21 December 2007

Mixed feelings

Rudy Rucker
HarperCollins, 2000

After finishing the Moldies and Meatbops trilogy, I was compelled to check this fourth installment (in the now-tetralogy) out from the public library. I am certainly glad I didn't pay for it because, while the novel was fun to read, it was also not as wild, innovative, or thought-provoking as its three predecessors. It basically felt like one of those tacked on, pay-the-mortagage kind of books. Whereas there was a significant time lapse between each of the first three installments of this series, this novel begins mere months after the concluding events in Freeware. The first half of the book is given over to a half-baked story involving a Tongan monarch, a homicidal pseudo-Limey, a lunar girl with questionable taste in men, while the second comprises a too-fast-to-be-true love affairs of not one, but two, couples. Realware, the only interesting thing in the novel, takes a back seat to these plots for most of the novel.

Yet, it is the concept of realware, the culmination of Rucker's "life as information" idea, that makes the book interesting and worth reading. Realware is an alien technology that is able to build anything material (including living things) from the ground up, so to speak. Although it is never explained completely (being one of those technologies that is advanced enough to be indistinguishable from magic), it seems to be a form of nanotechnology whose workings somehow derive from higher-dimensional physics. Rucker's love of the 4th (and higher) dimensions comes into play in the novel, as does his sense of spirituality (though it is a bit more saccharine than is his wont). The idea of realware is definitely interesting, and Rucker sees it as a technology that humanity still won't be ready for in a half-century. (Looking at the contemporary state of the world, I hesitate to disagree, but I digress.)

Yet he does not allow this rather pessimistic appraisal of humanity's capacity to deal with the end of scarcity rain on the reader's parade. Instead, the Metamartians (i.e., the cosmic ray information aliens from the conclusion of Freeware) come to the rescue like the proverbial cavalry or deus ex machina. Tears are shed, the world is saved, and warm smiling California sunshine reigns.

(This review was originally written on September 28, 2006.)

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