Jesus, Rucker, and You

Elizabeth Rodwell (

So it seems that everyone in our class hates Rudy Rucker's -Ware’ trilogy (and what's with sci-fi and the trilogy’ phenomena?), and while I'd agree that the work is poorly written, it's cultural significance is not to be overlooked. As far as English 111 goes, Rucker's books tie several of the course's main themes together; they address the idea of identity-construction, the reproducibility of man, techno-paranoia (in other words, that we are making things we can't control and that will inevitably turn against us), and the dystopia. Rucker's book also manages to be Burroughs does Gibson, a total beatnik vision.

I was just discussing with a girl on my dorm hall how I didn't feel there was much knew to say about this book, that it was "so genre it's maddening, utterly unoriginal." I recalled that Shareware was early '80s and had perhaps been novel once, but it hasn't aged well unlike some of its contemporaries (Sterling's Artificial Kid , Vinge's Psion, and Gibson's Neuromancer ). I'm not sure why that is, because the 'Wares have so much in common with enduring classics like Blade Runner, which was also '82.

So anyway, this girl on my hall -- I mean, in my unit -- So she asks me what cyberpunk is and I feel really good because I know and I think I can tell her. "Cyberpunk is bright colors moving at a very high speed." I fluttered my hands by my face to illustrate my point-- I think I was giving the impression that cyberpunk is like tripping on acid. Indeed, she looked at me funny and laughed. "Ok." I began again. "Cyberpunk, as I've come to know it, has a lot in common with sci. fi., though it's darker, more predictable, and noticeably more drug-filled." She nodded. "You know, sci. fi. is sort of an atheistic response to the modern existentialist dilemma. (ok, I didn't say it quite like that). There's a helluva a fantasy element about it, half these books have a big cult following. No attempt to blaspheme, but the machine is like Jesus." Hee hee, I was enjoying this one: "You know, salute the right man/machine, gain immortality. I think man's figured out, for the most part.. or at least begun to suspect that everlasting life just ain't in the cards-- (Oh how the hell do we know? we don't… leaving it up to chance is no fun. Let's make it if we can) or at least he's not satisfied with leaving it up to divine intervention. Technology is seductive…much of it hasn't crossed over from magic into science yet, and as we know, magic and religion differ only by certain definitions. Wo/man has always had his/her legends of immortality- sometimes the immortals were a specific ilk, as in mythology, sometimes, as per religious tradition and Rudy Rucker, immortality had to be earned." (Ed. Note-- Liz did not, in fact say all of this. She might not have said any of it at the time. She can't remember.)

"So this one book I am reading, Software’ is like the Bible." I announced this to my neighbor, who’d wandered by and heard me laughing. "Right on, dude.." He nodded. "Are you writing that for Landow's class? (This conversation really occurred). "Yeah." "So are you going to reference it like Biblical verses?" Not a bad idea. It's a funny book, from my point of view very similar to the Bible. Will man discard what is natural about him for immortality's sake? (In one case, instincts and drives, in the other his organic body.)

Jacob George responds fairly typically to the immortality idea -- his essay fairly represents my stance on the whole matter too. It's easy to ignore what's disturbing about Rucker's vision for the overall concept-- "Big deal! He was immortal!" Rucker has Cobb overlook the flaws in his not quite true-to-life robot body module for the benefits it brings (124). Rucker also pushes the viewpoint that there isn't much of a difference between natural body and constructed one (That whole spiel about Misty-girl) (66). It doesn't so much matter where Cobb's brain really is, so long as his consciousness lives forever. Ah, modern fairy-tale. I remember telling the girl from my unit that cyberpunk defamaliarized the concept of ‘natural’, while similarly constructing man as a hero, machine as evil-- and man still in control to an extent. She thought of Terminator 2. Yeah, sort of.. I always wanted to be the T-1000.

So cyberpunk is a kind of religious cult. At any rate, it makes us feel powerful, or at least potentially powerful in an uncertain world.

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