"Reality is a hobgoblin for small minds." - Onar to Saint
"Reality," pontificates one of Realware's characters to another, "is, after all, a consensual hallucination," and Rudy Rucker makes a first class run at convincing us this is so.
Phil Gottner is not an ambitious man -- a fact which has long set him at odds with his brilliant mathematician father. Phil figures he's doing okay. He has a job as an assistant chef in a fancy restaurant. He has a place to live: a birdcage room he built himself inside a warehouse he shares with three other tenants. He even has a girlfriend, albeit an emotionally challenged one who has to chew an empathy-enhancing gum to help her visualize what other people might be feeling. Sure, Phil's life may not be perfect, but it's good enough for him. It's not good enough, unfortunately, for Phil's father, who wants Phil to make more of himself. Nothing is ever good enough for Phil's father.
One morning Phil wakes to an urgent phone call from his sister Jane. Their father is dead. Killed by one of his own inventions; a holographic toy known as a "Wowo". Thus begins our journey into the bizarre world of Rudy Rucker's imagination in Realware.
How does one cope with a world, asks Rucker, in which consumerism has run rampant? And he means RAMPANT -- topped perhaps only by that other great evil of Rucker's near future: apathy. Indeed, consumerism and apathy march hand in hand as they run amok through a post-modern Earth intent on destroying itself, and Phil finds himself thrust into the centre of the turmoil as he must travel to the fourth dimension to find a way to save humanity.
Realware is a wild ride through social commentary, higher mathematics and cyberpunk and does what bizarre fiction at its best is designed to do: use the extremities of its strangeness to bring our own reality into acute focus. Intelligent, hilarious and downright strange, Realware deserves a spot on the pinnacle of the bizarre speculative fiction ranks along with such greats as Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker series. I'll be sure to check out Realware's prequels, Software, Wetware and Freeware as soon as I can get my hands on copies.