The Big Idea: Rudy Rucker

Rudy Rucker has lived an interesting, interesting life, one that if you heard about it you would think, hey, that would probably make an interesting book. And so it has, with Nested Scrolls, Rucker’s official autobiography. With any sort of book, there’s a process of discovery the author goes through in putting a biography together — discovery even though the subject is one’s self. Here’s Rucker to share some of what that experience was for him as he considered the totality of his life.


Recently, I decided that I’d better write my autobiography, Nested Scrolls, before it was too late. What with death and senility closing in.

(I have a visual memory, and a lot of my material comes from mental images, and I often photos in my blog posts. But rather than pasting illos into this short post on John’s blog, I’ll simply intersperse some “Memory Flash” paragraphs that describe images. If you actually want to see the photos, you can find them under the Photos link on my Nested Scrolls page.)

Memory Flash: Snorkeling in Jellyfish Lake in the South Pacific, amid three million jellyfish. It was one of those scenes that felt like a concrete model of some inner reality. The jellyfish were like images of the thoughts swimming around inside my mind.

I didn’t want my autobio to be overly long or dry. I wanted it to read something like a novel. Unlike an  encyclopedia entry, a novel isn’t a list of dates and events. A novel is all about characterization and description and conversation, about action and vignettes. I wanted to structure my autobiography, Nested Scrolls, like that.

Memory Flash. Writing in a rented office in the early 1980s, using my beloved IBM Selectric to write my novel Wetware. At that time I was a freelance writer, i.e. unemployed.  My family and I were living in Lynchburg, Virginia, of all places. I was a cyberpunk in TV preacher Jerry Falwell’s home town—in my own way I was an evangelist too.

So what’s the plot for my autobiography? Well, okay, a real life doesn’t have a plot that’s as clear as a novel’s. But, as a writer, I can think about my life’s structure, about the story arc. And I’d like to know what it was all about.  In writing my autobiography, I came up with a few ideas.

Memory Flash. Holding a cone shell to the side of my head, kidding around, imagining the shell is sending alien thoughts into my head. And then I put flying cone shells into my novel, Mathematicians in Love. I like turning bits of my life into SFictional images.

You might say that I searched for ultimate reality, and I found contentment in creativity. I tried to scale the heights of science, and I found my calling in mathematics and in science fiction. You don’t have to break the bank of the Absolute. Learning your craft can be enough.

Memory Flash. Standing on a bar in a Manhattan artist’s loft to make a speech when I got the Philip K. Dick award for my novel Software in 1983.

In my earlier years, I was drinking and smoking pot. But eventually I found a way to stop. Once you’re in your forties, Jack Kerouac and Edgar Allen Poe aren’t good role models. They died in their forties.

Memory Flash. Painting giant red red flames on my bland white Ford as a way of staving off middle age. My kids came to help.

In some ways I like children better than grown-ups. Their minds are more open, less encumbered. As a youth, I was a loner. But then I found love and became a family man. I’ve spent a lot of time with my wife and our three children over the years. And now we have grandchildren. New saplings coming up as the old trees tumble down.

Memory Flash. With my wife Sylvia in a North Beach art gallery, hanging a show my paintings in 2007. We can hear cool music coming through the wall from the club next door.

In recent years, I took up painting as a hobby. It’s a lot harder, at least for me, to sell a painting than a story or a book! I’ve had a number of careers. Initially I was a math professor—math always came easy for me. Nothing to memorize! Then I took up writing, which remains my core career. But, even with thirty-odd books out, writing doesn’t pay very much.

So I spent the last twenty years working as a computer science professor in Silicon Valley. Riding the wave. It was a blast. And eventually I even got good at teaching, mutating from a rebel to a somewhat helpful professor.

Whatever I did, I never stopped seeing the world in my own special way, and I never stopped looking for new ways to share my thoughts.  So now, here I am with Nested Scrolls.


Nested Scrolls: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

5 Comments on “The Big Idea: Rudy Rucker”

  1. Recently, I decided that I’d better write my autobiography, Nested Scrolls, before it was too late. What with death and senility closing in.

    Is this self-deprecating humor about growing old, or is there something I missed?

  2. Perfect timing! I’m starting my lunch break and since I ate my lunch for breakfast I’ll spend the next hour reading. And what do I have sitting on my desk but Mr. Rucker’s “The Ware Tetralogy.”

    Rudy Rucker: an underappreciated man.

  3. Cool! Rudy Rucker’s one of my absolute favorite SF authors (I once paid a friend’s 1-day membership to BayCon so she’d give me a ride there so I could hear his GoH speech). I’m looking forward to reading this.

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