"When I see an old movie, like from the '40s or '50s or '60s, the people look so calm. They don't have smart phones, they're not looking at computer screens, they're taking their time. They'll sit in a chair and just stare off into space. I think some day we'll find our way back to that garden of Eden."
Rudy Rucker has had an exhaustingly full life. He helped define cyberpunk with a series of novels beginning in the early '80s. He earned a Ph.D in mathematics and has taught computer science for over twenty years. He's written over thirty books, both SF and nonfiction focusing on computation, the fourth dimension, and infinity. In his new memoir, Nested Scrolls: The Autobiography of Rudolf von Bitter Rucker, he details these accomplishments, as well as their attendant travails.
You state in Nested Scrolls that, as a kid, you learned a lot about the craft of story-telling from comic books, specifically Carl Barks' Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge.
Yes, those Carl Barks comics were the first things I ever read that seemed truly unfiltered, with no traces of goody-goody grown-up lecturing mixed in. They were clever stories, really well designed, and Donald Duck was a true anti-hero: selfish, lazy, greedy, irascible, and not overly kind to his three nephews. I loved him as a boy, he was the kind of adult I could see myself becoming. And those comics told me it was okay to be like that. When I became a father I got reprints of the Carl Barks comics for our three children, and they of course enjoyed thinking of me as the bumbling Donald Duck, while they were the clever ducklings. In my own fiction, I'd say that I like writing about characters who aren't in any way idealized. People whom you can see as being like yourself. Another important thing about those old-school cartoons is that the characters in them are rubbery. Here I'm thinking particularly of the black-and-white 1940s and 1950s toons that I'd see on that weekly Cartoon Circus TV show in Louisville. I've always liked things that are curved and soft, as opposed to hard, rectilinear things. So when I began writing science-fiction about robots, I immediately found ways to make them snaky like Silly Symphony cartoons or like Dali's melting watches.
There are similarities to your favorite painter, Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
Bruegel's my main man. The one non-SF novel that I've published is a novelized version of Bruegel's life. I called it As Above, So Below. That's the book of mine that I give to, like, friends or relatives who say they can't possibly read SF. One of these days I'd like to write a life of Bosch as well. A first thing about Bruegel is that his style is very bright and poster-like. And I like my writing to be like that. Everything clear and easy to see. A second thing with Bruegel is that the characters in his paintings seem to be modeled on actual people. Nothing is idealized or stereotyped, it all feels real. This shades into a writing practice that I call transrealism — where I try and base my fictional characters on people I've actually met, sometimes folding several people into one character. A third aspect of Bruegel is that his pictures evoke a sense of the divine nature of the physical world. Everything is alive. We're in paradise, if only we pay attention.