Rudy Rucker is something of an acquired taste. You must drop your literary expectations at the door, freely accept whatever hallucinogenic prose he offers, and let the novel carry you on a strange, carnivalesque ride until it chooses to let you off. You’ll be more than a little dizzy by the end of it, but you won’t be disappointed.
Rucker’s wildly imaginative fiction is scatterbrained, charged with excitement, and unconcerned with traditional novelistic convention. But he isn’t a cheap thrill—you’ll come away from Hylozoic with a sense of genuine wonder and amusement about higher-dimensional mathematics, the conflict between technology and nature, reality-augmented life on the Internet, and the human capacity for change. This is a book filled with enough original (even inspiring) ideas and wit to match its absurdity.
Set soon after the events of Postsingular––where the singularity came, the Internet became conscious, life got a whole lot trippier, the Earth was almost swallowed up (twice!) by nanomachines looking for raw materials to increase their processing power, and the eighth dimension was unfurled, giving everyone and everything in the universe consciousness and the power of telepathy
– Hylozoic explores the implications of a world where everything is alive and the Internet is an outdated phenomenon. Instead of its limited user interfaces and bandwidth limitations, everyone can be in constant communication with each other and the world around them, “teeping” the consciousness of rocks, livers, and the Earth itself to get their opinions on a variety of matters. With the unfurling of the eighth dimension, the computing power of all matter can now be realized, we all have unlimited memory storage (that, thanks to the legacy of nanomachines that brought on the singularity, is easily searchable), and all matter on Earth is interconnected in a profound way.
The first part of the novel functions as a literal and figurative garden of Eden where JayJay and Thuy, newlyweds who saved the world from evil nanonmachines and unfurled the eighth dimension that made this new world possible, try to begin a quiet life in the woods with the construction of a house. Since anyone can “teep” into any part of matter and essentially read minds, we quickly learn there’s no privacy––which most people fortunately adapt to fairly easily. We also hear about the political upheaval resulting from the ability to have real-time direct referenda––political elites are seen as atavistic.
If you’ve read Postsingular, all this will be familiar (though the differences between the orphidnet and the hylozoic world are an integral part of this novel). If you haven’t read Postsingular, you’ll have a little catching up to do with both plot and characters, but Hylozoic can be read on its own.
The joy of reading a Rucker novel is the sense of genuine, frenetic excitement that emerges from a man fascinated by ideas. Rucker’s enthusiasm is infectious. More than many novelists, Rucker lets readers into his internal world without any hesitation––and for clarification on his interest in and definitions of topics like “gnarl,” (the semi-chaotic property of objects that makes life interesting), a little reading of his blog at rudyrucker.com provides some solid background. Though at times it can be a little difficult to follow Rucker, we never lose track of where he’s coming from and what directions he’s heading in. He’s too excited about his brave new world to leave us on the wayside. For all its wild energy, what makes Hylozoic such a wonderful book is its detailed and serious exploration of a new way of living that isn’t inconceivable based on how we live now.
The rest of the novel is much more plot-driven. Aliens make contact with Earth once they notice we’ve unfurled our eighth dimension. JayJay and Thuy, along with the cast of Postsingular (including a brilliant but autistic 14-year-old, the spirit of the Earth Gaia, and an old buddy from another dimensional plane) as well as some newcomers like a talking pitchfork and a parallel universe’s version of Hieronymous Bosch, must save the day. Their adventures lead to personal conflicts with Internet-hive-mind addiction, needs for a sense of purpose, and some of the less palatable aspects of a Hylozoic world. The pacing is a little wild and uneven, but again, it’s what you sign up for with a Rucker novel.
Patience is rewarded with broad-reaching and fascinating themes. A clever portrayal of human nature emerges in this novel: if everything is alive and conscious in this world, what makes humans special? Rucker has an answer, and it’s not necessarily what you think; his view is wise and humane, unafraid to keep our humanity at the center of this vastly different universe. The lacuna between nature and technology––one we must narrow if we hope to survive as a civilization with limited and fast-diminishing resources––is addressed here and may inspire readers to look at their natural world in a whole new way.
Suspend your disbelief and let Rucker take you on a trip to higher dimensions and quantum realms; rarely is serious and ambitious sci-fi also this fun.