madness and love." You'll knock into the three of these in the first
paragraph of Rudy Rucker's 'Mathematicians in Love'. But there's a book
full of them to follow. Working pretty much in the genre he created called
Transreal fiction, Rucker provides readers with a remarkably imaginative,
constantly entertaining and very genial adventure that incorporates lots
of wicked satire. Oh, there are moments of pure silliness as well. But
Rucker's latest novel is something like an 'Alice In Wonderland' for
adults, a romp down the dimensional rabbit hole into edited Earths, obstreperous
aliens and personable deities. Yes, god's just around the corner, and
she's nice but not necessarily happy.
Bela, who narrates the novel in the first person (this is an important
aspect of Rucker's transrealism) is a mathematician at Humelocke University,
a sort of alternate version of Berkeley. He and his roommate Paul are
trying to pump out their graduate theses; Bela, more of an intuitive,
artistic type is working on something called the "Morphic Classification
Theorem", while Paul, the more methodical of the two has finished
his and is looking for a job. Their advisor, Roland Haut, is something
of a crank. But between the three of them, they've stumbled onto that
fabled mathematical building block of the universe. In short order, they're
altering the fabric of reality, seeing aliens and competing for the same
girl. Things can only get weirder.
Rucker's strengths as a creator of character help carry the reader from
our world into many weirder worlds. Bela, Paul and the whole milieu of "Humelocke" (the
British empiricists will not be denied even in an alternate reality)
are grounded in everyday worries and woes. Bela operates on hunches,
on intuitions and guesses. Bela's voice carries the story easily. His
decisions make sense, even as the world grows progressively weirder.
He's a bit off kilter, but reads like someone you might know. He's that
hyper-intelligent, goofy dreamer you probably knew who tended to fade
into the background. As such, he makes a perfect background for the novel
as he asserts himself and literally takes control of his world. Paul,
his foil, is more ruthless, more methodical, more "normal".
He's much less of a nice guy, but as a character, in particular a grad
student mathematician, he really rings true. It's Bela who earns the
affections of Alma, who moves in with the two of them only to find herself
more attracted to the feet-on-the-ground, job-in-his-pocket Paul. Thus
is a love triangle formed, then complicated by Cammy, the bass playing
singer in Bela's band. Rucker's wild weirdness is nicely grounded by
a quartet of characters who seem as if they might just have walked in
from the quad.
Rucker's language is transparent and easy-to-read, even when he's tossing
around some pretty complex mathematical ideas. But what makes 'Mathematicians
in Love' such a joy to read is his ability to seem friendly and kind
but really, really smart. He has a goofy sense of humor that makes you
think, makes you laugh and makes you smile. He even gets off some seriously
scathing satiric jabs at the expense of politicians without seeming heavy-handed
or cruel, even when he is being rather cruel. Reading 'Mathematicians
in Love' is like having a conversation with your smart, interesting friend.
Time flies and you have fun. And even though you're a lot smarter afterwards,
you don’t feel like you attended a lecture. It's more like being
enraptured by a compelling documentary.
Of course, no documentary covers the wild and weird worlds of Rudy Rucker.
Bela and Paul start out at Humelocke, but soon find themselves in bubble
worlds populated by some pretty crazy aliens – crazy in all senses
of the word. That Rucker can transition pretty smoothly from the realistically
rendered grad school setting into surreal vistas of talking, flying squids
(look out Margaret Atwood!) is a testament to his ability to generate
a true sense of wonder and not really a suspension, more like an annihilation
of disbelief. His math quickly transcends to magic while the very real
and the unreal become one. Carrying us forward is Bela's struggle to
figure out which girl is the right girl and to discover or create a decent
world to live in.
'Mathematicians in Love' provides readers with the full range of ideas,
emotions and plot arcs that one can find in a novel. Love, terror, the
mundane and the surreal strut their stuff and make some pretty trenchant
points about the mess we find ourselves in the here and now. It's a very
clever and well-wrought journey from someplace very much like the now,
through places so surreal they almost defy description to the now. OK,
so Margaret Atwood is probably not going to be down with this novel on
account of the talking, flying squid. That's her loss in this world.
What if this is the most perfect of all possible worlds, only we're so
oblivious to the wonder that we just don’t get it? That a loss
we need not endure if we read Rucker and take to heart his peculiar visions
of joy, strangeness and charm.