Selected Nonfiction


By Rudy Rucker

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The essays and memoirs collected in Seek! trace Rudy Rucker’s trajectory through the final decade of the second millennium. His topics include artificial life, chaos, the big bang, Pieter Brueghel, the church of the subgenius, live sex, mathematics, science fiction, and TV evangelism. A computer scientist and programmer, Rucker is an articulate, engaging guide to the world on either side of the computer screen.



Rudy’s parents Embry and Marianne in 1950.

Seek What?

I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 22, 1946. At that time my father Embry had a small business making inexpensive furniture and my mother Marianne was a housewife. I have one sibling, my brother Embry, Jr., who is five years older than me, and he still lives in Louisville.

My childhood was comfortable, conventional, middle-class. We lived in a ranch house my father built on two acres in a part of town that was not quite yet a suburb of Louisville. For awhile the neighboring properties were farms. There weren’t that many kids around, but I had one or two friends. We spent a lot of time in the pastures, it was always fun to play with the little brooks. New developments were going up all around us, and exploring the building sites was another thing we kids did a lot. I loved to read. TV barely existed yet, at least not in Louisville.

My mother, who was born in Germany, was an enthusiastic gardener, amateur artist and potter. She was something of a character, soft-spoken but very opinionated. Two of her favorite words were “disgusting” and “amazing.” When I was about eight, my father’s business went bankrupt, but he was able to start another company that made small wood parts for furniture, things like table legs or the backs of drawers. This type of business is called a “dimension manufacturer.”

I went to private schools, graduating from St. Xavier High School – I was one of the few non-Catholics to attend that school; my parents had the idea it was very good for science. “St. X.” While I was in high school, my father became ordained as an Episcopal priest, and worked as parish priest for the rest of his life, although he retained the ownership of his dimension manufacturing business.

I went to Swarthmore College from 1963–1967, majoring in mathematics and getting a Bachelor’s degree. I had a lot of fun there, and was sorry to graduate. At this point, my choices were the draft or grad school, so I had no hesitation in going to Rutgers University from 1967–1972. I got my Master’s and my Ph.D. in mathematics. My area of specialization was mathematical logic, with my thesis on transfinite set theory. In 1967, I married my college sweetheart, Sylvia Bogsch, and not too long after that we had our three children: Georgia (1969), Rudy, Jr. (1972), and Isabel (1974).

After grad school, I got my first job in the mathematics department at the State University College at Geneseo, New York, a job which lasted from 1972–1978. I started teaching the “Higher Geometry” course there, and turned it into a series of lectures on the fourth dimension. Eventually I wrote the lectures up as Geometry, Relativity and The Fourth Dimension, and managed to get them published by Dover Publications, a house which primarily publishes public-domain books by dead authors. They didn’t pay me much, but it was enough to throw myself a good thirtieth birthday party – and my writing career was on its way.

The next thing I wrote was a science fiction novel called Spacetime Donuts. This was in the summer of 1976. I wasn’t sure I could write a novel, but I just kept going and after awhile it was done. Nobody wanted to publish it, but then I came across a new magazine called Unearth which was willing to serialize it in three parts. As it happened, Unearth went out of business before publishing Part Three.

We were interested in finding a way to move out of cold, rainy upstate New York, and in 1978–1980 I luckily got a grant from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which is funded by the German government. The five of us lived in Heidelberg for two years, the kids making their way through German schools, and Sylvia struggling to keep everything together. (Bad news: in Germany, all the kids come home for lunch. Every day!) I had a peaceful office in the Mathematics Institute of the University of Heidelberg, and ended up writing most of Infinity and the Mind as well as two novels there: White Light and Software. White Light was picked up by Acc Books in the U.S., and by Virgin Books in the U.K. And then Ace bought Spacetime Donuts and Software as a package, and I was really a writer.

The only math professor job I could find back in the States was at a tiny college called Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, in, of all places, Lynchburg, Virginia, the home of then-prominent right-wing evangelist Jerry Falwell. After two years at Randolph-Macon (1980–1982), I decided to give full-time writing a try. Sylvia and the kids and I stayed in Lynchburg; we had a nice big old house and it wasn’t a bad place for the children to grow up. In the years 1982–1986, I wrote six books. This period marked the birth of cyberpunk science fiction, and I became recognized as a founding father of the movement. My cyberpunk novels Software and Wetware each won a Philip K. Dick Award for best paperback SF novel of the year. It must have been one of God’s little jokes to have me do this from the Moral Majority’s home town.

As my own alternative to cyberpunk, I also developed a style of writing which I call transrealism. The essence of transrealism is to write about one’s real life in fantastic terms. The Secret of Life, White Light, and The Sex Sphere are examples of my transreal novels. The first recasts a traditional coming of age memoir as a UFO novel, the second is about my time as a mystical mathematician in Geneseo, while the third turns my two years in Germany into a tale of higher dimensions and nuclear terrorism.

Being a full-time writer in Lynchburg got to be too hard and thankless a way to make too meager a living. I wrote Mind Tools, a nonfiction book about mathematics and information, which got me to wanting to teach math again. When an old friend told me about a job opening at San Jose State University, I applied for it, and to my delight I was hired in 1986 and am still there today.

I still can’t quite believe that I got the chance to move to California. When I lived in Lynchburg, I was like some Darwin’s finch with a specialized, highly-evolved beak designed for eating one certain kind of seed. There weren’t any of those seeds at all in Lynchburg, but when I got to California they were lying all over the ground. In the Golden State, I was warmly welcomed by a great band of hackers, academics, science fiction writers and freaks – all on my wavelength.

When I started my job in the SJSU Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, I was urged to consider teaching computer science as well as math. I did not know a great deal about computer science at the time (understatement!), although my doctoral work in mathematical logic had certainly familiarized me with theoretical computing. The first computer science course I was assigned was anything but theoretical: it was Intel chip assembly language! Fortunately, another professor was teaching the same course, and I was able to attend his lectures to help myself figure out what was going on. And soon I found something I was really interested in programming: cellular automata, which are parallel programs that produce rapid-fire self-generating computer graphics animations.

During this time, and perhaps in reaction to my high-tech surroundings, I wrote an historical science fiction novel called The Hollow Earth. I also got involved with the magazine Mondo 2000, edited by a collection of Berkeley characters interested in cyberculture. Thanks to Mondo’s influence, “cyberpunk” became something of a household word, taking on a broader meaning and even appearing on the cover of Time. I co-edited the Mondo 2000 User’s Guide with R. U. Sirius and Queen Mu. As R. U. put it, “We need a mathematical logician, or we’ll never put this thing together.”

As well as teaching me a lot about computer science, my interest in cellular automata led to a second job as a software engineer during the years 1988-1992. My job title was “mathenaut.” This was with Autodesk, Inc., of Sausalito, California, makers of the popular AutoCAD program. It seemed that John Walker, the co-founder and then-chairman of Autodesk, was fascinated by cellular automata. After I met Walker at the Hackers 2.0 conference in 1987, he hired me to work on some cellular automata software with him. I worked on four shipped software products at Autodesk: Rudy Rucker’s Cellular Automata Laboratory, James Gleick’s Chaos, The Cyberspace Developer’s Kit, and Artificial Life Lab. My transreal novel The Hacker and the Ants was heavily influenced by having worked inside a Silicon Valley software company.

A drawback of working at Autodesk and SJ SU at the same time was that I had very little time to write. In recent years I’ve gone back to just two careers: teaching and writing. In teaching, I feel I’m performing a definite social good; another point is that when I’m teaching, I’m learning – from covering new material, from having to organize my thoughts into lectures, and from the unpredictable conversations with students and colleagues. But since I mostly teach courses like Software Engineering for Windows, the course preparations do soak up a lot of time. Being a computer science teacher is like living on a Stairmaster. You continually have to keep stepping up the level. In any case, as I write this introduction, I’m on sabbatical and I have more time than usual for my writing.

Rudy and daughter Isabel in 1998. (Photo by S. Rucker.)

In June, 1998, I completed the text and drawings for my “transreal nonfiction” work called Saucer Wisdom (Tor, 1999). The book recounts my (alleged) experiences with a UFO contactee named Frank Shook. The saucers purportedly showed Frank Shook many bits of Earth’s future – right up through the year 4004. Saucer Wisdom gives detailed and illustrated accounts of Frank Shook’s experiences, and is in this respect a millennial work of future extrapolation.

In November, 1998, I finished writing a new SF novel, Realware (Avon, 2000), the fourth book in the Ware series. And right now, this very minute in January, 1999, I’m putting the finishing touches on my twentieth book, the nonfiction anthology, Seek!, that you hold in your hands. So why call it Seek! anyway?

I picked the title partly because of a catch phrase I invented when I was writing the manual for the CA Lab software:

Seek Ye the Gnarl!

Some motivation for this phrase can be found in my “Cellular Automata” and “Life and Artificial Life” essays below. For the moment, suffice it to say that “gnarl” is being used here in the sense of “gnarly,” which is one of my favorite words now that I live in California. Surfers use it to refer to certain kinds of waves, kids use it to refer to dauntingly strange events of any kind, and I use it to apply to things that have a level of chaos that is tuned right to the boundary between order and disorder. When I write an interactive chaos-based computer graphics program, what I’m normally doing is seeking gnarl.

Sylvia, Georgia, Rudy, Isabel and Rudy, Jr., in 1998. (Self-timer photo.)

When John Oakes of Four Walls Eight Windows agreed to do two anthologies by me, a selected nonfiction and a complete stories anthology, I had the idea to call the first one Seek! and the second one Gnarl! And John liked this idea, he thought it would be nice to have this pair of unexpected, monosyllabic words for the paired book titles. Both my wife Sylvia and my agent Susan Protter mocked me a little, asking if there would be Ye and The volumes, but, no, I don’t think so.

I think Seek! makes sense as the name for this collection because seeking is very much something that I’ve done for my whole life. I’ve always had a desire to push out to ultimate reality, to discover the Answer, to reach a union with the cosmic One. The nonfiction pieces in Seek! describe some of the various attempts I’ve made.

I’ve organized Seek! into three not-quite-mutually-exclusive categories: Science, Life, and Art. Let me briefly summarize the flow of each part.

In the Science part I begin by describing some ways in which I have sought to make computers be interesting and alive. And then, worn down by the mulishness of these machines, I turn to wilder kinds of science speculation.

In the Life part I start by describing some of my old days of pot and beer, get into ideas about God, describe the big move to California, and then include some travel writing. Never am I such a naked seeker as when I’m on the road.

In the Art part I discuss my ideas about how to write great science fiction – becoming a good writer has always been my most central quest. I interview one of the founders of my favorite “art religion,” the Church of the SubGenius. And I end with essays on new and old visual arts.

One possibly confusing idiosyncrasy of my technique is that when I write about the members of my nuclear family, I prefer to use pseudonyms for them. This is partly so that they feel less exposed, and partly to remind the reader that even though something I write may be presented as an accurate memoir, it’s still colored by my fictionalizing tendencies. As will be evident from the context, the transteal names I use for my family members are “Audrey” for my wife, and “Sorrel, Tom and Ida” for our children.

In the Science part of Seek!, I refer to a number of programs that are downloadable from my Web site. This is at I’ll also maintain a special Seek! page at this site with buttons for the various links which I’m going to mention.

To round out this introductory part of the book, I’ve included my answers to thirty-seven recent interview questions I’ve been asked.

Happy seeking!

– Rudy Rucker, January 31, 1999.

37 Questions

People sometimes contact me to do an interview for various print or electronic publications. I usually prefer doing my interviews by email, both because the written format gives me better control over what I seem to say and because then I have my answers on disk, suitable for reuse. Also it’s easy for me and it doesn’t take very long. I keep all my old email interviews in a single file and email it to the new interviewer. I encourage them to first read the old questions and answers (which they’re also free to use) and to then propose a few new questions of their own.

What we have here is an edited version of my email interviews over the last five years, that is, 1994–1999. I’ve gone ahead and updated the answers so as to make them correct as of the time of Seek!’s publication. I’ve listed each interview under the home of the interviewer, along with the name of the interviewer and of the intended publication.

Tokyo, Japan

From: Nozomi Ohmori
For: Hayakawa SF Magazine

QI: 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).

AI: 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 Secrete 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.

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 UFO-contactee. 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.

Q2: 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.

Q3: Can you summarize what is in the four Ware novels?

A3: 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 second idea 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 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 “uwy.” 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 “uwy.” A cell-phone is something like an uvvy.

Another big idea in Freeware


On Sale
May 28, 1999
Page Count
356 pages
Running Press

Rudy Rucker

About the Author

Rudy Rucker is a two-time winner of the Philip K. Dick award and a professor of computer science at San Jose State University. White Light, a novel; Gnarl!, a collection of his short fiction; and Seek!, a collection of essays, are also published by Four Walls Eight Windows.

Learn more about this author