Exclusive excerpt of Rudy Rucker's new novel: Million Mile Road Trip

Rudy Rucker's 23rd novel is out today! It's called Million Mile Road Trip. Rudy is one of my all-time favorite authors and he has kindly given me permission to run an excerpt here.

“Stratocast”

An Excerpt from Million Mile Road Trip

by Rudy Rucker

rudy@rudyrucker.com

2,300 Words

April 22, 2019

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Villy’s brother Scud and the Szep alien Pinchley are in front seat of the highly modified car that they call the purple whale. Zoe and Villy are in back.

Villy’s two-thirds-size Flying Vee guitar is alive. Basically the instrument is a female alien. She stretches her neck so she can nuzzle Zoe’s black guitar, who is male. The instruments chime softly to each other. Villy thinks of them as a pair of race horses that he and Zoe are about to ride.

“Or magic broomsticks,” says Zoe inside Villy’s head. The guitars seem to be giving them telepathy.

Scud uses his powers to levitate the purple whale high into the air. Pinchley guns the engine—and nothing whatsoever happens. Oh, right, the gigundo tires are spinning in empty air.

“You’ll do that stratocast thing now?” says Scud. “Is that the word?”

Zoe stares into Villy’s eyes. She looks zonky and vamp. Like a goth rocker. They poise fingers on their frets. Each of them holds a triangle of seashell for a pick. Zoe nods her head once and: Zam deedle squee.

In her head, Zoe’s leading the way, sailing the sonic sea, and Villy’s close behind. The two of them do a virtual dance in music-space, orbiting each other like strands of DNA, growing a heaven-tree of sound. Sweet. Villy didn’t know Zoe could play guitar like this. But, um, the car’s still not moving. It’s just floating there.

Zoe breaks off, embarrassed, and begins tuning her guitar, or trying to, except that it doesn’t actually have tuning pegs. The car hangs in the air like a ripe fruit, very slowly drifting forward.

So now Villy and Zoe eat some of their curiously energizing caraway seeds, pretty much a whole teaspoon of them apiece, crunching the seeds with their back molars. Villy definitely feels a lift. He sees colored shapes from the corners of his eyes. Like virtual pastel caraways. When he turns his head, the quick bright crescents scoot out of sight. They’re hella shy.

“I see the colored things too,” says Zoe. “Smeel boomerangs. We’ll chase them with our notes. Stratocast a goblin march.”

“That’s not science,” says pedantic kid brother Scud.

“Shut your crack,” snaps Villy.

Zoe strikes a fresh chord. She goes for a bluesy beat, a cycling rhythm beneath jai-alai scribbles of smeely grace notes. Villy gets into it as well, gazing towards the horizon as he plays. In his peripheral vision the smeel crescents creep forward. They’re like frail, lace-winged insects edging the cones of his eyebeam headlights. He gooses them with pecks of his pick.

So, yaaar, Villy and Zoe are playing at a new level now, into the flow, elaborating riffs like logical syllogisms, and where the hell is Villy getting words like this.

The purple whale begins moving. Slow, then fast, borne upon the stratocast of sound. They rush across the Jell-O-salad expanse of the Harmony basin, swifter than a strafing jet. At the wheel, pilot Pinchley tweaks their path, trimming the flaps, sloping a route that crosses the basin’s far border much sooner than seems possible. Scud levitates for all he’s worth, barely making it above the ridge between Harmony and the next basin.

“Close shave,” goes Scud. “Those mountains came up fast.”

“Hundred thousand miles per,” gloats alien Pinchley, talking like a hillbilly the way he likes to do. “Make some noise, Zoe-Villy. This new basin is called Wristwatch, I do recall.”

Villy peers down, putting his guitar fingers into a reptile-brain ostinato mode. The Wristwatch basin is cogs and gears, a vast array of them, slowly turning, with levers and springy coils and, weirdly, big patches of honey here and there, clogging up the works. Ants in the soft honey, timekeeper ants. How can Villy be seeing such tiny details with them careening past so fast?

“Frog tongue eyebeam,” goes Zoe. She looks very cryp and glam, with glowons highlighting the outlines of her far-gone face. She’s playing Coptic seven-tone crescendos, accompanied by teep images of, like, jackal-headed gods marching into a pharaoh’s tomb, and semi-unwrapped mummy-girls shaking their booties beside the curly purling of the river Nile.

Villy harmonizes, making a sound like the argle-bargle of man-eating crocs. As he plays, he comes to understand what Zoe’s remark meant. That is, even though they’re topping a thousand miles a minute, it’s possible, what with their caraway-seed-enhanced mental powers, to shoot out an eyebeam quick as a frog’s bug-catching tongue, and to leave your eyebeam in place for a few secs, and thereby to vacuum up a mini video of what is/was happening there. Frog tongue eyebeam, yes.

Goofing on the Wristwatch basin, Villy notices independent little batches of cogs and worm-gears bustling around on their own, rooting at the planetary timepiece and prying off toothsome wheels to take unto themselves. For its part, the basin-wide master-clock is of course eating as many of the ticking freebooter assemblages as it can—sometimes trapping them in the ants’ honey-ponds.

Lots of time down there. And then the time’s up. They squeak over another ridge.

“Cuttle Scuttle Swamp,” intones Pinchley.

A flying cuttlefish thuds against the grill of the car, sending them into a wrenching 3D tumble. They’re in danger of blacking out from the centrifugal gees. Zoe bears down on her guitar and gets into feedback mode. The internal amp drives the strings that drive the amp that drives the strings—a jitter of skronks and wheenks. Dark energy on parade. Somehow the way-sick bleat sets their yawing vessel aright. Thank you, primordial chaos.

Scud in the front seat has become wary. Looking far ahead, he zaps the next incoming cuttlefish before it arrives. Not that the cuttlefish are attacking them, per se. They’re into some intramural scene of their own. A civil war?

Two populations of cuttlefish inhabit Cuttle Scuttle Swamp: red ones and green ones. The red ones fly, beating their skirt-fins, and the green ones disport themselves in the shallow, smeely waters. The air cuttles dive down at the water cuttles, and the water cuttles power themselves into the air like breaching manatees. When two cuttles collide, they tangle their tentacles and—are they biting each other?

“Making love,” says Zoe, and she segues her solo into a steamy, insinuating beat. “Gettin’ down. Like you and me, Villy.”

Villy crafts a squalid bass line to match Zoe’s mood. He’s never played this well. Basins flit past. For half an hour, he and Zoe are fully zoned into the stratocast. And then they happen to notice the landscape again.

“Gold Bug basin,” goes Pinchley. The dude has the whole sector mapped inside his head.

Shiny black beetles are excavating galleries and crafting lacy mounds. Beetles like the living cars of the Van Cott streets, but less citified. More tribal. Their antennae bear rows of sideways branches. The beetles fart explosive gas to help with their excavations. Ftoom. They’re digging for lumps of gold. A midnight-blue beetle displays a large nugget in triumphant mandibles. Villy’s focus twitches forward from the prize nugget to the next highlight—a crater filled with dome-backed beetles waving their fringed June-bug antennae and worshipping a golden beetle-god the size of a blimp. Glowons add to the graven idol’s luster.

The appreciative Villy and Zoe glide into a shimmering musical fantasia of lush flourishes. Scud torques the car up over the beetle basin’s onrushing ridge. Pinchley trims their onward course. The four travelers take a feral pleasure in their phantasmagoric speed. More basins and more.

“How do you know which direction to go?” Scud asks Pinchley.

“Thar she blows,” goes the Szep. “See the plume out yonder?”

Villy slits his eyes in order to do a mental zoom—and he’s able to see a downy upright feather on the far horizon, a thunderhead of clouds that must tower a thousand miles high.

“The cloud over Szep City,” says Pinchley. “That’s the one we call Sky Castle. You’ll go there later. But for now, here comes the li’l ole basin that we call Funky Broadway.”

Zoe chimes a downward arpeggio, and Villy stays in teepful sync. Funky Broadway is a world of living cities, blocky hives trundling across a fruited plain. The cities are inhabited by races of monkeys. Here and there pairs of cities batten onto each other. Their primate passengers clamber from one metropolis to the other. Ape-men brandish exquisite works of art in offer for trade—only to be taken prisoner by brutal lower orders who feed the unfortunate captives into meat-grinder gear-trains embedded in the lowest foundations of the towns.

Zoe plays the sounds of stabbing cries, and Villy styles moony evocations of wasted lives. A heart-searing duet. And that’s just a start. Zoe and Villy lose themselves in ever-richer stratocast harmonies, sailing across more basins and more.

“Paramecium Pond.”

It’s a five-thousand-mile puddle that is a luminous shade of yellow-green, vibrant with algae, shiny with microorgasmic tides. Paramecia, amoeba, volvoxes, rotifers—teeming, breeding, and consuming their fellows when they can.

“An octillion in all,” says science-boy Scud. There’s quite the teepy vibe inside the car by now, what with the living Harmon guitars, the saucer pearl, the kids’ mental acrobatics, and Pinchley’s off-kilter state.

As they fly above Paramecium Pond, Zoe and Villy spin a sludgy mat of notes—a recursive musical fugue. Right about now the microorganisms’ population count seems to be dropping at a logarithmic rate. The individual cells are eating each other and getting bigger—like rivals climbing up through the brackets of a tournament tree. A mere billion of them remain. A thousand. A hundred. And then—but one. A paramecium the size of a continent.

The slimy titan lolls in the planetary pond. A plutocrat in a bathtub. Suddenly the glowing waters slosh. Something’s wrong? A dark spot has appeared upon the tyrant’s ciliated pellicle hide. A raging infection, a rogue colony of his erstwhile lower companions. The master paramecium springs a leak and—pop—he’s back to square one. An octillion rivals in a planetary pool of goo.

Inspired by the scene, Zoe and Villy craft a bombastic rock anthem. More and more worlds strobe past.

Trumpeting the thousand names of the alien god Goob-goob, elephants carry smaller elephants to and fro, building elephantine mounds that stretch into the sky. Pinchley steers among the wobbly columns, and, where necessary, Scud zaps a grabby trunk.

Milk-spurting udders flop in high green grass. Towering flowers chide the udders in snobby British accents. Vines sprout floating cucumbers like miniature zeppelins. Tiny uniformed airmen gather on the taut hulls to dance hornpipe jigs.

Mermen and sirens loll beside a glassy black sea. Loch Ness monsters ply the inky waters, their heads like prows of Viking ships.

A sky full of barking dogs, with a suburban grid of doghouses below. Sinister rabbits slink from doghouse to doghouse eating puppies, quite heedless of the fruitful carrot patches in the doghouse yards.

Wee gnomes juggle bristly ogres in the air. Steaming cauldrons of porridge await. The ogres dwindle to raisins in the mush.

Flying jellyfish carry shrimp-people. The treacherous shrimps set the jellies to lashing each other with stinging strands. Beneath the fray, striped sea snails cheer and toss bouquets to the shrimp.

Hopeful pigs join snouts in pairs, disk to disk. They spin upwards like helicopters, shedding rashers of bacon that settle onto slippery, overcrowded streets.

Hippos in a basin of braided rivers that cascade from the cliffs along the basin’s edge. Flying bales of alfalfa appear. The hippos roar in joy, showing stubby peg-like teeth.

A herd of sinister eyeballs rolls across a plain, forever watching a commanding central figure who feeds upon attention.

All along they’ve been moving in parallel to Groon’s jet stream. If Villy squints his eyes, he can make out the steady flow of saucers within. The Szep City cloud called Sky Castle is no longer so impossibly far. Onward.

Zoe and Villy stratocast the purple whale across a watery basin rife with whirlpools that split and merge. Above the sea, tornadoes fill the misty air, as if mirroring the maelstroms below. Small, isolated thunderheads scud among the tornadoes, exchanging lightning bolts like phrases in a ceaseless conversation.

In the next basin, crystals sprout like hoarfrost ferns, then snap loose and tumble, transforming themselves like shards in a kaleidoscope. Arpeggios ring from the crystals, rising towards an elusive climax. Zoe’s and Villy’s rhythms push the swelling harmony over the edge. The crystals shatter into specks that spring into the sky.

And now comes a basin that’s entirely filled by a single, planet-sized human corpse. Pygmies and homunculi feast upon it, like fiddler crabs on a dead dolphin.

Gray light, a drizzle of steady rain. Fish walk on pairs of legs. Chickens in mortarboards declaim from ladders.

Crawling naked brains play cards and promenade in patterns. A supernal book of wisdom takes shape amid the brains. Living pairs of scissors dart forward and snip the book’s pages to confetti.

“One last basin before Szep City,” says Pinchley. “The Pit. It’s like a deep well with Groon at the bottom.” The dark Pit’s walls are vertical, like the vent of a volcano. The jet stream they’ve been tracking—it makes a turn here and dives into the Pit. A wailing drone sounds from the abyss.

Pinchley pumps his arms as if he’s dancing a jig. “Groon’s music,” he says. “He’s a giant bagpipe. Levitate your ass off, Scud. No way we want to be sucked to the bottom of the Pit or, worse than that, end up inside Groon’s sack.”

Naturally, life being the way it is, the purple whale ends up in a downward death spiral around a whirlwind that runs into the Pit. It’s like they’re moths around a flame, or kids around an ice cream stand, or hayseeds around a county fair burlesque show.

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Get Million Mile Road Trip at www.rudyrucker.com/millionmileroadtrip