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“The Hacker and the Ants” – Rudy Rucker

July 6, 2016 book review, sci-fi, cyberpunk
A very strange (but wonderful) book about a hacker, a robot, and lots of ants.

"The Hacker and the Ants" – Rudy Rucker

I just finished reading the strangest book.
It is called “The Hacker and the Ants”, and it was written by the American author Rudy Rucker back in 1994. Rudy Rucker was trained as a mathematician. He also worked as a Silicon Valley computer scientist for many years.

Even though I have read a lot of science fiction stories, I must admit I had not heard of Rudy Rucker before.

This particular book ‘came to me’ on a flea market. The guy that was selling it, allong with about twenty other sci-fi books (most of which I bought), was very adamant that Rudy Rucker was one of the greatest authors who had ever lived, and that I would just LOVE him !

Now, I have to admit I was feeling a little suspicious.
Why would anyone want to sell his entire sci-fi collection, if all the books in it are great ?

So, I asked him straight up.
He blinked once and then said : “Well, I have read them all. Why would I want to keep books that I have read ?”

And then it was my turn to blink.
I just cannot understand such a philosophy at all …
If I read an ebook, or a library book, and I love the story, I will want that story to be a part of my paper book collection forever. And I will most certainly read and enjoy the story many, many times.

Anyway. I’m a sucker for used books with colorful covers. So, the book collection changed hands and left two happy people in its wake.
And now, some weeks later, I can tell you that he was right about “The Hacker and the Ants” being a wonderful book.

The book tells the story of Jerzy Rugby (all characters in the book have interesting names), a computer programmer in Silicon Valley. Jerzy is working for a company called ‘Go Motion’. His job is to use genetic algorithms to come up with the best possible AI for a robot the company wants to start selling to families in the very near future.

Jerzy is a typical hacker (interesting point : all programming/’hacking’ is done in Virtual Reality) and so it comes as no surprise that things aren’t going so well in his personal life. He is still trying to get over the separation from his wife and kids, and on top of that, a very persistent realtor is trying to make him leave the old family house.

Then, one day, Jerzy notices a Virtual Reality ant crawling about on his computer.
And things begin to go really bad really fast …

There are many reasons I found this book ‘strange’ and entertaining.
“The Hacker and the Ants” is a sci-fi book written in the nineties. The world described in the book is definitely futuristic for that time, but so many of the technical accomplishments Rudy Rucker describes in the story have become an every day reality. So the story almost reads as if it is taking place in real-time. Weird.
There are tons of great references to computer science and mathematics woven throughout the story ; I just happen to love this kind of stuff. I also liked his creative use of names as a means of describing people, companies, etc. And finally, I really enjoyed the high level of (good) ‘absurd’ present in the book.

So. Thank you, Flea Market Person, for introducing me to Rudy Rucker ! I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from him in the future.