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Future Tense: Share My Enlightenment

By Rudy Rucker

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 56 No. 1, Pages 136-ff

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I've always thought of my novels as "beatnik science fiction," not that anyone else uses those words. "Beatnik" is just something I like. I'm more what you'd call a kiqqie or a qrude. I live in a hole in the ground. I eat dirt. These are modern times.

At 36 I published my first novel, Bad Brain, about a brain in a jar that grows tentacles, rides a bicycle to the studio of a talk-radio station, and hollows out the head of an anti-beatnik broadcaster. Having preserved the original gray matter in its own jar, the bad brain takes up residence within the vacated skull and entertains the radio audience in offbeat but positive ways, tutoring the broadcaster's brain all the while. At book's end, the now-peace-loving broadcaster's brain is restored to its place, and the bad brain rides his bicycle into the sunset in search of further ways to improve the world. Bad Brain appeared in paperback and as an aether wave. It was met with indifference, mutating to derision and scorn.

No matter. I developed a following. I won an award.

At night, alone in my burrow, I'd rub my feelers over the emerging good reviews. My quill would stiffen. My ink-sac would fill. I wrote more beatnik SF novels.

As I stand before you today, I'm 66, with a stack of beatnik SF novels to my credit. Meanwhile, my sales have turned anemic, with ever-smaller print-runs. The cretinous, slavering fans have become oblivious to my work. The reviewers jeer, and exhort me to stop.

As a comeback stratagem, I published my autobiography, Beatnik SF Writer. My long-term publisher and I thought it might serve as a late-life mainstream break-out title. It bombed, and my long-term publisher dropped me.

At this point my plan was to distribute my novel as malware.

What next? I wrote another beatnik SF novel, On The Nod, about a Kentucky boy on a galactic roadtrip with a drug-addled alien cuttlefish searching for its soul, with the soul found in the gut of a microscopic cockroach in a you-tweak-it gene bar in Oakland, CA.

I found a small publisher for On The Nod. For reasons that were, I maintain, solely logistical, it bombed, too. The small publisher dropped me.

I began writing another beatnik SF novel. What else could I do? I should mention, by the way, that at all times I have had at least a few loyal followers, my cognoscenti. I dedicated my new novel to them. This one I called Zip Zap, about an allegedly insane man who be-friends a possibly imaginary sea slug from the 10th dimension. The eccentric and the slug discover a way to impose mystical enlightenment upon an unwilling public.

I wrote it slowly, loath to face the market again. Really, it's the process of writing I enjoy. The narcotic moments of creative bliss. The dissolution of self via the yoga of craft. I was calm and happy in my burrow, limning a new ascent to the cosmic One mind.

When I finished Zip Zap, I deemed it another masterpiece. I flew to New York to visit the offices of my long-term publisher and proposed a fresh start. Waxing elegiac, my former editor called a few underlings into his office and presented me with an entire smoked salmon, an extravagant delicacy, a reminder of an earlier Manhattan publishing culture. With tears in his eyes, he advised me to live as a simple hermit and abandon all hope of publishing again.

I went home and sulked. A coarse joker rolled a stone across the mouth of my tunnel as if I lay in some eternal tomb. One of the cognoscenti alerted me. Oozing forth from the dirt and dripping acid, I inscribed a beloved motto upon the stone.

Eadem mutata resurgo. "The same, yet changed, I arise again."

I would become a publisher myself. Retreating again into my burrow, I twitched and spasmed for days, nourished by dirt and by the remains of my smoked salmon. I budded out a fresh array of pincers, then delved within my flesh to craft electrogenerative glands.

Soon I was prepared to self-publish Zip Zap as an aether wave. With my voice piping forth from the earth as a shrill, excited twitter, I broadcast my intentions to the uncaring world.

At first I tried selling my aether wave in the manner of a traditional publisher. But then, growing impatient with the pawky, dawdling pace of commerce, I began offering it for free. But, other than my pitiably few cognoscenti, nobody accessed Zip Zap, either commercial or free.

I needed a new mode of distribution. Here I turned to my old friend Yonson, a ground-dwelling qrude like me, a one-time writer now turned cyber-criminal for hire. Yonson showed me a spammer trick for forcing unwanted aether waves onto strangers' reader pods.

I budded out a fresh array of pincers, then delved within my flesh to craft electrogenerative glands.

So at this point my plan was to distribute Zip Zapmy novel of mystical enlightenmentas malware. If the cretinous, slavering fans balked at a free Zip Zap, then, in the name of all that is holy, I'd force it directly into the warp and woof of their pods.

I'd forgotten, or chosen to ignore, the fact that Yonson is a complete incompetent, and under close surveillance by the aether authorities. Within hours, these puritanical, anti-beatnik martinets descended upon me. Rather than deigning to charge me with a crime, they deployed an aether-wave filter to prevent anyone from viewing any of my novels upon any pod ever again. They neglected only to tear out my tongue.

Eadem mutata resurgo.

Of late, I've taken to giving public readings of my work. I have, after all, a certain notoriety. People come to be amused. What they don't initially realize is that I've found a way to cast my novels into cytoplasmic biological forms known as a Golgi threads.

If you come into the same room with me, my threads writhe into you, and you begin to dream my novels. Especially Zip Zap.

It goes without saying, you'll forget that I told you about the Golgi threads.

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.

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Rudy Rucker ([email protected]) is a professor emeritus in the Department of Computer Science of San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, and author of pop math and CS books, including The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul, Basic Books, New York. He also is a science fiction writer known for his novels Postsingular, Tor Books, New York, and Turing & Burroughs: A Beatnik SF Novel, Transreal Books, Los Gatos, CA.

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