My thoughts on Rucker -- Or a Call to Revolutionize Cyberjunk

John Crews

In reading Rudy Rucker's Software , I've finally been able to discern my interest in cyberspace, virtual reality, and the like. I am interested in the ways in which authors like Rucker (or students in our class) construct new information technologies as coherent, predictable, managable in order to offset anxiety about the unpredictable nature and effect of technology. George Landow has elegantly phrased what I find fasinating and revolting about what I begin to recognize as an all too typical reaction to technology: "Technology, in the lexicon of many humanists, generally means only that technology of which I am frightened" (Hypertext 2.0, 26). Emphasis on the fear.

One of Rucker's strategies in constructing prose involves detente, containment. Any concept he deems uncomfortable, taboo, titillating, paradoxically envokes anxiety -- and then quells it. A small point, but a useful analogy: Rucker handles technology, sexuality, consciousness in a similar way. There are elements of Rucker's prose that seem to serve no useful function in telling the so-called story. I'm talking about all the little things that made me angry. Little jokes, asides that fit into a general pattern of unconscious racism, sexism, ... default white straight male-dom. Hmmm... is this supposed to engender in the reader an unconscious identification? Rucker's way of making meaning definately functions that way.

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about. The diggers, for instance, are identified strongly as dragons (Asian), and the Happy Cloak causes Sta-Hi to speak in a way that is constructed out of nogoted stereotypes:

Ah sso! Sta-Hi said. For some reason his voice came out warped into a crazy Japanese accent.

I think that's supposed to be humorous (there is a too-tired trope of anti-Japanese jokes in all of the cyberpunk I've read), but for me it seems off-putting. I do accept that this character, Sta-Hi functions as the hyperbole of young, crooked white man on drugs. But this character has a privilege of sorts, even as a bad caricature. The prose empoweres him with the an illusion of consciousness. His point of view is featured as the voice of narration for a good portion of the book. For all his drug use, his thoughts and patterns of relating to the world are all too typical and scary.

How am I to decode the consistent, unameliorated, and derogatory use of the word fag in his prose? The word fag seems to be the character Sta-Hi's favorite word to say or think about other characters, so that even the moon appears as "a syphilitic fag in pancake make-up." What's the link between homophobic comments and Rucker's prose and basic ideas?

The character Sta-Hi has a constant erotic interest in the anus. His character is constructed around a myriad of references to either his physical butt or to sexual acts involving an anal fetish. Most characterizations of that sort of sexual desire are loaded with connotations, either perverse or queer. Yet in Chapter Seven, Sta-Hi relieves his anxiety of metioning a taboo sex act by talking about his girlfriend to Cobb.

That's where my girlfriend lived... The bitch. She went to study medicine. Squeezing prostates and sucking boils. You ever had a rim-job?. Cobb was taken aback.

The logic of the character is an exaggerated and frightening one. Young white men are supposed to be a tad homophobic. A tad wasteful. A tad hateful toward women. In fact, a logical extension of what we understand young white men to be today.

The danger that I see in reading this cyberjunk without trying to resist its easy-way-out constructions is that it imposes a view of technology, of new ideas, of hybridity and of the world today, a fixed set of social constructions designed to make them safe and managable. Donna Haraway's thoughts on the matter make sense when she questions how we effect the transformation of

recognition and misrecognition into guiding maps for inappropriated others? And inescapably, these refigurings must acknowledge the permanent condition of our fragility, mortality, and finitude.

(Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, 4)

My apologies for taking this passage out of context, as Rucker and authors like him are always doing when they put robots into easily classifiable, anthropomorphic social structures. I mean, gee, isn't it weird, even offensive, that he identifies the bopper that carries the main characters Cobb and Sta-Hi to their hotel as black?

Cobb and Sta-Hi jumped into the lap of this last bopper, a husky black fellow contoured to seat two humans.

There are ample examples of this sort of superimpositioning, including the diggers and Sta-Hi's happy coat. These nuances may not exist for every reader, but there is something weird and wrong about prose that can be understood in a racist, sexist, heterosexist way, yet can also deny its own ways of making meanings.

[To other discussions of Rudy Rucker's - Ware trilogy (Software, Wetware, and Freeware) by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

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