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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday October 11 2017, @09:19PM   Printer-friendly
from the wares-walt dept.

Without checking copyright dates, it was more accurate to describe the Ware Tetralogy as two pairs of books. The compendium begins rather ominously with a family tree and I was concerned that I might have to keep notes of 22 clones or suchlike. Thankfully, this was not the case and it would be easier to describe the story as being centered around one AI researcher and his descendants. However, character names can be quite bizarre. Ralph Numbers is one of the more moderate examples.

The researcher, Cobb Anderson, is a very strong character. From the afterword, it is explained that Cobb Anderson is based upon Rudy Rucker's father. Overall, Rudy Rucker writes exceptionally good father/son or master/apprentice relationships. Despite descriptions to the contrary, I imagined Cobb Anderson and Stan Mooney to be more like the disgraced Walter White and the youthfully impatient Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. This was re-inforced by a particular incident which could have influenced an episode of Breaking Bad.

In addition to write strong relationships, Rudy Rucker writes some of the scariest antagonists. Mr. Frostee is particularly creepy. In the afterword, Rudy Rucker apologises for some of the technical details around Mr. Frostee. No apology is required. The rôle of cults is largely unexplored. Likewise, comic relief is vastly under-used. (Tuthmosis Snooks is particularly under-utilized.)

The Ware Tetralogy forms part of a virtuous circle of science fiction. In addition to the first two books each obtaining the Philip K. Dick Literary Award, the books build upon some of the core ideas from Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov. However, it explores placement of self-preservation ahead of subservience in the form of the Three Laws Of Robotics. This leads to an initially inexplicable question of why robots in a ruthlessly Darwinian free-market anarchy would display their internal state so vividly. However, this is all part of a progression of technology and intelligence which progresses over a number of computational substrates.

This is pro-sex, pro-drug trans-humanism. Although, for a mathematician accustomed to abstract thinking, Rudy Rucker writes the most cringeworthy, heteronormative, sex scenes from a cisgender, masculine point-of-view. This is not helped by over-use of "fractal", in particular, when describing pleasure from the increased surface area between two entities which are not on a mammalian substrate. Likewise, one of the many drugs, Merge, is toony enough for it form the basis of a Futurama episode. Thankfully, this is one of Rudy Rucker's more experiemental ideas and it can be ignored without adversely affecting the plot. To get the most from these books, it may be useful to have an understanding of backoff algorithms (such as RFC1191 and TCP Cubic), fractals, Penrose tessellation, cellular automata (and associated use as a computational substrate), Conway Life Gliders, N-dimensional space in the context of Flatland and pop-culture understanding of Lewis Carroll's Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass. Of these, the literary references are most beneficial.

Some locations have familiarity: a beach-front hut, a sleazy speak-easy, a grand cavern, a lunar dome and marginal accommodation which could be taken from Total Recall, The Expanse or Babylon5. However, this is vastly preferable to some of the needlessly exotic locations found in an Iain Banks novel, an Eoin Colfer novel or a typical James Bond film.

The structure of each book peaks with one satisfying climax, although, perhaps Book 3 starts slow and finishes fast. It is gripping to the extent that I read Book 1 and 2 in one sitting and was unable to progress significantly into Book 3 due to the exhaustion of reading more than 100,000 words. Book 1 and 3 gain from perculation of the most original ideas but I would happily read another two books which only followed the existing characters and did not introduce further characters or concepts.

Whereas Vernor Vinge's bobbling is explained with some hand-waving about Walsh functions, Rudy Rucker's work has a more rigorous grounding in Penrose tessellation and this is used repeatedly for various plot elements. Although many regarded this a science-fiction fantasy, the subsequent discovery of quasi-crystals gave additional interest and weight to the work. The Ware Tetralogy is of general interest to anyone seeking background considerations about smart structures, IoT, robotics, artificial intelligence and/or sentience. However, Rudy Rucker's direct experience of computers was extremely limited when he began and therefore it should be read mostly in the context of widely disseminated ideas in the popular consciousness.

The Ware Tetralogy with SHA512 of 8a7c87845e207b13a34e8d265f94bdaa6e72242280c356b8bd71ea8e91c78e18f85462eb40b6c8ad36cfc752fe83c52ebf6b8ba469347bd1cd94605b1d966353 is available under a restrictive Creative Commons licence which, under the circumstances of commercial fiction, is extremely generous.

Original Submission

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Book Review: Rainbows End by Rudy Rucker 5 comments

I previously reviewed Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy and Postsingular and found that Rudy Rucker's best work comes after ideas had the most time to percolate. Postsingular was a relative dud, although still far superior to Neal Stephenson's REAMDE. In contrast, Rainbows End is highly recommended. Indeed, it is essential reading for anyone concerned about the progression of software from desktop, web and mobile to augmented reality. The book has a shockingly similar game to Pokémon Go in addition to a plausible mix of tech mergers and new entrants in a near-future universe where smartphones have given way to wearable augmented reality.

Many books, comics and films have covered the purgatory of high school and some have covered the special purgatory of going back to high school (for a re-union or as a student). The film: 21 Jump Street is a particularly silly example of the sub-genre. Rainbows End covers a world leading humanities academic who spends years in the fugue of dementia, responds almost perfectly to medical advances and is enrolled in high school to complete his therapy. While he looks almost perfectly like a 17 year old, his contemporaries remain in decline or have bounced back with far more random results.

Although he has physically recovered, he has lost his razor-sharp insight and biting wit[1]. Like other patients, he finds talents in unrelated areas. His computer fluency, which was sufficient to publish in academic journals, is now 20 years out of date. During this period, laptops have become as thin as paper and also horrendously obsolete. Although the paper-thin laptops can be configured as a variety of legacy desktop environments and legacy web browsers, rendering data from the (almost) ubiquitous wireless network is less successful than accessing the current World Wide Web without images or JavaScript. However, this is only one slice of purgatory.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11 2017, @09:31PM (4 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11 2017, @09:31PM (#580802)

    Read all four in paperback, long ago. Other Rudy Rucker books also highly recommended.

    • (Score: 2) by DeathMonkey on Wednesday October 11 2017, @09:57PM (2 children)

      by DeathMonkey (1380) on Wednesday October 11 2017, @09:57PM (#580812) Journal

      Damn, I wasn't even know Realware existed! That's how long ago I read what I thought was a trilogy.

      • (Score: 3, Funny) by DeathMonkey on Wednesday October 11 2017, @10:00PM (1 child)

        by DeathMonkey (1380) on Wednesday October 11 2017, @10:00PM (#580813) Journal

        Also, writing sentences in linear time is for you unenhanced normies!

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12 2017, @10:08AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12 2017, @10:08AM (#581063)

          I need more than linear time — I never measured the time I need to compose them, but, admittedly without further justification rather than just a wild guess, I think it might be O(n log n), where n denotes the length of the sentence, using an appropriate measure like the number of characters, or the number of words (I think the average word length should not factor into the complexity; however my familiarity or non-familiarity with the language may well do so) — to write sentences, therefore I conclude that, assuming that, despite lack of any supporting evidence, your claim is true, I must not be an unenhanced normie, which of course leaves the question open, which of the other obvious alternatives — enhanced normie, unenhanced non-normie or enhanced non-normie — applies to me, assuming that those are indeed, as seems plausible but is, thanks to the frequent lack of logic in natural languages, not certain, the available options.

          But I'm sure you'll need more time to understand the above sentence than I needed to write it. ;-)

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12 2017, @04:55PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12 2017, @04:55PM (#581214)

      Rucker is an arrogant ass and it comes through in his writing.

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by meustrus on Wednesday October 11 2017, @10:16PM (3 children)

    by meustrus (4961) on Wednesday October 11 2017, @10:16PM (#580820)

    This review fails to answer the one question at the core of every review's audience: Why should I read or avoid this? As it stands, the review is only useful if I am already considering reading Ware Tetralogy, and I can't be the only one who's never heard of it.

    It's as though you reviewed a fuel injector modification by praising the construction, describing the ease of installation with some asides bemoaning weird issues and compatibility problems, all without ever mentioning what problem it solves or how it improves performance.

    (sorry the car analogy is probably nonsense)

    If there isn't at least one reference or primary source, it's not +1 Informative. Maybe the underused +1 Interesting?
    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12 2017, @12:22AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12 2017, @12:22AM (#580870)

      You should read the books because they are a fun story about cloning, the nature of consciousness, and casual cannibalism. You shouldn't read the books if you dislike reading about the moon or anthropomorphized non-human entities.

    • (Score: 2) by FakeBeldin on Thursday October 12 2017, @07:05AM (1 child)

      by FakeBeldin (3360) on Thursday October 12 2017, @07:05AM (#581011) Journal

      I was missing the synopsis of the story too.

      • (Score: 2) by meustrus on Thursday October 12 2017, @03:50PM

        by meustrus (4961) on Thursday October 12 2017, @03:50PM (#581184)

        I'm not asking for a synopsis of the story and I don't want one. Casual spoilers are not a substitute for sub-genre classifications, meaningful comparisons, or recommendations.

        If there isn't at least one reference or primary source, it's not +1 Informative. Maybe the underused +1 Interesting?
  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by stormwyrm on Wednesday October 11 2017, @10:28PM (1 child)

    by stormwyrm (717) on Wednesday October 11 2017, @10:28PM (#580824) Journal

    I'm about three quarters of the way through Freeware (Book 3) and I'm finding the whole series an intriguing piece of work. I've previously encountered his work only in cyberpunk short story anthologies like Mirrorshades. Yeah, I have to admit I also did wind up imagining Cobb Anderson and Sta-Hi Mooney in the first book as something like Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Vince Gilligan or someone else deeply involved in Breaking Bad didn't at some point read these books.

    Rucker has a PhD in mathematics and has written many non-fiction mathematical works in addition to his fiction, so it isn't quite surprising that his treatment of stuff like Penrose tessellations and other mathematical concepts is far less handwavy much more rigorous than one usually sees in science fiction. Though I will take exception to the mechanism used to prevent circumvention of the "Asimov" locks on artificial intelligences described in Book 2. Proofs to important and difficult mathematical problems such as the Continuum Hypothesis and Fermat's Last Theorem (still unproved at the time Book 2 was written) have been classified and used as the basis of one-way functions to prevent the circumvention of these restrictions. Concealing mathematical proofs like that would greatly retard the progress of mathematical and scientific research! I think Rucker might have realised that the enforcement of Asimov's laws in software is a form of what we would today call DRM, and essentially impossible.

    Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate.
    • (Score: 2) by stormwyrm on Wednesday October 11 2017, @10:31PM

      by stormwyrm (717) on Wednesday October 11 2017, @10:31PM (#580826) Journal

      Sheesh, major typo. Last sentence of first paragraph should read: "Yeah, I have to admit I also did wind up imagining Cobb Anderson and Sta-Hi Mooney in the first book as something like Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Vince Gilligan or someone else deeply involved in Breaking Bad had at some point read these books."

      Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate.
  • (Score: 1) by daver!west!fmc on Thursday October 12 2017, @12:28AM

    by daver!west!fmc (1391) on Thursday October 12 2017, @12:28AM (#580871)

    If Rudy Rucker's sort of cringeworthy, heteronormative sex scenes amused, you may also want to try his "The Sex Sphere".