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Rudy Rucker
Avon Books, 288 pages

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A review by John O'Neill (continued)
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On its own imipolex is amazing stuff, with a dazzling litany of uses. When augmented with sophisticated software called DIMs (for Designer Imipolex) it can become smart tires, talkative toys, and -- most frequently, it seems -- a gagging array of talented sex toys. But it's when doped with chipmold, the strange organic multi-processor first encountered in Wetware, that imipolex truly becomes magical. The amazing imipolex-3 is the very flesh and blood of moldies. And this kind of dynamic ligature leaves moldies rather capable in the Mighty Morphin department, as we're told in our first description of Monique:

Monique was shaped more or less like a chessman with arms, like a pawn or a queen or a knight. The exact appearance of her humanoid head and arms was something she could tweak...In [her] alternate "pelican" mode, Monique became a set of great flapping wings attached to a tapered big-eyed body... Monique's tissues had at least three other basic attractor modes as well: the spread-out "puddle" shape she used for soaking up sun, the seagoing "shark" shape, and the rarely used "rocket" shape that moldies could use to fly back and forth between the Earth and the Moon.

Ooooh-kay. Since roughly half the characters in the books are moldies, all this takes a little getting used to, especially since the moldies are continually coming up with creative new shapes and capabilities. Your Medulus Maximus may cramp up at this point.

But before I give the impression that this is a novel (and concept) out of control, let me back up a bit. I said Rucker plays fair, and he does. The character mix, stuzzadelic background story and wavin' premise are laid out squarely for you by the end of Chapter One. No tricks, no gimmicks; it's a helluva thing to get your arms around, yes, but you get to take its measure up front. Rucker constructs his entire Rube Goldberg-inspired stage before your eyes and then asks, politely but firmly, that you trust in its sturdiness. There are points, in fact, where he's jumping up and down on the beams, daring you. I'm here to tell you that, not only are the rewards all they're promised to be and more, the required leap of faith isn't nearly as big as it looks.

For his part, Rucker fulfills his end of the bargain startling well. Chapter by chapter, his characters and the world they inhabit are made real. Locus has called Rucker the "Master of the crazy scenario," and perhaps that's the most concise way to put it. The more outlandish the premise, the more energy he expends to make it plausible. And he doesn't skimp on detail either, especially when it comes to imipolex -- do your homework on Tessellation equations and Hilbert Space (see sidebar), and you'll find Rucker's footing firm. No hand-waving here, either on imipolex, machine intelligence, or the inventive array of perversions introduced by sentient and semi-sentient Silly Putty. And just as you're getting comfortable accepting Rucker's entire outlandish stage as solid hard SF in the grand old tradition, he begins to pull back the curtain to reveal the real surprises.

I do have a few criticisms; or more accurately, parts of the narrative that never completely stopped spinning. For one thing, the drugs. Good Golly, the drugs. There's a mind-wrenching number of them, too many to keep straight, and the eagerness with which most of the main characters -- students and parents, Senators and scientists, human and moldie -- snort, smoke, and otherwise snarf 'em down made me positively queasy. Don't look for any overt message about the inherent safety and wholesome nature of mind-altering substances, though; many of the characters pay for their indulgences, some in surprising ways.

And then there's poor Randy Karl Tucker, the main character and narrative support for the first third of the book, albeit mostly in flashback. He vanishes at the end of Chapter One and never appears again. Or that mathematician's love of romantic math-related adjectives: "The streetlights made gleaming Lissajous patterns on the dragonfly." Keep a differential equations text handy to decode some of the more elusive metaphors. And I'm not sure, but I think there's a rare perversion or fetish that Rucker may have neglected to include. Maybe there weren't enough characters...

Ah, but they're all quibbles. This is the first book in years where I've fallen naturally into the rhythm of the near-future dialogue. People probably won't speak this way in fifty years but damnit, they should. SF has its share of solid theorists, and even a handful of true visionaries. But Rucker is our poet.

Copyright © 1997 by John O'Neill

John O'Neill is the Founder and Managing Editor of the SF Site. He is a recovering biblioholic.


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