HOW TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS IN PUBLISHING WHEN YOU LIVE IN A HOLE IN THE GROUND AND EAT DIRT. NEW FICTION BY RUDY RUCKER.
I’m very happy to speak to you today, and to share my recent work.
I’ve always thought of my novels as “beatnik science fiction,” not that anyone else uses that description. “Beatnik” is just a word that I like. In reality I’m more what you’d call a kiqqie or a qrude. I live in a hole in the ground and I eat dirt. These are modern times.
At thirty-six I published my first novel, Bad Brain. It was about a brain in a jar that grows tentacles, rides a bicycle to the studio of a talk-radio station—and hollows out the head of an anti-beatnik broadcaster. Having preserved the scraps of the radio host’s original gray matter in a freezer, the bad brain takes up residence within the vacated skull and entertains the radio audience in offbeat and positive ways. At the book’s end, the by-now-peace-loving broadcaster’s brain is restored, and the bad brain rides his old bicycle into the sunset, in search of further ways to improve our world. Bad Brain appeared in paperback and as an aether wave. It was met with indifference, which mutated to derision and scorn.
No matter. I developed a following. I won an award. I was getting over.
At night, alone in my burrow, I’d rub my feelers over the emerging good reviews. My quill would stiffen, my ink-sac would fill. I wrote more beatnik SF novels.
And so the years went by.
As I stand before you today, I’m sixty-six, with a stack of beatnik SF novels to my credit. In recent years, my sales have turned weak, with ever-smaller print-runs. The cretinous, slavering fans have become oblivious to my work. The reviewers jeer; they berate me to stop.
As a comeback stratagem, I published my autobiography, Beatnik SF Writer. My long-term publisher and I thought the autobio might serve as a late-life mainstream break-out book. But it bombed. My long-term publisher dropped me.
What next? I wrote another beatnik SF novel, On The Nod—it’s about a Kentucky boy on a galactic roadtrip with a drug-addicted alien cuttlefish who’s searching for his soul—and the cuttle’s soul is found in the gut of a microscopic cockroach in a you-tweak-it gene bar in Oakland, CA.
I found a small publisher for On The Nod. For reasons that were, I still maintain, only logistical, the book bombed. The small publisher dropped me.
I began writing another beatnik SF novel. What else would I do? I should mention, by the way, that at all times I have had a few loyal and beloved followers. My cognoscenti. I dedicated my new novel to them. The book is called Zip Zap, and it’s about an allegedly insane man who befriends a possibly imaginary sea slug from the fourth dimension. The eccentric and the slug discover a way to impose mystical enlightenment upon the unwilling public.
I wrote my new book slowly, loath to face the market again. Really, it’s the process of writing that I enjoy. The narcotic moments of creative bliss. The dissolution of self via the yoga of craft. I was calm and happy in my burrow, limning a new ascent to the One.
When I finished Zip Zap, I deemed it another masterpiece. I flew to Manhattan to visit the offices of my long-term publisher and propose a fresh start. Waxing elegiac, my former editor called a few of his underlings into his office and presented me with an entire smoked salmon. With tears in his eyes, he advised me to live as a simple hermit and to abandon any hope of publishing again.
I sulked in my lair for some months. A coarse joker rolled a stone across the mouth of my tunnel as if I lay in my tomb. One of my cognoscenti alerted me. I oozed forth from the dirt and, dripping acid, inscribed a beloved motto of mine upon the stone.
Eadem mutata resurgo.
This means, “The same, yet changed, I arise again.”
I would become a publisher myself. Retreating again into my burrow, I twitched and spasmed for days, nourished by dirt and by my entire smoked salmon. I budded out a fresh array of pincers, then delved within my flesh to craft electrogenerative glands.
Soon I was prepared to self-publish Zip Zap as an aether wave. My voice piped forth from the earth as a shrill, excited twitter, broadcasting my intentions to the uncaring world.
At first I tried selling my aether wave—in the manner of traditional publishers. But then, growing impatient with the pawky, dawdling pace of commerce, I began offering my aether wave for free. But, other than my pitiably few cognoscenti, nobody was in fact accessing the Zip Zap aether wave, be it commercial or be it free.
I wasn’t getting over.
I needed a new distribution mode. And here I turned to my old friend Yonson, a ground-dwelling qrude like me, a one-time writer now turned cyber-criminal. Yonson showed me a spammer trick for forcing unwanted aether waves onto strangers’ reader pods.
So at this point my plan was to distribute Zip Zap—my novel of mystical enlightenment—in the form of malware. If the cretinous, slavering fans balked at a free Zip Zap then, in the name of all that’s holy, I’d force it directly into the warp and woof of their reader pods.
I’d forgotten, or chosen to ignore, the fact that my friend Yonson is a complete incompetent. He was under close surveillance by the aether authorities, and within hours they descended upon me. These puritanical and anti-beatnik martinets didn’t deign to charge me with a crime—instead they deployed an aether wave filter to prevent anyone from viewing any of my novels upon any reading pod ever again. They neglected only to tear out my tongue.
Eadem mutata resurgo. The same, yet changed, I arise again.
Of late, I’ve taken to giving public readings of my work. I have, after all, a certain notoriety. People come to be amused. What they don’t initially realize is that I’ve found a way to cast my novels into cytoplasmic biological forms known as Golgi threads.
If you come into the same room with me, my ambient Golgi threads writhe into you, and you begin to dream my novels. Every night. Especially Zip Zap.
And—it goes without saying—you’re going to forget that I told you about the Golgi threads.
So, yeah, I’m still getting over.
Thank you for inviting me here today.