Mitzi BrunsdaleQ: How did you get interested in science fiction? A: I love science-fiction's wild play of ideas. And I've always enjoyed the home-grown, colloquial style of science fiction. It's an art form as indigenously American as rock and roll. Q: Your new book Spaceland is a kind of homage to Edwin Abbott's Flatland. What made you decide to do that? A: I first read Abbott’s Flatland as a teenager, and I never really got over it. The book is a tale --- not really a novel --- about a two dimensional character called A Square and about his difficulties in understanding the third dimension. Our situation is similar: we’re three dimensional creatures trying to understand the fourth dimension. The idea is that we can form useful analogies between A Square and ourselves. Four is to three as three is to two. Thanks to Abbott, I ended up writing two non-fiction books about the fourth dimension. And now I thought it would be interesting to make the fourth dimension work in a realistic novel. I call my main character Joe Cube. In Spaceland, I was particularly interested in working out how things would look if I could travel out into the fourth dimension. Nobody's ever pushed that notion very far before. Q: How do you envision the typical reader of today's science fiction? A: Freaks, geeks, and students. My people. In Spaceland I'm trying to reach a bit beyond the confines of the genre. Joe Cube has a believable emotional life and some painful romance problems with his wife. The book is set in contemporary Silicon Valley. Q: What authors have influenced you most? A: Robert Sheckley, Philip K. Dick, John Updike, Jorge Luis Borges, Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace. Q: Does the average person have the proper background to understand Spaceland? A: It's meant to be fun and easy. But a disconcertingly large number of people don't want to touch a book that bears the taint of science fiction. What if we were to call Spaceland a futuristic novel of ideas rather than calling it SF? A work of techno-magical realism? A fabulation? Q: Could you put in layman's terms the mathematical notions you're working with in Spaceland? A: I don't use "fourth dimension" to mean "time," I use it to mean an unseen direction that you might possibly learn to travel in. The idea is that our universe is embedded in a much larger four-dimensional space that contains two competing races of four-dimensional beings. They're a bit like angels and devils, but it's not quite clear who are the good guys. Q: Spaceland has some very funny satirical elements. What are the targets of your satire and why? A: I live and work in San Jose, California, the very heart of Silicon Valley. It's been a great opportunity for me as a writer: imagine if William Blake had worked in a textile mill. Spaceland has a lot of humor at the expense of the dot commers. I don't think it's giving away too much of the plot if I mention that cell phones very nearly destroy our universe. Q: What did you enjoy about writing Spaceland? A: I liked writing from the point of view of a character, Joe Cube, who's non-technical and somewhat clueless. A middle manager. I came to sympathize with him a lot. Q: Do you have a pet peeve about today's science fiction market? A: For sanity’s sake, I can’t pay too much attention to the ebb and flow of the market. It’s been in crisis every since I started, nearly thirty years ago. You need your own compass if you’re going to have an extended career as a professional writer. I just wish I could have all twelve of my SF novels in print at the same time, in a nice uniform edition like the works of Philip K. Dick. Q: What directions do you see science fiction taking in the next ten years? A: I think we’ll see more and more overlap between the mainstream and the SF markets. It’s already quite common for mainstream writers to treat SF themes in “futuristic” novels. And there’s a lot of SF writers bent upon making their work more literary. Some writers use the phrase “slipstream” for the merger between SF and literature. Strictly on the SF side, it seems like it’s about time for a new literary movement within science fiction. SF was born in the Forties. In the Sixties, the excitement had died down, but then the British -inspired New Wave movement perked things up. In the Eighties, SF had gone stale again, and the cyberpunk SF movement brought life back into the field. Perhaps the Zeroes will bring some new Young Turks. Q: What do you consider your strengths as a science fiction author? A: I know a lot about science, I have a sense of humor, and I write in a literary fashion. I take a lot of trouble in crafting my books at every scale: I try to pick or invent good words, to make lively believable dialog, to create vivid and visually striking scenes, and to get a nice archetypal flow to the plot. Q: Which is your favorite among your science fiction novels, and why? A: I always like my latest book the best. It would be depressing not to think I’m still getting better. So I like Spaceland the best. It was easier to write than some of my books, it was something I was totally ready to do. It practically wrote itself. I think I got the love interest working better in this one than ever before. And the four dimensional stuff is really wild. It’s shows some things I’ve always wanted to read about, and I ended up having to write it myself. Q: Is there advice you might offer to young science/math buffs who want to write science fiction? A: For a beginning writer, I recommend using an approach I call “transrealism.” This means writing SF about yourself, your friends, and your immediate surroundings --- transmuted in some science fictional way. Using real life as a model gives your work a certain literary quality, and it prevents you from falling into the use of boring clichés. Whatever you do, don’t model your SF on the crud you see in movies or on TV. Model your SF on reality, not on studio hack stuff. Sometimes people think that because SF is genre literature, they can write it in a condescending style and not try very hard. Wrong. You never succeed in any kind of literature unless you are writing with everything you’ve got, with every fiber of your being. I have a few more tips on my web site www.rudyrucker.com.
Interview to Rudy Rucker for Publisher’s Weekly. Mayville, North Dakota 4/5/2002