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Rudy #7. Transrealism

The word "transreal" that I started applying to my novels in the early 1980s was inspired by a blurb on the back of my copy of A Scanner Darkly, saying that Philip K. Dick had written "a transcendental autobiography."

I got my copy of A Scanner Darkly at the first-ever SF convention that I attended, at Brighton, England, 1979--Phil's book was just out, and some friendly British stoners whom I'd befriended at the con were talking about it, complaining a little that it was "too anti-drug." They didn't seem excited about the fact that the book was probably drawn from a chapter of Phil's own life--and that it was deeply funny, at least for those who have a taste for Phil's dark humor.


[Painting for my transreal novel, Saucer Wisdom, showing, left to right, my friend Gregory Gibson, me, and two aliens.]

After the Brighton convention, waiting on the platform for my train back to London, I was reading Scanner as I stood there. And I was laughing so hard that I left my suitcase on the platform--which I suddenly realized as the train started to move. I jumped back out in the nick of time.

Up until Scanner, I hadn't fully grasped how close Phil Dick's novels were to the kinds of books that I wanted to write. I particularly liked the language-with-a-flat-tire way that his characters talked in Scanner, and over the years I'd begin to emulate his peculiarly Californian tone. And even more, I liked the sense that Phil was writing about real people.

In 1983 I published an essay, "A Transrealist Manifesto," in the Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America. I have it online now. Like any young artist's manifesto, mine was designed to announce that my style of doing things was the One True Way --- or at least a legitimate way of creating art. In my manifesto, I explained that transrealism is trans plus realism, a synthesis between fantastic fabulation (trans) and closely observed character-driven fiction (realism), and I advocated something like the following:

Trans. Use the SF and fantasy tropes to express deep psychic archetypes. Time travel, levitation, alternate worlds, aliens, telepathy--they're all symbols of archetypal modes of experience. Time travel is memory, levitation is enlightenment, alternate worlds are travel, aliens are other people, and telepathy is the fleeting hope of finally being fully understood. Put in science-fictional events or technologies which reflect deeper aspects of people and society. Manipulate subtext.

Realism. Possibly include a main character similar to yourself and, in any case, base your characters on real people you know, or on combinations of them. To this end, have your characters be realistically neurotic --- after all, there really aren't any "normal well-adjusted" people. Don't glorify the main character by making him or her unrealistically powerful, wise, or balanced. And the flip-side of that is to humanize the villains.

I see transrealism as a way to describe not only immediate reality, but also the higher reality in which life is embedded. And I see transrealism as tool for personal liberation. How so?

A lot of us are oppressed by a belief in the default consensus reality--which is promulgated by the big media, the governments, and the business interests. In fact each of us lives in our own reality, we each have our garden to cultivate. And a transreal novel can elevate a particular individual's reality into a worldview, nay, into a cosmos, complete with mocked-up trillion-dollar special effects.

These days, I no longer think that I have to go whole hog with transrealism and cast my friends and family into my books. I think they got a little tired of it. For awhile there, I was like Ingmar Bergman, continually making movies with the same little troupe of actors/family/friends.

In 1999, I pushed transrealism to the max, and wrote a novel, Saucer Wisdom, which featured a character called Rudy Rucker, who encounters a UFO abductee called Frank Shook. The kicker is that Frank was modeled on my college roommate Gregory Gibson.

And to make it completely crazy, Greg came along to meeting at Wired magazine where I was pitching Saucer Wisdom to the Wired editors as a non-fiction book, me claiming that Greg really was a UFO abductee. The details are in my autobio.

I've written eight more novels in the years since then, but after Saucer Wisdom, I've found that I can in fact write transreally without overtly using my own life or specific people that I know.

Even without having any characters who are particularly like oneself, one can write closely observed works about your own life experiences. And if you transmute these experiences with the alchemy of science fiction, the result is also transreal.

For instance my latest novel, Jim and the Flims, has a scene with the main character Jim making a trip to the hospital similar to one that I myself made. But Jim then has adventures rather different than mine---he leaves Earth and travels into the afterworld.

In transmuting my health crisis into SF, I thought of my old mentor Robert Sheckley's remark that a writer is someone who'll willingly descend to hell and suffer the torments of the damned---so long as he or she is assured they can write about it.

Recently, when I wrote my autobiography Nested Scrolls, I had to resist an impulse to do a reverse-transrealism number on it. That is, I was thinking of having it be mainly a straight memoir, but of folding in some invented SFictional episodes. In the end, though, my real life seemed strange enough.

22 Comments

1:

I think this post is a good example of why I like Rucker's work, not that I can actually explain what I mean.

White Light and The Hacker and the Ants along with Jim and the Flims are great examples of what he's talking about here (haven't read Saucer Wisdom, yet).

A few months ago Charlie had a post asking the commenters to leave ideas for stories they'd like to read, and I--not too seriously--suggested a "Rucker-style Transreal novel about a bored pharmacist", partly because I'm pretty sure he could pull it off with the requisite amount of weirdness, and I didn't think anybody else was likely to come up with an idea like that (they didn't).

From regularly reading Rudy's blog, it seemed pretty clear that the hospital scene in Jim and the Flims was based on something that happened to him. Though I was reminded of how, after Arthur Clarke was wrongly diagnosed with ALS, he wrote his most depressing novel The Ghost of the Grand Banks, where he kills off most of his main characters. Fortunately Rudy has a (spoiler?) happy outcome for his characters--and Clarke later got a proper diagnosis of Post Polio Syndrome and wrote a few more, happier, novels.

2:

Interesting, but ..Once a Time and Long Ago I Acquired a Mighty, and Mightily Impressive, Appendectomy Scar. Or, as a somewhat more up-to-date Surgeon - to whom I was consigned a few years ago ..believe me no-matter now calm and collected and Experienced and Superior to the Occasion you might be NOTHING BUT NOTHING !!! beats discovering that you are Peeing neat Blood for focussing ones attention on Reality... declared ..

" GOSH .. when did That HAPPEN? " And " Well, they did believe in getting their Arms WET in those days Didn't They? " followed by " don't you worry you Wont even see the scar after the Op ..and we are reasonably sure that the Lump isn't malignant " As proved to be the case and the after-effects from the Anaesthetics ? No Dreams, No Machines, Nothing ... and no Hangover either.

So REALITY and Dick ? What is Real?


So .. weel, all right then, my Appendix had Burst to within an teeny inch of my life and thus I woke Briefly - after having fallen down a flight of stairs - in the back of an ambulance in the Year 1968 to the soundtrack of Screams and Sirans, and then Woke Again again in the local hospitals Surgical WARD -now there's a Clue ! - to be told The Bad News .. KNIVES !! OR Else ..So there afterwards there were the Dickish effects of, fairly primitive, 1960s, Anaesthetics wherein I awoke to .... MIGHTY MACHINES GRINDING THEIR WAY, EVER SO SLOWLY, TO MY BED in a Highlight of BLOOD RED Intent on grinding ME to Pulp? !!! " ... Fiction? And so on!Or Reality as it was determined by my own choice ? of the Turn into The Trousers Of Time?

And Dicks own personal Experiences? The Experiences that led to his View of the ..REAL ? ..world as we ...You ? know it?

You filter Dick - and his contemporaries ? - through the reality that is your own time. Polity, and place and so, for you ...what is REAL ? What is Real for You?

Sure ..Really Sure ? Why and How. or how and why? And what difference does that placement of the Word 'Why ' make to Reality? Is your Reality My Reality?


Isn't this Fun ?..and Wot is this thing called 'Fun ' anyway?

3:

Okay, it's been a couple hours since I tried posting a comment here, and got the held for moderation message--even though I, as far as I know, didn't use any brand names, and didn't put in any links. All I can think of is that it was the first comment I've left using my iPad (chanukah present), though the comment I left a few minutes later @Rudy#6 went through fine (so that doesn't make sense), or that I had too much emphasis on titles (should have stuck with quotes?). Beats me.

Oh, well. Can't remember everything I wrote, so not gonna worry about it.

[Moderator: It's New Year's Eve and we may fail to get to some as quickly as we'd like. And no, I don't know why it ended up filtered. That's just the downside of filters good enough to stop 99+% of spam: they catch the occasional bit of ham too. AHB]

4:

Ah, I see, thanks. Didn't think about it being new year--still have six hours to go here.

5:

It's currently 01:30 GMT, and the last I saw Charlie was in a pub working out the best way of exploiting Sims. So don't expect much from the right-pondians for a few hours. Happy New Year, and goodnight.

6:

Don't worry, folks, the NHS still uses morphine for pain control. I've had a patient-controlled morphine pump a couple of times. The first time, after my road accident, I was definitely getting a dose at interesting levels. Best convention room party I can never quite remember.

7:

The NHS still uses diamorphine too. For USAians, that's the substance also known as heroin. It's meant to be a pain killer and used as that, it's very effective. It's also not at all addictive in that situation: people associate it with pain relief, yes, but also with the pain it's relieving.

(My wife had to have it on one occasion when normal pain killers including nitrous oxide just had no effect. She'd really rather not have to have it again.)

Ah, I'm not sure quite what connection this has with anything so far posted apart from the fact that it means that some pharmacists are far from bored on some occasions.

8:

Re: @ 7
: - for US-ians
Here, and across Northern Europe, we are quite relaxed about using Opium derivatives for painkillers, especially in terminal cancer cases.
Whereas the Southern EU countries, and of course the USSA ... won't.
They'd rather the dying patient was in screaming agony than give them "H".
Hypocritical bastards
It is, of course, related to religion, epecially catholicism, and (apparently) in the US both that AND the evengelical bastards claiming that suffering is good for you.
Even where Cannabis is concerned, there have been court cases where extreme back-pain sufferers have been discharged (Having bee charged with growing/using C. sativa for their own use, that is.) and the prosecutors/police told to "eff off, and leave this poor person alone!"

Which brings us back to transrealism, since I suspect that it is only going to exist under the influence, so to speak.

9:

Having bee charged with growing/using C. sativa for their own use, that is.

That can be a buzzkill.

10:

I have a good stock of painkillers to hand, all varieties of opiates.
When you need a strong painkiller you need it NOW.
Making an appointment for next week is not an option.

11:

How does your use of existing people for characters within transrealism differ with the practice of tuckerization ?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuckerization

Is it a question of simple intent or deep theory, or quantities, or is there something else to mark it apart?

12:

"Opiates" - found This reference to a completly insane US guvmint proposal to release fungal pathogens aimed at eliminating opium poppies (and other plants that produce "drugs") without any regard for side-effects, spreading of the pathogens to other plants, or the difficulties that the mediacl profession worldwide wouod then face.
There may be other, more recent references, since my memory suggests that this proposal was re-introduced during the Shrub years.

Stupid morons.

13:

I suppose I ought to add something on topic. Consider this quote from your piece above:

"A lot of us are oppressed by a belief in the default consensus reality--which is promulgated by the big media, the governments, and the business interests. In fact each of us lives in our own reality, we each have our garden to cultivate."

Now compare it to this:
http://transhumanpraxis.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/a-new-philosophy-of-total-revolution-kalkinism/

14:

Tuckerization! I'd forgotten that word, just learned it a couple of years ago from Eileen Gunn. Tuckerization is the practice of putting in friends or fans or patrons as characters as a reward for money or friendship. It's a bit like a medieval painter putting an image of his patron kneeling and praying in a corner of a painting of a saint.

Transrealism is a wider ranging practice that's aimed towards achieving a realistic texture. More like the painter modeling his saint's face on the face of a guy he saw in the street or met in a hostel.

This all relates to how, now and then, people will ask a novelist, "Will you put me in your book?"

Transrealist or not, most writers are like surveillance cameras that are alway turned on, even when the writer appears inattentive.

15:

Diamorphine has another couple of uses, too, which make it standard equipment in UK ambulances (or at least it was back when I had anything to do with throwing meds at the public): it's a coronary vasodilator, and it's an anxiolytic so good it makes diazepam (vallium) look like a placebo.

So if Joe Q. Public is having chest/arm pains and they get him to the ambulance and discover via ECG that he's having a myocardial infarction, shoving a big needle full of Heroin diamorphine into him does three things: it relieves the pain, calms him down a bit (which is always good), and it dilates the artery that's been blocked by a blood clot.

Which is why, when the War on Drugs kicked off, the rather pragmatic British medical establishment renamed it "diamorphine" and continued to use it, where appropriate (first responder pack for heart attacks, and pain killer of last resort when even morphine won't cut it).

16:

My take on Tuckerization these days is that I'll only do it if I have permission in writing from the person in question.

(I used to do it freely, but there have been a couple of nasty incidents where some internet troll decided to play "let's you and them fight" by asking me to put someone else in a work of fiction. Luckily I double-checked. But these days? It better be someone I know in real life, and I want an email saying "sure, go ahead".)

17:

If only they took that approach on the left side of the Atlantic. Some of the strangest puritanism seems to pop up around drug policy...rather than focusing on enabling legitimate uses of drugs and making control of illicit use secondary to that.

Not as bad as hearing someone voice concerns that a terminal patient might get addicted to something, but still bizarre...

18:

Tuckerization is variable in its extent, too. But yes, permission is a good idea: it's revealing what people are happy with should you actually ask them. Two cases in point:

My wife Colette was asked by Terry Pratchett if she minded him using her name for a character, but he gave her a choice as to which character the name was attached to. As a result, she's a lady of easy virtue working at Mrs Palm's in Maskerade. It's a pretty short scene - she opens the door to Granny W - but she's there.

And a Sir Alan Bellingham, Bart. appears in Jo Walton's Half A Crown, set in an alternate history in which we didn't fight the Nazis in WWII but came to an uneasy accommodation with them. Sir Alan is, in Jo's words, "the sort of person who thinks the way to show a girl a good time is to take her to a book burning". He's a fairly prominent character for the first fair chunk of the novel.

If that latter characterisation had been used without asking me first, even by someone who I've known for quite a long time, it would have been presumptuous. But she asked me first whether I'd like to be a villain, and I said yes. I also mentioned that it would be entirely possible in an alternate England for my analogue to be a Baronet: it would only require two people to have not survived who are still alive in this. So, although the character is 90+% Jo's invention, I did have some input.

(Charlie - should you have need for someone embedded in the British establishment to be used as an unpleasant piece of work, Sir Alan is available for suitable parts (Panto included), though you may want to ask Jo as well.)

A third case: another writer has mentioned that he has characters named for both me and Colette in an as-yet-unpublished Space Opera novel, but that come publication, the actual characters would have different names. Since the said novel has been unpublished for quite a few years now, I rather suspect we won't see it.

19:

Presumably one of the problems of being a heroin addict is building such a tolerance that when you need a really strong painkiller there isn't one.

20:

Tuckerisation in Pterry is quite common.
Gytha Ogg was a real person , now sadly dead of lung cancer.
I think Greebo was based or a real truly fearsome tom-cat (even more evil and ferocious than our long-dead Hermann[don't ask!]).
Queen Ynci the short-tempered is a personal friend, and lives about a mile from me .......

21:

"It is, of course, related to religion, epecially catholicism, and (apparently) in the US both that AND the evengelical bastards claiming that suffering is good for you."

Must be American Catholics because Catholics elsewhere have no urge to add to another's suffering.

22:

@ 21
Not true, unfortunately. I wish it was true, but the use of Morphine-based painkillers goes down as you travle south across Europe - or so I am told.

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