‘The Mad Professor’ is a collection of 13 of Rudy Rucker’s short stories. Rucker himself is a double professor, starting with mathematics and moving on to computer science. The stories are presented in reverse chronological order with the newest stories first with one exception, the last story ‘Visions Of The Metanove’l was written last. Of the 301 pages of the book, 16 pages are given over to notes of the stories. These notes at the back of the book are interesting providing background material on the creation of the story.
One of the joys of collections of short stories is that you can dip in and out of it. The more exciting or captivating the stories, the quicker you read them. It took me a long time to read ‘Mad Professor’. The first few stories made no real impression on me. It was not until the eighth story, ‘Jenna And Me’, that things start to pick up. For a short story, it is certainly packed with material with President Bush and his daughter, computer hackers, aliens, secret government organisations and a dubious if not mad scientist.
The last four stories are the highlight of this collection. ‘Junk DNA’ is an intriguing view of the near-future where elements of civilisation have broken down and where biotechnology is widespread but old hat. Two enterprising young lady scientists see an opportunity to create toys based on their owners DNA. There’s a company start-up, shutdown and buy out, finished with a nice bit of revenge that goes slightly askew.
‘Pockets’ is an excellent story of when a far more advanced being makes contact with humans. Although their technology may be far superior to anything we can create or even think of, by the end of the story it becomes apparent that they have similar drives to ourselves. ‘Cobb Wakes Up’ is set in the far-future where it becomes possible to move a person’s mind to another medium such as a computer or a collection of living organisms acting as one biological computer.
The final story, ‘Visions Of The Metanovel’ is a well-written piece set in the far future where people create Metanovels to entertain or to document the world. Metanovels are for more than the books or films we know today. Indeed, some of their characters interact with their creators leading to rewrites or editing to bring things back under control. After an initial opening, the story settles down to cover five Metanovels and their creators. There’s a nice wrap up piece at the end to tie up some loose threads.
The surprising thing about this collection was it was the older pieces that I thought were the best stories. The newer stories just did not engage me, meaning that the first half of the book was a bit of a chore to read. Once you get over that hurdle, then the second half of the book certainly picks up. It just does not pick up enough for me to recommend people go out and buy it. There’s just not enough wow factor or clever plot twists in the ‘Mad Professor’.
(pub: Thunder’s Mouth Press. 301 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-56025-974-4)