Mad Professor: The Uncollected Short Stories of Rudy Rucker
by Rudy Rucker
Cover Artist: Georgia Rucker
Review by Ernest Lilley
Thunder's Mouth Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 1560259744
Date: 30 November 2006 List Price $15.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Five of the thirteen stories in Mad Professor were written with collaborators, and all are delightful trips through the barely imaginable reaches of Rudy Rucker's mind. Reading this collection will leave you cheerfully unhinged, which is to say a step closer to whatever plane of existence the author lives on normally. Reading Rucker is the best way I know of to help one appreciate how interesting, unpredictable, fun, and yes...gnarly the world is.
Not since I read Heinlein's "The Man Who Built a Crooked House" have I enjoyed a short story with a mathematical premise as much as the bakers dozen of tall tales collected in Mad Professor. Which is in no way to say that you have to "get' mathematics to dig Rucker. His writing is just plain fun, and if under it all lurks some weird insight into number theory...well, that's not our problem...dig?
If you've a shred of geekiness in you and haven't read the mind altering short fiction of this "contrary, unpredictable, and idiosyncratic" professor of mathematics you're in for a treat. This collection of previously uncollected short stories are full of tales of life in the tech world of the west coast, overlain with the quantum foam rolling in over them like the SF fog. I was having a bad day (a pox on both my houses) when Mad Professor showed up at my door, where it's not supposed to be anyway, and only reading these delightful little tales, some written with other well known folks; Bruce Sterling, Terry Bisson, and Paul Di Filippo saved me from a spiral into darkness. Rucker clearly believes in several important possibilities. That the universe can be quirky but comprehensible ("gnarly"), that exploring it through the only vehicle we have, our lives, is a grand adventure, and fun is where we find it. Between these covers being a fine place to start.
There are four qualities that imbue his stories, says Rudy Rucker, rebel math professor, science fiction author and general hacker of the stuff the universe is made of. Thought experiments, Power chords, Gnarliness, and Wit. Some of us know these muses by other names, but yes, we're familiar with the balance between exploring ideas, writing to archetype, showing off our pet theories, and entertaining ourselves...and hopefully the reader.
If an author or editor puts together a short story collection without a few words of introduction before each story, I feel a bit cheated. I suppose I shouldn't, because the story is the thing, and they shouldn't need commentary...but it's a personal touch and I like it. I thought that Rucker had left this bit off until I got to the end of the collection and found a wonderful collection of notes on the stories, complete with anecdotes about working with other authors which were mini stories in themselves.
While I realize that I haven't said anything about the stories themselves, for which I apologize, I'd much rather that you found out first hand anyway. Whether the point of the story is to convince you that 2+2 does indeed equal five, or what a world where Hieronymus Bosch hadn't scared the bejeeses out of a few hundred years of folks might be like, or the wonderful collection of ministories in "Six Thought Experiments Concerning the Nature of Computation"...of which my favorite is "Aint Paint" or that an obsessive blog about President Bush's daughter Jenna might be handy if her brain got scrubbed...well, no matter which one you pick they're all fun, mind bending, and infinitely clever.
Here's an experiment. Go read and enjoy the collection. Then see how seriously you can take life, the universe and everything. I'm betting that it will be more than a bit less than before.