New sf futures from Rudy Rucker

Paul Raven @ 30-06-2010

In response to Jo Walton’s Tor.com post about the problem that the Singularity meme has caused for science fiction writers [short and slightly snarky interpretation: The Singularity is such a ubiquitous idea that everyone feels obliged to write around it or beyond it, and there’s a paucity of old-school “people-like-us-but-with-spaceships” stories as a result], the ever-fertile mind of Rudy Rucker has thrown out a whole bunch of new themes and directions for science fiction stories.

Change is of course something that happens to any living art form—think of painting or popular music or literary novels or even TV sit-coms. Yes, it’s sad to see Golden Ages slip away, but it’s sadder still to keep doing the same thing. Inevitably the old material goes stale and the fire goes away. I’m not saying it’s become impossible to write fresh novels about aliens and spaceships and planets. But maybe it’s become a task as difficult and quixotic as writing a fresh doo-wop song.

But why not a new kind of song? And why not a new kind of SF novel? This is, after all, the twenty-first century.

If you think about it, it’s quite unreasonable to regard, say, the physics and sociology of classic space opera as “rules” about science-fictional futures. These are all things that writers made up in, like, the 1930s, and which later writers polished and refined. The “rules” have no Higher Truth and they’re unlikely to apply to any actual future. They’re only stories that people made up for fun, and there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t keep changing the rules.

Testify, Brother Rucker! Here’s a couple of the directions he suggests:

Quantum Computational Viruses

The current trend is to view any bit of matter as carrying out a so-called quantum computation. These computations can be as rich and complex as anything in our brains or in our PCs. One angle, which I explored a bit in Postsingular and Hylozoic, is that ordinary objects could “wake up.” Another angle worth pursuing is that something like a computer virus might infect matter, perhaps changing the laws of physics to make our world more congenial to some other kinds of beings.

The Subdimensions

For too long we’ve let the quantum mechanics tell us that there’s nothing smaller than the Planck length. Let’s view this tiny size scale as a membrane, a frontier, but not a wall. We can in fact go below it…into the land of the subdimensions. Possibly the subdimensional world is a kind of mirror version of ours. Certainly aliens can visit us from there…no need for all those star ships. Just focus on a speck of dust.

Granted, Futurismic focusses on publishing a very specific subgenre of science fiction (and offers no apologies for doing so!), but I tend to see thematic and stylistic diversity as a sign of health in any realm of creation. The end-game of postmodern culture seems to be an increasingly uncritical obsession with retro styles and pastiche – a phenomenon I can see very clearly in music, but increasingly in genre fiction as well. Which is sort of a shame (retro is fun for a while, but soon becomes little more than a costume party – hello, zombies! hello, steampunk!), but perhaps understandable. As Rucker points out, it’s not that there aren’t any routes forward… but the routes available aren’t an easy stroll through familiar gardens.

While it’s nice to walk through a familiar garden every once in a while, I like to explore new places. And that’s why sf is my genre; it’s the only one whose concerns expand and change with time. For example, space operas – while plenty of fun – are essentially as limited in their main concerns as a Regency romance or a Western. Sure, you can reinvent them, subvert them, mash them up with other ideas… and if you do something interesting with it then I will (and often do!) read it with genuine pleasure. But I’m still going to keep looking for writers who are willing to try to expand the sphere of storyability… after all, wasn’t that the defining dynamic of science fiction in the Golden Age, the dynamic that brought us all the forms we’re now pining for?

It’s always baffled me that a genre that purports to be concerned with new ideas can, at times, be such a hidebound and nostalgic institution. Rebellion eventually becomes dogma… another story that’s as old as humanity itself. 😉


Rudy Rucker’s Ware Tetralogy available as a free download

Paul Raven @ 22-06-2010

The Ware Tetralogy - Rudy RuckerRegular readers will be aware that I’m a Rudy Rucker fan, and hence will understand how stoked I am that his Ware Tetralogy – heretofore hard to find in decent condition – is being republished as a single (immense) volume. It’s now sat on my wishlist, awaiting a moment when I have the money spare to buy a copy… but until then, there’s a free-to-download PDF version of the Ware Tetralogy available on Rucker’s website. There are commercial ebook versions in the pipeline, apparently, so that download may not be there forever – scoop it up now, and feel the gnarl!

(That said, the PDF and RTF versions are Creative Commons licensed, so they can be passed around with impunity. Send one to a friend!)


The Edge Question 2010: how is the internet changing the way you think?

Paul Raven @ 19-01-2010

Just in case you’ve not encountered it before, the Edge Foundation runs an annual open-question session wherein they pick a current topic and pitch it to some of the more interesting and adventurous thinkers of the world.

This year’s question was, simply enough, “How is the internet changing the way you think?”, and the resulting answers – from characters as diverse as Brian Eno, Freeman Dyson and Howard Rheingold – range from concerned through to cautiously optimistic and back again.

This year sees one of my favourite science fiction authors among the respondants; those of you already acquainted with Rudy Rucker’s writing won’t be surprised to see that his vision of the near-future has more than a hint of the psychedelic communal utopia about it:

At this point, it looks like there aren’t going to be any incredibly concise aha-type AI programs for emulating how we think. The good news is that this doesn’t matter. Given enough data, a computer network can fake intelligence. And—radical notion—maybe that’s what our wetware brains are doing, too. Faking it with search and emergence. Searching a huge data base for patterns.

The seemingly insurmountable task of digitizing the world has been accomplished by ordinary people. This results from the happy miracle that the internet is that it’s unmoderated and cheap to use. Practically anyone can post information onto the web, whether as comments, photos, or full-blown web pages. We’re like worker ants in a global colony, dragging little chunks of data this way and that. We do it for free; it’s something we like to do.

Given the choice of fictional futures to inhabit, I’m inclined to think the ones born of Rucker’s mind would be the most fun… 🙂

If you’ve got some time to kill, I recommend browsing through all the Edge question answers; even if you disagree with all of them, I’ll be surprised if you don’t find some serious food for thought (not to mention ideas for stories).


Rudy Rucker’s biosynthetic future

Paul Raven @ 19-10-2009

digital rendering of DNARudy Rucker has been ruminating on synthetic biology in the wake of a September essay in The New Yorker entitled “A Life Of Its Own”, which is well worth the half hour or so it’ll take to read. [image by ynse]

In response, Rucker has reposted a piece he wrote for Newsweek on the same subject back in 2007… and if you love Rucker’s ability to flip-flop from hard science to way-out West-Coast weirdness within the space of a few paragraphs (as I do), it’s a must-read. For example, here are Rucker’s thoughts about the biotech “grey goo”scenario:

What’s to stop a particularly virulent synthetic organism from eating everything on earth? My guess is that this could never happen. Every existing plant, animal, fungus and protozoan already aspires to world domination. There’s nothing more ruthless than viruses and bacteria—and they’ve been practicing for a very long time.

The fact that the synthetic organisms are likely to have simplified Tinkertoy DNA doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be faster and better. It’s more likely that they’ll be dumber and less adaptable. I have a mental image of germ-size MIT nerds putting on gangsta clothes and venturing into alleys to try some rough stuff. And then they meet up with the homies who’ve been keeping it real for a billion years or so.

And if that’s a bit too serious for you, hands up who’d love to live in this future:

Of course, people will want to start tweaking their own bodies. Initially we’ll go for enhanced health, strength and mental stability, perhaps accelerating the pace of evolution in a benign way.

But, feckless creatures that we are, we may cast caution to the winds. Why would starlets settle for breast implants when they can grow supplementary mammaries? Hipsters will install living tattoo colonies of algae under their skin. Punk rockers can get a shocking dog-collar effect by grafting on a spiky necklace of extra fingers with colored nails. Or what about giving one of your fingers a treelike architecture? Work ten two-way branchings into each tapering fingerlet of this special finger, and you’ll have a thousand or so fingertips, with the fine touch of a sea anemone.

Ah… just me, then? 🙂


Get your Flurb on – Rudy Rucker’s webzine reaches issue #8

Paul Raven @ 10-09-2009

goose finger-bobEver since I stopped doing the Friday Free Fiction round-ups here a little while ago, I’ve tried hard not to play favourites… but when news got out from the man himself that Rudy Rucker’s superbly-named fiction webzine Flurb had just rolled over to issue #8, I couldn’t let it pass by without a mention.

I love Rucker’s work to bits, and Flurb tends to reflect his personal style in the story choices – it’s frequently weird, in other words, but in the best possible way. The ToC for issue #8 features Rucker himself, Paul Di Filippo, Gregory Benford, Charlie Anders (yup, the one who works on io9, unless I’m very much mistaken)… and none other than Howard V. ‘Pixel-Stained Technopeasant’ Hendrix, who has presumably changed some of his views about publishing work on the web for free in the last few years.

So if you’ve got half an hour or so to kill, go read a couple of stories at Flurb. If nothing else, it’ll be the closest approximation of a dose of hallucinogens that you could acquire without leaving your swivel-chair.


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