Thursday, August 24, 2006


Back in the mid 80s I had basically given up on science fiction, a genre that I had read avidly since the age of 12. The bulk of the field was stodgy and boring, lots of Heinlein pastiches and crappy Tolkien ripoffs. At that point, the stuff I liked the most were used paperbacks I'd found from ten or twenty years before, the so-called "new wave". People like J. G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Delany and Norman Spinrad were writing SF that engaged the real world in all its complexity with style, daring and imagination. Sure, these folks were all still writing in the 80s, but where were the new writers that had that kind of visionary intensity?

Well, I picked up an Ace paperback (the same folks who brought you William Burroughs' first novel in the 50s and many Phil Dick masterpieces in the 60s) by the name of Neuromancer and I was stunned. Someone had taken Burroughs, Alfred Bester and noir writing and supercharged it with the energy of punk rock. Of course this novel by William Gibson lauched a subgenre called cyberpunk that changed the whole field, not neccessarily all for the better (where once there were Heinlein clones, there were now numerous knockoffs of Gibson's hardboiled style). I was hipped to the house journal of the cyberpunk movement by an article in Film Comment magazine, and soon recieved my first copy of Cheap Truth, a xeroxed broadside that was dedicated to battling the dinosaurs of SF in the same way punk went after the musical equivalent a few years earlier. Its editor Vincent Omniveritas I later learned was a psuedonym for SF novelist and cyberpunk ringleader Bruce Sterling. To make a long story even longer, through Cheap Truth I discovered the work of one Rudolph Van Bitter Rucker, better known as Rudy Rucker.

Rucker was/is a gonzo mathematician/underground cartoonist with a strange sense of humor that's grounded in a beat/hippie sensibility, especially in early novels like White Light, where the dope smoking Math prof who encounters cosmic conundrums is pretty obviously based on Rucker himself. Unlike the loner hard cases of Gibson's fiction, Rucker's characters are usually workaday shmoes that were more similar to the people populating P. K. Dick's books (it's cosmically perfect that Rucker won the first Philip K. Dick award). Over the years, he's written everything from books about infinity, a book of non-fiction that includes a hilarious piece on a drunken run-in with Jerry Falwell's "vice-ayatollah" Cal Thomas, tomes on artificial life and more recently, a deeply funny and moving historical novel of the life of artist Peter Breughel.

He's still doing it, and the latest manifestation of his creativity is an online journal of fiction called Flurb, which includes new work by cyberpunk OGs like John Shirley and Richard Kadrey.

Check out his blog too, it includes his take on the recent movie version of A Scanner Darkly.

He's also the also the great-great-great-grandson of the philosopher Georg Hegel, no kidding.