Sqinks. And that photo’s not me. It’s a sqink I’ve been hanging around with; he uses the name Bart Nagel.

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