Rucker's Biotech: Small and Large

Lora Schwartz

Rudy Rucker's Warez are indeed mind-candy or mind-trash depending on one's point of view and not terribly redeeming from either a writing or theory point of view, a point Steve Cook makes fairly well. Nonetheless, Rucker does posit interesting views on several aspects of a world meshing biological with digital that I thought were somewhat thought provoking and that dealt with some issues raised in other cyberpunk fictions. Most blatantly he addresses issues of identity, breaking it into software as the mind/soul and hardware as the body. He bounces around ideas of identities being preserved digitally, such as Cobb being reconsituted from a cube, or identities being lost, such as Cobb being kicked out of the controls by Mr. Frostee. Cobb's character constantly makes the argument in the later part of Software that he still is himself, though his body is synthetic. However, the robot remotes are not truly autonomous, as Cobb and Sta-Hi's encounter with Misty showed when she was sending information to GAX while carrying on a conversation.

I found Rucker's issues of identity interesting because he claimed that the software was extracted from a person by reading all of the RNA in a person's brain. RNA is just as much a part of a person's physical being as larger systems such as organs or tissue. Saying that the software could be extracted really meant that the physical hardware could be translated to software. A person's identity was in the RNA but it wasn't the RNA itself. This makes somewhat intuitive sense by the analogy that the importance of a text is not the text itself but the reading of the text. It is ridiculous to criticize Rucker's biotechnology as grossly inaccurate because this is fiction and I doubt that it is supposed to be feasible. (Personally, I doubt that identity is stored in RNA but that the biological component of identity has to do with the wiring and connections of the neurons as well) What I do find interesting, however, is that Rucker assumes that there is no other component to identity other than what is coded in RNA. He implies that a person is the same as long as they have the same memories while I believe that it is the context into which those memories fit that constructs an identity. He also implies that the soul is preserved physically. I'm not attempting to be a proponent of the soul hypothesis, but Cobb's character feels that his soul is preserved when he transferes into a robot body and, in this way, achives physical .

Rucker's use of evolutionary biology was new for me in a sci-fi setting and I think he adequately addressed the topic. Mutation, competition and recombination have produced the diversity of life on earth. I was impressed that he recognized genetic recombination by sexual reproduction as the primary way life on earth has divereged to take hold of new advantageous niches and incorporated this into Emul's desire to reproduce with Berenice in Wetware. I found it an unusual step that Rucker's boppers wanted to combine with humans. Certainly he justified it when Berenice expresses her desire to become part of the huge diversity of organic life, but one driving force of evolution, as we currently understand it, is that diversity separates species irreversibly. The power to control evolution through directed conjugation with another species (human and bopper) was a novel take on how to use evolution.

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