Author of two novels, Fool on the Hill (1988) and Sewer, Gas, & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (1997). Both novels are fantastically inventive; though Ruff often gets thrown into the Sci-fi/Fantasy corner, it's not the settings of his books that drives them, but what he does with them.

The son of "an irreverent minister and a missionary's daughter," Ruff attended Cornell University, graduating in 1987. He spent most of his time there taking inspiration for his writing - Ithaca, NY works nicely with active imaginations. The main character in FotH, Stephen Titus George, is at least partly autobiographical.

I was introduced to Ruff's books in college, when two friends of mine discovered their mutual affinity for Fool on the Hill. After hearing their gushing reviews, I went and picked up a copy, only to finish it the following day.

Among the protagonists of the novel are the Bohemians, a chaotic organization of Cornell students including: Aphrodite, the Minister of Love; Panhandle, the Minister of Lust; Woodstock, the Minister of Impetuousness; Preacher, the Minister of Ministry; and:

Z.Z. Top, the Minister of Bad Taste, was a study in soiled leather. Bringing up the rear on a grumpy burro (a San Diego Padres baseball cap had somehow been affixed to the animal's head, which did not improve its temper; neither did the personalized plastic Disneyland license plate - CHICO 69 - dangling from its tail), he looked like the cloned offspring of James Dean and Fidel Castro after a quick trip though a garbage disposal. He gave the impression of seldom having bathed in his lifetime, and this impression was not incorrect. One of the Great Unwashed, the Top filled his saddlebags with can upon can of the most loathsome beer money could buy: Black Label Light, Iron City, Utica Club, God bless this swill. He was always kind to children, though.
- Fool on the Hill
Fool on the Hill is akin to a Greek play, set at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. It is complete with omnipotent meddlers, sprites, dark powers, the protagonist (S. T. George) fighting a dragon built by ambitious architecture students, and a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-ish pair of talking animals. It indulges the wish of every fantasy fan and child - that there is more to the world than meets the eye. And it is this that sets Matt Ruff apart, his ability to take a known world (in this case Ithaca, NY), and fill it with the magical and fantastical, leading you to believe that if you look hard enough you can find it.

Ruff's second novel does the same thing - he takes the world of the early 1990's, and extends it just a bit, to 2023 (similar to Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash). Throw in a world Disney conspiracy, a mutant shark, and a satire of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and you get Sewer Gas, & Electric.

Abbie Hoffman's penalty in Heaven for committing suicide: teaching Ayn Rand a sense of humor, from SG&E:

"All right," Abbie Hoffman said. "Let's try something a little simpler. 'Knock, knock.' "
"I beg your pardon" Ayn Rand said.
"Not 'I beg your pardon.' I say 'Knock, knock,' and you say 'Who's there?' "
"But I already know who's there. I can see you."
"Yeah, but pretend you can't see me. Just -"
"You want me to deny the evidence of my senses?"
"No, see, the idea is -"
"Are you a communist?" Ayn asked suddenly. "Is that why you desecrate the American flag?"

Ruff's third novel, due out sometime in 2002, is supposedly neither sci-fi nor fantasy. Titled Set This House in Order, it's about the relationship between two people with multiple personality disorder; while I'm sure Ruff will take liberties with this to introduce fantastic elements, it will be much less of a typical (if you can call it that) fantasy novel than FotH.

Between the publication of FotH and SG&E, Ruff wrote a short novel titled Venus Envy, apparently about a woman in mental asylum who is dropped into an alternate universe and has an affair with the daughter of the farmer in Grant Wood's American Gothic. It was initially rejected, and Ruff hasn't let anyone look at it in some time.

Ruff maintains a good website at Check it out for info on his favorite books, alternate cover art, and a bunch of neat notes on his vision of the future in SG&E.

Update: Matt Ruff's third novel, Set This House in Order, has been published. I'm halfway through it; it's great so far (though much darker), and I'll put up more when I'm done.