Rudy Rucker: Quantum Wetware
Rudolf von Bitter Rucker was born March 22, 1946 in Louisville KY. He attended Swarthmore, earning a BA in mathematics in 1967, and did graduate work at Rutgers, studying mathematical logic and set theory, and getting a Master’s in 1969 and a PhD in 1973.
Rucker’s novels include Spacetime Donuts (1978); White Light (1980); the Ware series, which includes Philip K. Dick Award winners Software (1982) and Wetware (1988), plus Freeware (1997) and Realware (2000); The Sex Sphere (1983); Master of Space and Time (1984); The Secret of Life (1985); The Hollow Earth (1990); The Hacker and the Ants (1994); illustrated novel Saucer Wisdom (1999); Spaceland (2002); As Above, So Below: A Novel of Peter Bruegel (2002); Frek and the Elixir (2004); Mathematicians in Love (2006); Postsingular (2007) and sequel Hylozoic (2009); and Jim and the Flims (2011). He published his latest novel, Turing and Burroughs (2012), through his own Transreal Books. The Big Aha is forthcoming.
His story collections include The Fifty-Seventh Franz Kafka (1983), Transreal! (1991), Gnarl! (2000), Mad Professor (2006), and the two-volume Complete Stories (2012). His poetry has been collected in Light Fuse and Get Away (1983), and he has written about his own life in ‘60s memoir All the Visions (1991) and autobiography Nested Scrolls (2011).
Rucker has written many non-fiction books on math, science, philosophy, and computer science, including Geometry, Relativity, and the Fourth Dimension (1977), Infinity and the Mind (1982), Mind Tools (1987), essay collection Seek! (1999), and The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul (2005). He’s also written textbooks and monographs. As editor, he produced Mathenauts: Tales of Mathematical Wonder (1987) and co-edted Semiotext(e)SF (1988) with Peter Lamborn Wilson & Robert Anton Wilson.
Rucker taught at the State University of New York in Geneseo until 1978, then went to the University of Heidelberg for two years on a grant, returning to spend two years teaching college in Virginia. From 1982-86 he wrote full time, then took a position at San Jose State University, where he developed an interest in computer science. He taught there until his retirement in 2004. In California he became involved with cyberculture magazine Mondo 2000, and in 1992 co-wrote Mondo 2000: A User’s Guide to the New Edge with editors R.U. Sirius & Queen Mu. From 2006 to 2012, he published 13 issues of the SF webzine, FLURB.
Rucker lives with his wife, Sylvia Bogsch, married 1967. They have three adult children and five grandchildren.
Excerpts from the interview:
‘‘I’ve been fortunate to meet a number of my heroes over the years. I met the famous logician Kurt Gödel when I was in grad school. That was a big deal. He’s the smartest man I ever met, and just an amazing person. He knew what I was going to say before I said it. I only spent a couple of hours with him, but that was such an important event for me, like seeing the guru in his cave.
‘‘I also got to meet Allen Ginsberg around 1982. We were at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (at the Naropa Institute). The Beats were always there, Ginsberg and Burroughs and Corso. I was teaching a course on the philosophy of mathematics, but I always wanted to be a beatnik writer, or a beatnik science fiction writer, so I was thrilled to meet these guys. As soon as I met Allen, I told him I was a writer and I said, ‘Can I get your blessing?’ Like in a myth, where you meet the old writer, the old guru, and you say, ‘I need your blessing.’ He was into it, and right away he slapped his hand down on the top of my head and said, ‘Bless you.’ I got to give Burroughs a copy of White Light. He said it looked ‘far out.’ That made me happy.”
‘‘I’ve always had a theory that the British equivalent of the CIA, MI5, murdered Turing. This was the Cold War period. They were incredibly paranoid about homosexuals knowing state secrets, because homosexuals could be blackmailed. (Though again, Turing probably wouldn’t have cared. He would tell anybody that he was homosexual.) Turing had promised as part of his parole not to have sex with anyone in England, but he’d go on vacation to Greece, or to Scandinavia, and have boyfriends there. Sometimes the boyfriends would visit him in England, and he would debate to himself what the restriction meant, against having sex in England, if the person wasn’t English.
‘‘The setup in my book Turing and Burroughs is that Turing has a guy visiting him from Greece, and they’re about to have sex, but the vice squad is sneaking around watching Turing. He’s in a hotel with this boyfriend, and the cops send up a pot of tea with cyanide in it. Turing’s boyfriend drinks it and he dies. So then Turing says, ‘They’re out to kill me. I have to run. But what I’ll do is put this guy in my bed, in my house, and I’ll leave. But before I do that, we’ll switch faces.’ From there we’re getting into science fiction. The idea of growing faces wasn’t completely unlikely, given that Turing did those experiments in morphogenesis. So he gets a bit of skin from his nose and his boyfriend’s nose, and grows two faces in the oven, and puts his face on the guy’s, and the guy’s on his. Then he flees to Tangier. …
‘‘By the time I’d finished learning how to self-publish, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to sell Turing & Burroughs. It had been floating around out there, and nobody was making an offer. I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll do it myself.’ It’s a meager cash stream, but it’s steady, and it lasts for a while. And, as I mentioned, you can sell e-books direct by yourself. I have a site called Transreal Books. I’m a publisher. I’ve already made about as much off Turing & Burroughs as I would have gotten as an advance from Tor. I’m selling fewer copies, but I earn a lot more per book.”
‘‘What I’m working on nowadays is a novel called The Big Aha. It’s set in Louisville KY, where I grew up, and I’m enjoying that. If you stay in Louisville, then all the people around you are people you’ve known your whole life, and you can pretty much say anything to them. Nobody cares. I’ve been visiting Louisville lately, and it’s strange. I’m pretty close to done with the novel now, maybe 85 percent of the way. I enjoy writing books about genomics and the biotech revolution. I think that’s going to be one of the really big technologies of the 21st century. We’re still just barely wading into that. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that in a century or so, lots of our devices won’t be manufactured machines anymore. They could be plants and animals that have been designed to behave in ways that we consider useful. Even things like a knife or a glass, it’s easy enough to imagine plants growing such things for us. Primitive peoples drink out of coconut shells, but we could tweak it so it’s more what we like. And for communication devices, there’s all this interest in squid skin – that would be a great visual display. Electric eels send out electromagnetic pulses, so that could be the basis of wireless communication. …
‘‘The gimmick in The Big Aha is that people get quantum wetware. Wetware’s already an intriguing word – it’s what’s going on in your body, your DNA, your chemicals. Then you make it quantum, so you can consciously control how rapidly you do the oscillations between the cosmic mode and robotic mode. So my characters are party people – they just wedge their minds open to the cosmic, and they’re cosmic all the time. …
‘‘I’m not sure who’s going to publish this novel. I’m putting a little more sex in it than I used to do for my Tor books. David Hartwell once said to me, ‘If you’re talking about the 13-year-old audience, there are some 13-year-olds who are very interested in sex, and some who aren’t. And you can guess which group is the one that reads science fiction.’ But the book isn’t really about sex. I’m having a lot of fun with it. I do like the classic tropes of SF – I call them the ‘power chords.’ That’s how I thought of cyberpunk, as a way of taking the classic SF things, like alien invasions, telepathy, giant ants, and making them rock a little harder. That’s what I’m doing in The Big Aha. If I don’t find a publisher, I’m confident I can self publish it. We’ll see how it goes.’’