Novel: Spacetime Donuts by Rudy Rucker

Rudy Rucker’s novels of the 1980s were transformative for me, so it was exciting to see that Skyhorse recently released attractive new volumes of many titles in his backlist, including some I’d never managed to find. While Spacetime Donuts (1981) is considered a pioneering text of cyberpunk, to me it felt more reminiscent of the work of Philip K. Dick: short, inventive, sloppy, fast, and very stream-of-conscious. This one takes place in a chill, highly regulated future where a placid artificial intelligence called Phizwhiz controls society, keeping everyone tame and complacent under a barrage of holographic entertainments, drugs, and boundless resources. Life is just fine, but not for Vernor Maxwell and his friends, radical revolutionaries determined to upend the status quo with weird science. When Vernor develops a theory of circular space, it kicks off a series of wild, dimension-hopping adventures, leading to a dangerous new paradigm shift as his experiments contribute to Phizwhiz’s sentience.

Spacetime Donuts possesses the same attitude and colorful prose as Rucker’s more famous early novels, and as usual there are ideas galore, occasionally mind-bending, ahead-of-their-time ones. It should also prove interesting to Ruckerphiles as an early transreal precursor to his more accomplished follow-ups like Software and White Light, which contributed to his cyberpunk bona fides. But while I think it will hold up for the indoctrinated, it probably won’t for the newcomer. The dated skiffy furniture and gender politics render it very much a product of its era, as does Vernor’s unappealing selfishness, with includes unhealthy does of reckless anarchism. This anything-goes wildness is part and parcel with Rucker’s usual inventive, improvisational style, and in general I enjoyed the brisk, amusing energy of it, but viewing it through a contemporary lens is unflatteringly revealing.

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