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Bewildering Stories

Rudy Rucker, Frek and the Elixir

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Frek and the Elixir
Author: Rudy Rucker
Publisher: Tor, April 2004
Hardcover: $27.95 US
Length: 476 pages
ISBN: 0-765-31058-9

One of the disadvantages of living in a Sticksville without a MegaBookStore within a hundred miles is a dependency on the local library. In my case, that’s just a one-room establishment about the size of a trailer. That deprivation has both its advantages and its disadvantages. Given more choice, I probably wouldn’t have picked up a book entitled Frek and the Elixir. The corny UFO-like saucer on its colorful cover didn’t help make its cause. But stretching the bounds a little by picking up a new author, instead of just looking for the next release from a favorite, can be a good thing. It’s true I flung another such previously unknown writer across the room in disgust this week, unable to finish a garbled tale featuring a knife-wielding heroine (heroine!) who tries to gut-slice an old man in the course of one of her frequent muggings. I may have failed in my duty as reviewer by not warning my fellow readers to avoid something that should be buried in mud, but one can suffer too much for duty — I couldn’t finish the book. Fortunately, Frek and the Elixir proved to be a happier choice: win one, lose one!

In Frek and the Elixir, twelve-year old Frek lives on an Earth controlled by NuBioCom and Gov, the latter a ubiquitous intruder who just might be a parasitic worm-brain. The year is 3003, and nothing exists that isn’t engineered by NuBioCom or spied upon by Gov. Inconvenient rebels either escape to the retro cult group on the hollowed-out asteroid Sick Hindu, or suffer the 3 R’s: that is, Removal, Recycling, and Replacement of one’s inconvenient brain.

As the story opens, Frek is temporarily fatherless. Carb, dear less than reliable old Dad, has fled off-world to join the cult Crufters group on Sick Hindu. That may be one reason why an alien soon comes to call on young Frek: a friendly green cuttlefish just like the image of the Merry Mollusk ‘toon that plays on his bedroom wall. Professor Bumby, as he calls himself, seems to know exactly what young Frek longs to do. Frek wants a Magic Elixir that will restore Earth to its lost diversity. Bumby, who soon proves to have a sneaking resemblance to certain snarky Hollywood deal-makers of our time, has a can’t-miss deal of his own in mind... and young Frek starts on a wild, wild ride to save Earth and humanity!

Mr. Rucker is a professor of computer science and mathematics, and his blending of physics and mathematical concepts (branes, branelinks, speromaks and qubits, just to mention a few) make for a good deal of the fun of this book. It would be a great story for a teenager who has some scientific leanings, because while the book covers a great many advanced (to me at least) concepts, it’s never didactic or dull. In fact, “over-the-top” would be a more accurate denigration, as the author manages to stir in enough science and plot twists to fuel a dozen books. Rucker has fun with inventive language too, and in that he’s less successful, though I give him high marks for trying. Um, anyone still remember the old Heinlein term “grok”? Not a great success in the English language. I think I’ve made my point.

One of the gushes on the back cover mentions Lewis Carroll, and there, too, I must disagree. Carroll truly was a subversive writer. He kicked the rules of society in the face in his own deadpan way: Humpty-Dumpty, for example, slyly subverted one of the most fundamental rules of language, that of common (shared) meaning. Rucker, on the other hand, is really a sweet writer. In style he reminds me most of the Doris Pischeria stories I read as a teenager... there’s a similar streak of wild invention. It’s an imaginative, happy story told from the viewpoint of an adolescent, and a great one to share with a smart, curious teenager who has a budding interest in the sciences. Enjoy!

Copyright © 2005 by Danielle L. Parker

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