The more Rudy Rucker I read, the more I am convinced what a true, hidden gem of science fiction (and literature at large) the man is. I would stop short of saying inimitable, but at the same time I cannot think of anyone comparable. Robert Sheckley’s style comes closest; the wit and sense of fun, the light satire sprinkled with deft human observations, the whip-snap pacing, and the usage of counter-culture. But there remain undeniable differences. Where Sheckley’s fiction is largely humanist in aim, Rucker’s is more intangible, more “scientific” in demonstrating its humanism. Playing with theory in high-level, abstract fashion (read: not hard sf), Rucker’s quiet genius is more attuned to looking at known reality from an alternate perspective. Taking Edwin Abbott’s Flatland to the next dimension (literally), Rucker’s 1981 The Sex Sphere shifts from 3D to 4D in as wacky, and yet still somehow relatable, a way as possible.
When a physics experiment goes awry, sucking up the buxom Hungarian girlfriend of the eccentric scientist in charge of the research, little does the world know what is about to be unleashed upon it—including Alvin Bitter. Attending a conference in Rome with his family, Bitter makes the fateful decision to go out for a walk late one night. Ambushed on the street by a madman wielding a plastic ray gun, Bitter finds himself in the clutches of an underground Italian political cabal who want him to make a nuclear bomb. The madman likewise holding a small sphere shaped like a rubbery, naked woman, hell breaks loose when it suddenly finds itself in Bitter’s hands, his hormones going mad with lust, and the sphere opening itself to him…
As far as plot introductions go, that is by far one of the most bizarre I have written on this blog. Id est, if you’re looking for something far, far off the science fiction path, The Sex Sphere is precisely that, no need to read this review further. The story breaks into the fourth dimension, meaning the wackiness only escalates. The fourth dimension tough for the human mind to wrap itself around (i.e. Abbot’s breaking through from the second to third dimension in Flatland feels more profound given the relatability), Rucker nevertheless does his damndest to describe the notion of such existence. Where he succeeds more brilliantly is in mapping this breakthrough to the lives of his main characters, namely Bitter and his wife Sybil. Paralleling the jump in space-time to personal, psychological jumps in understanding, the couple end the novel on a different plane (har har) than where they started. Rucker accomplishing this in quick, direct fashion (the novel is only slightly longer than 200 pages), readers looking for a more detailed, intimate character portrayal may be left wanting. But that, I would say, is part of Rucker’s style—and genius. It all fits.
Flatland published in the 19th century, it’s possible Edwin Abbott is rolling in his grave thinking of Rucker’s The Sex Sphere. Irreverent and uncanny, the novel is a mad, tropical drink compared to the calm dry martini of Flatland. I love Flatland. It’s brilliant. But it’s apples and oranges compared to The Sex Sphere. What other story features a four dimensional doll attempting to take over the world with lust?