Features & Columns

Rudy Rucker: The Journals

Fractal Broccoli on the Millenial Edge

Intro | 1992-1993 | 1999-2012

December 31, 1999.
Big Flip in SF.

After dinner, Sylvia and I walk around San Francisco. We swing through Union Square, but nothing's going on there, only a couple of hundred people in a clearing behind a zillion police barricades, listening to some weak-ass world music. We ride a bus down Market Street to as close to the Ferry Building as we can get, and walk the rest of the way. This is where it's at. Thousands of people walking along with us. They're not, on the whole, violent or weird, just here to see the show.

We stop around First Street, where the crowd starts to get too thick. Hundreds of police, some with riot helmets and batons, some mounted on motorbikes, motorcycles and horses. They're very insistent about keeping us out of the street and on the sidewalks—a display of force. Their motorcycles are doing little circle maneuvers, savoring their free space.

At midnight the fireworks start by the Ferry Building's old tower, big fountains of colored balls and paisley-like swirlers, then skyrocket explosions, maybe 10 minutes' worth. Looking down the street towards the Ferry Building and the bay behind it, we can't see all the fireworks, but we can see a lot of them. A young gay couple next to us with one of the guys' parents. They exchange a little peck at midnight, just like Sylvia and me.

Green laser lights fan over the crowd now, and the twitching beams sketch images on the buildings. Fully operational. The exultant play of the still-functioning computers.

Afterwards, we see dozens of people talking on cellphones. That's a new 21st Century thing too. But many things haven't changed. People still wear long pants, and thick coats, and leather shoes, and wool hats. The future hasn't swept this stuff away. We wear warm clothes because we've figured out over thousands of years that they're practical and comfortable.

September 17, 2001.
Six days now since the unforgettable 9/11.

It's late in the afternoon and I'm at one of my writing spots, the Jahva House cafe in Santa Cruz.

Daughter Georgia, who lives in Greenwich Village, saw the buildings collapse, each of them, pancaking down floor by floor, pulverizing the three thousand people inside, What a terrible thing for your little girl to see.

I haven't been feeling much anger about the attack, it's more fear about what comes next. And we're stuck with what looks like the least well-equipped president we've ever had. For a few years I've been thinking about how the U.S. has been tormenting Iraq, blockading it, bombing them so often that it's not even news anymore—I'd been worried that doing that kind of thing for long enough would bring something nasty down on us. The cause and effect, the karma. But none of our leaders are seeing it that way.

I drove down to Santa Cruz early this afternoon and I went to Four Mile Beach, my favorite. Out on the east end of the beach, quite a ways from the entrance, there's a tower of stone in the sea with pelicans flying by. This is my magic spot, and I knew it would make me feel good to go there today. When I get to this spot, I'm immediately in touch with the big aha.

December 11, 2003.
With Ralph Abraham.

Finally this arduous semester ends. The four-day-in-a-row schedule got to me, also the back-breaking hacking. But, hooray, I survived.

This Sunday I took a nice walk in the woods. Heaps of life in the soil and all around. My joy was compromised a bit by the trail I chose, for it was hemmed in by road noises in one direction and gunfire from a rifle range in another.

I had lunch with Ralph Abraham after my last class to celebrate. Ralph was teaching a course at San Jose State this term. He's retired from UC Santa Cruz. I really look up to the guy, the Grand Old Chaotician. It was cold and windy, we two admired the whirling leaves in front of MacQuarrie Hall. Hard to imagine a better qualified pair of observers for this lovely chaos than Ralph and me. Really seeing it. It felt as good as the time Robert Sheckley and I were crossing a street in NYC years ago, high, and we nearly got run down by a taxi.

Today Ralph was talking about a science video of a rabbit smelling a pineapple. And how it's hard to bring a smell to mind because, instead of being a primitive sensation, a smell is a learned association to a certain olfactory stimulation pattern.

Sometimes I don't understand what Ralph's talking about. He always says surprising things, not at all what I was expecting, and often irrelevant to the conversation's topic. Sort of like my own conversational style. I really enjoy talking with him.

May 18, 2004.
My Last Lecture.

As soon as I woke up today, I was planning my final lecture. My last class today, and in about two weeks, in place of a final exam, my students will demo their semester project programs for me, and then I'll be done.

At the outdoor coffee bar under my office building, the baristas are playing a Ramones CD, including "I Wanted Everything" and "Rock 'N' Roll High School." Synchronicity everywhere these days. My fave band has come to sing me goodbye. Joey's dead. This fall I had a premonition exactly here at this coffee bar that I'd soon be gone.

I sit for awhile in the sun, drinking tea and listening to the Ramones, penning this note. No rush. The Ramones sing their exquisite, "The KKK Took My Baby Away." Life is good.

What if I got up and started dancing? All around me students are studying, as if there were no music.

February 21, 2005.
Universal Computation.

Yesterday I went on a kayak tour in the rock islands of Palau. It was one of the very best days of my life.

Paddling into a lagoon for lunch, I felt I was flying—the water was that clear, with the sandy bottom all white. It was as if my kayak were gliding through empty space. And quiet, quiet, quiet all around. Not a whisper of wind in the trees, only the gentle lapping of the waves, the occasional calls of birds and, of course, the sporadic whooping of the cheery Palauan guides.

I felt a wave of joy, wading around in that lagoon, and a profound sense of gratefulness, both to the world for being so beautiful and to fate for letting me reach this spot. Peaceful in Eden. The world as it's truly meant to be. I'm glad I lived long enough to get here.

High in the air above one of these sunny backwaters, I see a large, dark—bird? It's the size of an eagle, but, no, it's a fruit bat, the sun shining through the membranes of its wings. The islands seem like green clouds come to earth—mirroring their fluffy white brethren above.

In our last snorkel spot, I saw pale blue and pink soft corals, like branching broccoli on the sandy bottom. Fractals. They were growing in a channel connecting two bays, and the channel runs beneath a low, natural-bridge arch.

Swimming through the arch, I encounter a shoal of perhaps ten thousand tiny tropical fish—like the fish you'd see in someone's home aquarium: zebras and tetras. With my snorkel on, I marvel at their schooling motions. They move in unison like iron filings in a field. Ropes and scarves of density emerge from the parallel computations produced by their individual anxieties.

The turbulent water currents compute—the clouds in the sky, the cellular automaton reaction-diffusion patterns on the mantles of the giant clams, the Zhabotinsky scrolls of the shelf corals, the gnarly roots of plants on the land—everything computes, each moment flowing from the moment before, orchestrated by nature's laws.

So I'm thinking that maybe, yes, maybe everything is a computation. Thinking that way gives me a point of view from which I can make sense of all these diverse forms I'm seeing here. But, wait, what about my thoughts, can I see those as computations too?

Well, why can't they just be fractal broccoli, flocking algorithms, class four turbulence, cellular automaton scrolls. I want to ascribe a higher significance to my thoughts, but why make so much of them? Are my thoughts really so vastly different from the life forms all around me in these lagoons? Why not relax and merge. All is One.

And if I find it useful to understand the One's workings in terms of computation, don't think that this reduces the lagoon to a buzzing beige box. The lagoon is not reduced, the lagoon is computing just as it is. "Computing" is simply a way to describe the dance of natural law.

May 22, 2012.
Eclipse. Transition.

There was a cool partial annular eclipse of the sun in the San Francisco Bay Area last week. It was about 6:30 pm, and the sun was going behind the hill that we live on. So I walked up the street to get a better view.

I'd been using the safe method of studying tiny crescents via a pin-hole-punched sheet of paper, projecting the crescents onto the black back of a book. Wearing shades and walking up our tree-crowned hill, I noticed that the patches of shadow-light cast by the trees and bushes were strangely warped as well, with each dapple-blob molded into a crescent.

And then I looked up and I saw the eclipsed sun directly with my eyes, via quick, raking side-long glances. The suddenly huge-seeming sun was a strange crescent, just above the horizon, filtered through the scrim of oak trees, archaic and mythical. The horned sun. A signal from on high.

This is a strange time in writing and publishing. It seems like there's hardly any bookstores anymore. The publishers are on the skids. My old publisher won't have me anymore, and my publisher is on the verge of bankruptcy. No offers on my next novel at all. Rejected by the big houses and the small publishers both.

I've been building up my new publishing venture; I call it Transreal Books. I'm like a guy digging a fallout shelter. Transreal Books gives me direct, unmediated access to my readers. I can sell ebooks myself, and I've learned how to sell printed books online as well.

Yes, self-publishing carries a whiff of being a literary leper. But I'd rather publish my new novel myself than go around begging the truly tiny publishers. Right out of the box, I have a better web presence than many small publishers. And if I self-publish, I earn about twice as much per copy.

Fresh-caught fish on my ice floe.

Drifting towards the great horned sun.