EPS Review #118 - As Above, So Below

As Above, So Below, by Rudy Rucker, Forge 2002, 320pp.

Rucker is one of my favorite science fiction authors (see reviews #44 and 66), so I was interested to read a historical novel by him, about the painter Peter Bruegel. The book flows pretty well, though I put it down for a while. Rucker adds some lusty characters like Williblad Cheroo, an American Indian; bad-girl Anja, Peter's step-sister; and Ortelius, homosexual mapmaker; not to mention Waf (Arf) the dog. Rucker's added earthiness is not anachronistic, to judge by the paintings. The political and religious angles were new to me, and something clicked when I was in Claire's classroom for a parent-teacher night recently. Inevitably (it seemed to me) they were studying Henry VIII, and I remarked that his dates, around 1550, were similar to Bruegel's. Wordlessly, Dr Hogg pointed at a big poster of children playing by the artist. Suddenly the whole Lutheran/Anglican thing made sense along with the drama of the Spanish oppressors and inquisition that I was reading in Rucker's book, where he explains the references to it in Bruegel's art. Speaking of the art, the dustcover has colorful detail, but the pictures starting each chapter are in black and white. It surprises me that printing technology has not made it cheap enough to do these in color.

If you want, you can read Rucker's notes on the construction of the novel, or look at the pictures he took while visiting Belgium.

Bruegel was a big fan of Bosch, and in the novel you see how many of both artists' paintings came into the hands of the oppressors in Madrid.

Rucker's latest Sci Fi is Frek and the Elixir, which looks to be yet another wonderfully bonkers dimensional romp, Santa Claus P please note!

Michael wrote: Sounds like an interesting book but this was the first review of yours that didn't indicate whether you liked it or not!

I replied: It has been pointed out to me that I am incapable of giving a clearly bad review. Notably, several people thought that I liked The Da Vinci Code and The Kite Runner, but I thought both were bad. As Above So Below is just OK, though I read it with the best will in the world. The words "flows pretty well, though I put it down for a while" were my hint. If you are interested in the man or the period or the author, then I recommend it. [ The star system I use on the web, though flawed, should give a clearer idea. ]

My mother wrote: Since you seem to have an interest in Bosch, and if I remember correctly, you saw his work in the Prado, then you might be interested in reading Terry Tempest William's book, Leap. A section of his famous triptich hung over the bed she slept in as a child at her grandmothers. When visiting the Prado as an adult, she discovered there was more to it and felt drawn to meditate on the various aspects of it. It is quite different from her usual writing which is more about nature than art, but some of the core issues are the same. She is one of my favorite authors along with Barbara Kingsolver. I did not know that Santa Claus is now alpabeticalized.......hmmmmmm