New in science fiction: the dreams and visions of outsiders and misfits
New science-fiction books, including Ayize Jama-Everett's novel "Liminal People" and Rudy Rucker's autobiography "Nested Scrolls," explore outsider dreams and visions.
Special to The Seattle Times
Most of us identify with outsiders: At one time or another we've all felt lonely, weird, or misplaced. As adolescents, we dream of discovering our royal lineage or our hidden superpowers. Some never outgrow these visions, and speculative fiction provides alternatives to our personal daydreams.
Taggert, hero of newcomer Ayize Jama-Everett's "Liminal People" (Small Beer Press, 190 pp., $16), learns he has the ability to psychically heal people while he's a young teen following in the footsteps of his telekinetic older brother. Then Taggert realizes his brother is a bully. The consequences of confronting and punishing the brother he formerly idolized leave Taggert a self-loathing fugitive from normal companionship. He dodges responsibility for using his powers wisely, instead becoming the lackey of a mysterious telepathic crime lord.
Years later, a plea for help from a former lover draws him out of his sleazy retreat.
This, the story's setup, takes next to no time to relate in Jama-Everett's brisk prose. With flat-voiced, sharp-edged humor reminiscent of the razors his fellow thugs wear around their necks, Taggert claims to read bodies "the way pretentious East Coast Americans read The New Yorker ... I've got skills," he adds. "What I don't have is patience." Tracking down his ex-lover's runaway daughter, Taggert learns patience, forgiveness and more. Like Taggert's brother, the girl moves objects with her mind. He manages to deal with this reminder of his past along with several other strangely talented "liminal people," outsiders whose mutant superpowers recall comic book pantheons.
A more straightforward account of growing out of adolescence — though not out of feeling that you're weird — Rudy Rucker's "Nested Scrolls" (Tor,336pp.,$25.99) is the author's memoir, the story of his lifelong development as an aspiring "beatnik science fiction writer." From mundane enough beginnings in suburban Kentucky through tenured professorship at San Jose State University in Silicon Valley to a retirement filled with grandchildren, Rucker has maintained his outsider status by remaining fiercely true to the intellectual visions that set him apart.
Some of these are evident in his 14 novels, including Philip K. Dick Award winners "Software" and "Wetware." Others show up in his nonfiction books on logic and the fourth dimension such as "Infinity and the Mind." Often the same offbeat ideas are elements of both. In 2005's "The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul," he explores the mathematical concept that the universe and everything it contains can be thought of as forms of computation; in 2007's "Postsingular," water flowing from a tap functions as a computer program.
Like William Gibson, Rucker was one of sf's original cyberpunks, and in this autobiography he shares some interesting anecdotes of the subgenre's formative moments. But he's most closely identified with transrealism, a literary movement of his own devising. Transrealism advocates mixing true life events, characters, and settings into tales of the fantastic. "Nested Scrolls" (the title refers to the coral reef-like ramifications inherent in storytelling) reveals the transreal roots of Rucker's successful attempts at creating a body of work "ecstatic and countercultural" with "logic and rigor to its weirdness." Recognizing that "there actually aren't any normal people," he writes for the outsider in all of us. The results are stimulating and illuminating — and also just plain old goofy fun.