If science fiction were the Catholic church, Rudy Rucker would be the patron saint of quantum cupcakes. Saint, indeed yes, such is the regard with which the community should hold Rucker. Trouble is, his area is of so little common interest (the majority of candles seem to be lit for the saints of commerce, i.e. space opera and heroic adventure) that it leaves a small but devoted cult chanting Rucker’s name and spouting his many mercies and blessings in tiny alcoves and reliquaries (ergo this blog). 2019’s The Million Mile Road Trip marks Rucker’s return after an eight year pilgrimage to the Plains of Crystal Sprinkles. Hands folded together in supplication, the man has still got everything worth lighting a candle for.
Telling the tale of high school surfer Villy, his trumpet playing girlfriend Zoe, and Villy’s annoying younger brother Scud, The Million Mile Road Trip is classic Rucker madcap genius. Going on a trans-galactic journey in a purple station wagon souped up with space magic, the trio, along with a revolving cast of wacky aliens, explores the ideas of parallel worlds, flatworlds, and of course, Rucker’s transreal special: ‘human development’. Quotation marks required, I don’t think there is anybody quite like the author to put characters through a grinder of alternate physical realities and have them come out changed people on the other side but still wholly and recognizably human.
Which gets us into why Rucker is a saint. While at some level of philosophy all imagination is unique, it is of course relative, practically speaking. Author A’s space ship may have a curved hull and author B’s an angular, but both are blasting the f-u-c-k out of alien bugs in cheap entertainment. Rucker’s space ship is a purple 70s surfer wagon… with monster truck tires… and the alien bugs don’t’ require blasting. They require magic mushroom navigation. Like Rucker’s other books, The Million Mile Road Trip walks its own path, taking its three protagonists on a perilous journey through mappyworld (a flat world with some analog to Earth). The peril more often mental than physical, the three have to choose their own ways of dealing with the huge variety of slang and wackiness mappyworld/Ruckers spills their way.
If there are any discrepancies about the novel, one would have to be length. A sci-fi salad of constantly changing ingredients, the book reaches a point at about the three-quarters mark where the barrage of originality begins to become a wash. Novelty still sets the story hurtling onward, but in a fashion that has the reader occasionally questioning ‘What was that veep thing, again?’ I suppose after eight years, however, Rucker probably had trouble quelling the dearth of imagination built up.
Jack Kerouac may have his name in the canons of literature as ‘that guy who wrote the ultimate road trip book’, but I daresay that for as dynamic and shifting as On the Road is, The Million Mile Road Trip runs through the cosmos and back in the same time without losing any of its humanity. Featuring teenage characters as its protagonists, and their ordeal superficially simple, it would be easy to characterize the book as YA. But that would be doing it a disservice considering people of all ages could just as readily enjoy the trio’s zany adventures in a parallel world.
Do yourself a favor if you haven’t read Rucker, light a candle for the saint and buy The Million Mile Road Trip. It will wash away the sins of the mediocre, derivative material flooding the market today and cleanse your science fiction soul. Me, I’ve said my prayers for today. The quantum cupcake tasted good, and my world has a more colorful perspective for it. I wish you the same.