Rudy Rucker: We Might Scavenge Telepathically SomedayMay 25, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Posted in Celebrities | 2 Comments
Rudy Rucker is a fan of scavenging, as I learned while interviewing the cyberpunk pioneer about his new novel Hylozoic, which comes out this week.
Everyone and everything is telepathic in Hylozoic, the latest of the multi-award-winning mathematician/computer scientist’s nearly three dozen books. Reading the consciousness of anyone or anything — a rock, a president, Portland, a Bible, an embryo, an alien pitchfork that talks with a hillbilly twang, a “flimsy summer shift of lilac gauze” which in one scene convinces a three-eyed shopper that it complements her green skin — is called teeping. As the book begins, honeymooners and 24/7 reality-media stars Thuy Nguyen and Jorge “Jayjay” Jimenez awaken, with “Jayjay teeping Thuy teeping him teeping her,” accessible to a whole universe of eager teepers. “If you were doing something really private,” we learn, “you could always turn off your teep. But fewer and fewer things seemed private enough to bother hiding.”
Same as now. But that world, the futureworld of this sequel to Rucker’s 2007 novel Postsingular, swarms with flying stingray creatures, man-sized alien birds, rune-programmed atoms, addictive gel, deities, sparkly materialization dots, and the 15th-century Dutch painter Jeroen Bosch, who prays and teleports.
So basically these characters can scavenge each other’s thoughts. (And in one scene, a gang of down-and-outers brew soup using scavenged bones and cabbage: Some of these men “lacked limbs, others had twisted spines or egregious harelips”; one suffered from a flesh-eating plague.) But they can also scavenge actual stuff more readily than we can, because they’re also capable of telekinesis, aka teeking. So, ideally, I could teep beaches everywhere and, whenever something cool washes up on one, I could teek to it and nab that shark jawbone or Ming dish or gold ring. Then again, teeking would make theft effortless. Strong ethics and/or strong law enforcement would have to rule that world.
“My idea,” Rucker tells me, “is that if everyone has a telepathic ability to see things at a distance, then the physical world becomes like the Internet. Instead of searching websites, you can search your neighbors’ garages and basements for things to borrow.” Or swap, short-term or long-term. “Like — why buy an electric hedge trimmer when you only trim once a year? In my world, people become willing to lend things out because they’re able to keep telepathic track of where the stuff goes and how it’s treated. Borrowers and lenders acquire ratings, just like the people who currently buy and sell things online” at eBay and such sites, he says. “In principle we could already implement this” here in the real world. “Imagine a resource-sharing website called something like Our Garage. But in reality things never work as well as they do in SF novels.”
No, darn it, they don’t.
Rucker’s ideas “trickle in unpredictably,” he explains. “Often I’ll push for an idea, focusing on a story situation and trying to imagine what comes next. When I’m brainstorming like this, it helps to be taking notes, either on a scrap of paper, or by actually typing into my laptop. Making little drawings helps, too. But I don’t always get the full insight that I need while I’m pushing. The search seems to continue in my subconscious, and maybe a few hours or even days later I’ll get an ‘aha’ moment about what I need to do. That’s what we call the muse.”
How did Jeroen (better known as Hieronymus) Bosch end up in this book?
“I’ve been a fan of Bosch ever since high school, when my big brother showed me a book of his paintings. Given my bent towards science fiction, surrealism, and fantastical worlds, Bosch is a natural for me. I’ve often wondered what kind of person Bosch was. Some passages in his pictures seem rather cruel; in other spots you pick up a feeling of ecstasy, and then again there’s often a feeling of mockery and satire. I enjoyed trying to combine these hints into a character in Hylozoic — where he comes across as a genius, a devoted artist, somewhat sarcastic, a mystic, and something of a prick.”
While researching Hylozoic, the author visited Bosch’s Dutch hometown, s’Hertogenbosch: “I used that visit a lot; it was rich.” For the portions of the novel that are set in San Francisco, “my wife and I lived for week in a flophouse on Valencia Street … and I picked up some local color there. I read this scholarly book by David Skrbina, Panpsychism in the West, about the history of the idea that objects might be able to think. And always I’m cruising the web, watching movies, reading … looking for clues everywhere.”
Like Bosch, Rucker is a painter himself, employing sherbet-bright oils and acrylics in such works as Stun City, The Attack of the Mandelbrot Set, Arf and the Saucer (in which a dog barks at starfishlike creatures emerging from a spacecraft to leap into what appears to be a hot tub) and Welcome to Mars. Sometimes his paintings help shape his fiction, as in the image below, which depicts Bosch and a stingraylike Hrull.
“It’s not pleasant or productive to sit at my computer trying to write all day,” he muses. “If I do that, I start feeling sorry for myself, like a shut-in. And, really, I tend get at most two hours of full-tilt writing per day. So it’s good to do something else. Painting is totally unlike using a computer. I smear things around, I drool over the pretty colors, and nothing is perfectly neat. My level of manual control is low enough that I tend to surprise myself with what I end up painting. Sometimes these surprises show me things that are a good fit for my current novel or story — you might say that I’m channeling information from another part of my brain. But it’s fine if I don’t use the images in my fiction. The main thing is that I’m feeding my soul and getting into the moment and, if I’m lucky, turning off my inner monologue.”
Seems to have worked thus far.
Can’t teek? “You can scavenge a free copy of Postsingular at www.rudyrucker.com/postsingular,” the author asserts.