by wjw on December 31, 2005

I would like to inaugurate this blog, and the New Year, with a cheerful little holiday essay entitled


As a science fiction writer, I like to create future worlds that are, for lack of a better word, gnarly. (It occurs to me that Rudy Rucker used the word in a somewhat different context in a recent Asimov’s essay, but surely the term is big enough for the two of us.)

Gnarly worlds are those that have the weird, sticky sorts of details that distinguish them from other fictional creations wherein everyone wears jumpsuits and marches purposefully down featureless metal hallways while delivering paragraphs of exposition about things that everyone already knows. I’m always happy to read about a world in which astrakhan-wearing priests bounce in worship on trampolines, or brilliant scientists devote thousands of man-hours to gene-hacking a squid in order to turn it into a kitchen can opener, or where birdlike aliens obsess about Jell-O (which is surely no stranger than Polynesians’ delight in the very existence of Spam, but again I digress).

I always try to make my worlds as gnarly as possible, which is why my readers learn perhaps a little too much about what’s happening in the future with fashion, or architecture, or food, or music. I try to invest any fictional creation with the same sort of odd, quirky details that we find in the real world. Hence the whirring, ozone-producing mechanical computers in Metropolitan, the use of mudras in Aristoi, or the abandoned UFO landing field in Days of Atonement.

I’ve just finished a trilogy, and having so many pages to play with, I was able to really stretch out and luxuriate in the gnarly details. The books are populated with eccentric factoids about the sort of marquetry to be found in the officers’ cabins of starships, the meaning of imperial allegorical statuary, and the proper sort of pompon to put on the floppy beret worn by commoners during their exams. (And, lest any potential reader be turned off by this sort of thing, let me point out that in these books many, many objects and living beings are Blowed Up Good.)

But now I’m in despair. Consider three perfectly true stories that came to my attention on the same day: the existence of the Iron Crotch Master who hauls large trucks around with his genitals, the odd tricks played by his memory on our very own governor, Bill Richardson, who had to research the question of whether he had ever been drafted by the Oakland As, and the fact that two zookeepers in California were fired for refusing to bare their breasts for a gorilla.

And all that in less than 24 hours. How can I, or any other author, possibly devise fictional gnarly detail that can compete with the curves thrown at us by our very own reality?

I’m in a sulk about the whole thing, quite frankly. Actuality is muscling in on my turf, and I’m not happy about it.

Some recent gnarly fiction: Bangkok 8 and Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett, The Atrocity Archives and Accelerando by Charles Stross, and the forthcoming Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker.

Anonymous January 1, 2006 at 3:09 am

Okay, so maybe you didn’t have woman bearing their breasts to a gorilla, but you had wonderfully silly, stupid, and venal people in your Praxis universe. Some whom you came to love, and then broke our hearts when they died! I love the fact that both your “good” guys and your “bad” guys are complex, and grey in really interesting ways.

Hope you’re going to write more books in the universe. I loved The Praxis, The Sundering and Conventions of War.

dubjay January 1, 2006 at 8:24 pm

Wow, thanks! All I can say is, I try my best to make the people as gnarly as I can.

(And I do my best to break hearts whenever I can.)

Whether I write any more in the Dread Empire series will depend strongly on the publisher, who will depend strongly on sales.

(So if each of you would please buy 10,000 copies.)

Pat Cadigan January 3, 2006 at 2:30 pm

Hey, heartbreaker.:) I like the Burdett books, too.

And yours. I’d buy 10,000 copies of each of them but storage is such a problem, particularly in this part of the world.

dubjay January 3, 2006 at 11:06 pm

Hi, Pat! Welcome!

There’s a simple answer to your problem, which is to buy another house in which to store your copies of my books!

I don’t know why you didn’t think of it!

dubjay January 3, 2006 at 11:08 pm

This from a Usenet post by Pete Tillman, who was too busy to log in here:

Hi, Walter–
From the inimitable and apropos Christopher Buckley:

“In the [3-10-99] N.Y. Times there’s an obituary of the CIA guy who did all of the LSD experiments, Sidney Gottlieb. He just died at 80.
His hobbies were folk dancing and herding goats. He loved LSD: he took it, and I quote, “hundreds of times.” He conducted 150 separate mind- control experiments. One guy jumped out a window and was killed. I’ll just read you a bit:

“Government documents and court
records show that at least one participant died, others went mad,
and still others suffered psychological damage after participating in the project, known as MK-Ultra.” The experiments were useless, Mr. Gottlieb concluded, shortly before he retired in 1972. The CIA awarded Mr. Gottlieb the Distinguished Intelligence Medal… “

…We must soldier on, despite the appalling odds against our coming up with something more piquant than the morning headlines.”
(from author interview at

dubjay January 3, 2006 at 11:26 pm

May I also say that I like the image of “bearing their breasts to a gorilla?”

As if they were on a silver tray or something?

HaloJonesFan January 4, 2006 at 3:09 pm

Life is also imitating Metropolitan. MINIATURE BOVINES!

Martin Wisse January 6, 2006 at 8:31 pm

Well, that’s one of the reasons I at least read science fiction for: the gnarly, interesting details that make you look up from a book in some confusion or wonder.

wintermute9366 January 17, 2006 at 11:56 am

I read ‘Voice of the Whirlwind’ about 15 years ago and thought it was a fantastic book, up there with Gibson himself. By happy chance I recently stumbled across ‘Hardwired’ in a 2nd hand book shop.

Is there any scope for getting your original cyberpunk stuff republished, with some minor editing for changes in technological mediums(such as an mega corporation blackmailing characters with tape recordings), and modern covers now might be a time for a new generation to discover the genre.

If it’s not comercially viable – how about a downloadable option?


dubjay January 17, 2006 at 9:27 pm

There is a downloadable version of Hardwired. Go to my web page and click on “ebooks.”

As for reprints, Plans Are Underway, but I can say no more at this time.

Thai Radio January 8, 2007 at 8:09 am

Nice books !

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