If the release of the omnibus Live Robots is any indication, publishers thought that Rudy Rucker’s Ware series was at an end. Software and Wetware capable of being seen as something resembling a closed loop, Rucker nevertheless returned nine years after Wetware to continue the story of the world turned upside down by wild technology.
Switching gears, Freeware (1998) breaks new ground in the Ware world. Set many years after Wetware, the boppers have been destroyed by humanity, and a new form of sentience has appeared. Something akin to algal-plastic beings, “moldies” live alongside standard humans, but not always in friendly or approved fashion. A traditional religion based on Christianity called Heritagism rising to power, followers disapprove of human-moldie relations, and have even been known to burn the smelly beings in public. But the real tension in the novel results from the development of a new form of imipolex—a substance key to moldie existence. A complex, crystalline plastic, when a new form of the product slips onto the market, the world, and universe, really opens up.
Freeware is largely told through the eyes of three characters. Randy Karl Tucker is a young man without a father and raised in the rural areas of Kentucky. Redneck to the core, his sexual experiences with a local woman lead him down the path of a cheeseball: a man who loves sex with moldies. His lustful desires, along with plumbing skills dictating his path in life, Randy finds himself in the employ of Emperor Staghorn Enterprises, one of the world’s largest producers of imipolex. Tre is a Californian surfer strung out on weed most of the time, but who happens to posses the intelligence to discover a new type of virtual overlay. Caught up in a commercial venture with imipolex, it isn’t long before Randy and Tre’s worlds collide. And lastly is Monique. A moldie, she works as a maid in a hotel, trying to stay out of the way lest any of the locals get any ideas in their head about torturing or killing her. Little does she know the role she will play in world politics as imipolex research takes off.
With Freeware, Rucker takes the Ware universe (if there ever were such a notion) in a new direction. Gone are the boppers and prevalence of Sta-Hi Mooney (though he does make some key cameos), and in their place are the moldies—a group, like the boppers, who have their own agenda—and an American population even more conservative than that previously portrayed. Moldies and cheeseballs rolling off the tongue with as much glee as boppers and meaties, Freeware may move in a new direction, but it’s a fun one—and one that enlivens rather than exhausts the original conception.
A pet peeve rather than true problem with the novel, about 85% through Freeware, a change occurs that blows the doors off Rucker’s universe. The possibilities exponentially more numerous than what existed previously, what was wacky becomes absurd—at least in my humble view; for sure there are readers who will love the development. Not a gamestopper, however, the story moves on, as…
Rucker’s wit and wackiness remains wholly in place. Perhaps more fun than the previous two Ware novels, it’s highly possible the reader will laugh out loud encountering the sardonic take on religion and dildos, the women’s boy toys and moldie love-making, Randy Karl Tucker’s redneck scenes and the many interesting uses for amipolex—and who can forget perplexing poultry? As Amazon reviewer albemuth states, Rucker“writes straight from his subunconscious pool, winging it with gusto and joy. Engineers beware, this works on dream-logic and grabs you by the jellyfish.” Floaty, indeed.