The Big Aha

The Big Aha, by Rudy Rucker

Rudy Rucker‘s last novel, The Big Aha, is pure transreal Ruckeriana with super bio and quantum technologies, steamy technosex, nasty aliens from higher dimensions, and much more, soaked in the unique atmosphere of the magic 60s.

“Regarding the origins of The Big Aha, one of my basic inspirations was that I’ve always felt like the psychedelic revolution of the late Sixties and early Seventies didn’t last long enough,” says Rudy in the Afterword. “I wanted to revive that time’s spirit in the context of an SF novel set in the not too distant future. My stylistic model was William J. Craddock’s little-known novel of the Sixties, Be Not Content. The book features deeply funny interactions among the early acidheads of the San Francisco Bay area.”

If you enjoyed Rudy’s previous novels, you want to read The Big Aha. I loved the book before purchasing it because: 1) I love everything that Rudy writes, and:

2) The full text is available online (see also Notes for The Big Aha, a writing journal as entertaining as the novel);
3) It is published and sold, without DRM, by Rudy’s own publisher Transreal Books;
4) Instead of going to a traditional publisher for a cash advance, Rudy funded the writing phase via Kickstarter (I am sorry that I missed it, I would have loved to contribute).

This is an example of how science fiction publishing is being redefined. If you want to be part of it, you should BUY the $8.95 Special Discount Offer! (The Big Aha and Notes for The Big Aha package. Contains both titles in both Kindle & EPUB formats, direct from Transreal Books, every chapter illustrated by original art). We should support independent authors who write great science fiction and sell it directly to readers in open ebook formats without DRM crap, at a reasonable price.

More than ten years ago I interviewed Rudy on life, the universe and everything, and the (then) small ebook publishing world, and it is very interesting to note how his thoughts have evolved since then. Rudy’s website has many articles about DIY ebook publishing, start with “How to Make Ebooks #1. Getting Started.”

In the second half of this century, everything is done with biotechnology. Nurbs, genetically engineered life forms derived from animals or plants, do almost everything that we do with machines. So you can have a nurb roadspider instead of a car, but your vehicle could decide to eat you if you forget to feed it. Swarms of gnats make high resolution cameras, giant slugs clean the house, and full houses grow on nurb trees. Computer displays and wristphones are also nurbs, made of genetically tweaked squidskin. This looks very much like the year 3000 biotech heaven in Rucker’s Frek and the Elixir, but The Big Aha is set in the near future, only a few decades from now, so you feel some continuity with today’s world (see Chapter 2: The Coming of the Nurbs).

Nurb technology is proprietary and developers are supposed to use the development toolkit sold by the company United Mutations, but most nurbs have a web interface that opens their tweaked DNA to hackers. Of course hackers are much smarter than 9-to-5 workers (perhaps because of that sooo 60s getting high with life?), and they create really amazing nurbtech. Zad, the main character, is a nurb artist with a good reputation, and owns the “Live Art” store.

The story, or the part of the story in our world, is set in Louisville, Kentucky, Rudy’s hometown, a place where nothing ever happens. But momentous things happen in this fictional Louisville, thanks to Gaven Graber, once a teen nerd, now back in Louisville with cash and wild plans. He founds the company Slygro to steal the tech revolution from United Mutations, and hires Zad and many of their former school friends.

Nurbs qwet and teep, and so should you!

Slygro’s nurbs, starting with the prototype rat Skungy (a talking rat with uploaded human personality!) have something called quantum wetware, or qwet.

“Well — wetware is, like, your body’s chemistry. The genes and the hormones and the brain cell goo. You’re a wet computer… Qwet means quantum wetware, you wave? It makes you high, it gives you telepathy, it helps you use cosmic logic to find biomod designs without a computer, and it lets you install your mods onto programmable nurbs just by thinking at them.”

Qwet is used also as a verb to indicate all the things that you can do if you have qwet. For example you can abandon the pedestrian “robotic mode” and enter the higher “cosmic mode” where you are One with all quantum things. You can reprogram nurbs with your mind and mind-meld, or “teep,” with outer people with qwet.

The catch is that qwet teep is only good for cosmically loose mind fusion, you must still use your old fashioned genetically engineered nurb squidskin wristphone for factual down-to earth communication:

“Nick [Nick Herbert, the author of really excellent science book Quantum Reality] has a lifelong dream of finding direct ways to experience the paradoxical nature of quantum reality. Nick terms this a quest for quantum tantra . He suggests that one step along this path might be to look into your own mind and to notice that quantum and classical processes are both at work. I ran with this idea, and my Big Aha characters talk about being in the cosmic versus the robotic mode… I put a kink into my qwet teep by hewing to Nick Herbert’s scientific dictum that, logically speaking, people must forget whatever they learn via telepathy. Otherwise they might be exchanging information faster than light!”

That’s because teep communications via qwet have something to do with quantum entanglement, the “spooky action at a distance” that so puzzled Einstein. But Bell and other physicists have shown that entanglement is real: there are faster than light correlations between entangled particles, and these faster than light correlations can be confirmed in the lab. But Einstein’s special relativity and many parts of modern physics would collapse if the instantaneous correlations between entangled particles could be used to send signals, actionable information. Rudy’s trick (you remember the feelings but forget the facts) is a neat solution. In general, a no-communication theorem states that using spooky entangled correlations to send signals is impossible. Not everyone agrees though.

Skungy’s template Joey, a nurb artist much weirder than the relatively conservative Zad, discovers that one can give qwet to others by just sending “a thought pattern like a loop of ribbon with a quantum twist” to them. It turns out that everyone has glints of qwet, which can be unlocked by Joey’s pattern. After the discovery, qwet spreads like wildfire and soon the whole world will be qwet.

But someone is watching!

After a huge wild “Sex, Nurbs, Qwet&Teep!” enhanced sex party, things begin to get really weird.

Gubs, myoors and wormholes from the Nth dimension

Gubs are incredibly powerful extra-dimensional beings, very nearly at the level of Gods, from the Nth or some other dimension. If you want to know what a gub looks like, see the painting in Chapter 12, but beware that gubs can change size and appearance. A green she-gub created our universe and the parallel universe Fairyland (it seems that creating two universes is simpler than creating one). Fairyland, inhabited by fairies, gnomes, talking worms and even weirder creatures, can be reached by direct extra-dimensional wormhole connections.

Now the green gub wants to have babies, who will create some new universe when they grow up, so she plants a womb in Fairyland. The Goddess’ womb, a myoor (imagine a huge flat gelatinous mollusk several miles wide) uses inter-dimensional wormholes inside her body to suck people up from Louisville on Earth! Imagine gaping mouths that open in the air and swallow people into a parallel universe. The Green Gub Goddess needs to find two special people to use as templates for her eggs, but she can only capture people in cosmic mode, so perhaps the qwet thing was a trick of the Gods.

Two suitors, a spotted gub (a basically nice Godlike guy) and a dark gub (a villain God worshiped by the hordes of evil gnomes in Fairyland), compete for the favors of the green gub. Who will father the Gods of the next cosmos? Will our heroes be able to stop the myoor from swallowing people up in unseen dimensions? You will find out if you read the book until the end. You will also find out what the Big Aha is, but you already know that.

The Big Aha (io9)

UPDATE – This review has been republished on io9 as “Rudy Rucker’s The Big Aha is a psychedelic futurist’s dream come true“.