Monday, August 30, 2010

Philip K. Dick & Rudy Rucker's Warez

I've been reading Philip K. Dick's stories and novels ever since I learned to read and think at the same time. Seriously, I've been reading (and collecting) PKD's work for many years. On my bookshelves, I have all of his more esoteric "mainstream" novels, including Confessions of a Crap Artist (Entwhistle Books, 1975), The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike (Mark V. Ziesing, 1984), In Milton Lumpky Territory (Dragon Press, 1985), Puttering About in a Small Land (Academy Chicago, 1985), Humpty Dumpty in Oakland (Victor Gollancz, 1986), as well as a few others, in addition to the 5-volume Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, edited by Paul Williams1 and published by Underwood-Miller in 1987.

I was a member of the PKD Society beginning in the mid-1980s, and as I wrote in a previous blog post, I used to help out at the newsletter mailing parties at Paul Williams' San Francisco home. And it was this involvement with PKD and the PKD Society that led me to attend my first Armadillocon in Austin, Texas: Armadillocon 10 in October 1988. K. W. Jeter was the Guest of Honor, and when I learned that James P. Blaylock and Tim Powers were also scheduled to attend -- all three former members of the "Thursday Night Gang"2 -- then I knew this was one convention that I simply could not miss.

During that convention, Jeter, Blaylock, and Powers held a panel discussion entitled "Memories of Philip K. Dick;" the panel met at midnight, but I don't recall on which night, Friday or Saturday. I recorded the entire discussion on a mini-cassette recorder, obtained the three panelists' permission to reprint the content in the PKD Society's newsletter, and then sent the tapes to Paul. He transcribed the tapes himself, and the highly edited panel discussion3 was included in issue #20 of the newsletter, April 1989, under the title "The Phil Wars."

My interest in PKD -- book collecting, reading, the Society -- carried over to pretty much anything that was PKD related. Which brings me to the Philip K. Dick Award.

Even early in his career, PKD was hugely popular in Europe, where his novels were all published in hardcover. In fact, in 1977, Phil was Guest of Honor at a large science fiction convention in Metz, France. Unfortunately, he hadn't yet attained the same level of popularity and respect here in the good ole United States. All of his early novels were published in paperback -- most by Ace Books, and many of those as Ace Doubles backed by another author of more or less notoriety (John Brunner, Margaret St. Clair, E. C. Tubb, Andrew North [aka Andre Norton]).

Author Thomas M. Disch, during his Guest of Honor speech at Norwescon in March 1982, shortly after PKD's death, proposed the Philip K. Dick Award. The purpose of the award is to acknowledge that, in the science fiction field, some of the finest books are published as paperback originals. I was unable to find any history on the award's homepage, so I pulled this additional information from the Wikipedia entry (which also lists the award nominees and award winners for each year beginning in 1982): The PKD Award was founded in 1982 by Thomas M. Disch, with assistance from David G. Hartwell and Gordon Van Gelder, and sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, and, since 2005, supported by the Philip K. Dick Trust.

Given my affinity at the time for anything and everything PKD, I figured that if a paperback won the PKD Award, then it was worthy of being collected and read. Rudy Rucker's Software (Ace Books, 1982) was the first title to win the Philip K. Dick Award, presented in 1983. If any of these words sound familiar to you -- boppers (intelligent robots with free will), meaties (that's all the rest of us), and moldies (synthetic/organic hybrids) -- then look no further than Rucker's novel.

I first met Rudy Rucker in the mid-1980s, when he worked as an Associate Professor of Mathematics at San Jose State University. I would visit him occasionally on campus during his office hours; we'd chat for a bit, Rudy would talk about his writing projects, and I would inevitably have a book or two for him to sign. When Rudy was selected to be one of the judges for the 1988 PKD Award (for books published in 1987), I realized I wanted to do more than just visit with Rudy: it was time for an interview. I contacted Gary Lovisi, editor and publisher of Paperback Parade, a 'zine to which I subscribed at the time, to see if he would be interested in an article on Philip K. Dick and the PKD Award, including a mini-interview with current award judge Rudy Rucker -- and Lovisi gave me the go-ahead.4

I wrote some introductory biographical material on Dick himself. All I had to work with at the time (first half of 1988) was the PKD Society newsletter and Paul Williams' biography Only Apparently Real - The World of Philip K. Dick (Entwhistle Books, 1986). The other two well-known PKD biographies -- Gregg Rickman's To the High Castle: Philip K. Dick: A Life 1928-1962 (Fragments West) and Lawrence Sutin's Divine Invasion: A Life of Philip K. Dick (Citadel Press) -- would not be published until 1989.

So once I put together my very abbreviated biography of PKD (about a half-dozen or so paragraphs), I sent the text to Paul Williams for his review; I wanted to ensure I had all the facts correct. I then made arrangements to meet with Rudy Rucker for the interview that would accompany this article.  I met with Rudy on May 23, 1988, in his office on the San Jose State campus, about a half-hour before he was to administer a final exam to his students -- and three days before the presentation of the 1988 Philip K. Dick Award.

I'll sum up the interview with just a few responses from Rudy. When I asked him about the current crop of nominees, he said: "The young writers of today have grown up with 'Cyberpunk,' so they look at it as something 'old' people write about. Characterization is more interesting, too." He went on to state that "In the spirit of PKD, I would have liked to see Robert Sheckley get the award, but Victim Prime [Signet Books] just wasn't a strong enough book and I wouldn't have been able to influence the other judges." [Note: Sheckley's novel, though eligible, was not one of the award nominees that year.] When I asked how he was selected as one of the 1988 judges for the award, he responded: "Well, each year the current judges select their successors. Last year, Lewis Shiner was one of the judges and since we're good friends, he picked me, and I've chosen Charles Platt [for next year]."

Three days later at Norwescon, the PKD Award was presented to Patricia Geary for her novel Strange Toys (Bantam Spectra); the "Special Award" (Runner-up) was presented to Mike McQuay for Memories (also Bantam Spectra).

My article entitled "Philip K. Dick and the PKD Memorial Award" appeared in issue number 11 of Paperback Parade, dated February 1989. Under normal circumstances I would have scanned in the article as images and posted them here, but... One has to keep in mind that in 1988 there was no internet or email as we know it today; no transferring of files. I sent a hardcopy of my article to Gary Lovisi, which he then had to re-key in whatever word processor he was using at the time.  When my comp copies of issue 11 arrived, I was aghast at the number of typos that littered the article.  My name as the interviewer was misspelled; it was "I" who was giving the final exam not "he" [Rudy Rucker]. I had also provided addresses for the PKD Society and for Galactic Central Publications (which had for sale an inexpensive yet complete PKD bibliography) -- and both addresses were incorrect. I was so embarrassed that I didn't even want to meet with Rudy again to present him with his copy of the 'zine. Publisher Gary Lovisi printed an apology in issue number 12, along with the two corrected addresses, but, you know, it's just not the same.  Eventually I did meet up again with Rudy to present him with his copy, along with an explanation for all the typos. At least as far as I could tell, he didn't seem to mind.

In addition to the PKD mini bio, the Rucker interview, and a list of the award winners through 1988, I also included a number of notes detailing how the PKD Award was directly linked in so many ways to PKD himself; with your indulgence, I include most of them here:

  • It was indeed most appropriate that Ace Books, the only publisher to buy Dick's books for the first four years of his professional career, should be the publisher of the first five PKD Award winners.
  • Ray Faraday Nelson, the 1983 runner-up [The Prometheus Man], co-authored The Ganymede Takeover (Ace Books) with Phil Dick in 1967.
  • Long-time PKD friend and two-time Award winner, Tim Powers [The Anubis Gates (1984) and Dinner at Deviant's Palace (1986)], was with Phil the night of his fatal stroke. The Del Rey Bladerunner edition of PKD's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? bears the dedication "To Tim and Serena Powers, my dearest friends."
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, the 1985 runner-up [The Wild Shore], wrote his doctoral dissertation on Phil Dick. Entitled The Novels of Philip K. Dick, it was published in hardcover in 1984 by UMI Research.
  • James P. Blaylock [Homunculus, 1987 award winner], Tim Powers, and Phil Dick were all members of a writer's group which met at Tim's house in Orange County, California, on Thursday nights. Dinner at Deviant's Palace is dedicated "To The Thursday Night Gang" and lists all the members.

The very next year, Rudy Rucker's second book in the "Ware" series -- Wetware (Avon Books) -- won the PKD Award, in a tie with Paul J. McAuley's Four Hundred Billion Stars (Del Rey). Since then, Rucker has gone on to write, and publish, the final two titles in what has now become known as the Ware Tetralogy: Freeware (Avon Books, 1997) and Realware (HarperCollins EOS, 2000).

The Original Ware Tetralogy

Rudy has since retired from San Jose State University; he continues writing, of course, and he has launched a free online webzine, Flurb, in which he publishes his own short stories as well as those of others, including such noteworthy contributors as Terry Bisson, Paul Di Filippo, Cory Doctorow, John Kessel, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Charles Stross. In addition to his writing, Rudy spends much of his time painting, and earlier this year (April-May) he had a showing of his art in San Francisco. Rudy has posted a video on his blog of his art show, taken a couple hours before the show's opening.

Backing up a bit, though... In early July 2007, I had emailed Rudy about an idea I had for a co-edited anthology, and he was gracious enough to invite me to his home for lunch, to talk about the project and to catch up on what we'd been doing. Rudy lives in a spacious house in the Los Gatos hills. After I arrived, Rudy gave me a mini-tour, many of the walls of his home adorned with his paintings. We had lunch (Rudy made sandwiches) outside on the deck, which seemed to surround nearly the entire house; we chatted about a number of things, including the possible project (which, sadly, never came to pass), as we enjoyed our lunch, all the while the summer breezes passing through the trees that covered the hillside. When I left a few hours later, I was loaded down with a passel of books -- copies of Rudy's latest titles, new and reprints. Rudy and I still see one another on occasion, most recently at the 2009 World Fantasy Convention in San Jose.

WareTetralogy Thankfully, The Ware Tetralogy has since been published in an omnibus trade paperback edition from Prime Books (June 2010), with a new introduction by William Gibson. And -- did I mention that Rudy was both gracious and generous? -- for a limited time, he has made The Ware Tetralogy available as a free download in a PDF format as well as RTF (for those who want to try their hand at converting the file to another ebook format). So you can now purchase the omnibus trade paperback and/or download the free ebook and read about the boppers, meaties, and moldies, and learn what it means to merge, and to create a love puddle! Only Rudy could make technology sound so sweet!


1 In my "February Links & Things" post I linked to a February 9 article in the San Diego CityBeat entitled: "A beautiful mind"; and subtitled: "Paul Williams' family copes with the groundbreaking rock journalist's early-onset dementia." I can't say enough about how much Paul has contributed to rock 'n' roll culture and history as well as the science fiction genre, and the likes of Philip K. Dick and Theodore Sturgeon.

2 The dedication in Tim Powers' Dinner at Deviant's Palace reads:
To The Thursday Night Gang:
Chris Arena, Greg Arena, Bill Bailey, Jim Blaylock, Jenny Bunn, Pete Devries, Phil Dick, Jeff Fontanesi, Don Goudie, Chris Gourlay, Dashiell Hamster, Rick Harding, K. W. Jeter, Tom Kenyon, Dave Lamont, Tim Lamont, Steve Malk, Phil Pace, Brendan Powers, Serena Powers and Phil Thibodeau...

...and the honorary members: Russ Galen, Dean Koontz, Roy Squires, Joel Stein, Ted Wassard and Paul Williams...
3 The Armadillocon panel discussion with Jeter, Blaylock, and Powers was not transcribed verbatim. Paul Williams chose to delete some of the content due to, well, its content! Some statements were made about PKD that Paul felt were not appropriate for public consumption. I guess you just had to have been there.

4 In my previous blog post on Jack Vance, I wrote of my contribution at that time to Paperback Parade. The Vance article was actually published in issue number 17, just over a year later from my PKD/Rucker article. Now, you're probably wondering why I would submit yet another article to a publication that totally butchered an earlier piece. Well, there weren't many 'zines available at the time that focused on collecting and reading paperbacks; plus, Lovisi assured me that my Vance article would be checked and double-checked. He did not disappoint.

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  1. Thanks for the memories, Marty! I enjoyed this post.

  2. Hi, Rudy,

    I'm certainly glad you enjoyed the post, and I appreciate the kind words; and thanks, too, for the years of friendship. Gnarly!

    - marty