Software

by Rudy Rucker

Cover image

Publisher: Avon
Copyright: 1982
Printing: May 1997
ISBN: 0-380-70177-4
Format: Mass market
Pages: 167

Buy at Powell's Books

I think this book has two things going for it. One is that it's very early cyberpunk and therefore is somewhat interesting just as part of the history of the genre. The other is that Rucker seems to be going for some sort of surreal humor here, and humor can salvage a story that would be dreadful read straight. That being said, I'm only guessing at the humor part, since (if it's even there) it fell utterly flat for me.

The plot is based around two bits of future extrapolation: the aging of the Baby Boom generation has completely distorted the social structure and resulted in a walled-off camp of "pheezers" in Florida who get periodic food drops from the government, and robots or "boppers" have found a way to overcome their Asimovian programming and rebel against their human masters. The latter is a pretty stock bit of science fiction, although one with some potential. The former, particularly given the druggie lifestyle common to at least the pheezers prominently featured here, just seemed stupid. And the plot that develops from this background is a mess.

In fairness, I have to mention that Rucker is one of those authors whose work is described as surrealistic, zany, quirky, or an acquired taste, and my track record with such authors is not very good. Either their particular brand of wackiness clicks with something in my head or it doesn't, and if it doesn't, I spend the whole book mentally noting all the stupid and unrealistic parts or simply getting bored. Software was definitely a case of the latter; I knew I was in trouble when the first drug trip narration showed up in the third chapter, and the rest of the book improved only marginally.

There is one section of this book that I thought was worth reading, namely the section told from the viewpoint of Ralph Numbers and directly addressing the sensation of death and rebirth from the perspective of an intelligence with backup. There were one or two memorable ideas, most notably the "bopper" god, which was worth a moment of amusement to someone familiar with genetic algorithms. The rest of it was a hash, particularly given that Rucker throws out what was left of the ill-motivated plot at the end in favor of what felt like a shallow philosophical point. It might have worked better if I'd cared about any of the characters; as is, they were all superficial and vaguely annoying.

If the style doesn't click for you, it's probably a lost cause, since it certainly doesn't work as hard science fiction. It might have done better in 1982 when it was written, but now robots that require liquid helium temperatures to operate, no hint of virtual reality or manufactured perceptions, and a bad political extrapolation feel very dated. The genetic algorithm bits are marginally salvagable, but the only part that holds up well is the strong tie between intelligence and embodiment, something that Rucker doesn't call out specifically so much as assume.

This book may well work for someone else better than it did for me. Read the first chapter before handing over money for it, though, and then make your decision knowing that's as good as it gets (other than the brief interlude with Ralph Numbers). If the writing struck you as superficial and forced, the slang too precious, and the jokes flat, put Software back down and find something else to read. You're too much like me to enjoy it.

Followed by Wetware.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-06-16

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21