Nested Scrolls: Rudy Rucker’s Portrait of the Artist as Natural Born Weirdo

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If you’re interested in science fiction, you’ve probably bumped up against the name Rudy Rucker a few times in the course of your travels. For the last four decades, he’s been cranking out an unapologetically trippy brand of sci-fi that mixes beatnik surrealism with a highly cerebral take on topics like infinity, alternate dimensions and nanotech. At the same time as his sci-fi career, he’s also charted a course for himself as a widely respected professor of mathematics and computer science, authoring popular science books like Infinity and the Mind.

Nested Scrolls is his 2011 autobiography, a laid-back, conversation telling of his journey from “Bottom of the totem pole” student in rural Kentucky, to becoming a math whiz who shared thoughts with Godel, to Silicon Valley pioneer, to Science Fiction master.

In one of his books, 1984 Master of Time and Space, Rucker’s fictional surrogate Joe Fletcher finds himself caught in a multi dimensional, self-referential size-loop:

Although my dome light wasn’t on, the inside of my car was lit up. I glanced around to find the cause. Resting on the seat next to me there was a sort of toy car, a scale model 1956 Buick with blazing headlights. The headlights were aimed at my corduroy-clad right leg. It looks as if the toy car even had a toy driver. I put my hand on it, then drew back with a scream.

Just as my thumb touched the wrap around windshield of the model car, a giant’s hand had swooped down out of the darkness to press its hamlike thumb against my own windshield! When I withdrew my hand the giant followed suit.

Nested Scrolls works in similar way. With Rucker telling a generally chronological tale, but never hesitating to move back and forth in time or even back to the present, nesting certain stories within others and creating a generally Fractal approach to the auto-bio genre.

From the very first pages in which he recounts a beautiful little story which involves saying “I Love you” to a seagull, Rucker maintains the steady voice of a guy who doesn’t take himself to seriously, and has generally had a positive experience on his trip. It’s a soothing feeling – the literary equivalent of Something like a Vince Guaraldi album: A hint of melancholy, a Big dash of fun and a zen core that let’s us know there’s  steady hand at the controls.

At one point in the book he recounts visiting his father, who he always refers to as “Pop” on his deathbed. His father asks, “what was I so worried about?” referring to all of the stresses and problems that we run up against in life. Rucker takes this as a very profound lesson. And from the book, you can tell it’s a lesson that he’s taken to heart

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