Return of the Big Boppers

I was re-reading Rudy Rucker’s Ware series recently, starting with the 1982 book, Software. There’s an interesting exchange about the death of Sta-Hi’s father that occurs when Sta-Hi runs into Cobb Anderson for first time time since the Big Boppers gave Cobb a robot body. Like much of the story in the ware series, it’s an early foreshadowing of Rucker’s later non-fiction book on universal automatism, titled “The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul. For the uninitiated, universal automatism is the idea that everything in the universe boils down to computation. Rather than describe it, I’ll just quote a little piece of the exchange and let you ponder it.

The robot began to talk then, slowly, and in Cobb’s old voice. “Listen to me, Sta-Hi. Sit down and listen. I’m sorry your father died. But death isn’t real. You have to understand that. Death is meaningless. I wasted the last ten years being scared of death, and now…”

“Now that you think you’re immortal you don’t worry about death,” Sta-Hi said bitterly. “That’s really enlightened of you. But whether you know it or not, Cobb Anderson is dead. I saw him die, and if you think you’re him, you’re just fooling yourself.” He sat down, suddenly very tired.

“If I’m not Cobb Anderson, then who would I be?” The flicker-cladding face smiled at him gently. “I know I’m Cobb. I have the same memories, the same habits, the same feelings that I always did.”

“But what about your . . . your soul,” Sta-Hi said, not liking to use the word. “Each person has a soul, a consciousness, whatever you call it. There’s some special thing that makes a person alive, and there’s no way that can go into a computer program. No way.”

“It doesn’t have to go into the program, Sta-Hi. It is everywhere. It is just existence itself. All consciousness is One. The One is God. God is pure existence unmodified.”

Cobb’s voice was intense, evangelical. “A person is just hardware plus software plus existence. Me existing in flesh is the same as me existing on chips. But that’s not all.

“Potential existence is as good as actual existence. That’s why death is impossible. Your software exists permanently and indestructibly as a certain possibility, a certain mathematical set of relations. Your father is now an abstract, non-physical possibility. But nevertheless he exists!”

The books of the Ware series include Software, Wetware, Freeware, and Realware. The first two were winners of the Philip K. Dick award. These well-known early cyberpunk books have been released in a single volume titled The Ware Tetralogy. You can get the dead tree version from Amazon if you’re like me and still prefer the feel of a real book in your hands. Rucker also offers The Ware Tetralogy as a Creative Commons licensed download in PDF format, suitable for most readers, tablets, phones, or direct download into your brain if you have the necessary USB port on your skull.