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Catalog Notes for the Secession by Rudy Rucker

I was feeling a little off kilter in mid-July, 2008—because I’d had a cerebral hemorrhage on the first of the month. Slowly I was starting to feel like myself again. Off and on I had this sense of rebooting—like looking at the brake light on my car, I’d be like, “Ah, yes, the brake light. An electrical filament illuminating a hard plastic lens.”

All the little niggling objects were still there, all wanting their attention share. The radio remote control, the knitting basket, the glasses cases, my three pairs of glasses, my hair, my clothes, the pillow, the lamps, the food in the fridge. It’s like the world is this array of male and female snaps, and I’m a plastic sheet of female and male snaps that need to be matched up with the reality array. The lights flow through me, and my piezoplastic body wriggles.

***

To get back into writing, I did some half-hearted work on a catalog essay for Ralo Mayer, a thirtyish European artist having a show in one room of the famous Secession Museum in Vienna. He emailed me out of the blue and said the museum would pay me to write a short piece, so I was, like, why not?

I warned Ralo that I didn’t know much about his work, and I that I’d be making up something surreal and random, just riffing off the few images, objects and links that he’d sent me—he’d sent, like, a picture of him on the street, and a tiny book the size of a thumb. In some of his work he used the acronymic female pseudonym, Roni Layerson. I stipulated that I didn’t want to have to revise my piece after I was done. He said fine, wonderful, that’s cool, let it come down.

And then I sent him a draft of what I was going to write. It’s in the form of autobiographical note, albeit unreliable and inaccurate. I like the notion of deceptive autobio material, although I don’t particularly like the idea of trying to slant the material in any kind of self-aggrandizing or generic direction. Pointless, unexpected, random lies are better, as they’re more likely to be able to manifest deep states of consciousness.

Ralo replied to my draft with a note of stern disapproval, strict and angry. I decided to go ahead and write it my way anyway. I’m thinking, he wanted some weird prose from an avant-garde writer, and that’s what he’s getting, okay? Here we go.

***

Roni Layerson (a.k.a. Ralo Mayer) sent me a photo of herself and her collaborator krõõt, near “Rucker Lane” in Vienna, holding two of my books, Seek and Freeware. I recognized Roni of course, as I already met her in August, 2006, when I saw my transreal play As Above So Below produced in Forth Worth, Texas.

That play dramatizes an encounter that I had with a higher-dimensional manifestation of the Mandelbrot Set fractal, who came to me in the form of a womanly entity called “Mamma Mathematica,” or simply “Ma.”

The production was great, with beautiful dancing—Ma had dancers attached to her by ribbons, serving as small, satellite fractals—just as Roni Layerson is wreathed by her satellite identities and works of art.

Roni approached me after the show and said, “Hi, I’m in your play. I’m a fractal.”

She’d orbited in from Austria to visit the Biosphere and to dance in my show. She gave me a copy of her tiny Phil-Dickian book, Multiplex Fiction: How to Do Things With Worlds, 1.

I had a strange feeling of mirroring when I talked to her, as if a hologram recording had come to life. Like me, Roni had heavy stubble; unlike me, she wore pancake makeup.

Being in Fort Worth as a visiting star artist felt like inhabiting an entry in Andy Warhol’s Diaries, which was my favorite bed-time reading in those days. One thing that struck me about the Texas locals was how many of them were dressed like cows—that is, they were wearing white clothes with cloud-shaped black patches on them.

Roni suggested that the black cow-patches were in fact designed to mirror the panel-patterns of the Biosphere 2 dome. “The pattern of the shadows of the space-frame of Biosphere 2, are in fact a non-repeating space-filling Penrose tiling,” she pointed out.

No less a cultural light than Ivan Stang, the High Scribe of the Church of the SubGenius, was present at the Forth Worth show, right at Roni’s side. It was wonderful to have Stang there in his long hair and rough face with a gap between his front teeth, leaning maniacally forward, grinning at the lines. And even more wonderful to have Roni beside him.

After the show we all went to some local art patrons’ house for dinner. Stang began intoning a Southern preacher routine: “Sun Young Moon, L. Ron Hubbard, and me were talking things over the other day. Sun Young talked about having done 110 Short Duration Marriages, with some lonely people having married Sun Young himself. I’ve done that. But, if a ShortDurMar is not consummated in 24 hours it is a grievous affront to ‘Bob.’”

“So do you consummate all your marriages personally?” Roni asked Stang. “I’m interested because I’ve been calculating the number of possible sex acts that may have been performed inside the Biosphere 2.”

“I don’t practice what I preach,” replied Stang. “I’m a counter-Puritan. I tell people to have sex, and then I don’t.”

The beautiful “Ma” soprano, Fiorella Tirenzi, was at the dinner with her stage-wig on. She had enormous breasts with décolletage and a tight line where the mounds touched each other. Her leather blouse was open at the bottom, you could see her navel. Roni spoke Italian with her, and they shared some makeup, marking a tessellation of odd polytopes onto Roni’s bristly cheeks.

And then Roni turned back to me, “Come outside and let me show you something, Rudy. Science-fiction magic.”

We made our way into the villa’s garden, and Roni fetched a container of liquid charcoal lighter fluid. With quick, efficient motions, she sketched the skeleton of a hypercube onto the lush lawn and set it alight. “Nobody has to invent the time machine, you understand,” she said. “This is a preconstruction. What I do these days is to imitate myself.”

“But does the pattern work?” I asked. “As a time machine?”

“It transmits mass through time and space, yes,” said Roni. “Come, I’ll take you to Vienna, 2008.” And it was none too soon, as our hosts were howling with anger over their charred lawn.

Roni and I flupped and shlupped, end over end through N-space, our ears filled with Yugoslav chants. And we touched down beside the Secession Museum in Vienna.

“Every aspect of this civic building was designed by me,” said Roni. “Preconstructed according to Metamartian edicts. It all follows logically from the architecture of Biosphere 2, the hermetic crystal palace of the Arizona desert, the Hall of the Martian Kings.”

“Even the dome?” I inquired.

“Ah, those golden shapes are another Penrose tiling,” said Roni, pulling off her shirt to reveal an intricate tattoo on a lean belly. “My skin has preconstructed the Secession building into the past. I am, you see, an alien mollusk. A living blueprint.” Her tongue flickered, the tip rapid and forked. “Would you like to go inside?”

“The building’s not locked?”

“No matter, never mind.” Roni made a fluid gesture, her fingers trailing like cuttlefish tentacles. And the negative spaces around the building became four-dimensional black blocks that annihilated all distinctions between without and within.

We passed through humming icon-filled rooms to Roni’s exhibit, a low, dim space with a rumpled bed and a running refrigerator. A video machine was present as well, mounds of tiny books—and a cactus the size of a bicycle.

Poking around, I found a honey jar filled with moldy mushrooms in the fridge. I suppose I ate them, for the next thing I knew I was back in California—but with Roni’s book, Multiplex Fiction in my hand, me tripping my brains out.

I read this little book daily, at every hour, wandering my monastic halls like a beadle with his breviary, musing upon Roni’s lucidities and obscurations. It’s as if the entire corpus of human art and philosophy has been compressed into this tiny paper pad, which is very nearly small enough to eat. From time to time I gnaw off a page and eat it, spicing it with a fine brown mustard.

I would say that Roni makes me smarter all the time, or perhaps it’s science fiction that does the job. Science fiction is a blue-collar philosophy of science, a tradesman’s hammer for nailing the spikes of daily wonder. If UFOs aren’t real, how can God exist? If there are no higher dimensions, how can time pass? If there were no antigravity, how could the planets dance?

I’ve learned from Roni to create some mental add-on software that I call a Perplexing Poultry philtre. It’s a totally bizarre lift. If you fire up Perplexing Poultry within a bio-RAM spike attached to your spine, all the things around you seem to deform into linkages of odd-shaped birds with weird multisymmetrical ways of pecking into each other. You yourself become a wave of perplexity in the Poultry sea.

Philtres are cutting-edge in terms of image manipulation. Rather than being a static video or text, a philtre is a system of interpretation. The technology evolved from a recreational device called a twist-box that was popular in the early twenty-first century.

Twist-boxes were initially marketed as a drug-free method of consciousness alteration, as “a pure software high.” The twist-box used a simple Stakhanovite three-variable chaotic feedback loop, rather than a teleologically designed process as is characteristic of the new-style Perplexing Poultry philtre, which is really meant as an enhancement to drugs rather than as a replacement for them.

The higher meaning of the Perplexing Poultry or Penrose Polyhedra is as an encryption form for transmitting alien life forms. When you absorb one of these messages, it sets you to shivering, with vibrations deep within you crisscrossing and spewing cascades of phonons into the live net of your quasicrystalline structure.

The structure spontaneously deforms as if you are turning a dial on an Escher-tessellation program, and you slide-whistle your way up the scale through the dimensions, 4D 5D 6D, passing through each one each twice as fast, and getting — it feels that way to you, at least — all the way to infinite dimensionality in a second. And then the sequence starts right up again.

Whoooop. Whoooop. Whoooop. Whooop. Your body is like a scanner going over and over infinitely many channels, and you’re trolling for aliens.

“Ring, ring.”

“Hello, this is Roni — Whooop whooop whoop whooop —”

“What’s the matter, Roni?”

“Whoop whoop whoop whoop whoop whoop fzzt crackle gonnnnng — Hello, I am Quuz from the Sun.”

“Aw, Roni, why you gotta lay such a weird frikkin’ trip on me; us floatin here in outer space halfway to the Moon … “

Clicking and chuckling, I collapse into the subdimensions, following my mentor, Roni Layerson, the two of us folding up like portable drinking cups that disappear into the subdimensions.

***

After I sent Ralo this final version, I never heard from him again. The Secession Museum director write me that regrettably they couldn’t use my contribution. But they paid me anway.

I turned my attention to a diffent obsession, that of writing a memoir called Nested Scrolls. But why? What would I get out of it? Self-knowledge. Bragging pleasure. Self-guidance. Publicity.

I’m working on these notes in the Los Gatos Coffee Roasting cafe. The guy at the next table has an ascetically shaved head, and he’s eating an abstemious salad of greens and goat cheese. Thoroughly, carefully, he chews a single wafer-thin slice of tomato. What a loser.

It’s foggy every day in San Francisco this July, my wife reports, studying the paper.

A young woman at another table shakes her head, smiling. No health problems for her. I used to feel that way: potentially immortal. But these days I’m starting to feel like a doddering old man, just a heartbeat away from being cut down in my prime.


Rudy Rucker is a writer and a mathematician who worked for twenty years as a Silicon Valley computer science professor. He is regarded as contemporary master of science-fiction, and received the Philip K. Dick award twice. His thirty published books include both novels and non-fiction books. His most recent pair of novels depict a near-future Earth in which every object becomes conscious. The first, Postsingular, appeared from Tor Books in Fall, 2007, and is also available for free download on the web. The second, Hylozoic, will appear from Tor in May, 2009. Rucker also edits an SF webzine called Flurb at www.flurb.net. See his website for more info: www.rudyrucker.co