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Thunder's Mouth paperback $15.95
review by Jim Steel
This collection is subtitled The Uncollected Short Stories Of Rudy Rucker, to which the obvious comeback is - well, they're collected now! Although four of the stories were published in 2006 (and some of them were written that year), this collection does not include two stories, Chu And The Nants and Postsingular, which appeared in Asimov's SF during said year. The reason for this could be that Rucker is going to fashion them into his Postsingular novel, although Asimov's SF states that these two stories are merely backstory. Maybe Asimov's SF writes a tight contract. Also absent is The Third Bomb, again from 2006, which was published in Rucker's own webzine, Flurb, at the same time as this collection. Possibly it was written just too late for inclusion. The only previously unpublished story in Mad Professor is Visions Of The Metanovel, which is a Borgian exercise that has been culled from Postsingular. Rucker claims in the notes that it wouldn't have fitted into the novel, and he's probably right.
Curiously enough, there are six highly enjoyable short stories, each only a couple of pages long, that have already been published in a Rucker collection. Six Thought Experiments Concerning The Nature Of Computation appeared as chapter (and concept) introductions to his nonfiction book, The Lifebox, The Seashell, And The Soul. It was very tempting to only award Mad Professor a four-star review because of the above niggles, but that would be unfair. Rucker does say that he has re-edited every story for this collection (although in the stories that were published in Interzone at least, the changes were minimal and consisted of little more than line breaks and such like). Besides, he is incapable of writing a dull story.
Having said that, he does seem to have gotten bored when writing Ms Found In A Minidrive. This was written for an anthology that was based around an unfinished Edgar Allen Poe story, The Lighthouse, which has only the first few paragraphs extant. It is told from the viewpoint of an ageing beatnik, Gregge, who runs across a man who has transformed his tongue in a homunculus of Gregge's old lover, William Burroughs. Gregge then transforms a part of his own body (no prizes for guessing) into a homunculus of Edgar Allen Poe. It's a bizarre and amusing Burroughsian jaunt, but the thing that most evokes Poe is the finish. It just stops suddenly, as if he'd written himself into a corner and couldn't be bothered working out a decent ending. Maybe Rucker had written Poe out of his system after using him as one of the major characters in his novel The Hollow Earth. This is certainly one of the less successful of the stories here, but even it would be a highlight of many a collection from other writers.
There are other writers involved these stories, but they are certainly not lesser writers. Terry Bisson, Paul Di Filippo, Bruce Sterling and John Shirley are amongst the finest writers in the field today, and each brings his own strength to the task at hand. Shirley's darkness pervades Pockets, with its addictive variation on the Flatland analogy. Bisson's playfulness is seen in 2+2=5. Elves Of The Subdimensions, one of the strongest stories here, is co-written with Di Filippo, and is about an aging mathematician who finally learns to fly and discovers the elves of the title, respect and love. And it's science fiction, not fantasy. Junk DNA has Sterling's hand in it, with its riffs on capitalism. It also has the same joke about idiot guidebooks as Rucker's novel, Mathematicians In Love, but that's forgivable. It's a short and funny joke and he probably forgot that he'd already used it.
There is also Rudy Rucker Jr, who is credited as co-writer for Jenna And Me. In the notes, Rucker Sr. states that Jr. runs an internet service provider and also has a website dedicated to the adventures of Dubya's twin daughters which has caused him to be questioned by the Secret Service. And much more. All of which is verifiable, and is also in the story. Exactly how much of this story is true is a worrying thought, given the Illuminati scale of the thing, as the ISP hero is flown out to Texas to reprogram Jenna Bush who has accidentally wiped her brain through using a drug that cures liberal tendencies.
Probably the most bananas story is The Men In The Backroom At The Country Club, which is so gonzo it defies summation. It starts of with what some teenagers discover when they sneak into the local club. The regulars are being deflated by the barman and stored in golf bags full of a strange alcohol. Then there's sex, drugs, cannibalism and a couple of alien/ heavenly invasions thrown in. Guadalupe And Hieronymus Bosch is a warped love story between the two characters in the title. Guadalupe is a modern day nut who finds her one true love through the aid of an alien who can fold our space-time.
Three stories left. Panpsychism Proved and The Use Of The Ellipse, The Catalog, The Meter & The Vibrating Plane are two short pieces of fun, and Cobb Wakes Up is an unused first chapter from Realware, and the oldest story in here. It's a great treat for those who're suffering withdrawal symptoms from the 'Ware series.
This is a top-notch collection. Even the introduction will mess with the reader. There is a photograph of Rucker writing something on a lawn, while grinning at the camera. Then, a bit later, one reads "the picture at the left shows me working on this introduction." A loop seems to start up between the picture and the sentence. The giddiness doesn't stop even after the book's been read and placed back on the shelf.
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