• A Map the Size of the World

    (Rudy Rucker is a guest blogger. His latest novel, Hylozoic, describes a postsingular world in which everything is alive.)

    In the month of my birth, that is, in March, 1946, Jorge Luis Borges co-authored with Adolfo Casares a very short story, ""Del Rigor en la Ciencia," or "On Exactitude in Science," about a perfect map that's as big as the kingdom which it depicts.

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    Here's the first half of the story, as translated by Andrew Hurley.

    In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless…

    I also found, how great, a video dramatizing the story's ideas, with a sound track of Borges himself reading the story in Spanish.

    The full text of the translation of "On Exactitude in Science" is online at the Language Scraps " blog.

    And our Universal Library, that is, Wikipedia, has an entry about the Borges story.

  • Robert Frank Outtakes

    (Rudy Rucker is a guestblogger. His latest novel, Hylozoic, describes a postsingular world in which everything is alive.)

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    There's a great show at the SFMOMA now, showing all 84 prints from Robert Frank's classic mid-1950s photo book The Americans, along with some outtakes, such as the image shown above—which is not in the book.

    The reason the image above looks funky is because it's my photo of Frank's casual working print that's glued to a wall at the show with a bunch of others. More outtakes can be found in Looking In, the catalog for the show, which also includes all the prints from The Americans—but I'd say the print quality of the images in the catalog isn't as good as in the book, although the catalog does have a lot of interesting essays.

    I've had a copy of The Americans for years, and I study it fairly often. So it was almost dizzying to see the book's 84 pictures on the walls, in order—it was like getting inside this world at last.

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    [This is one of the Americans photos on display]

    Another cool thing about the show is that they have, like I said, a wall of these working prints of Robert Frank's outtakes for the book, all curly-edged, as if still in Frank's studio. He took some 20,000 photos while driving in a huge loop around the US, then printed the 1,000 pictures that he liked best, and then winnowed those down to the final 84.

    I grabbed shots of two of the outtakes for this post. I like the waiting-room scene at the start of this post, the languid curve of the woman's hand, and it's cool that these aren't models, they're just people hanging out. Women actually wore hats like that in the 1950s, even in bus-stations!

    And the outtake below shows some Buicks getting unloaded and, in the background, on the billboard, a guy with a moose.

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    From Jack Kerouac's introduction to The Americans:

    Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a big sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank with the tragic poets of the world. To Robert Frank I now give this message: You got eyes.

  • Writing and Painting

    (Rudy Rucker is a guestblogger. His latest novel, Hylozoic, describes a postsingular world in which everything is alive.)

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    I finished a new painting this week, seemingly just a still life of a geranium—often I paint more surreal kinds of things, as you can see on my paintings site.

    With this geranium I did, however, have something extra in mind, that is, I'm working on a kind of urban fantasy/sf novel called Jim and the Flims, and my characters are about to make their way to the castle of the King of Flimsy.

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    [Somewhat irrelevant picture of a beautiful neon sign.]

    I should mention that Flimsy is an alternate world that is, I think, our afterworld, kind of medieval and bucolic—and I had the idea that the castle could look like a giant geranium. Those leaves are thick, you see, with rooms in them, and the flims (that is, the denizens of flimsy) are buzzing around them like gnats, only too small to see in the painting—that's the part I need the word-processor for!

    You can hear me reading a draft of the first chapter of Jim and the Flims at my Feedburner podcast station, which you can access by clicking the button below.

    As for painting and writing, Charlie Jane Anders has a nice article, "SF Writers Make Art," in the io9 SF site, featuring interviews with SF writers who paint, including me, Audrey Niffenegger, and Mary Robinette Kowal.

  • Kadrey and Shaw Live

    (Rudy Rucker is a guestblogger. His latest novel, Hylozoic, describes a postsingular world in which everything is alive.)

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    I saw Richard Kadrey and Heather Shaw reading at the SF in SF series this weekend.

    The readings were good and somewhat cyberpunk/urban-fantasy. Heather read her story "LIttle M@tch Girl," and Richard read from his Sandman Slim novel, due out in July, 2009.

    "Little M@tch Girl," by the way, exists online, but in the context of incredibly weird zine called Tumbarumba. In order to read the stories in Tumbarumba, you go to their site, download a Firefox add-on, and wait for random story scraps to show up on pages that you're browsing. If you click on one of the story scraps you get more of the story in question. Not exactly the kind of presentation that most writers would pick! I'm kind of hoping to see "Little M@tch Girl" in an easier-to-access format one of these days…

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    Before the reading we had dinner at a place near this great collaborative graffiti mural at 2nd St. and Minna St. in San Francisco.

    I dig that savage alien fire hydrant. "Bad dog!"

  • Gnarly Plotting

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    (Rudy Rucker is a guestblogger. His latest novel, Hylozoic, describes a postsingular world in which everything is alive.)

    I love gnarly shapes and processes—gnarly in the sense of being not too orderly and not too random, right on the living border. Moving water is amazing stuff, and cranking your camera's shutter speed up high lets you freeze it. And your foot, every now and then you look at it and—how strange. Really, we're as oddly shaped as any fabulous jungle plant or deep ocean crustacean.

    A few years ago, I gave a talk called "Seek the Gnarl" where I talked about how gnarliness relates to the way a writer creates the plot for a novel.

    I used to maintain that it was better not to plot my novels in advance. I'd defend the practice of not having a precise outline by speaking in terms of the gnarl. A characteristic feature of any complex process is that you can't look at what's going on today and immediately deduce what will be happening in a few weeks. It's necessary to have the world run step-by-step through the intervening ticks of time. Gnarly processes are unpredictable; they don't allow for short-cuts. In other words, the last chapter of a novel with a gnarly plot is, even in principle, unpredictable from the contents of the first chapter. You have to write the whole novel in order to discover what happens in the last chapter.

    This said, I've learned to at least try to write an outline to try and lessen the pain of writing. But even with an outline, I can't be quite sure about the twists and turns my story will take. How precise, after all, is an outline? If, as William Burroughs used to say, a novel is but a map of a territory, an outline is but a map of a map. In the end, only the novel itself is the perfect outline of the novel. Only the territory itself can be the perfect map.

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    I took this photo on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley the other day. I like the contrast between the digital numbers labeling the billboard, and the gnarly tatters of the peeling paper. The numbers are the outline, the (actually quite elegant) shapes of the paper are the novel.

    I'm not saying a novel should be a random mess. I'm saying that it's nice if the story has the organic and unpredictable feel of some living thing that's grown or of some natural shape that's arisen over time. The characters and tropes and social situations bounce off each other like eddies in a turbulent wakes, like vines twisting around each other in a jungle, like the plates of a skull.

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    Online version of Rudy's talk, "Seek the Gnarl".