First of all, let me applaud plink's writeup (see above). This writeup is in no way intended as a detraction of its predecessor, for which I am incredibly grateful, as I was able to unearth even fewer facts about Matt Ruff than those plink lists. Ruff is one of my favorite fiction writers, but darned if he isn't a hard guy to get information about! That said, this writeup is about why Matt Ruff is possibly my favorite fiction writer, and definitely one of my favorite writers: his books, while not perhaps great literature, are just plain fun to read.
As mentioned in my writeup on Ruff's first novel, Fool on the Hill, I bought the book on a whim, and (within hours) was so pleasantly surprised that I bought several copies for friends on my next trip to Ithaca, NY (home of Ruff's alma mater, Cornell University, and for years the only place Fool was sold, because it was the novel's setting, and the book had become something of a cult classic on campus). No fewer than three of my friends got copies of Fool as their respective winter holiday gifts that year.
"I decided I wanted to write for a living when I was five years old---good timing, as it gave me sixteen years to practice before I had to start paying for my own food."
---excerpt from Matt Ruff's author interview at Amazon.com
Although clearly a first novel in some respects---the at least semi-autobiographical protagonist, S. T. George, leaps to mind---it's impossible to ignore the love that suffuses Fool. Packed with magic, engaging characters, and philosophical digressions ranging in topic from Shakespeare to the lack of good English words about the act of sex, this book makes me laugh out loud.
I suspect it was my cousin Mike, one of the friends whom I'd converted to Fool fandom in urgent fashion, who alerted my mom to the fact that Matt Ruff had a new novel coming out, and so I received Sewer, Gas, & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy in the winter of 1997. Again I was pleasantly surprised, this time with the added bonus of having been too busy being a college freshman to know anything of the outside world, new book releases included.
"...the greatest single influence on Sewer, Gas, & Electric was Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Sewer was originally conceived as a satire of Atlas, and though it eventually mutated into something a bit different, many of the satirical elements are still there: Rand's own ghost appears as a character in the novel, resurrected from the dead and forced to spend time in the company of altruists."
---Matt Ruff, again in the Amazon.com interview
Sewer filled me with the same familiar sense of exhilaration I'd gotten on my first reading of Fool and knew so well from multiple rereadings. No matter how wild Ruff's plotlines and premises, no matter how colorful his characters, I could read with confidence that everything was magically going to come together in the end, in such a way that anything could happen, but that whatever did happen would be more right than anything I could imagine. In Sewer, Ruff's lovable ecoterrorist Philo Dufresne is like the Good Twin to Neal Stephenson's Sangamon Taylor, the Toxic Spiderman of Zodiac fame. The latter is the closest analogue to Sewer I can come up with, except that Sewer doesn't suffer from Stephenson Ending Syndrome, and its ecoterrorism is only a subplot among many other plots which converge in glorious hilarity.
Long story short, I await Ruff's third book, Set This House in Order with bated breath. Back when I still aspired to write fiction, Fool on the Hill was everything I wanted my little imaginary novels to be when they grew up. I wish I had words to praise him more highly.