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Good Night, Moon
By Rudy Rucker
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2017 Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling
All rights reserved.
"They say the moon's gone missing," said Carlo Morse. He set another fabule on the checkered tablecloth at Schwarz's Deli.
Jimmy Ganzer examined the growing collection of dream nuggets. The fabules were tightly patterned little pastel spheres, pockmarked and seamed, scattered across the tabletop like wads of gum. "Nobody goes for space travel dreams anymore," said Ganzer. "I don't want to work on that."
"I don't mean the moon's supposed to be in our new fabule for Skaken Recurrent Nightmare," said Morse. "I'm telling you that the moon has really gone missing. Reports from Shanghai say the moon faded from the sky a few hours ago. Like a burnt-out firework. Everyone's waiting to see what happens when night hits Europe and the U.S."
Morse adjusted his augmented-reality necktie, whose dots were in a steady state of undulation. "That's gotta mean something, don't ya think?"
"It's not even sunset yet in L.A.," said Ganzer carelessly. "So what if there's no moon?"
Schwarz's Deli had fed generations of Hollywood creative talent. The gold-framed celebrity photos on the walls were clustered thick as goldfish scales. The joint's historic clientele included vaudeville hams, silent film divas, radio crooners, movie studio titans, TV soap stars, computer game moguls, and social networkers. The augmented-reality mavens were memorialized by holographic busts on the ceiling. Business was in the air, but it was bypassing Morse and Ganzer. Especially Ganzer.
"We've got our own problems," admitted Morse.
With a practiced gesture, Ganzer formed a vortex in the deli's all-pervasive bosonic fluxon entertainment field. Then he plucked a lintcovered fabule from the pocket of his baggy sports pants. "Check out my brand-new giant paramecium here."
Ganzer's creation oozed from the everting seahorse-valleys that gnarled the fabule's surface.
Morse rotated the floating dream with his manicured fingertips, admiring it. "I can see every wiggly cilia! This dream is, like, realer than you, man."
Ganzer nodded in a superior, craftsmanlike fashion. "Yeah, the blank for this fabule uses high-end Chinese nanogoo. It's got more sensory affect than the human brain can parse."
Morse smiled at his collaborator. "Jimmy, you've brought in the awesome, once again. I knew that you could pull it off. I can't wait till Presburg shows up to sample this."
Ganzer's plain face wrinkled with a sheepish grin of triumph. With a sweep of both his arms, he corralled the dozen other fabules on the tabletop. "Lemme admit something to you," he said, stuffing the wrinkly spheres into a logo-bearing plastic storage tube. "I haven't viewed all these episodes of Skaken Recurrent Nightmare. I did pick up on the basic gimmick, though. Bugs."
"Yeah, Skaken Recurrent Nightmare conveys a different stark raving insect terror every night. The haunting dream you can't escape."
"A little corny, though, huh?" said Ganzer.
"I scraped my skull down to the rind for those insects," said Morse, looking haggard and worn. "They're festering in my unconscious right now. I can see bugs in the daylight sometimes. They're in my food. They're in my shower."
"Your praying mantis riff in the first episode was pretty classy," said Ganzer, using his finger to scrape the last glob of cream cheese off his plate. "Having the woman you love devouring your face, bite by bite, while you're mating? A primal riff like that one hits home. Kind of a turn-on, too."
"Can I level with you?" said Morse. "We haven't had another megahit since that first episode of Skaken. Every night, half the human race falls asleep and boots up a total mental inferno. If this new episode doesn't strike big and —"
"You were right to call on me," Ganzer assured him.
"Jimmy, are you sure you're up for this job? I mean — Skaken isn't like our old indie scene. I'm working with sponsors. We're government licensed. We've got global distribution."
"Speaking of global — should I try that Chinese oneirine?" said Ganzer. "You gotta respect the rate at which those Chinese fabbers churn out the dream product."
"I use that stuff when I'm working," said Morse with a shrug. "On oneirine, I can start work the instant I close my eyes. I lucid-dream while I sleepwalk around my home office. But you do that anyway, Jimmy. You don't need oneirine. You can hardly tell dreaming from waking."
"People make too much of that distinction." Ganzer shrugged. "Reality is socially constructed."
"The moon isn't socially constructed," said Morse.
"Then why's it gone?"
"The moon's still up there, Jimmy. The moon has gotta exist in one form or another. The moon is a huge physical object. The moon is like half the size of a planet, even. The moon has gravity and tides."
Ganzer smiled indulgently and leaned back in his seat. "I bet you think the dark side of the moon really existed before we took pictures of the dark side of the moon."
"Don't start on me with the dreamer head games, Jimmy. Presburg is gonna be here any minute. Bitch about the biz, talk about the pastrami, act normal, listen to his rap. Bobby Presburg is easy if you let him talk."
Under this scolding, Ganzer shifted restlessly in his seat. "The pro dream biz is all about relentless mental focus," he declared. He wiped his greasy hands on his stained football jersey. "You know what our real problem is? Presburg doesn't respect our craft! Presburg thinks that us fabbers just idly slumber around, waiting for inspiration! He doesn't get it about us creatives! We plunge to the red-hot core of the psyche and we seize the deeper reality! That's how I deliver unique material like my giant flying paramecium."
"You're a good guy," said Morse with a short laugh.
"These days, any punk eight-year-old kid can dream up zombies and vampires! No wonder a pimp like Presburg likes to peddle insect paranoia."
"Look, Presburg is smarter than you know. The insect theme has been good for Skaken Recurrent Nightmare. We're getting ads from insecticide manufacturers and exterminator services."
Ganzer pounded at the checkered café table with his pudgy fist. "Carlo, the truth is that guys like Presburg have polluted dreamland — made it dull! You know why I'm dreaming about single-celled monsters now? Because Presburg hasn't been there. Germs are special. They're real, but you can't see them."
"You've always been the go-to guy for lurking invisible menaces," Morse admitted.
"Deconstructing reality's physical subtext is the core of my art! Seeing the unseen, naming the unnamable, and dreaming the undreamable — that's what Mr. Jimmy Ganzer is all about!"
"Yeah, yeah," said Morse, fondling Ganzer's new fabule. The dream-recording had a knobby surface, with clefts between the knobs, and the knobs themselves were tight clusters of smaller knobs. "I've been around the dance floor with you a few times. You're the ultimate old-school indie dreamer, Jimmy. You're the session man. You're the fixer."
"Yeah, okay, sure," Ganzer admitted, mopping his plate with a last scrap of whole wheat bagel. "I'm a cynical outsider artist, curiously endowed with an ability to slip reality's surly bonds."
Morse looked up as the deli's door jangled aloud. The sun was low in the sky outside, gilding the dusty streets. A strikingly handsome pair of youngsters had slipped into the café, bribing their way past the gateman — a mocking, weather-beaten Ukrainian named Yokl.
"Look at those wannabes," said Morse. "The kid with the pink tentacles growing out of his neck? And his girl's got a third eye in the middle of her forehead. They're here to flash their demos and beg for a deal."
Ganzer tugged at the elastic waist of his velour track pants. Ganzer always wore sports gear, despite the fact that he never exercised and spent his creative working life soundly asleep. "She's hot. Costume-play sure has changed, hasn't it? We've gone from dorky hats to riding the bosonic flux."
The aspiring fabbers slipped into a nearby empty booth. The boy shoved the dirty plates and cups aside with a busy flurry of his pink tentacles.
"Whoa," Morse remarked.
"That's a pretty good augment," said Ganzer. "For a punk wannabe. Moving real objects with his dreams."
"A ribbonware plug-in for the bosonic flux medium," said Morse. "From China." Ganzer glanced over his shoulder. "Nice projected glow from the girlfriend's third eye. It's sweet to see two noobs yearning to get discovered around Schwartz's."
"Presburg would eat those kids like pink-elephant cotton candy," said Morse.
"That reminds me," said Ganzer. "If your boss man's picking up our supper tab, we should order something pricey."
"We just had supper, man. You went through that lox and bagel like a horde of locusts."
"On come on, that bagel wasn't supper! That was just a nutritional restorative to sharpen my oneiric brain chemistry."
Morse lifted his elegant hand and signaled for Maya, their favorite Schwarz's waitress. The deli was slowly filling up with the early evening crowd.
"They put dreams on cereal boxes now," Morse muttered, straightening his tailored sleeves. "Dreams are on bubble-gum cards. Remember when our users had to load dreams off a server the size of a beer keg? And the low fidelity — hell, I look back at my old works now, way back in the 2040s, and they're like crazy-bum finger paintings made with coffee and ketchup."
"I don't like to hear you dismiss your best work," said Ganzer. "Those low-fi dreams that you used to bash out — they had a bright, childlike gusto! I mean, sure, they bombed in the marketplace. But in those days, there was nothing like a dream marketplace."
"It's all the work of Hollywood hustlers," Morse griped. "The lamestream media for the mundane sheeple ... Sure, we always knew we were selling our souls, but how come we couldn't get better residuals?"
"Because we were artists once," Ganzer pointed out. "But we've matured into hard-ass bosonic pros. We're like full-tackle rugby players by now, Carlo. We gotta scrum. Scrum, scrum, scrum. That's such a great mantra, scrum; my unconscious creative mind finds that word really evocative. Oh, hi, Maya. What've you got for us in the way of appetizers? I'm starving."
Maya the waitress struck a pose at the table and twitched her fingers. Gleaming images of diner chow sprang into life, bright as neon in midair. "We gotcha some nice kosher spring rolls, Mr. Ganzer. Filled with tilapia liver."
"Could you sprinkle on a little brewer's yeast? And bring me a big ginseng root beer."
"Not a problem," said Maya, steadily chewing her dreamgum. "And how about some unicorn bacon for you, Mr. Morse?"
"Is it real unicorn bacon?"
"Real as unicorn bacon can get!"
Morse nodded. Maya dismissed the menu images with a flip of her wrist and sashayed off.
Morse leaned forward, cracking his knuckles. "How exactly do I frame your episode for Presburg? Just in case he actually asks."
"The dreamer turns into a paramecium," said Ganzer. "It's the classic dream-transformation riff. We should keep it sharp and simple."
Morse narrowed his eyes with a critical stare. "Does our average dream consumer really want to be a paramecium? Is this, like, the fulfillment of an unconscious urge? An urge to become single-celled?" "It's one of those classic dream situations where the central figure is beset by demonic mishaps," Ganzer explained. "Let's call our lead Franz Kafka. Skaken Recurrent Nightmare can use the class."
"But how exactly is Franz turning into a paramecium? I mean, I can totally get it about transforming into your spirit animal — like a vampire bat, or a werewolf, or a cockroach. But a paramecium? Is that even scary?"
"It's cellular," Ganzer explained.
"All of it," said Ganzer. "Everything is cellular. Reality is cellular. I really love that word, cellular. Cellular phone, cellular foam, sleeper cell, cellulite, cellular automata ... A cell can be anything! For a solid week, I wore augment goggles with a live feed from the microscopic world. I saw cells floating around in mixed reality, twenty-four seven."
Morse thought this over. "You've got a lot of time on your hands, since the divorce."
"Last night when I created this fabule, I chanted cellular to myself before I fell asleep. Just a simple creative trick, but I know how to get into a working groove."
Morse nodded. "I used wool blankets for bedsheets when I was fabbing about the lice with the black plague. Sure, I had to sleep alone, but great dreams can only come from creative suffering. Great dreams come from spiritual suffering. The fabule artist is like Saint Anthony, all alone in the desert, tempted by demons. Weird chimerical beasts, naked demonic chicks, eggs with legs ..."
"Yeah, man, we're both like saintly hermits, if only people knew," said Ganzer, wobbling his head in sympathy. "Those snot-fop critics say that dream-fabbing is a cheap fad! Well, dreams get fabbed in the Bible, man! Dreams get fabbed in Shakespeare's Macbeth! Dream-fabbing has very deep cultural and philosophical roots — the deepest of any art form ever! Those critics just don't get us because we're too profound."
Morse nodded and glanced at his watch. "Yeah. You bet."
Carried away by his own eloquence, Ganzer was bouncing eagerly on the red leather of his café seat. "Let's really ramp this fabule, okay? Like the old days when we were giving dreams away. Forget Presburg's mainstream soda-pop audience! I want our fabule users to feel their every cell coming into visionary sync! This new fabule can bust our users totally loose from consensus reality!"
"How do you plan to pull that stunt off?"
"It's cellular. It's quantum dots. It's quantum and cellular and bosonic. It's bosonic cellular quantum dottiness. With ribbons on."
Morse gazed down at Ganzer's gnarly fabule, which sat innocently on the table like a wadded piece of bread. "Yeah, those quantum dots. I loved those in your hot demo here. The quantum dots were that floating pepper I saw all around the paramecium, right? That cool, crackly visual effect, like Marvel comics from a hundred years ago."
Ganzer was pleased. "I like having chaos and dirt in my dreams. I'm like a bluesman with a distorted amp."
A pink tentacle touched the tabletop. "Hi, guys," said the tentacle's owner. The newbie was a handsome, bright-looking kid with olive skin and spiky hair. "Aren't you Carlo Morse and Jimmy Ganzer?" "That's James Ganzer, to you," Ganzer said.
"I'm Rollo," said the kid. "And this is Tigra." That was his girlfriend with the third eye. Ganzer couldn't stop staring at that eye.
"I'm a ribbonware hacker," said Tigra, blinking flirtatiously. "Rollo and I are viral."
"We couldn't help but overhear you discussing your work with quantum dots," said Rollo. "Back in Kentucky, I did a lot of work with quantum dots. In film school."
"You went to film school?" said Morse, wrinkling his nose.
"Of course I didn't study film," said the kid, wide-eyed. "More like ribbon theory and subdimensional bosonics."
"Look, Kentucky, you're talking to guys who cut their teeth on piezotrodes," challenged Morse. "I got a closet full of fabules older than you."
"Tigra and I have been around in Hollywood for a while," said Rollo. "We're underground artists." He used his writhing hot-pink tentacles to set a doll-like figurine on the table. His tentacle brushed against Morse's hand. Morse jerked his hand away.
"You made a naked statue of your girlfriend?" said Ganzer, nudging the figurine. "Yeah, that's, uh, real avant-garde."
"It's made of pumice," snickered Rollo. "Green cheese."
"He means it's refabulated ribbons from moon rocks," put in Tigra. "The new plug-in is coded into me. I mean, into my little statue there. You guys plug that in, drop out, take off, and you'll join us."
"What's up with the moon, anyway?" asked Morse.
"Psychogeographic revolution," said Tigra. "No more secondhand reality. We're taking control with our dreams."
Ganzer stared hopefully at the attractive three-eyed woman. "My dreams can get pretty wild."
"I'd be glad to help you guys realize some wild dreams," said Tigra, batting her three eyes in rotation. "I mean, the famous dream drama-comedy team of Morse and Ganzer? I'd do you two just for the experience!"
"We don't do any tutoring sessions," Morse said. "Do you mind? Our producer will be here any minute."
"Can we talk to him?" said Rollo.
Wounded, Rollo looked defiant. "Well, producers aren't gonna matter anymore. Not when reality hacking is finally here."
Maya the waitress reappeared, both her arms laden with plates. She was used to defending celebrity guests, and she chased the noobs back to their booth.
Maya deftly served them fresh cutlery on kosher burdock leaves.
Excerpted from Good Night, Moon by Rudy Rucker. Copyright © 2017 Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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