Mark Dery Interview to Rudy Rucker for Salon. New York, 7/5/1999

Q: In _Saucer Wisdom_, you---or an alternate-universe doppelganger with the same name---find God. I, for one, was stunned to hear pearls of cosmic wisdom such as "God is love" on the lips of a man who once used pages torn from a Gideon Bible for rolling papers and nearly came to blows with Cal Thomas, then head of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. Can you offer any helpful hints for readers trying to reconcile the wiseass, Church of the SubGenius-style skepticism of your earlier works with the wide-eyed mysticism of _Saucer Wisdom_? A: I have been interested in mysticism every since I first heard the word in college. Mysticism in the sense of attaining some direct contact with God, or the One, or with the divine nature of the Universe. The eye on the top of the pyramid. The White Light. Any problems I've ever had with organized religion have been caused by political differences rather than religious or theological differences. In and of itself, there's no reason why Christianity should be associated with right-wing politics. Indeed, in the 1960s some of the most dedicated anti-Vietnam-war activists were Roman Catholic priests. So it always grates when one sees Christ used as a poster-boy for right-wing political interests. It's comparable, in a way, to how Apple has been systematically using pictures of great thinkers to promote their style of machine. There's no intrinsic connection between Einstein and the Macintosh, just as there's no connection between Jesus Christ and the Republican party. This said, I will also grant that, irregardless of anything having to do with politics, I'm more comfortable with religion than I used to be. I've always believed in a Cosmic Absolute, but only recently did I start feeling like it could make sense to pray. I would, by the way, take exception to your knee-jerk characterization of mysticism as "wide -eyed." One can in fact have a quite practical and, if you will, "narrow-eyed" reason for choosing to believe that God is everywhere and that God will help you if you ask: this kind of belief makes it easier to be alive. Q: On that note, do you see yourself as part of the tradition of SF mysticism that includes Olaf Stapledon (_The Star Maker_), Arthur C. Clarke (_Childhood's End_), William Gibson (_Neuromancer_'s voodoo cosmology), and, most obviously, Philip K. Dick (the _Exegesis_)? A: In very many of my books you will find characters trying to break through to the Answer. In my novel White Light, they're in fact very specifically trying to climb an infinite mountain to reach God. Science fiction allows us to try and do all sorts of counterfactual things. I used to always wish I could find a good science fiction book about what happens after you die, but I don't thing anyone yet has managed to top Dante. Of the authors you mention, certainly my philosophical views are the closest to Stapledon's. But I'd like to think my humor and realism is closer to Philip K. Dick's. Philosophy aside, I'd like my science to be as hard-core and accurate as Clarke's, and I'd like my style to be as lovely as Gibson's. Q: I was especially amused to find, among _Saucer Wisdom_'s premonitions of "limpware engineering," do-it-yourself transgenic tinkering, and mindfaxing, a savagely funny chronicle of a 1994 _Mondo 2000_ party in 1994, with publisher Queen Mu "inaccessible behind starry eyes and rictuslike smile, her voice breathy and brittle, *stay away*." In addition to being a _Pilgrim's Progress_ for _Zippy the Pinhead_ fans *and* a head-spinning ride into the technological future, _Saucer Wisdom_ is a wisecracking eulogy for the cyberculture of the early '90s. Are we well and truly in the age of "post-cool" computer culture, ruled by .com CEO's who've never heard of _Mondo_ and who harbor no illusions about the "countercultural" promise of the Digital Revolution(tm)? If so, do you mourn the passing of the cybertopian rhetoric of the early '90s? Or are you happy to be rid of it? A: People sometimes talk about an accelerated "Internet time," in which a month is like a year. I had no idea in the late 80s and early 90s that we were roaring through a Golden Age. Most of the things that people hoped for from the Net have come true. Anyone can publish anything: text, images, music, or video. There's no censorship, no bottleneck, you can set up your own pirate mind-station as easy as pie. Of course speed and access still need to be improved. Web speed needs to reach a point where jumping from link to link is as easy as turning pages in a magazine. And Web access has to become truly democratic, with everyone able to log on. I think the true countercultural effects of the Web are yet to be felt. The complete disappearance of network television and the establishment press might be things one could expect. Q: You were a featured contributor to Bruce Sterling's canonical cyberpunk anthology, _Mirrorshades_, and critics often discuss your novels in the same breath as Gibson's and Sterling's. Even so, your fiction has always struck me as more cyberdelic than cyberpunk. For one thing, it's Day Glo rather than chrome and gunmetal, flaunting its '60s roots in a way that most '80s SF did not. For another, it's unabashedly personal, a fictionalized autobiography in the Kerouac-ian mode. Also, there's an antic playfulness to your writing that's in short supply in most SF, a Silly- Putty sense of the absurd that seems to descend from underground comix and pothead humor on one hand and the thought-experiments of physicists like Schrodinger and Feynman on the other. Bubbling underneath it all is a cartoon-y sexuality, somewhere between R. Crumb and Rabelais, that's conspicuously absent in mainstream SF. Is this a fair characterization? Who are your literary precedents---and descendents---in SF and outside it? A: I've often said that my work might more accurately be termed transreal than cyberpunk, "transreal" being a word that I coined to mean science-fiction based on one's immediate life and daily perceptions. But certainly I have a lot of affinity with the cyberpunks. They're my friends, they're my favorite SF writers, I collaborate with them, and so on. In self-aggrandizing moments I think of us as an 80s version of the Beats. The Beats were indeed some of my biggest literary influences, also Thomas Pynchon and Jorge Luis Borges. Growing up, my favorite SF writer was Robert Sheckley. He wrote wonderful short stories which were real and funny and had gnarly science twists. And the main characters were often bumbling, flummoxed men whom one sensed were very much like the author himself. I eventually got to meet Sheckley; in 1982 he turned up in a camper van at my house in Lynchburg, Virginia, and lived in our driveway for a week. I can't remember exactly how he happened to come there, he'd read my White Light and he liked me. It was like a miracle to have Sheckley in my driveway, the great SF hero of my youth here in, as it were, his space cruiser. In 1987 Sheckley and I went to visit Tim Leary in L.A. A Venice, CA, screenwriter called Martin Olson had cooked up the idea that "Ruckella and the Sheck-man" (as he termed us) would start writing a TV show for Dr. Tim. Nothing came of it, but it was a wonderful day. Q: The shelves are groaning, these days, with books like Margaret Wertheim's _The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace_, which considers the mythologization of cyberspace as "a technological substitute for the Christian space of Heaven"; Jennifer Cobb's _Cybergrace: The Search for God in the Digital World_, a Teilhard de Chardinian sermon on the "emergent" spirituality of intelligent machines; Jeff Zaleski's _The Soul of Cyberspace: How New Technology is Changing Our Spiritual Lives_; even a Christian book called _The Soul in Cyberspace_, by Douglas Groothius. As someone who shuttles effortlessly between metaphysics and physics, spiritual epiphanies and fractal geometry, what do you make of this stuff? Ironically, your own spirituality seems to spring more from your amazement---and amusement---at the chaos and complexity of the physical universe than any revelations on the other side of the screen. A: My first reaction when I see these cyber books is that I wish I'd get around to writing one myself! My second reaction is to look in the index and see if they mention me. A few of them are good, but many don't have much content. Some books about ideas are what I think of as "Stations of the Cross" books. The author travels around and talks to a bunch of experts, writes down what he or she thinks they said, and then strains for an epiphany, which is normally some very familiar received idea, written in italics. But I just finished reading through Margaret Wertheim's _The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace_, and it was terrific. She, for one, does have a clear, original, provocative idea. She talks about how the invention of perspective in the Renaissance gave people a mental tool for thinking of space as an undivided unity. She points out that once we had the idea of space, it was possible to develop physics. And this had the effect, says Wertheim, of crowding God and the angels out of our physical cosmos. She feels that in modern times we have begun to think of heaven as lying not in physical space but in cyberspace. As an example of this tendency she talks, for instance, about the science-fictional notion of uploading your mind into a computer, as in my _*Ware_ books. I recently gave a talk at the Public Netbase Project in Vienna in which I extended Wertheim's thesis a bit to come up with the following analogy. _Perspective is to Physical Space as Cyberspace is to Mental Space_. My point is that hyperlinked web pages may serve as a good tool for creating models of how the human mind works. Both the Web and the human mind have a fractal quality; that is, if you start out to go from A to B, you tend to end up detouring into C, and then into D, E, and on beyond Z. Maybe I should write a cyber book about this idea! _The Dimensionality of Cyberspace._ Any editors out there reading this?