Nested Scrolls – Rudy Rucker (2011)
I feel like I just had a long, thoughtful conversation with one of my favorite authors. Not only was it engrossing and entertaining, but it made me appreciate the man himself more than ever. Rudy Rucker has long been someone whose books shape my mind. He easily describes the most complex of ideas all the while making me crack up. I find him to be one of the few authors, similar to Mark Twain or Kurt Vonnegut, who makes the reader laugh as much as he makes them think, sometimes in the same sentence! This is how my mind works, and reading Rucker’s life story, I can see so many similarities to myself. Life can be quite tough for people who choose to explore and think about topics normally avoided by the public, especially those who create something for others to absorb, whether it be literature, paintings, or music.
Rudy Rucker begins his tale with a description of the brain hemorrhage he experienced in the summer of 2008, aged 62, and his brush with mortality. One of the realizations he describes really hit home, as it is a truth that I have come to understand. Rucker states, “The richest and most interesting parts of my life are the sensations that come in from the outside.” Our thoughts and ideas are merely reflections of the beauty and grandeur of the world around us, if we only take the time to actually look and listen, without judgement. We all proceed through our lives as if we are the protagonist in a grandiose and important tale that matters to all. Our self-importance seems to dictate the world around us. However, the truth is that we are but reflectors of the world at large, and our self-importance blinds us to how fortunate we are to just breathe, eat, sleep, and love, existing in the amazing and infinite world that surrounds each of us. This experience drove Rudy Rucker to write his autobiography, but without any of the self-promotional aspects of such writing.
Reading about Rudy’s childhood and family was a joy. Rucker’s writing style is so deceptively casual that his story flows smoothly, and I found myself as engrossed in his life as if it was one of his works of fiction. Many of his childhood experiences mirror my own, and many of the questions he asked about the world around him I asked in my youth. Rudy Rucker had to wait until he was much older to find people whose curiosity and genius matched his own. It is a lonely thing to grow up understanding that most around you either do not ask, or simply do not care to know, about difficult ideas and concepts. Expanding one’s mind, something that comes ridiculously easy to most toddlers and children, is beaten out of us by life, society, parents that do not care, and other such brutalities. It creates a nation of adults who do not seek to understand, or to explore, but who want safety and certainty above all else. Certainty is the absolute bane of wisdom. Throughout Nested Scrolls, Rucker describes the many times he dealt with such inanity, from school to church to workplaces. A freethinker will always threaten the status quo. These moments truly resonated with me.
Apart from learning about Rudy Rucker’s life and experiences, I enjoyed the sections in which he describes his state of mind as he wrote his various literary works. Writers write. It is their way of existing. I have always enjoyed reading about the creative process of the people I admire. I was reminded that while Rudy Rucker has written some of the most mind-expanding and hilarious science fiction literature I have ever read, he also wrote one of the most beautiful books, a historical fiction novel detailing the life and times of Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder titled As Above, So Below. It is a triumph.
One of the themes I found in Nested Scrolls is that of the “fringe” individual, and how to best exist as one. Rudy Rucker studied and taught mathematics, but was seen as too weird and “out there” to belong with the mathematicians. He studied computer science, but his metaphysical ideas about computing and the mind were too much for his fellow computer scientists. Rucker wrote many amazing books, yet was pigeonholed as a science fiction author. Far too many writers demean science fiction as if it was trash writing, not worthy of the high and mighty term “Literature.” Not only that, many established science fiction authors isolate and demean writers like Rucker whose work is too transgressive, funny, or caustic for what they have determined is actual, hard science fiction. The ego on these people! If only they would see how blind they are, and that they have chosen to blind themselves with their intellectual bigotry.
I relate to this aspect of Rudy Rucker’s life so much. The Art Crowd found me too intellectual, too into sports, too into science, and too aware of the lies Art tells itself. The jock crowd found me to artsy-fartsy, too mocking of the sacred ideas of sport competition, even though I love sports greatly. The punk/underground music types found me too square, too “normal,” to truly accept me as part of that scene. The “norms” found me too weird and uncaring about bullshit such as cars, money, or the latest useless status symbol. It has been this way my whole life, and I feel it is that way for anyone whose mind and interests go too far beyond one or two self-defining characteristics. The Public wants everyone to be easily defined, the faster the better, but people like Rucker and myself understand that the world does not work that way. In fact, everything is far too complex for such simple-minded labels. Much of Rudy Rucker’s work explores this idea. As he states, and it is something I have myself claimed, there is no such thing as a “normal” person. If you bother to scratch just below the surface, you will find that every single human you have ever met is a deeply weird individual creation. The worst thing you could do for yourself is to force your life into the very narrow definitions that the people around you expect you to be. They are the ignorant ones. They are the ones whose minds are atrophied and scared of difference.
Often Rudy Rucker describes how much of a grind it is to promote your work, to seek publishers, and to expand your readership. Rucker has never had a “best seller” yet his works sell well and he is always able to publish his material. His books are too weird for Hollywood, and none of them have yet been made into a feature film. He taught at various Universities to make a living, but it took him over 35 years to get tenure. All the while, he shared his life with his lovely wife and their three children, and as he describes their lives, I can see how much their love and stability aided him in his dream of writing science fiction. Perhaps he is the most fortunate of all, experiencing a full life, while living out his childhood dreams. Too many people consider you a failure if you do not become “the BEST,” or “the RICHEST,” or “the MOST FAMOUS!” These are all meaningless labels. Rudy Rucker grew up, married, started a family, taught countless students, created dozens of original works of literature, shared his ideas with readers worldwide, and even took up oil painting at a late age! He is a success by any true measure, and I am so glad to have read his autobiography. Rudy Rucker may not know me, but I count him as my lifelong friend. Thanks for sharing the Gnarl, Rudy!
(This book may be read here: https://www.rudyrucker.com/nestedscrolls/ )