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Ruff, Matt

Entry updated 20 February 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1965-    ) US author whose first novel, Fool on the Hill (1988), a fantasy set on a magic-irradiated college campus, was much influenced by previous models – some cited in the text – from John Crowley to Thomas Pynchon. His second, Sewer, Gas, and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (1996), is an Equipoisal gonzo sf novel set in Near Future Manhattan (see New York), where a "Tower of Babel" is being constructed for a man named Harry Gant (his noir detective ex-wife's assistant is a AI recreation of Ayn Rand manifesting as a hologram within a hurricane lantern); the tale is saturated with references to American culture and literature, especially in Cyberpunk-inflected sequences Underground, where characters including a great white shark, a possibly Immortal Civil War veteran – evoking Avram Davidson and Ward Moore's Joyleg (1962) – and Robots of various ilks combat each other and the world of order above [for Urban Fantasy see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls (2003) is a psychological thriller centred on multiple personality disorder (see Psychology), leaning towards the Equipoisal thanks to the central character's sustaining image of an internal house inhabited by his many selves; it won the James Tiptree Jr Award for 2003.

Bad Monkeys (2007) combines the conspiracy thriller and the sf of Paranoia in a tale whose unreliable (but possibly truth-telling) narrator claims to belong to an organization known as Bad Monkeys dedicated to the vigilante disposal of criminals who escape the law; and who uses advanced-Technology Weapons to fulfil her missions. The Mirage (2012) is an effective Alternate History tale whose loose Jonbar Point (the failed founding of the Arab League in our 1945 takes place here sixty years earlier, successfully) roughly explains a geopolitical reversal of power between Middle East and America; in the world of The Mirage it is the World Trade Towers in Bagdad that are demolished by fundamentalists from one of the balkanized American states (Rocky Mountain Independent Territories standing in for Afghanistan; Texas for Saudi Arabia). Despite this atrocity, the world of The Mirage remains modestly more attractive, and less destructive, than the real post-9/11 world, a circumstance intolerable to the Osama bin Laden of the tale, who engages in supernatural practices in an attempt to bring about our own reality: to invoke our own world, one whose twenty-first century deterioration he can claim to have inspired. The tone of the Near Future 88 Names (2020) is markedly lighter, focusing on the complex and possibly deadly interactions of players in a Videogame which allows them to occupy a Virtual Reality with real consequences.

Ruff's first series, the Lovecraft Country sequence beginning with Lovecraft Country (2016) stingingly confronts H P Lovecraft's racism, specifically his detestable attitude toward Black Americans, in a tale set in a marginally Alternate World version of 1950s America; the main protagonists, being Black, and forced to travel towards New England through white country, mapping their journey with the help of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, a fictional title based on The Negro Motorist Green Book (1946), a real book. The function of both texts is to suggest safe routes for Black families when they had to risk driving on the highways of their native land (both texts cover routes, safe restaurants, hotels which will take "negroes", and service stations which will fuel their cars). Despite its help, they undergo racist assaults (see Race in SF), but come finally across a family of aspirational Secret Masters who are adepts in black magic. The tale evolves richly from that point; the Television version, Lovecraft Country (10 episodes 2020), showrunners Misha Green and Jordan Peele, is faithful to the spirit of Ruff's novel. The Destroyer of Worlds: A Return to Lovecraft Country (2023) continues the basic narrative, perhaps more relaxedly Equipoisal, but without lessening the underlying gist of his take on American realities.

Ruff is one of the sf writers now active whose transgressive texts seem more and more to be acts of recognition. [JC]

Matthew Theron Ruff

born New York: 8 September 1965



Lovecraft Country

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