Publisher: William Morrow & Co
Book Review by Jonathan M. Sullivan
Rudy Rucker’s fiction is concerned with mathematical anomalies and the manipulation of consciousness, the creation of new beings from the cross-fertilization of materials technology, computer science and biotech, and the lives of his quirky if somewhat shallow characters.
Mostly, though, Rucker seems to be interested in finding out what he can get away with. Rucker is a mathematician, and Realware, like its predecessors in the Ware series, explores fictional spaces as twisted as a Klein bottle, where most other writers will not go. His novels start out solid and slow, if a little strange, like a few daring axioms scribbled on a blackboard. But within a hundred pages Rucker’s slate is covered with gnarly permutations and derivations, an n-dimensional tangle of twisted equations. By the time you finish reading a Rucker novel, each new development, more whack than the last, causes you to throw up your hands and say, “Yeah, sure. Whatever.” Rucker piles on layers of insanely brilliant speculation, all of it fascinating, funky, and beautifully rendered, but a bit exasperating. I’m always excited to pick up a new Rucker novel, and always a bit relieved to finish it. Rucker wears me out.
I do recommend that you read this book, but I recommend that you read it as the last of a series. In the year 2054, humans have colonized much of the inner solar system and live in peace. Because of incidents that unfolded earlier in the Ware series, transistor-based computers can no longer exist on earth. Instead humans share the world with Moldies. Moldies are composite beings made of a preternaturally smart plastic called imipolex and containing a nervous system made of algae and fungus. They are, in fact, computers, but more in the sense that humans are computers: they have personality, they fight, they fornicate, they get high, and they have a cheesy body odor.
In the last installment of the Ware series, Wetware, aliens encoded in cosmic “personality waves” arrived on the moon, where they took bodies of imipolex to manifest themselves to humans as moldies. The aliens seemed to be benevolent, but on a reactionary impulse several humans destroyed the imipolex bodies of the aliens to prevent further contact.
A few months later, Yoke Starr is visiting earth, where she gets involved in a plot involving an English businessman and the King of Tonga. It seems that one of the aliens, Shimmer, has escaped destruction and is hiding out in a trench at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. When Yoke meets Shimmer, she learns of the aliens’ astonishing intentions they want to provide human beings with allas–transdimensional devices that will allow us to transmute out thoughts into matter.
Essentially, they want to give us magic wands. And what do they want in exchange? Nothing really: all you have to do for you magic wand is register the product. This amounts to allowing the aliens’ God, Om, to sample your mind and leave a cookie in your brain. But before the aliens hand out 7 billion allas, they want to test the product on a focus group of one: Yoke Starr.
In the course of her adventures, Yoke meets up with a cute slacker named Phil. Phil is adrift. He’s stuck in a relationship with a skanky drug addict named Kevvie, although Rucker fails to illuminate the reader as to just what it is they see in each other. He’s living in a sort of high-tech tenement. And he’s just lost his estranged father, a rogue mathematician, to an accident involving a wowo. This four-dimensional hologram inexplicably went bonkers, ate Phil’s Dad and half his stepmother’s dog, left behind a trandimensionally twisted wedding ring, and disappeared. People are understandably freaked out.
By the time Phil gets swallowed into one of these rifts to join his father, it’s apparent that they represent an interface between our world and the Cosmic Consciousness. Rucker noodles out some fairly rusty riffs on God as the Source of Infinite Light and the transcendentally groovy headspace of death, and there’s a scene in which one of the Players floats toward the God-Spot in the fourth dimension, to be torn open by the mathematical equivalent of Blue Meanies so that so that his Inner Butterfly will be free to join the Ultimate.
This seems a bit lame for a writer of Rucker’s twisted brilliance and inventiveness. And the culmination of the alla scenario, in which every human on earth gets his own magic wand capable of transforming his desires into matter, boils down to feeble moralizing copped out of Forbidden Planet.
Monsters from the Id. Heavy.
But you really do have to read Realware, and you have to read it as part of the Ware series (the first three books of which are collected in a single delightful volume, Moldies and Meatbops.) This whacked-out future history of humans and moldies is delightful and perverse, if a little exhausting at times. Rucker’s work will stand up to just about anybody else in sf in terms of speculative bravado, eyeball-kicking prose, twisted humor, and sheer fun.