Rudy Rucker's Biography









[I stopped updating this page in January, 2010. To have the most current view of what I'm up to, check the text and links on the "About Rudy" page on my blog.]

I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 22, 1946. At that time my father had a small business making inexpensive furniture and my mother was a housewife. I have one sibling, my brother Embry, who is five years older than me, and still lives in Louisville. I went to private schools in Louisville, graduating from St. Xavier High School --- I was one of the few non-Catholics to attend that school; my parents had the idea it was very good for science. "St. X". While I was in high-school, my father became ordained as an Episcopal priest, and worked as parish priest for the rest of his life. My mother, who was born in Germany, was an enthusiastic gardener, amateur artist and potter.

I went to Swarthmore College from 1963 - 1967, majoring in Mathematics and getting a Bachelor's degree. I had a lot of fun there, and was sorry to graduate. At this point, my choices were the draft or grad school, so I had no hesitation in going to Rutgers University: from 1967 - 1972. I got my Master's and my Ph.D. in Mathematics. My area of specialization was Mathematical Logic, with my thesis on Transfinite Set Theory. In 1967, I married my college sweetheart Sylvia, and not too long after that we had our three children: Georgia, Rudy, Jr., and Isabel.

After grad school, I got my first job in the Math. Dept. at the State University College at Geneseo, New York, a job which lasted from 1972 - 1978. I started teaching the "Higher Geometry" course there, and turned it into a series of lectures on the fourth dimension. Eventually I wrote the lectures up as Geometry, Relativity and The Fourth Dimension, and managed to get them published by Dover Publications, a house which primarily publishes public-domain books by dead authors. They didn't pay me much, but it was enough to throw myself a good thirtieth birthday party --- and my writing career was on its way.

The next thing I wrote was a science fiction novel called Spacetime Donuts. This was in the summer of 1976. I wasn't sure I could write a novel, but I just kept going and after awhile it was done. Nobody wanted to publish it, but then I came across a new magazine called Unearth which was willing to serialize it in three parts. As it happened, Unearth went out of business before publishing Part Three.

We were interested in finding a way to move out of cold, rainy upstate New York, and in 1978-1980 I luckily got a grant from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which is funded by the German government. The five of us lived in Heidelberg for two years, the kids making their way through German schools, and Sylvia struggling to keep everything together. (Bad news: in Germany, all the kids come home for lunch. Every day!) I had a peaceful office in the Mathematics Institute of the University of Heidelberg, and ended up writing most of Infinity And The Mind as well as two novels there: White Light and Software. White Light was picked up by Ace Books in the U.S., and by Virgin Books in the U.K. And then Ace bought Spacetime Donuts and Software as a package, and I was really a writer.

The only Math professor job I could find back in the states was at a tiny college called Randolph-Macon Woman's College, in, of places, Lynchburg, Virginia, the home of then-prominent Jerry Falwell. After two years at Randolph-Macon (1980 - 1982), I decided to give full-time writing a try. Sylvia and the kids and I stayed in Lynchburg; we had a nice big old house and it wasn't a bad place for the children to grow up. In the years 1982 -1986, I wrote six books. This period marked the birth of cyberpunk science-fiction, and I became recognized as a founding father of the movement. My cyberpunk novels Software and Wetware each won a Philip K. Dick Award for best paperback SF novel of the year.

As my own alternative to cyberpunk, I also developed a style of writing which I call transrealism. The essence of transrealism is to write about one's real life in fantastic terms. The Secret of Life, White Light, and The Sex Sphere are examples of my transreal novels. The first recasts a traditional coming of age memoir as a UFO novel, the second is about my time as a mystical mathematician in Geneseo, while the third turns my two years in Germany into a tale of higher dimensions and nuclear terrorism.

Being a full-time writer in Lynchburg got to be too hard and thankless a way to make too meager a living. I wrote Mind Tools, a nonfiction book about mathematics and information, which got me to wanting to teach Math again. When an old friend told me about a job opening at SJSU, I applied for it, and to my delight I was hired in 1986 and am still there in 1997.

When I started my job in the SJSU Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, I was urged to consider teaching computer science as well as Math. I did not know a great deal about computer science at the time (understatement!), although my doctoral work in Mathematical Logic had certainly familiarized me with theoretical computing. The first computer science course I was assigned was anything but theoretical: it was Intel chip Assembly Language! Fortunately, another professor was teaching the same course, and I was able to attend his lectures to help myself figure out what was going on. And soon I found something I was really interested in programming: Cellular Automata, which are parallel programs that produce rapid-fire self-generating computer graphics animations.

During this time period, and perhaps in reaction to my high-tech surroundings, I wrote a historical science fiction novel called The Hollow Earth. I also got involved with the magazine MONDO 2000, edited by a collection of Berkeley characters interested in cyberculture. Thanks to MONDO's influence, "cyberpunk" became something of a household word, taking on a broader meaning and even appearing on the cover of Time. I co-edited the MONDO 2000 User's Guide with R. U. Sirius and Queen Mu. As R. U. put it, "We need a mathematical logician, or we'll never put this thing together."

As well as teaching me a lot about computer science, my interest in Cellular Automata led to a very interesting part-time job during the years 1988-1992. This was with Autodesk, Inc., of Sausalito, California, makers of the popular AutoCAD program. It seemed that John Walker the co-founder and then-chairman of Autodesk, was fascinated by Cellular Automata. After I met Walker at the Hackers 2.0 conference in 1987, he hired me to work on some Cellular Automata software with him. I worked on three shipped software products at Autodesk: CA Lab: Rudy Rucker's Cellular Automata Laboratory, James Gleick's CHAOS: The Software, and BOPPERS: Artificial Life Laboratory. My transreal novel The Hacker And The Ants was heavily influenced by having worked inside a Silicon Valley software company.

A drawback of working at Autodesk and SJSU at the same time was that I had very little time to write. These days I'm back to my main interests: teaching and writing. And I seem to use up an awful lot of time hacking Java and C++ graphics programs for the Object Oriented Programming and Software Engineering classes that I teach. Almost everything has to be done over again every semester. Computer science is a Stairmaster.

In recent years I've focused a lot of my programming efforts on designing and coding a "software framework" that makes it easy to write Windows videogames. I call this shareware code package the "Pop Framework". At the same time I wrote a textbook which teaches something about software engineering, also documenting the Pop Framework, and explaining how to use it. The title for the book is Software Engineering and Computer Games. The book teaches Object Oriented design and Software Engineering in a context of the reader creating an MFC C++ Windows videogame such as Asteroids, Pong, Pac-Man, Mario, Donkey-Kong, etc.  It took me years to organize the material, as programming knowledge has a kind of fractal structure: the details have details with yet more details. Also the platforms and the languages kept changing.  The final improvement was to incorporate Open GL, so that now the games can be 3D. I'll be using the text in my CS 134:Computer Game Design and Implementation courses in Fall, 2003 and Spring, 2004.

In 1999, Tor Books published my text and drawings for a novel called Saucer Wisdom. The book recounts my (alleged) experiences with a UFO contactee named Frank Shook. The saucers purportedly showed Frank Shook many bits of Earth's future ---- right up through the year 4004! Saucer Wisdom gives detailed and illustrated accounts of Frank Shook's experiences, and was in this respect a Millennial work of future extrapolation.

My SF novel, Realware, the fourth book in the *Ware series was published as an Avon Eos book, in June, 2000.  This is the fourth and the last (for the foreseeable future) of the *Ware books.

In 1999, the Four Walls Eight Windows press issued a collection of my selected nonfiction called Seek!.  And they published a complete anthology of my stories called  Gnarl! in May, 2000.  The names come from one of my favorite slogans: "Seek ye the gnarl!"

"Say, have you ever thought of selling one of your books to Hollywood?"

My novel Software was under option from 1990 - 2000 at Phoenix Pictures.  A lot of preproduction work was done, but the option died. What made this especially galling was that right after Phoenix dropped my option, they released the Schwarzenegger movie The Sixth Day, which seems to have drawn some inspiration from my work. The central Sixth Day idea of taping someone's brain software and then loading that personality onto a tank-grown clone of the person is straight from my book Wetware. And in Software, it is a flash of light that puts a man's mind onto his new body, just as in Sixth Day. These are not at all "obvious" ideas that were "in the air," in fact it took me a lot thought and effort to come up with them back in 1980. The fact that the villain in Sixth Day was called "Drucker" seems almost like someone was driven by a Raskolnikov-like obsession to confess his crime! "Yes, I killed the old woman with an axe! Yes, I stole Dr. Rucker's ideas!" Oh well.The digital effects maven Scott Billups made a little Software-inspired digital trailer called Mid-Century. Not much came of Scott's effort, and the Software option remains available for purchase from me by any interested party.

During 1999-2001, I was involved with another film project, a script for an IMAX movie with working title, The Search for Infinity, and to be directed by Ron Fricke of Baraka fame. The movie was to be a science-fiction tale featuring some prolonged zooms into a famous mathematical fractal object called the Mandelbrot Set, and possibly starring Arthur C. Clarke. The deal hinged on getting a big grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant didn't go through, so it looks like another movie project dead in the water. Just for kicks, here's the last version of the Seach for Infinity treatment that I wrote.

In 2002, I sold a film option for Freeware to a Seattle-based group called Directed Evolution Networks, and the renewed the option in 2003, but later let it lapse.

In 2003, I sold an option for Master of Space and Time to the French production company Midi Minuit Holding, SA. Michel "The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" Gondry was going to make a movie of Master of Space and Time, starring Jack Black and Jim Carrey and with a script written by Dan Clowes. A dream project.

But now, in 2007, it's dead, Gondry's company let the option expire in January of 2007. He didn't fill me in on the details, but I gather from one of Gondry's online interviews that he and Clowes had trouble getting the project funded by the producers. In his words,"It's very hard, because all of the reasons why we both like the book are reasons why the studio would not do a movie. It's quirky, it's unpredictable, it's absurd, it's funny, and it's not slick at all. It's rough and grotesque."

In 2000, I wrote a story with John Shirley called "Pockets," which appeared in an anthology edited by Al Sarrantonio, Redshift, (Penguin, Fall 2001). I also wrote an essay on "Infinity" for the Encyclopedia Britannica. A new story written with Bruce Sterling, "Junk DNA," was the cover story for Isaac Asimov's SF magazine in December, 2002. I wrote an SF story about Jenna Bush called "Jenna and Me" with my son Rudy Rucker, Jr, but we had trouble getting it published! In the end we went for an online SF magazine.

In 2000-2001, I wrote a new science-fiction novel called Spaceland, inspired by Edwin Abbott Abbott's classic Flatland. It's about a Silicon Valley middle manager named Joe Cube who encounters some beings from the fourth dimension. Spaceland appeared from Tor Books in June, 2002, and has been getting good reviews. An excerpt appeared in the online SF magazine Infinite Matrix.

In Fall, 2001 and Spring 2002, I was mostly finishing off my Software Engineering and Computer Games text and the accompanying Pop Framework code. The book came out in December, 2002, with a cover by my daughter Georgia.

During 1998-2000, I wrote a historical novel (not science fiction!) about the life of the Flemish painter Peter Bruegel the Elder(1527-1569). And then, in spring of 2002, I rewrote it. The book, called As Above So Below: A Novel of Peter Bruegel, was published by Tor Books, in Fall 2002. By the way, Rucker is probably a Flemish name, so just call me Rudy the Elder. A paperback edition appeared in November, 2003.

In Spring, 2003, I finished work on an intergalactic far future epic quest SF novel, called Frek and the Elixir. The story starts out when the hero, a boy named Frek, finds a UFO under his messy bed. Inside the UFO is an alien helper who resembles a cuttlefish. To help myself visualize the book, I did a painting of the alien cuttlefish, and of a future city that Frek passes through. I did three rewrites of the novel over the Summer and Fall of 2003, and now Frek and Elix the Elixir is scheduled to appear from Tor Books in April, 2004.

I recently did a painting of The Hacker and the Ants as well. Four Walls Eight Windows reissued the book (Hacker and the Ants, Release 2.0) early in 2003, with a cover by my daughter Georgia (not based on my painting.)

I was on leave from teaching in Fall, 2002, and spent some time in Brussels as a guest of the Royal Flemish Academy of Arts and Sciences. I taught a graduate seminar on Computers and Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Leuven . I also did some research on Heironymous Bosch, another favorite Flemish master, as well as on Rene Magritte. In addition, I gave some lectures and worked on chaos-based electronic music with Gerard Pape at CCMIX in Paris, providing the video for a Christmas concert.

In the summer of 2003, I wrote a funny SF/horror short story I always wanted to do, "The Men in the Back Room at the Country Club," about aliens attacking my old home town Lynchburg, Virginia. Although it's one of my best stories, it's already been rejected by three mainstream SF magazines. This reminds me of why I don't write stories very often: the magazine market is so much more conservative and constrained than is the novel market.

Staring in Fall, 2003, I began working on a nonfiction book called The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul. My publisher will be Thunder's Mouth Press, part of the Avalon Publishing Group. I'm hoping to finally explain exactly what it is I've learned during these last twenty years or so in Silicon Valley --- and to make sense of the viewpoint that everything is a computation, while validating my everyday sense of not being a robot.

By the way, my title The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul is a dialectic triad. Thesis: you can build a computer "Lifebox" model of a person, kind of an interactive blog-based data-base. Antithesis: each of us knows ourselves to have Soul that wholly transcends mere bit-flippery. Synthesis: it's at least conceivable that a digital lifebox-style data-base could be animated by an unprectibable yet deterministic rule such as a cellular automaton, the prime poster child for cellular automata in nature being Stephen Wolfram's friend the cone shell. All will be revealed. Note the triumphant upward siphon on this li'l gaah!

In Fall 2003 and Spring 2004, I was teaching CS at SJSU, mostly computer graphics and game programming.

In the Summer of 2004 I retired from my job as professor. I loved teaching at San Jose State, but I wanted like to have more time for my writing. I was fully ready to walk away from computer programming. I taught for well over thirty years. Even so, I may still teach as lecturer here and there from time to time.

In Fall, 2004, I finished work on The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul, which appeared in Fall, 2005. The book has a long subtitle: What Gnarly Computation Taught Me About Ultimate Reality, the Meaning Of Life, and How To Be Happy.

In 2004, I also wrote a fairly complete and literary autobiograhical note about myself for Contemporary Authors, and I put it online. Though all of Fall 2004 and spring, 2005, I worked on Mathematicians in Love, an SF novel about a pair of mathematicians in love with the same woman, with guest appearances by a couple of giant cone shell snails like the one shown above.

In Fall, 2005, I went back to SJSU and taught a course in the philosophy department, using my Lifebox tome. I also got started on my novel Postsingular, which I finished in fall of 2006.

I'm writing more than ever, putting out a few short stories as well; I had a collection called Mad Professor come out in January, 2007. I had cover stories in Asimov's SF magazine in August, 2007, and January, 2008, the stories were "Hormiga Canyon," co-authored with Bruce Sterling, and "The Perfect Wave," co-authored with Marc Laidlaw.

Another recent activity is that I publish a twice-a-year webzine called Flurb.

My novel Postsingular came out from Tor, in October, 2007. In 2007 and the Hylozoic appeared from Tor in June, 2009.

I'm painting more all the time. I had an art show at the Live Worms Gallery in the North Beach area of San Francisco early in November, 2007.

In Fall, 2008, I wrote a book-length memoir called Nested Scrolls, which will in appear in 2011. In Spring, 2009, I started work on a new novel with working title Jim and the Flims, and I hope to finish work on this by Summer, 2010.

--- I stopped updating this page in January, 2010. To have a more current view of what I'm up to, check the text and links on the "About Rudy" page on my blog.

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