Nested Scrolls by Rudy Rucker – review

By on May 14, 2012

Rudy Rucker is one of today’s best science fiction authors. He’s written many novels but is perhaps best known for Postsingular, Mathematicians In Love, and his latest, Jim and the Flims. The latter is the only one of Rucker’s novels I’ve so far had the pleasure to read/review. I really enjoyed reading it, though, and I liked Rudy’s mixture of hard science with a style definitely influenced by another of my favorite authors, Philip K. Dick. Born in 1946, Rudy Rucker has had a long and very distinguished career as an author. Hopefully, he has many more books ahead of him yet to write, as he is now in his mid-sixties.

This raises the question: What prompted Rudy to write an autobiography now? And, as an ancillary question: Why name it Nested Scrolls? As well as these two questions, for fans of Rudy Rucker, science fiction, and autobiographies in general, I’ll add three further questions which I’ll discuss in this review: Is the autobiography well-written, does it offer insights into the author, and is it worth buying?

Rudy Rucker experienced a brush with his own mortality that nearly resulted in his death. He began writing Nested Scrolls in 2004, but after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in 2008, the immediacy of the desire to complete the autobiography while he still had time to likely became a motivating factor to finishing it. He is still recovering from the hemorrhage, and in the book details how his perception has changed as well as his attitude towards life in general. Who wouldn’t reevaluate what’s most important after having experienced such a devastating event?

That’s why Rudy titles his first chapter “Death’s Door.” But, though the immediacy of death may have prompted Rucker to rush somewhat towards the completion of Nested Scrolls, Rudy’s joy of seeing things from a new, fresh perspective is what struck me as being a main theme of the book. Life and the joy of living, and Rucker’s relating his life’s story from its very beginning to how/when he grew interested in mathematics to his love of writing and science fiction, are some of the topics included in this autobiography.

Rudy incorporates an informal writing style in Nested Scrolls. Why not, as he is relating incidents from his own life, and he wants to draw his readers in? This style and the anecdotes he relates makes for an engrossing read. It is true, as other reviewers have pointed out, that there are several grammatical errors, and these do tend to distract from one’s enjoyment of the book. But I kept an open mind as I read, and I was struck more with the author’s many and varied life experiences that led him to both a career as a brilliant mathematician and as one of this era’s best science fiction writers. These aspects of the autobiography were what kept me wanting to read on.

Why did Rudy chose the title he chose? He considers the stages of life to be like scrolls nested inside of each other. In his own words:

“Over time I learned to see nested scrolls everywhere, even within my thoughts. And that’s where the title for my memoir comes from. A life story is made of scrolls within scrolls, divagations within tangential tales within related anecdotes — and all the stories are forever turning and rotating, throbbing with their own kind of life.” (p. 252)

As with P.K. Dick, Rudy Rucker often writes about alternate realities just barely beyond that of our own, worlds that sometimes cross over and intersect with ours. Also, the realism he and Dick depict in many of their novels Rucker terms “Transrealism.” As in some of Dick’s later works, such as The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, there is always a strong realistic element to Rucker’s novels to help balance out the science fiction pats and make them seem more believable.

Nested Scrolls is a window into Rudy Rucker’s life and influences, and for that alone, it would be a worthwhile read. It is about what is important to the author, the wonder of all creation, his life, his family, babies, even the miraculous in everyday occurrences and events. There are flaws others have pointed out which I touched on, but ultimately, to me the good qualities far surpass the relatively minor inconveniences like grammatical errors. If you’re a fan of Rudy Rucker’s novels, Nested Scrolls is a Must Read.

About Douglas Cobb

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