Posted February 26, 2012
Sci-fi author Rudy Rucker has been busy, with four books that have come out in the last year or so. I’ve just finished reading his autobiography, Nested Scrolls, and it’s hilarious, insightful, and just about as science-fictional as his novels. You really can’t go wrong with Rucker’s books.
When I was reading Nested Scrolls, it got me thinking: how much should an author’s life and/or opinions affect our perceptions of their books? I get the sense that this question comes up most often for writers (or other artsy folks) who espouse something hateful, or distasteful, or even just obnoxious. But what about the opposite? What about writers who are lovable, or tasteful, or even just delightful? Generally that makes me a loyal, loyal fan.
I’ve run across a few writers who radiate fun and enthusiasm in their personal lives that spills over (perhaps inevitably) into their professional output. I’ve talked about James Gurney here on the Gutter before; Gurney is a really creative guy (more of an artist, but no slouch as a writer), and it’s always fun to see his ideas, but it’s that sense of how generous he is with the community that draws me back. That’s been the sense I get with Rucker as well, so I was curious to see what his autobiography would be like.
Nested Scrolls is an entertaining read but it starts off on a sombre note. A few years ago, Rucker had a near-death experience due to an aneurysm. That’s the kind of thing that makes you reevaluate your life, and finishing his memoir became a priority.
I would classify the book into two pieces: scenes from Rucker’s childhood and adolescence (shading into college) which are composed mainly of shenanigans and hijinx, and the second half which is more about the pair of professions he found himself interested in, mathematician (and later computer science prof) and science fiction writer.
I have to say, I wasn’t expecting the first half of the book to be so Tom-Sawyer-esque (or Penrod-ian or Calvin-and-Hobbes-ish… take your pick of naughty little boy). There are some really outrageous stories, including one that involves a neighbour’s bathroom that’s too priceless to give away here. Rucker also provides some stories about growing up in a small town, and various changes that happened to such a community over the years. It’s all a bit episodic, but the pieces flow together nicely.
The second half has some personal detail, but it’s more concerned with math and sci-fi matters. Yup, there’s some sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll… I guess it wouldn’t be a memoir of the sixties without that stuff. But Rucker met the love of his life shortly into college, and talks about how family life was an important thing even for a punkish guy like himself. One of the other personal strands in this section is Rucker coming to realize he had a problem with alchohol, and what it took for him to do something about that.
As for his professional life, I liked his stories about math and the eccentric characters in pure math faculties around the world, but I would hesitate to say that I followed the bits and pieces about the fourth dimension and levels of infinity. Rucker has a knack, though, for dramatizing these abstract theories in entertaining and pulp SF ways – I reviewed his book Spaceland here on the Gutter quite a few years ago, a book that is probably his most explicit math-SF crossover.
There is a great deal of detail in the second half of Nested Scrolls about Rucker’s writing life, but I wasn’t kidding earlier when I said that his life is very science-fictional, at the very least in a Rudy-Rucker-ish way. That’s because Rucker likes to write in a style that he calls “transrealism”, where you take tons of detail from your personal life, jazz them up with some speculative conceits, and roll it all together into a fun story. So the similarity between his life memories, in Nested Scrolls, and various of his novels, is not an accident.
To wrap up, I’ll talk a bit about Flurb, a short fiction online magazine that Rucker puts together. Flurb doesn’t pay anything and doesn’t charge anything, but it has accumulated quite an interesting archive in the few years since Rucker started it. Not many writers have the knack, or the connections, to do Flurb, which I think shows that I’m not the only one who reacts favourably to Rucker’s enthusiasm and creativity.
If you’re looking for a taste of Rucker’s writing, it’s easy to find online. His fabulous blog is at www.rudyrucker.com/blog/, appropriately enough. I also like his paintings – to browse the selection or buy prints, just click on the cow and UFO above!
Rucker really is a busy guy. Since I started writing this piece, he has announced his own ebook press, with some worthy items on sale for reasonable prices.