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Hylozoic
Rudy Rucker
Tor hardcover $25.95

review by Tony Lee

This sequel to Postsingular (my choice as novel of the year for 2007) is a cutting-edge SF book that, nevertheless, harks back - to Clarke's famous third law: "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" (first published in a revision of Profiles Of The Future, 1973). With a determined postmodern relevance, and assured satirical irreverence, Hylozoic spins wild speculation about quantum miracles and his trademark relish for creative human challenges into an engaging and lively storyline - that's based, quite clearly, upon a whole sheaf of hard-SF tropes but is also very much like an otherworldly fantasy. Chapter one, titled After Everything Woke Up, was first published in Interzone #220 and, as expected, it proves to be a highly effective taster/ start-up for the rest of this great novel.

Transformed newlyweds Jayjay and Thuy begin their new reality-media 'soap opera' life together in the bustling jungle, where they picnic casually while growing their first homestead beside a friendly tree, near the initially-hostile but quickly-placated river. This delightfully idyllic phase cannot last, of course, and some alien grifters promptly invade the Earth, stealing dimensional 'gnarl' from places and whole regions, leaving formerly-American states powerless, without 'complexity' or super-intelligence. The invading species are called Peng, and they are stroppy ostrich-like beings that possess Jayjay, forcing his enhanced intellectual capacity to generate coded equations dubbed 'runes' that undermine reality for the belligerent colonists' profit.

Giant flying manta-rays appear, and these weird creatures are often useful to humans as living transporters, but only if any unwitting passengers don't mind having a kinky symbiotic relationship (one that borders upon hormonal slavery) with their taxicab or getaway vehicle. Hieronymus Bosch (also present in Rucker's short fiction, appearing in love story Guadalupe And Hieronymus Bosch, collected in Mad Profesor) is one of the pivotal characters here, and Gaia is another entity making a notable impact on the plot.

Underage sex is 'televised' for a Founders' web-cast, much to the embarrassing shame of married Thuy, and young Chu. There's time-travel (of a sort), Armageddon warfare (where thinking, not killing, really counts), and a coterie of bizarre shape-shifters that humans must contend with on various goofy flights of unbridled whimsy along trans-real curves of an unrolled lazy-eight infinity. There are kidnappings, betrayals, deaths and rebirths, and convoluted dealings with scheming sabotage by alien-sympathisers.

For this weird future where telepathy, ubiquitous consciousness, and 'psychic' mind-over-matter abilities have become the norm - whether people like it or not, Rucker is the grandmaster of reformatting common traditional fantasy, in tacit honour of that aforementioned Clarkean law. While reading Hylozoic, it really seems, at times, that anything could happen on the next page and it would still make perfect sense in terms of genre logic, if the SF reader allows time for thinking everything through. And yet, it must be said that a full appreciation of this outrageously quirky narrative is easier if the reader is already familiar with the milieu of Postsingular, and attuned to Rucker's formal SF innovations and somewhat stream-of-consciousness ideas. From a 'hibrane' quest to lowbrow adventure, only heroic imagination can win the day.

Hylozoic by Rudy Rucker



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