by Cory Doctorow
February 16, 2012
Surfing the Gnarl is the latest volume in PM Press’s wonderful Outspoken Authors series: a collection of slim, handsome chapbooks curated by Terry Bisson that combine essays, stories and interviews (I’ve previously written here about the Kim Stanley Robinson volume, as well as my own).
This one is devoted to one of the world’s happiest and most mutated happy mutants, Rudy Rucker, the prolific mathematician, computer scientist and psychedelic transreal science fiction writer. Rucker’s addition to the series is a very worthy one, with two very weird, characteristically ruckerian stories. The first, “The Men in the Back Room at the Country Club,” is a quintessentially transreal story, a kind of shaggy dog piece that outweirds itself with every successive sentence, playing what Rucker calls a “science fiction power-chord” in the guise of an alien invasion tale. The second story, “Rapture in Space,” is a drugged out sex story about the slackers who use a robo-caller-driven Ponzi scheme to finance the world’s first orbital pornography video, and it, too, is a perfect capsule of what makes Rucker Rucker.
In between these stories is an essay, Surfing the Gnarl, which posits a theory of literature that ties approaches to fiction in with the mathematics of complexity and randomness, and is an illuminating piece of literary critical thinking. As with the other volumes in the series, this one concludes with an interview between Terry Bisson and Rucker, in which Rucker is his charmingly oblique and uncompromising self on subjects from the history of cyberpunk to the nature of the universe.
I really like the Outspoken Authors series—these skinny little books seem to distill the essence of each of their subjects into perfect capsules.