Nozomi Ohmori Interview to Rudy Rucker For: Hayakawa SF Magazine. Tokyo.Q: First of all, I’d like you to tell us something about how you group your novels. In a letter, you categorize The Hacker and the Ants as “transreal autobiography.” So, I also want to know whether it makes an interconnected series along with former three novels (The Secret of Life, White Light and The Sex Sphere). A: My eleven or twelve novels thus far break into three groups: the Ware tetralogy, the Transreal series, and the Others. As you mention, The Hacker and the Ants is part of the Transreal series which includes The Secret of Life, Spacetime Donuts, and White Light. The Secret of Life is about me in high school and college. I was a young beatnik freak punk and the objective correlative for this in the book is that I discover that I am in fact from a flying saucer. Spacetime Donuts, the first SF book I wrote, is about my days as a graduate student at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. Note that the hero, Vernor Maxwell, spends a lot of time in libraries! White Light is about when I was a math prof at SUCAS Geneseo in Geneseo, NY. I’ll put a little table for you here. I should mention that I didn’t write the Transreal books in quite the same temporal order as the periods they describe. [ Transreal Series ] [ “My” name ] [ Period of my life:] The Secret of Life “Conrad Bunger” 63 - 67 Spacetime Donuts “Vernor Maxwell” 67 - 72 White Light “Felix Rayman” 72 - 78 The Sex Sphere “Alwin Bitter” 78 - 80 The Hacker and the Ants “Jerzy Rugby” 86 - 92 Saucer Wisdom “Rudy Rucker” 92 - 97 And then there’s my other six novels. Ware Tetralogy: Software, Wetware, Freeware, Realware. Other Novels: Master of Space and Time, The Hollow Earth. It’s hard to use the same period of your life twice; a writer's memories are a precious resource that get used up over the course of his or her career. The transreal novel gap from 1980 - 1986 corresponds to my years in Lynchburg, Virginia. I did set a number of transreal short stories in Lynchburg — I usually called it “Killeville.” And The Hollow Earth includes some scenes of Lynchburg as well. Speaking of Lynchburg, one Lynchburg story I never got around to writing would be called “The Men in the Back Room at the Country Club,” and it would be about some men who drink and play cards all day every day in the country club locker room, and each evening the black man who takes care of the locker-room puts the men in the steam bath, and all the juice runs out of their bodies, and they’re just leathery skins, and he rolls each skin up and places it overnight to pickle in glass-lined golf club bags filled with whisky that’s inside of that man’s locker. And then in the morning the skins go back into the steam bath and swell up, and there’s the platypus honking of the men’s hale morning voices. The men aren’t supposed to be me, mind you, they’re just a Lynchburg image that I never used. If I wrote it, I’d probably tell it from the point of view of a teenage caddy. It could perhaps be a little like Phil Dick’s wonderful story, “The Father Thing.” At the start of this answer, I said I’d written “eleven or twelve novels” because one might either classify Saucer Wisdom as a novel or as some new genre such as “fiction nonfiction.” I would be most inclined to say Saucer Wisdom really is a transreal novel, but it’s written in the form of a nonfiction book about my alleged conversations with a UFOcontactee. It’s a novel in somewhat the same sense that Nabokov’s Pale Fire is a novel. It has non-central elements that tell a story about the narrator. I got so totally transreal with Saucer Wisdom that I even called “my” character “Rudy Rucker” instead of making up a different name. I listed all of “my” names in the table up there, just to compare them. As you can see, there’s a kind of family resemblance to them. Q: When you came to Japan in 1990, you mentioned about the sequel/prequel of Wetware, whose working title was Hardware or Limpware. What is the current situation with your Ware series? A2: My feeling now is that there will only be four Ware books, making a tetralogy. I’ve just now finished writing the last one, which gives us Software, Wetware, Freeware, and Realware. It took me nineteen years from the start of Software to the end of Realware! A long time, but that’s how much time it needed for me to grow to the point where I could finally resolve all of the relevant issues. I couldn’t have done it any faster. I quit drinking and smoking pot in mid-1996 and my writing speed seems to be picking up. It had been slowing down. Writing Freeware took me two years, from early 1994 to early 1996. Realware took the first eight months of 1998. There was indeed a time when I occasionally spoke of writing a prequel called Hardware, but my ideas for that book ended up in The Hacker and the Ants. The Hacker and the Ants gives a fairly detailed explanation of how we might use Virtual Reality and Artificial Life techniques to get from where we are now to the world of Software, with its intelligent autonomous self-reproducing robots. There also happens to be a Hollywood movie called Hardware, bearing no relation to my books, which is another reason why that wouldn’t be a good name for me to use for a novel. I never really had any intention of writing a book called Limpware, I used to just say that because I didn’t want to reveal my actual title too early. In the case of both Freeware and Realware, I wanted to be sure I could actually finish the book before letting people know the title. Limpware is really more of a joke title. Over the years I must have heard every possible joke suggestion for a Ware title. Silverware, underwear, vaporware, nowhere, everywhere — like that. I think four of them is far enough to push it, and now I’m ready to move on. Finis coronat opus. But you never know. I really like the Ware characters and their world, so I might someday get drawn back into it. Q: Can you summarize what is in the four Ware novels? A: I could talk about the characters, which is a story in itself, but this time I think I’ll stick to the ideas. There were two main ideas in Software. The first is that we could build some robots which are capable of “reproducing” by building copies of themselves. And if we set a bunch of these robots loose on the moon, evolution could take over, and the self-reproducing robots could evolve to become as intelligent and “conscious” as humans are. The intelligent robots are called “boppers.” When I thought of this idea in 1979 it was a fairly radical notion. We’re more comfortable with it than we used to be. The second idea in Software is that if we had intelligent robots it might be possible to extract the “software” of a human being’s personality and copy this onto a robot body. The idea in Wetware was to kind of turn the two ideas from Software around. Instead of people building robots and putting their minds into robots, the robots build people and put their minds into people. Equality. Break down any human-chauvinistic idea that we’re better. The boppers want to prove they’re just as powerful as people, so they use “wetware engineering” to build people! And then the boppers find a way to encode their personalities as wetware genetic properties, so that they really can bring into existence a kind of human that has a robot’s personality. Wetware is probably the most cyberpunk book I ever wrote, it’s quite intense. Nearly ten years of my life went by before I wrote another Ware book, and Software and Wetware were even reissued as a single volume called Live Robots (Avon, 1994). The thing that pulled me back into the Ware world was that I kept thinking about something that happened at the end of Wetware. The humans exterminate the boppers by means of a biological “chipmold” that ruins their silicon chips. But the boppers had this kind of intelligent plastic for their skins called flickercladding, and the flickercladding became infected with the chipmold and got smarter. I wanted to write more about that stuff. Freeware starts out in 2053 in Santa Cruz, California. The east and west coasts of the U.S. have a lot of new citizens called moldies. These are pieces of flickercladding that have chipmold living inside them. Some of the chipmold is psychedelic so you can get severely high by hanging out with a moldie. Moldies are also great for sex, but there is the problem that they are likely to stretch out a tendril up your nose, punch through the weak spot near the eye and put a “thinking cap” in your head. Nevertheless, there’s a Moldie Citizenship Act that makes them citizens. One important thing in Freeware is the introduction of a universal communication device called an “uvvy.” It’s pronounced soft, as if to rhyme with “lovey-dovey.” Every SF writer dreams of having one of his or her inventions become “real” — think of Heinlein’s “waldo” or Gibson’s “cyberspace.” I have a certain amount of hope pinned on “uvvy.” A cell-phone is something like an uvvy. Another big idea in Freeware is that aliens travel from planet to planet in the form of cosmic rays. And it turns out that the moldies develop a kind of program that enables them to decrypt the alien personality waves. It’s a little like downloading a compressed file from the Web and then uncompressing the file onto your computer. It doesn’t cost you anything; it’s “freeware.” But it turns out that the alien freeware completely takes over any moldie that decrypts it. In other words, some of the moldies get turned into aliens. There’s some fighting, and all but one of the aliens is killed. So then I had to write one more Ware book to find out what happened to that last alien, whose name is Shimmer. Shimmer decrypts a few more of the alien personality waves, so in Realware there’s actually seven of the aliens. They’re all from the same place this time around, a world called “Metamars.” They give the human race this amazing tool called an “alla.” What the alla does is to make whatever object you describe to it. Like if you have a computer and you do a drawing, you can press “Print” and the drawing comes out. But if you have an alla, you specify something and you say “Actualize” and the object appears. It’s realware. At this point I think I reach the ultimate abstraction of reality into information, which is a theme I’ve been aiming at throughout all four Ware books. As well as the play of ideas, there’s some emotional themes that run through the Ware books. One of the main themes has to do with how a man comes to terms with his father; and how a father comes to terms with his son. There’s a transreal element to the Ware books — especially Software — in that there’s a character named Cobb Anderson who’s closely modeled on my father. My father had coronary bypass surgery right before I wrote Software, and it had a big effect on his personality — it was almost like he’d gotten a new body. At the end of Realware I feel like I’ve finally come to terms with my father, and with our interactions, and with his death from a stroke in 1994. It’s a liberating feeling to have the Ware tetralogy all done. Q: You have cooperated with various SF writers so far. Generally, how the collaboration is done? Using email or phone? For an example, please tell the story about the process of writing “Big Jelly” with Bruce Sterling. A: Each collaboration is different, even with the same guy. My I write something, send a printout and a copy of the file to the other guy, he adds new stuff and doesn’t fuck with my part too much, and then he sends me back the new printout and a copy of the new file. In practice the other writer will tend to change my text and I change his, and we write flaming letters about hands off this and that or put this or that back. It’s great fun, as usually writing is an extremely isolated activity. One way that I organize writing with a friend is that each of us is responsible for one character who is a transreal representative of the responsible author. A role the author is playing. And then your character can challenging or running head-trips on your partner’s character. That can be another element in an SF collaboration, the trying to amuse or to outrage your partner. And then they turn around and do something that really surprises you, and it’s fun. Q: When you were young, what kind of science fiction you liked to read? Tell us your growing-up story in SF field. Do you consider yourself as a science fiction writer? A: When I was young my favorite science fiction writer was Robert Sheckley. When I was fifteen I was injured when the chain of a swing broke and I ruptured my spleen. I was in the hospital, and my mother brought me Untouched By Human Hands by Robert Sheckley. Somewhere Nabokov writes about the “initial push that set the ball rolling down these corridors of years”, and for me it was Sheckley’s book. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen, and I knew in my heart of hearts that the greatest thing I could ever become was a science fiction writer. For many years, it seemed like too much to dare hope for. Q: How do you want to be called? A writer, a programmer, a mathematician, a mathenaut :-), or a cultural hero? A: A writer. Writing is far and away the most important thing that I do. Over the long run, only the written language matters. Of course “cultural hero” sounds tempting, and it would be nice if I could briefly become one. In his blurb for my memoir All the Visions, Lee Ballantine said, “Novelist, scientist, and cult hero Rudy Rucker has emerged as a key figure in the cyberpunk culture that has developed at this century’s close.” Q: It seems that there is a strong relationship between your nonfiction and novels. For instance, White Light can be considered as a sort of novelization of Infinity and the Mind. Will you explain the relationship for us. And, do you have any plan to write a new nonfiction book? A: That’s exactly true about White Light. And Infinity and the Mind also includes the Software idea about self-reproducing robots evolving to become intelligent; this is in a section called “Towards Robot Consciousness.” The ideas in The Fourth Dimension appear in The Sex Sphere and again in Realware, which has a number of scenes in the fourth dimension. The Hacker and the Ants can be thought of the fiction version of the research I carried out to write my software package Artificial Life Lab. In the case of Freeware and Realware, I wrote a fantastic made-up nonfiction work, Saucer Wisdom, to introduce the science ideas used. The Freeware “uvvy” communication device, the Realware “alla” matter controller, the aliens who travel as radio waves — they’re all in Saucer Wisdom, presented as God’s own truth. It’s like now I’m reaching a point where even my nonfiction is speculative. I used to like to say that SF is my laboratory for conducting thought -experiments. But maybe when I said that I was just trying to impress my academic friends. Now that I’m a tenured full professor, I’m more likely to tell the truth. I don’t write SF to help my science. If anything, I study science to help my SF! I love SF for the ideas, but more purely I love it simply for the rock’n’roll feel of it, the power-chords, the crunch, funk. My agent has often urged me to write another nonfiction book, as these seem to make more money over the long term than do my novels. But I’m not quite sure if I can do another one. In my books Infinity and the Mind and The Fourth Dimension, I was laying out the vast knowledge that I had about a field that I had been obsessed with for many years, respectively, mathematical logic and higher dimensions. I absolutely had to write those two books — or burst. Mind Tools was a little different, it was more of a survey of mathematics as a whole, trying to relate everything to the notion of “information.” Now I’ve been in Silicon Valley for thirteen years and I know a lot about computers and software engineering; my day job is teaching Software Engineering at San Jose State University. I’ve been working on successive drafts of a Software Engineering Project textbook with a CD ROM about writing Windows programs for simple video games. It has the working title Software Project: Visualization and Videogames with Windows MFC. But I don’t think of that as a “real” book; it expresses nothing that’s deeply important to me, and it’ll be totally obsolete seven years after its published, if not sooner. It’s simply a chore that I feel I need to finish because there is real short-term need for this book; there isn’t any book out there that does what my Software Project will do. But a lot of it is just techie Windows gobbledy-gook. At the low level, teaching programming is like teaching automobile repair — just having to explain these random arbitrary things like the part-numbers of the pieces inside some particular model vehicle’s carburetor. And you can’t just skip over that stuff because the whole point of programming is to get a nice program that works really well on some specific actual machine. At a higher level, I’ve learned a lot about computer stuff like fractals, chaos, cellular automata, complexity, Virtual Reality, and Artificial Life, so it would seem like a good idea to write a book about that. But these topics are very picked over; too many people have written about them. It’s like looking for a cigarette butt on the West Point parade ground. Even so, in 1997 I was trying hard to get a contract to write a book like this. I wanted to tie the computer -inspired ideas more closely to immediate perceptions of Nature and to one’s own mental experiences. But somehow ended up with a contract to write Saucer Wisdom, a book about my fictional encounters with a man who’d been shown the future by some saucer aliens! It’s not always easy to predict what book you end up writing. Certainly my work with computers has very much affected the way I see the world, and maybe someday I can figure out a marketable way to write about this. Q: You told me that you were considering to write a story based on your experiences visiting Japan. Is there any progress on that project? A: Hmm, I had in fact forgotten my reckless promise to write such a story. The thing is, William Gibson has written so much about Japan in his books, and he’s done it so well. He’s kind of made it his core subject matter. So I’m resisting the notion of writing about Japan. But if I were to write about Japan, I’d write about a lizard I saw in the famous Zen garden in Kyoto. A lizard living under a rock in the most famous Zen garden. How enlightened is that lizard — or what? I could have him be a limpware moldie construct inhabited by pay-per -view users. Q: Recently I bought some CD ROMS: The Hugo/Nebula Anthology, Isaac Asimov’s Ultimate Robots, Robert Grudin’s BOOK (Expanded Book version), and so on. How do you think about those multimedia titles? Any plan of making one for yourself? A: When I get really old, I want to take everything I’ve done: all the books, all the journals, all the software — take all that and put in one giant wonderdisk, or chip or S-cube or whatever. But I’m not done doing new stuff yet. And the longer I wait, the better and more together the tech will get. Not that multimedia tech will ever be stable. As someone who’s been involved in developing computer software, I’ve really gotten to hate the impermanence of computer platforms. It’s like writing on the water, like pissing in the wind. You knock yourself out creating a CD-ROM, and five years later everyone’s switched to DVD. Only writing on paper is for the ages. Q: As a question to a philosopher of modern age, do you still believe the Many Worlds Interpretation? In Mind Tools, you defined reality as a group of cellular automata, but after that you seem to have changed your opinion. What made you think that reality is more complicated than that? A: The Many Worlds Interpretation is a science fictional kind of quantum mechanics view of the universe, and no, I don’t think it’s true. I think our specific universe exists because there is some intelligence or design that carves it out. I don’t think it reasonable to say that our world exists only because every other possible universe exists as well. The Many Worlds Interpretation is a notion that comes out of quantum mechanics, and I don’t have good feelings about quantum mechanics at all. I have the basic layman’s response that Quantum Mechanics is a bunch of hand-waving by scientists to cover up the fact that there’s something they don’t understand at all. Some popular books on quantum mechanics make it sound like we’re supposed to be happy and intrigued about the nonsensical aspect of quantum mechanics — about the duality and uncertainty and complementarity stuff. I’m not happy about it at all, I think it sucks. My mathematical training was as a set theorist, and I have this hope that maybe if some day physicists start using actually infinite quantities in their theories then the weirdness of quantum mechanics might be banished. I have a tendency to think the universe is like whatever I’ve been recently studying. When I got interested in cellular automata, I started to think the universe is a cellular automaton (CA) — which is a kind of multidimensional grid of little cells that carry out interacting computations in parallel. Of course there’s no grid in the real world, so the definition of a CA would have to be changed to make it more like a coral reef. You could have the cells themselves carry the grid, that is, each cell could carry a list of connections to its “neighbors.” But granularity is still a problem, that is, why should the world divide into cells of a certain size? That sounds like quantum mechanics, which is just what we don’t want! So then I thought maybe the cells could be made of smaller cells, which are made of smaller cells, ad infinitum. This could be a chance to have some infinities. Think of a pattern like a fractal. So this is why, at the end of Mind Tools, I said reality is “a fractal CA of inconceivable dimensions.” (I use “inconceivable” here in a special technical sense to mean “larger than any finite number that people can name.”) The “inconceivable dimensions” part has to do with the fact that I think that any view of reality should include the mental element as well as physical space and time. And there’s a real sense in which our minds inhabit a world of inconceivably many dimensions. But all the science can easily miss the immediacy of how the world feels. At an immediate level, reality is very gnarly and very novelistic. It’s a supreme work of art, inconceivably rich. And we’ll never know any final answers.