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Rucker, Rudy

Entry updated 30 October 2023. Tagged: Author.

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Working name of US mathematician, computer programmer and author Rudolf von Bitter Rucker (1946-    ), who has advanced degrees in Mathematics from Rutgers University, concentrating on transfinite mathematics and multidimensional geometry. Like many sf writers, he began very early to produce stories, but unlike most who became successful he had difficulty placing his work, in which mathematical concepts and diagrams tended to generate both plot and venue, these Thought Experiments sometimes making arduous demands upon his readers. "The Miracle", his first-published story, appeared in The Pegasus, an amateur magazine, in 1962; "Faraway Eyes", the second story to reach print (though preceded by the serialization of his first novel), appeared in Analog in 1980. Many of the stories assembled in The 57th Franz Kafka (coll 1983) – which, along with Rucker's early poetry, later stories and nonfiction pieces, were further assembled in Transreal! (coll 1991) – never appeared in magazine form. It is, perhaps, no wonder. Any attempt to describe Rucker convincingly as a Cyberpunk writer must founder on a simple distinction. Cyberpunk writers tend to describe the experience of living in a dense and desolate Near Future in a Cyberspace or Virtual Reality which serves as career-goal and nirvana, but which neither the authors nor their characters had a fundamental need to understand. For Rucker, on the other hand, the experience of living in a Game-like world, sometimes in terms explicitly indebted to the work of Lewis Carroll, was much less important than the exercise of understanding its nature.

The roots of Rucker's fiction lie not in Genre SF or the film noir that clearly inspired much cyberpunk, but in the profound mathematical games of Lewis Carroll, or of Edwin A Abbott, the author of Flatland (1884), or of Charles H Hinton, author of Scientific Romances (colls 1886 and 1902), whose Speculations on the Fourth Dimension: Selected Writings of Charles H. Hinton (coll 1980) Rucker edited with a strong introduction (see Dimensions). His first novels are cases in point. The posthumous protagonist of White Light; Or, What Is Cantor's Continuum Problem? (1980) is a mathematician gripped by a crux involving degrees of infinity as he speeds rollickingly through transreal spacetimes. Spacetime Donuts (Summer 1978-Winter 1979 Unearth, two of three parts only; 1981) features a mockingly simplistic Dystopia concealed within the geometry of space, as well as his first extended presentation of Computers, the second dominant concern in his work as a whole. And The Sex Sphere (1983), which contains elements of spoofish, gonzo Humour, traps a highly sexed multidimensional Alien in a frustratingly three-dimensional world. The abstraction of this work cannot be denied, nor the assertiveness of Rucker's adventuring mind; but these daunting early novels and stories are told with comic bravura – his work has been compared to that of the early Robert Sheckley – and with a strange crystalline exuberance that makes any page of his easily identifiable. Moreover, his protagonists – even the sexually ravaged first-person narrators of several texts, sometimes named Bitter, who must in part be autobiographical – are beguilingly raunchy, vigorous and zany.

These characteristic concerns pervade his Robot series, the Ware sequence comprising Software (1982), whose protagonist is Uploaded and which won the first Philip K Dick Award, Wetware (1988), which shared the same award in 1988, both assembled as Live Robots (omni 1994); plus Freeware (1997), which again won the same award, assembled with the previous two as Moldies & Meatbops: Three Ware Novels (omni 1997). Realware (2000), which joyfully jumbles all of the above, plus multi-Dimensional Aliens and magic devices and a god-creature, was assembled with the previous three as The Ware Tetralogy (omni 2010). In these books a forbidding competence in the field of AI is lightened by a style occasionally reminiscent of John T Sladek.

Rucker's other standalone novels are continually various. Master of Space and Time (1984) is a quite literal wish-fulfilment tale similar in tone to The Sex Sphere, with autobiographical sequences deriving from the earlier-written nonfiction/fiction All the Visions: A Novel of the Sixties (1990 dos); its sf gimmick is a piece of technological hand-waving based on cod Physics which confers three periods of total control over space/time reality, analogous to the traditional Three Wishes of fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] and requiring similar reversal of unwise choices. The Secret of Life (1985) is the Bildungsroman of a teenager with selective Amnesia who thinks he is an Alien in sheep's clothing. The Recursive Hollow Earth sequence, comprising The Hollow Earth: The Narrative of Mason Algiers Reynolds of Virginia (1990) and Return to the Hollow Earth (2018) [for further details see Checklist below] is an orthodox Alternate-History tale set in the nineteenth century, in which an inner world (see Hollow Earth) can be entered from the South Pole, which is what Edgar Allan Poe (who is treated with a remarkable lack of gaucheness) and the young protagonist eventually do, discovering a Black Hole at the heart of the inner world; the tale is derived specifically, and with care, from Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838 2vols), and makes specific reference to John Cleves Symmes; the second volume continues Reynolds's narrative, during which he and his wife are transmitted (see Time Travel) to 2018.

The Hacker and the Ants (1994) is a tale couched in thriller mode, involving AIs and viral ants. Spaceland: A Novel of the Fourth Dimension (2002) plays again with Dimensions and the entanglements of Sex, with specific reference in this case to Edwin A Abbott's Flatland (1884). Frek and the Elixir (2004) takes place in an Ecologically degraded 3003, featuring a sub-teen Games designer, and a small Alien. Mathematicians in Love (2006) is an Equipoisal tale set in two towns in California, where various life forms co-inhabit under the rule of a god in the form of a jellyfish. Jim and the Flims (2011), which features a brief appearance by Charles H Hinton, evokes the myth of Orpheus in the story of a man who, responsible for the death of his wife, penetrates a Dimensional membrane and enters something like the afterworld (here called The Flimsy), which causes an Invasion of Earth reality by the resident Flims. His wife is rescued in scenes of some flamboyance. In Million Mile Road Trip (2019), three young Californians, transported into a Parallel World known as Mappyland, embark upon a Sex-filled Fantastic Voyage across an endless map-like plain, visiting a seemingly endless Archipelago of contrasting mini-civilizations; UFOs are found.

Rucker's second series – the Postsingular sequence comprising Postsingular (2007) and Hylozoic (2008) – engages, with great complexity, in the Singularity, Nanotechnology, the sequence dominated (in part) nanobots (here called nants), some of them deadly (a virus has been designed to kill them) and some very useful: these latter, called orphids (after aphids) can be sucked for universal knowledge. In Hylozoic, all of the previous understandings of the sequence are transformed by an awareness that Great and Small are not only interconnected but, in fact, alive.

In addition to several technical works of nonfiction, Rucker has edited Mathenauts: Tales of Mathematical Wonder (anth 1987), Semiotext(e) SF (anth 1989) with Peter Lamborn Wilson and Robert Anton Wilson, and Mondo 2000: A User's Guide to the New Edge: Cyberpunk, Virtual Reality, Wetware, Designer Aphrodisiacs, Artificial Life, Techno-Erotic Paganism, and More (anth 1992) with R U Sirius and Queen Mu. He also edited the Online Magazine Flurb (which see), whose 13 issues appeared from Fall 2006 to Spring 2012.

Rucker's critical insights into sf can be reduced, for convenience to two terms. He uses the term transrealism to emphasize a not unfamiliar argument that the instruments and tropes of sf articulate (in a way not incompatible with the use of the term Fantastika in this encyclopedia) the archetypes beneath; that sf stories embody and convey "concrete symbols for subtextual realities". Used with care, the term "concrete symbol" can be used, it may be imagined, non-oxymoronically. He also uses the term gnarl to describe structures whose order may be manifest at some point in the future, but too complex to allow that outcome to be predicted; for Rucker, any proper story about the world is gnarly, and any author of sf who attempts to understand the world should accept that he will not be able to predict the outcome of his work until he (in due course) discovers it. A gnarl is like a clade, or like the "everywhere-dense continua" of C H Waddington (1905-1975), but not anything like a Utopia; Rucker's Thought Experiments, which normally claim to test propositions in a paraphrasable manner, can sometimes therefore seem sarcastic, even wicked. But this is appropriate. Though he is entirely capable of Hard SF moves, the joy of Rucker's work lies in the gnarl, not in the fix. [JC]

see also: Avatars; Cybernetics; Eschatology; Flatland; Grey Goo; Marc Laidlaw; Stephen Leigh; Oulipo.

Rudolf von Bitter Rucker

born Louisville, Kentucky: 22 March 1946




Hollow Earth


  • Postsingular (New York: Tor, 2007) [Postsingular: hb/Georgette Douwma]
  • Hylozoic (New York: Tor, 2008) [Postsingular: hb/Peter Pinnock and others]

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