Andrew MacPherson's Reviews > White Light: Or, What Is Cantor's Continuum Problem?

White Light by Rudy Rucker
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really liked it

Having had some previous exposure to Rucker’s work (, before starting this book, I had some idea of what to expect: bizzarro-nerdpunk surreal fiction. Or something, I dunno, I’m not great with labels. And that’s basically what I got.

White Light tells the story of Felix Rayman, a math professor at the fictional equivalent of an upstate SUNY campus and his journey to Cimön, which is infinitely distant in normal space. Yeah, that’s what makes this book simultaneously interesting and difficult to fully grok. Rucker was involved at this time with writing a pop-sci book on the topic of infinites, and I suspect having read that prior to reading this novel may have made things run a bit smoother. That, or having a background in set theory. I was hoping that I would boil down the ideas about infinities that are discussed in this novel, but trying to put any of it into words just isn’t going to happen. As best as I can say, there are different levels of infinity. Maybe.

Anyhow, within the context of the story Rucker actually does a good job of making these abstract concepts a little more palatable for the less mathematically inclined. Take, for example, Hilbert’s Hotel, at the base of Mount-On in Cimön. When Rayman asks for a room at the hotel (which has an infinite number of rooms), he is told that it is full, being as there is also an infinite number of guests. However, with a little bit of urging by the front desk attendant, Rayman realizes that by having each tenant move up to the room with the next highest number (their room, n, +1), thereby making room for Rayman in room 1. This would also work for any finite number of guests, where each person simply changes their room by the number of guests arriving (that is to say, if fifty guests arrive, each person moves to a room 50 above their previous room). However, the question also arises about how the hotel will accommodate the infinite number of guests that will arrive? This also has a surprisingly simple to grasp answer: move each current guest into a room with twice the value of their old room (that is, 2n), which will leave all of the odd numbered rooms for the new guests (of which their are each an infinite number). Easy, right?

Mathematics aside, there’s also a great story in White Light. At times it does get lost among the mathematical exposition, but there is a lot of genuinely weird and interesting ideas here. It’s hard to condense into a short review, so I’ll just leave a partially ordered set of the things I found really cool: (Donald Duck comicbook dream sequence/drug trip, traveling at aleph-one through a restaurant full of infinitely variable aliens, a giant talking cockroach thing who is also a poet, talking EVERYTHING [walls, sidewalk, cars], a Banach-Tarski paradox sphere).

Oh, and one more thing. The back cover blurb on this book could not conceivably have been any more misleading as to the story contained within. I suppose the marketing department figured what they wrote would sell more books, and that’s probably true, but holy shit would the people who bought this book expecting a typical OBE book be disappointed. Here’s what it says on the back of my copy:


There is mounting evidence that life, true life, begins after death. Researchers into the phenomenon of Life-After-Death have found incredible similarities in the reports of thousands of persons who were pronounced clinically dead and then revived. Virtually all reports have these elements in common: Departure from the physical body; a loud, humming noise; passage through a long, dark tunnel, a white light waiting at the end.

But what happens next? What happens when we reach


Does that sound even remotely about a transrealist novel that explores the concepts of infinite sets or some schlocky bullshit novel by some M.D. who had one patient see a white light and takes that as the afterlife exists, QED, buy my book? Although I guess Rayman does meet Jesus and some other component of the godhead, so they at least got that right.

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Reading Progress

April 4, 2014 – Started Reading
April 4, 2014 – Shelved
April 4, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
May 2, 2014 – Finished Reading

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