Rudy Rucker's Blog, page 2
December 11, 2013
The Big Aha is out in ebook, paperback and hardback now. I’ve ordered a bunch of the paperbacks and hardbacks to mail out to my Kickstarter backers. Still waiting them to arrive. This whole process has more steps than I’d quite imagined. But I’m almost done.
Early warning: There will be a release party and an art show for The Big Aha at Borderlands Books on Valencia Street in San Francisco on Friday, December 17, 2014. I’ll be mentioning this again…
What next? Over the last few months, I got back the rights to my three old “transreal” novels White Light, Secret of Life, and Saucer Wisdom . What is transrealism, you may ask? Read my 1983 manifesto on the topic.
I’ll probably be republishing those three novels via my Transreal Books early in 2014, as ebooks for sure, and probably as paperbacks as well.
While I’m at it, I might as well republish my old memoir/rant All the Visions . I originally typed All the Visions on a giant long scroll of paper, emulating the divine Jack K. working on On the Road. My usual activities.
Keeping the ball in the air.
Another project I’m looking towards in 2014 is to assemble my electronic journals into a fat book. I have about half a million words on disk for the period 1990 – 2012. I’m editing that and pruning it down. Maybe I can squeeze it into a single 800 page volume. My role model here is the phonebook-sized Andy Warhol Diaries of 1989. I read that sucker for about a year, a couple of pages a day. Would be nice to make a book like that.
Some of today’s photos are from an recent outing to the fields and cliffs above Four Mile Beach and near Davenport, north of Santa Cruz. This is a Davenport photo. The shot-up-sign archetype. “Words suck,” as Beavis and Butthead used to say.
There’s a nice balance between agriculture and ecopreserve on the coast above Santa Cruz. Fields of, like Brussels sprouts, fine. The point is that there’s no McMansions, no hotels, no roadside attractions. Just the cliffs and the beaches. Although, of course, there is the Whale City Bakery in Davenport, always worth a stop.
We saw a huge number of pelicans out there. There’s been a vast school of anchovies in the Santa Cruz Bay lately, and the birds, seals, dolphins and whales have been gorging themselves.
There’s always some surfers around, sometimes quite a few of them, but as it cools down and gets windy, you don’t see many people actually walking on the beach. If you’re willing to take a little trouble by, like, walking a half mile from your car, it’s not that hard to find solitude in the unpopulated zones of California…and, really, most of the state is unpopulated. The cities are just small spots. Our beloved anthills.
Something heavy and cosmic about seeing pelicans against a sunny sky. People used to wonder where the dinosaurs went, but now it’s commonly said that the thunder lizards didn’t “go” anywhere. They just evolved into birds. Pelicans are pterodactyls…but with feathers. Pterodactyls 2.0.
My cinemetographer/photographer friend Eddie Marritz was in San Francisco, and we had a tapas dinner with him, his daughter Leda, and Leda’s husband Tim Conkling. Tim’s a game programmer who recently started writing games on his own. Among other things, Leda runs an interesting writing blog with her friend Steph: Small Answers. A new post every Monday. I love the Marritz family—I got to know them because I went to college with Eddie’s brother Don.
This is a photo of Eddie that I shot on film, developed, and handcolored—sometime around 1970. I was in grad school. Had a lot of free time back then. No computers.
What else? These are some of the roots that my wife mashed for a Thanksgiving side dish. Handsome fellows, no?
Beautiful little slough behind Four Mile Beach. Very hard to even see this hidden bight of water, the topography is kind of weird. I love that S curve. Nature gives us so much, everywhere, all the time. When I remember to notice.
But, like I always say, we humans are part of nature too. Building our intricate hives. And those can look cool, too. This chandelier in the new Los Gatos library is made out of a giant wood shaving that’s knotted around on itself. The highlight is that slanting plane of sunlight. I rushed this shot, not wanting to alarm the library patrons, but you can improve a slightly blurry shot in Lightroom. Not necessarily sharpen it to death, but play with the sliders till the picture’s effects look intentional or preordained.
This was an easier shot, bang, it jumped at my eye. The back of a building along Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz.
I’m having a sale on my paintings this month, and I’ve managed to sell three of them in the last week. Check out the insanely low prices if you’re interested in a special New Year’s present for yourself or for a loved one.
November 30, 2013
I took a walk up on St. Joseph’s Hill in Los Gatos yesterday, bringing my camera along. The camera is always good company on a walk. You show things to it, and it helps you see.
I’ve been going up in the Los Gatos hills maybe once a week for the whole twenty-seven years since we moved here in August, 1986. So I’ve taken this walk about a thousand times. It’s always new. That’s the thing about nature.
Nature is a fractal, that is she has endless layers of detail, which bloom out faster than a mere linear rate. That is, if you look twice as close, you see three times as much.
Also Nature is alive, and always changing. As is the sky. Always the same, always different. Chaos.
The perennial Dover Books company reissued my 1987 popular science book Mind Tools last week. I’m happy to have good old Dover keeping one of my titles alive. When I was a boy in Louisville, I used to send off for Dover books on science.
I wrote Mind Tools in Lynchburg, Virginia, right before I moved to San Jose and became a computer scientist. I was gearing up for the transition from math to CS. In Mind Tools, I looked at the four main areas of math from the viewpoint that “everything is information.” The areas? Number, Space, Logic, and Infinity.
I drew a lot of illos for the book. While I was working on it, my little rented office in decaying downtown L’burg was like a mad scientist’s lab, with all these little models I was building. I had this idea of finding dot-diagrams to illustrate the “shapes” of most of the numbers less than a hundred or so. I wanted to have a supply of these images at my hand for drawing on friends’ and relatives’ birthday cards. You can find these particular “Mind Tools birthday dot” drawings of mine online here.
Here’s a phone pole near my house. I like the natural collages that we humans put together. You can look at cities or human development as being natural artifacts like anthills or beaver colonies or wasp nests or seashells—we’re living organisms, and we assemble this stuff. We’re part of nature.
There’s this one ancient shed that I often walk past in the hills of Los Gatos. I love its peeling pale green paint, and I hope the owners never fix it up. Beautiful branching crack here, and to make it lovelier, the paint is arched up into mathematically rich concave surfaces.
I always love looking at treelines along mountain ridges. The nice thing about natural curves and surfaces is that they don’t accord with any really simple algebraic formulae. They emerge as processes, not as graphs of simple equations. But the processes themselves do have mathematical qualities, but the details of the end results are unpredictable.
It’s chaos, in a good way. In a chaotic process, you can have simple natural laws that are producing results that are even in principle unpredictable. Why unpredictable? Because there are multiple systems involved (rocks, geology, trees, wind, rain) and because the systems are interacting over extended periods of time. As a rule, the only way to “predict” a natural process it to watch it run, and when it’s done, that’s your “prediction.”
We travel into the future at a rate of one second per second. No shortcuts.
More human colony-organism type activity here. Apparently the humans cap their “rebar” metal rods so that they don’t poke out their own eyes. Faint strands of symbiotic spider silk augment the “warning” tape. (See this higher-resolution image of the photo for the spider silk.)
Back to that weathered old pale green shed I love. Dig the hinge, isn’t it perfect? A semiotic heft to it. Hello, god.
A eucalyptus branch lying on the ground. Blown down by the wind. The plants don’t mind. They’ll rot into the ground, be eaten by ants, whatever. The endlessly cycling fountain of life. We’re part of it too. Your body will cycle, but your life is an “eternal” pattern in spacetime.
Hazy light on this winter day. Already looks like sunset in the mid-afternoon. The laurel trees grow in clumps.
Selfie shot for the day. Weird thing about iPhone camera: If you’re taking a horizontal shot of something in front of you, you have to have the “volume” buttons down, but if you are taking a selfie shot you have to have the “volume” buttons up. Otherwise the image appears upside-down on many (but not all) viewer apps. No use raging at these kind of things—you just learn about them and deal with them. Like an insect gathering seeds.
My self-deprecating “self-portrait,” called Louisville Artist, used as a chapter illo in my new novel The Big Aha , which features a new psychedelic era…only this time the drug is quantum mechanics. Jam your internal One/Many oscillator all the way over into the mystic mode! Check out the book for free (or buy it rather cheaply) online.
November 26, 2013
I’m pretty much done publishing The Big Aha now, although there still keep being little tasks. It’s easy to put a paperback on Amazon via their CreateSpace. But it’s been slow getting the final version of the paperback edition on Lightning/Ingram so that retailers other than Amazon can distribute it. I have a feeling that Lightning is a little overwhelmed these days, with the still-cresting wave of self-pubbers.
[I took some photos near Bernal Hill and 24th St. in the Mission recently. I always wonder about shoes on the phone wires. Love this shot. Did the Witch of Oz crash here on Halloween?]
Indeed Ingram now has an alternate interface to Lightning which is called Ingram Spark (Spark as in baby Lightning, I think.) See this page for some comparisons of possible earnings via Lightning, Spark, and CreateSpace.. The main financial difference between Ingram Lightning and Ingram Spark has to do with the discounts that you can offer to retailers. (As if there was any real money in these quixotic ventures.) Self-pub maven Aaron Shepard doesn’t like Spark, see this post and scroll down to see his earlier ones as well. All very chaotic, as usual.
Anyway, let’s look at some random snaps.
Our son Rudy Jr. and his wife Penny had a Halloween pre-trick-or-treating get-together. This young hipster woman, I forget her name right now, since I’m senile, she was wearing a dress with a lift-up flap labeled “Hello Titty,” and the flap covered a plastic window revealing part of her breasts. She told me she’d made a satirical superhero video called Hello Titty, and you can see it online. San Francisco art.
Another time, in mid-November, my wife and I walked from Bernal Heights down to Precita Park with our granddaughters. I saw a nice California chestnut tree, laden with fruit. Always an easy move to silhouette things against the ubiquitous wires.
It was a sunny day. I’m always into shadows.
Later we were in a playground on 24th Street, which is in some ways like Mission Street, very Mexican and Latino, but it’s a narrower street, and homier. One of the swings was like a flat UFO, I dug how it looked against the buildings in the background. The cube and the triangular prism.
That particular playground has a huge Aztec-type serpent sculpture that snakes all around. A little girl running next to it here.
There’s a very cool alley with murals off 24th Street near Harrison, it’s called Balmy Alley. Some the murals are kind of disconcerting, as they express the locals’ growing discontent at the potential gentrification of their neighborhood. The cops busting Mexicans and having coffee with white tech workers. The developers tearing down low-rent Victorians to put in glossy condos. You can see an evil invader monkey with a dollar sign in this amazing mural. I forgot to note down the muralist’s name, but maybe somebody can tell me.
Other venues…here’s a cell-phone shot of the sun glaring on a Target Sign near Union Square in SF. Merry frikkin’ Xmas.
A lady with her T-Bird in Los Gatos. Old California.
The Precita Café. I like those festive colors and lights against the night sky. Kind of European, somehow. SF is a bunch of other countries.
November 21, 2013
So now I’m slowly getting my life back, after the frenzy of putting together the various editions of The Big Aha and Notes for The Big Aha…see the book’s website for more info on all that.
Today let’s dig down into my remaining stash of photos from our trip to London and Oxford in early October, 2014. Come with me to Oxford by way of yon quaint and elegant Christ Church College garden gate…
Saw this lady frosting custom cakes all day long in a bakery within a roofed market. Felt a little intrusive to be taking her picture. But, wow, a cake factory.
I love shadows of odd shapes. Chains for manipulating the shutters of an Oxford dress shop. Very smart outfits on sale, rather dear.
Ah, giant lily pads. The SF fantasy of living on them, like a frog. You’d want to be fully amphibious for that. Last night, dropping off to sleep, I was imagining people who were somehow gene-tweaked to swim as fast as Jet-Skis. In the waves off Kauai.
The chapel at Christ Church College in Oxford has this cool window. The jigsaw-looking panels were pieced together from shards recovered from church windows broken during WWII. A nice symbolic thing. Shards of our personalities reconstructed into bopper minds someday, perhaps.
The last hotel we stayed in was the Pelham, right across the street from the South Kensington tube station in London. A really nice place, with a great view. Expensive, but not quite as bad as some of the other places we came across. On our last night, I watched a BBC showing of a documentary movie of the Stones playing a 50th anniversary concert in Hyde Park this year or last year.
It was great how happy the Stones were, Mick and Keith so jubilant, at peace, plying their trade. I’d like to write like that.
I’ve seen this big statue of a pharaoh in the British Museum before. The striking thing here is that—wow, the pharaohs were Black! Africans, my man! Such a lovely sculpture, so smooth and, what, over a thousand years old.
Another cool piece in the British Museum, shows some Assyrians swimming. They’re holding inflated bladders to help stay afloat. Dig the fish.
The British Museum was insanely crowded, a rainy Sunday, as full as Times Square on New Year’s Eve almost. You have to feel a bit ambivalent about the pieces in the museum as well—all of them looted from weaker nations by Imperial Britain back in the day. But, whatever the details, it’s always amazing to reach back in time and see the endless flow of human craft and intelligence. We really haven’t changed all that much in the last few thousand years.
Mandatory Ionic column outside the British Museum.
What’s this photo doing in here? It’s a hallway on the Stanford campus. Oh, it’s the tunnel leading from my British experience to my next level of existence.
Here comes God! A dodecahedron.
And now, tracing a long smooth gyre, I drift down to my home planet. But which part is land, and which part is sky…or is it sea?
What? You haven’t been to the BIG AHA page yet?
November 19, 2013
So The Big Aha is selling and getting out there. Nice post on it by Cory Doctorow in Boing Boing.
I’ve been working with publishing ebooks and paperback POD (print on demand) books for nearly two years now. It’s been a long learning process, and I’m nowhere near done. Like hacking my way through a jungle with a machete.
Generally, the best way to get an answer to a question is to Google search with the main words of your question and look through the links that you find. The official help files for given software products aren’t always the best sources of info.
As a public service I thought I’d make the following links available. I’ve grouped them into two sections: Epublishing and POD Publishing. I like to keep my links alphabetized, so I’ve prefixed the titles of my most-used links with “AAA.”
Last updated November 19, 2013. Permanent version of this post is online at
The categories listed include:
Calibre (free program for converting between EPUB, HTML, and MOBI)
Dreamweaver (Adobe program for working with HTML files)
Lulu, NOOK, and KDP (ebook distributors)
CreateSpace and Lightning (POD book distributors)
ID (InDesign, Adobe program for designing print books)
There ought to be some links for Sigil (free program for creating EPUB files), but there aren’t.
Some of my early musings on Ebooks can be found in my ebook, How To Make An Ebook. See also my series of blog posts on the same topic. I’m so worn out from making my The Big Aha, that I don’t have the energy to write a How To Make A POD Book. So for now this list of links must suffice.
Have fun. If you can call this kind of thing fun…
AAA E-junkie (Sellers) – Admin
AAA ISBN My Identifiers | Bowker | Identifier Services
AAA KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing): Bookshelf
AAA NOOK Press
Adobe – Digital Editions
BARNES & NOBLE | Rudy Rucker
Calibre User Manual
Dreamweaver Troubleshooting links
ebook how to – CNET Reviews
Ebook Conversion — calibre User Manual
Ebook convert straight quotes to curly quotes
eBook Formatting Paul Salvette in Bangkok:
Ebook, making your text Kindle-Friendly
Ebook: EPUB, MOBI, AZW and PDF Formats
Ebook: Fonts used in various eReaders?
Ebook: Fonts, CSS Font Stack
EPUB A Basic Sigil Tutorial
EPUB adding to iBooks via ITunes
Epub avoid split into several html files? – MobileRead Forums
EPUB Open Packaging Format (OPF) 2.0.1 v1.0
EPUB Overview — Sigil v0.4.1 documentation
ePub putting on Your iPad
Epub Reader For Windows 7
EPUB Reader Windows Software
EPUB Sigil Splitting Pages
EPUB tables MobileRead
EPUB to MOBI Conversion [Left Margin Problem] « Morning Cup O’ Joe
Font Size and Color — Support — WordPress.com
HTML – image as large as possible
HTML Anchor Bookmark Tag Links
HTML CSS Cheatsheet
HTML Fix Dreamweaver problem with large DOC import
HTML for the Kindle with Blockquote
HTML for the Kindle with Blockquote
HTML into ebook Sample Code
HTML td tag
ISBN buy and use at MyIdentifiers.com
Kindle Cover Size
Kindle eBook how to| Amazon Kindle 3 and Kindle DX Review and News Blog
Kindle from PDF
Kindle Guide Flags in a MOBI. “Start”
Kindle OPF, Guide
kindle-guide.pdf (application/pdf Object)
Lulu Book Distribution
PDFs splitting into multiple documents
Piracy Alert (Scribd)
AAA Lightning Source Log In
AAA Log In – CreateSpace
AAA Login ISDN on Bowker
Amazon Author Central
Color Acrobat 9: Output Preview and Conversion « Layers Magazine
Color. ID PDF, Pantone colours look dull in Acrobat Professional
Color: AdobeRGB, sRGB or what?
Color: Work Process for Best Colors…
CreateSpace Bleed on Cover Template
CreateSpace Book Cost Calculator
CreateSpace Community: Creating a PDF for Print
CreateSpace Gutter Margin
CreateSpace Post Editorial Reviews on Amazon
CreateSpace Pre Order sales
Createspace vs. Lightning Source Costs
Createspace., Craddock’s Be Not Content
CreateSpace: Cover Template
CreateSpace: Self Publishing and Free Distribution for Books, CD, DVD
CS Entering addresses to ship to customers?
Dreamweaver: “Clean Up Word HTML” Error
htaccess file for limiting access to a directory
ID Anchor A Graphics Frame
ID Baseline Grid
ID crashes at startup
ID Creating book files
ID EPUB CS6 Export as EPUB
ID EPUB Exporting EPUB
ID Export to HTML
ID Fix Italic Overrides
ID Flow: Adding Text with Flow
ID Flow: Why is Smart Text Reflow so hard?
ID Highlight Overrides Script
ID How to Anchor Objects InDesign (not very helpful)
ID Import Graphics
ID Import Styles
ID Import Word file
ID Improve justified type settings
ID insert page spreads–Allow Pages To Shuffle
ID Keep Words Together with No Break
ID Keyboard shortcuts
ID Laying out frames and pages
ID Making a Book file (video)
ID Margin Sizes
ID Margins and Columns
ID Master pages
ID optical margin
ID Optical Margin
ID Page Numbering Tricks
ID Place graphics in a graphics frame
ID Print/Don’t Print Frame Outline
ID Remove Defaults and Saved Data
ID Running Header Text Variables Chap Title
ID save as Ebook
ID Suggested Layout Tips
ID Table Of Contents
ID Tabs and indents
ID Thread and Flow Text
ID Unlink a text file (the hard way)
ID Use Odd Page Break between Chaps
ID Why ugly tags in EPUB Export? Local overrides.
ID Working with graphics frames
ID Working with Word and InDesign
Image Word Resize Image Macro
InDesign Page numbering
Indie Author: Lulu vs. CreateSpace: Which Is More Economical For The DIY Author?
Lightning Color Shephard New 2013
Lightning / CreateSpace Pricing: Shepard Plan B (old)
Lightning / CreateSpace Pricing: Shepard Plan C (new)
Lightning B&W pricings
Lightning Book Cost Calculator
LIghtning Color prices
Lightning cover template
Lightning Creation Guide
Lightning Source 101 (Lightning Source Inc., print on demand, self publishing companies)
Lightning Standard vs Premium Color
MONKEYBRAINS – Support – Basic Auth
Proof Better-Looking Full Justification for Paragraphs in WORD
Proof Remove dupicate words in WORD
PS Em dash and en dash in Photoshop text — Photoshop for Windows — ClearPS.com
PS Fixed size selection
Reviews (Booklist Online)
Reviews (Library Journal)
Reviews (Publisher’s Weekly)
Rudy’s Blog Making a High-Quality Picture Book
Word: Removing Unused Styles
November 16, 2013
“Woman With Jellyfish,” oil on canvas, November, 2013, 24” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.
I’d gone to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with my wife, and we’d looked a big tank of sea nettle jellyfish. I made a little photo of my wife by the tank, and at first I wanted to paint that. But in the end, the woman in the painting didn’t look at all like my wife, and the painting’s viewpoint suggests that either we’re looking out from inside the tank at the woman, or maybe the jellyfish are floating around in the air instead of being inside a tank. Once I realized the woman wasn’t going to be a portrait of my wife I gave her green hair and made her look kind of cantankerous and space-punk. Maybe she’s “talking” with that big jellyfish.
Possibly she’ll turn up in a story or novel that I write in the coming year…now that I’m done with The Big Aha.
“Eyes,” oil on canvas, October, 2013, 20” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.
This was an easy painting to make—I just did a lot of eyes. I didn’t particularly try to make them scary. I was more interested in them looking alert. I had fun with the colors, getting all the shades to be fairly even intensities of mild pastel colors. I think I might do a painting of “Snouts” next, with pig-snout disks.
As always you can find more info on my paintings at my Paintings page.
November 13, 2013
The Big Aha
A Novel by Rudy Rucker
From Transreal Books. Paperback and Ebook. (Hardback coming soon.)
330 pages and 14 illustrations.
Biotech has replaced machines.
Qrude artist Zad Plant works with living paint.
Career’s on the skids, wife Jane threw him out.
Enter qwet—it’s quantum wetware!
Qwet makes you high, and gives you telepathy.
A loofy psychedelic revolution begins.
Oh-oh! Mouths in midair, eating people!
Zad and Jane travel through a wormhole—and meet the aliens.
Stranger than you ever imagined.
What is the Big Aha?
Browse the entire The Big Aha novel for free as an illustrated web page.
Buy ebook and print editions of The Big Aha.
More info at the website for The Big Aha.
And one more thing: Notes for The Big Aha , a book-length writing journal.
November 12, 2013
My new novel The Big Aha will be going live quite soon. Available in paperback and ebook via Transreal Books.
By way of building towards the official release, I’m gong to post some background material. Here’s excerpts of an interview taped by Liza Groen Trombi for Locus magazine in May, 2013. The complete interview appeared in the June, 2013, issue, and I recently added it to my “All the Interviews” document online.
So the rest of this post is me talking May, 2013. I’ll put in some images of my paintings that I used as chapter illustrations for The Big Aha.
The Big Aha is set in Louisville, Kentucky, where I grew up, and I’m enjoying that. If you stay in Louisville, then all the people around you are people you’ve known your whole life, and you can pretty much say anything to them. Nobody cares. I’ve been visiting Louisville lately, and it’s strange.
I enjoy writing books about genomics and the biotech revolution. I think that’s going to be one of the really big technologies of the 21st century. We’re still just barely wading into that. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that in a century or so, lots of our devices won’t be manufactured machines anymore. They could be plants and animals that have been designed to behave in ways that we consider useful. Even things like a knife or a glass, it’s easy enough to imagine plants growing such things for us. Primitive peoples drink out of coconut shells, but we could tweak it so it’s more what we like. And for communication devices, there’s all this interest in squid skin—that would be a great visual display. Electric eels send out electromagnetic pulses, so that could be the basis of wireless communication.
I wrote a book a few years ago called Frek and the Elixir, set in 3003, where everything was biotech. I wanted to come back to a world like that. In The Big Aha , I wanted to have a book where the technology is based on living things. It’s not set too far into the future, more like 2100.
I was born in 1946, so the Summer of Love was the year I graduated from college. I really liked that period. It was over so quickly. It was getting really good, and suddenly it was over. I wanted to have a story where something like that was happening, but I didn’t want it to be based on drugs. By now everyone has ossified opinions about drugs, they’re for them or they’re against them. It sort of closes the imagination.
I wanted to have something to give people a cosmic experience. I thought, “I’ll use quantum mechanics.” As a science fiction writer, there are various nebulous “bogosity-generator” tools I can use. Something about quantum mechanics that interests me is there are two modes in quantum mechanics. You can think of the world as evolving in a smooth wavelike pattern, but then as soon as you start measuring things, you find a choppy discrete pattern. It’s what they call the quantum collapse, the collapse of the wave function.
In my own mind, I feel like there’s a pulse, where I’ll sort of merge into the place around me and then snap back. Say it’s a nice day, and you’re not really verbalizing to yourself, you’re not really forming opinions in your mind, you’re not doing anything consciously. And then you snap back and you think, “There’s so-and-so, I have to ask them for something; it’s such-and-such o’clock, I have to get in the car and go somewhere.” There are two modes, and I call them the cosmic mode and the robotic mode. It’s almost like sonar—you ping out with the cosmic mode and you pull back with the robotic mode.
The gimmick in The Big Aha is that people get quantum wetware. “Wetware” is already an intriguing word—it’s what’s going on in your body, your DNA, your chemicals. And then make it quantum, so you can consciously control how rapidly you do the oscillations between the cosmic mode and robotic mode. So my characters are party people, they just wedge their minds open to the cosmic, and they’re cosmic all the time. It’s like they’re acidheads, but they’re not taking any drugs. And they can teep each other. And instead of mechanical technology it’s all biological, so instead of a car you have a road spider, and you ride on its back. The animals you create can have quantum wetware as well. You can get in the vibe with them, and make them change their form. And so the world becomes more spacey.
Then, of course, you always need something bad to happen in a novel. It’s always good to have an alien invasion. So there are these things like mouths sticking into our world from another dimension, and they’re eating people. I call it The Big Aha because people always have the dream of getting a Big Aha experience! The big vision beyond the white light. My characters are seeking that. There’s also the Zen idea: “I was looking for enlightenment but it was here all along.” Just for a moment, you feel it—the big aha.
At this point [that is, in May, 2013] I’m not sure who’s going to publish The Big Aha . I’m unsure about my chances with publishers. And I’m starting to wonder if they’re worth the months or even years of waiting, and the begging for such meager pay.
I’m putting a little more sex into The Big Aha than I used to do for my Tor books. David Hartwell once said to me, “If you’re talking about the 13-year-old audience, there are some 13-year-olds who are very interested in sex, and some who aren’t. And you can guess which group is the one that reads science fiction.”
Not that The Big Aha is mainly about sex. But maybe it’s hard for me to judge what’s acceptable. Like I’ve been out there so long that I don’t even know what’s supposed to be normal. In any case I’m having a lot of fun with the book.
I like using the classic tropes of SF—I call them the “power chords.” That’s how I thought of cyberpunk, as a way of taking the classic SF things, like alien invasions, telepathy, giant ants, and making them rock a little harder. That’s what I’m doing in The Big Aha.
I’m confident I can publish The Big Aha with Transreal Books. Maybe I’ll do a Kickstarter. We’ll see how it goes. [End of interview material.]
And it went good! The release is soon!
November 10, 2013
The last two or three weeks I’ve been laboring on the files for my novel, The Big Aha, and its equally-sized companion, Notes for The Big Aha. Putting them out in ebook, paperback and (what the heck) hardback, also as free browsable webpages. Soon come. I’m sore from the long hours at my computer.
But let’s return to a more restful time…my recent trip to England with my wife.
Happy at the vast outdoor courtyard within the Victoria and Albert Museum. Old, but not as old as I look in some other photos. Good pink light off those striped red and white stone walls. Great museum cafe behind me. English children splashing in the great fountain pool in this enormous courtyard.
A must-catch bot-shot, taken from a bridge in Green Park, near Buckingham Palace. Enchanted towers.
Okay, this was one of my favorite things in London, a very large new building called the Gherkin, set in the financial district, plump and gravid, like a living UFO about to spawn.
I had a nice sandwich at a Pret a Manger near here. Great food chain all over London, I’ve seen them in NYC too. Hunching over my sandwich on its wrapping paper, grunting with pleasure. I come to your world from the Gherkin, yes.
Great contrast of the Gherkin with the old gray stone buildings around it.
On the Tower Bridge, another fab spot. Awesome ye olde metal smithing of the bridge. That’s a new building called the Shard in the background. The new buildings are really taking over, there’s still just a scattering of them, and they still seem interesting and cute. Like when you have two gophers instead of two hundred.
This building is called, I believe, the Walkie Talkie, although I might have called it the Toaster. It’s a lot fatter at the top than at the bottom. Like a cartoon building. Supposedly it’s easier to make odd-shaped structures now that we have computerized blueprints. The reverse of what you might have thought. Computers free us to design odder-looking and less-boring shapes.
In London, maybe because I wasn’t a native, the crazy people seemed cuter than in the US. This man in front of the old Tate museum is doing a Scottish jig while carrying signs relating to the Bible and to global politics. Seems more like an eccentric than a dangerous psycho like back home.
I like these silhouettes in the National Museum. We visited a Peter Bruegel painting there, The Adoration of the Kings. I first saw that painting in London around 1995, it was when I decided to write my As Above, So Below novel about Bruegel’s life.
A note I made in my Journals after that first visit: “The gallery note by the picture says that Bruegel put soldier in his pictures because for most of his life the Netherlands were occupied by Spanish soldiers. This touch makes it seem so real. Makes me want to write Bruegel’s life. The rainy Flemish day.”
Love the curves of the chair and the table. Someone taking the trouble to design and build these things, someone taking the trouble to put them in a cafe. Civilized.
Gotta get your shot of Big Ben. All that detail. It appears over and over in movies, setting a time in the viewers’ minds.
Happy in the National Museum cafe, photo shot with Sylvia’s phone.
So now we’re in Oxford, walking around town. Lots of parts are fenced or walled off, these are the “colleges.” Hard to quite understand how it works, all these separate colleges, each with dorms, dining hall, teachers, and student body. Parts of a university.
I was here in 1976 for a math conference, a Logic Colloquium, I wrote about it in my autobio Nested Scrolls. I talked on “The One/Many Problem in the Foundations of Set Theory.”
This is the Sheldonian Theatre, used for university ceremonies and for little concerts. We saw an awesome string quartet playing Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” interleaved with an Argentinean composer’s semi-joking “Four Seasons” pieces written in riposte to Vivaldi, so eight pieces in all, SO frikkin’ civilized.
Looking up at the Sheldonian ceiling during the string quartet, I saw this (just a cell phone snap). The place was designed by Christopher Wren, architect of the famed St. Paul’s cathedral of London. I had some fun looking at the odd polygonal shapes on the ceiling of the Sheldonian, speculating about how Wren put them together, and about how one would go about constructing this pattern in some convincingly unique way. Visualizing a short article in Mathematics Magazine about this, but not quite getting the key insight.
This is Christ Church college where my man Lewis Carroll, a.k.a. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, spent most of his life. He went to the college, then stayed on, teaching mathematics. His Alice came out in 1865, when he was 33. On its grounds, Christ Church has a very large meadow that runs down to the Thames on one side and the Cherwell on the other, both rivers rather narrow here. You can walk slowly around the meadow in an hour and I did this with great joy, thinking about Carroll being here, and imagining his creatures among the cows.
Here’s the meadow…surely Lewis Carroll often enjoyed this view. Symbolic to see the stump, the fallen tree, the missing Lewis Carroll. I sat on it for awhile drawing sketches of Wonderland creatures in the field.
Greedy goose eating an apple core I gave her after I (greedy too) at the apple. This is by the Thames by that Christ Church meadow where Lewis Carroll used to hang.
Birds landing and taking off in the Thames.
Walking around Lewis C.’s meadow I was alert to transformations in the plants an animals. Here’s a tree with a pfumpf-pfumpf face. Dowager Dough tree.
Sitting by the Cherwell for a peaceful half hour there, I’m looking at the leaves on the passing stream, thinking of them like planets in the galaxy, and that one drop of water on the one leaf is a tarn, a sea, home to thousands of microbes, like us lifing on our Earth, drifting amid cosmic debris.
A side-arm of the Cherwell, not flowing, overgrown with duckweed, marvelous name for a plant. Carroll had a friend called Duckworth, he was a master of classics and published, I seem to recall, a book on Vergil’s Aeneid, which I read with my class read in Latin IV in high-school.
Another Carroll creature near the Christ Church meadow. Weirdly animate, this tree, no? Claw, living fork.
Leaving the meadow, I see a bum by the stream, with shopping bags, the ducks edge up to him, he alternately feeds them and shoos them away.
A trim woman jogs past. Bum holds out his thumb as if to hitch a ride, guffaws. She smiles and runs on.
I walk on a bit further, then pause on a tiny hillock by the stream to admire the longhorn cattle in the meadow, behind them are the dreaming spires of Christ Church College and all Oxford.
“Oxford” means a placve wehre they herded cattle across the Thames, which is called the Isis River here as well.
Still more semi-animate plant/animals in the Oxford botanical garden next to Christ Church. This teeth like a Milne heffalump, with great walrus teeth.
And now the bum approached me. Naturally he was Lewis Carroll. Naturally he led me though a series of melting stone walls. to a secret tower room—his ghostly lodgings for, lo, these 200 years.
Naturally he produced a tiny, battered teapot of his own design, and poured out a dram of that magic elixir which has brought me to this “Wonderland” from which I send this very last message to my old workaday world…
And here are the mean, mocking flowers from Through the Looking Glass. Carnivorous plants, by the way.
A few more of them, plotting against Alice.
A pamphlet of paint chips on the lawn. A group of passing tourist youths gawks at me taking this picture. Are they missing something?
In the streets. Just love those dreaming spires of Oxford. So frikkin’ quaint. Would be nice to live here for a couple of years, somehow connected with the university. Going to seminars. Craving something academic, I went into the great bookstore, Blackwell’s, right by the entrance to the campus, and picked up a wonderful book on vector calculus called Div, Grad, Curl And All That. I’d read it before, when teaching a course on this stuff, but now I reread it passionately, getting hyped on a studious frame of mind, reviewing the fact that Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism are couched in the language of vector calculus with it’s div, grad, curl and all that. Reading it in the coffee shops, in the room.
I couldn’t do some of the problems in the book, and when I got home, I managed to get a solution manual from the publisher. But haven’t gotten back into the frame of mind to read through them. Not on vacation anymore, back here at home.
A British churchyard, in a Cotswold village not far from Oxford. Old as I am, I don’t like graveyards very much anymore. They used to seem quaint and thought-provoking, but now they seem creepy. Bony Death is getting too damned close to my heels.
The wee kirk with kneeler pads crocheted by the ladies of the congregation. British much?
Fab clouds in the Cotswolds, with rain coming on. I would have liked to wander down the lanes and paths here for days, but somehow didn’t manage that. You do what you can on a trip, bouncing around, working with what you’re able to make happen, working with what does happen.
This is one of my favorite snaps from the trip. The clouds echoing off the roof line.
The White Hart hotel in Stow on Wold. Gotta get back here sometime. We were in the area visiting Sylvia’s childhood friend Andrea, who’s a landscape artist. Great to be in her home. She drove us over to check out Stow on Wold. An SF reader thinks of Arthur C. Clarke’s jovial stories, Tales From the White Hart.
Let’s roll back to some more shots from London.
Love this Greek boar-head mug in the Victoria & Albert museum. Thousands of years old. People have been so clever for so long. So many of us making things.
Love this type of sculpture. The lovely woman. The neoclassical rococo schmeer. The elegant handling of the transparent stone drapery across her face…I forget her name, was it Truth? Liberty? The Dream Of Freedom?
Love this kind of sculpture too. It’s glass art, I think, in the V & A, a spiky red egg about a foot long. Mounted vertically, standing on one end, but I turned the picture sideways. More dynamic this way, more like a UFO. A door opens in the tip of each spike and out step 279 ants from Mars. “Can we interest you in some real estate? We’re offering very nice homesteading tracts in Nix Crater, with extremely pliant settlement terms.”
In the art glass gallery some more. Losing myself in the reflections and refractions. You can see on the of ants from mars on my shirt collar, twittering into my ear.
Love the free-sweeping wrought-iron loops. Like shapes you make with an oldtime sparkler or a newtime glo-stick. The work by a guy in Villingen, Germany. I went to a boarding school for a year near there, in a town called Königsfeld, where all the grown-ups called each other Brũder and Schwester. Brother and Sister.
Dig the old master with the Hell’s Angel goatee. The ubiquity of art.
Outside Westminster Abbey. That insanely green English grass. The abbey like a stone fractal, detail upon detail within.
Nice statue of Death here, he’s poking at someone with a spear. The opposite of St. George and the dragon. Can’t make out Death’s profile too well here…he just has his upper teeth and his lower jaw is gone. Dig the ribcage showing through is cloak, and his bony foot. Taking Death really personally and immediately, these oldtime artists.
Doing the postcard thing. I guess that’s the House of Parliament, seen out the side door of Westminster Abbey. Complete with English puddle.
The food market inside the fabled up-market Harrods department store. Seemed like largely foreigners shopping in here…tourists or rich people from the Middle East. Beyond luxury.
Arty mannequins posed by the escalators in Harrods. The walls decorated in an Egyptian theme. I saw a guy buying a $10K Hasselblad camera “for a friend” like he was buying a handkerchief. Not really a camera nut, not asking questions, just like, “I suppose this is a good one. Or should I get the Leica?” The whole place kind of nauseating after awhile.
Art Nouveau door on Harrods. Like the red and white striped stone building in the reflection, lots of buildings like that around London.
Nice blue-painted plywood wall closing off a yard or something. The paint worn in a nice way. I like how natural patterns don’t repeat.
Walking through an alleyway in London Chinatown, not far from Covent Garden. Nice to get off the crowded sidewalks into an alley.
Steam venting in the Chinatown alley. The buildings all solid and brick.
Sunset from our room in South Kensington. That whole chimney-pots thing. Mackerel sky. Golden, changing every second. Like I always say, if it were for some reason difficult to see clouds, what a fetish of them we’d make. But how little I remember to stare at them. The world going all out, every moment of every day. Taking a trip helps me wake up.
Lavender, mauve, purple, violet, I’m never quite sure about that zone of color names. Nice against the classic pillar.
From the design section of the V&A museum, a 1920s fabric with faces as sheets of paper. A witty way to represent writers putting themselves forward.
Photo like this is pretty much a no-brainer. A bot could catch it. Spire with leaves. St. George and the Dragon.
Meanwhile a lone human figure ceaselessly rummages in the mazes of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Lost in Borges’ Library of Babel.
October 23, 2013
In London, we rode around a lot in those classic double-decker red buses. Public transportation. They’re better than tour busses—you get up on the high level and you really see a lot. And you’re with the locals. And if you get on the wrong bus, doesn’t matter, you’re still seeing London. One “wrong” bus led me to one of the biggest bookstores in the world: Foyle’s. My old hacker pal John Walker had recommended it to me. Spent a half hour there, comfortable, reading new science books.
I was surprised how crowded London was—I have this nostalgic tendency to think of London as lonely and foggy like in an old black and white movie, with echoing footsteps on the damp pavements. Many of the sidewalks were filled to capacity people—particularly a shopping area like Oxford Street on a weekend. And the subway trains can be as full as in NYC or Tokyo.
Looking up a site about sizes of city-sprawls or “agglomerations,” I later found Tokyo at #1 with 34 million, New York at #10 with 21 million, London at #24 with 13 million people, and San Francisco (including the whole Bay Area, that is, Oakland and San Jose) at #46 with 7 million.
Lots of white people in London—in NYC or the SF Bay Area you don’t see quite as many. And these English white people, they’re really white…they’re, like, the archetype of whiteness. In the US, we’re programmed by decades of Madison Ave propaganda to think of them as the norm, the Platonic ideal. Many of them are indeed very beautiful or handsome.
I saw a lots of pairs of young women going around together, like hunting teams, with, almost invariably, one blonde and one brunette. The bare legs often quite doughy. Tough-looking short-haired pasty-faced guys as well. Many interracial groups.
Many Indians, Africans, Arabs, and West Indians are in London as well—blow-back from the Imperial days. These two West Indian guys were doing a show in a big square at Covent Garden.
The deal with these outdoor shows is that you yell for a really long time, it’s your chance to shine, and maybe your eventual tricks aren’t all that amazing—these guys were leading up to a limbo routine. But the crowd enjoys the shouting, the rhythm, and the simple feeling of being in a horde.
Peaceful in the churches of course. Sleeping sarcophagus people in Westminster Abbey (or is that the leg-weary Rudy and Sylvia in their hotel room.) Westminster an amazing place, one of those tourist attractions that far outstrips expectations, so full of stuff, with so many levels of detail. Like a fractal.
I was ultra-psyched to see Isaac Newton’s grave. Newton! The laws of motion, calculus, the spectrum, gravity—Newton! “He invented calculus?” said Sylvia dubiously. “I don’t think that’s much to be thankful for.” I stood there for awhile, communing with Newton’s big soul. I dug that they had special spot for the graves of scientists, and other spots for artists, and for writers.
Awed and unsure, a woman makes her way past the (replica) sacarphogi in the Victoria and Albert museum. One of those symbols-of-our-daily-life photos.
At one point we managed to attend a church service in Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s cathedral. I liked sitting there with the lovely, echoing choir music. I was counting things—like the number of panels set into the arches. Odd numbers like 11 and 13. Clever numerical rhythms in the stilled stone.
Studying my guidebook, I’d learned of this seriously old pub on (yes!) Fleet Street called “Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.” Rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Samuel Johnson lived practically next door, and it’s believed (at least by the pub’s aficionados) that Johnson went in there from time to time with Boswell. Like he’d say, “Let’s take a walk on Fleet Street.” Possibly reticent here, as Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was also, in the old days, a brothel.
The name cracked me up, so we went in there, a windowless place with many nooks and crannies, populated by yuppyish workers from the nearby law courts, dank, echoing, unchanging. Inspired by the Johnson connection, I got Boswell’s “Life of Samuel Johnson” for my Kindle from gutenberg.org, and started reading it every evening. Soothing, mildly amusing.
[Photo above was taken near the way-too-crowded Portobello Road Market on a Saturday in Notting Hill, with two old guys playing John Lee Hooker songs behind the woman checking her phone.]
Another day we stopped by a more congenial pub, the Spread Eagle in Camden Town, with windows, couches and old wooden tables. It was a Sunday, and people were settling in for the afternoon, certainly drinking and laughing, but in a more sociable, slow-paced way than in an American bar. One couple was even playing the Jenga stacking game—the pub had a stack of games behind one of the couches. Like a lodge, kind of. Or a shared living-room. Albeit with a large puddle of questionable liquid on the floor outside the basement bathrooms—a bit manky, that. Even so, I’d happily frequent the Spread Eagle if it were in my neighborhood. You could even sign up to have a convivial Christmas dinner there. And in the evenings—well, I think of James Joyce’s phrase, “shoutmost shoviality.”
The wallpaper in our hotel bedroom had elephants on it. Back in the day, the sun never set on the British Empire, right?
And the nice lady guard at Buckingham Palace holds a machine gun.