As Above, So Below: A Novel of Peter Bruegel
by Rudy Rucker

Forge Books, 2002

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Browse the novel for free as a web page Bruegel Online.

See the Bruegel Notes document that Rucker worked with while writing As Above, So Below: A Novel of Peter Bruegel. If you've read the book and want more references, or if you want information about how the writing of the novel, then you'll enjoy this.


Blurbs and Reviews

"A delightful book, one that carries us through the sixteenth-century picture-plane at extraordinary angles, illuminating Bruegel, his art and his world, with warmth and candor."

                 ----- William Gibson, author of Pattern Recognition

"What possesses a popular science fiction writer to write a historical novel about a sixteenth-century Flemish painter enamored of peasant ways? Unbridled fascination with the depiction of worlds real and imagined. Rucker's keen insights into Peter Bruegel's spellbinding and politically subversive work underpin this animated, suspenseful, and affecting tale, a step up from Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring (2000). Biographical information about Bruegel is scant, but Rucker's sense that the painter was lively, compassionate, courageous, and determined feels right, and the characters Rucker invents to flesh out Bruegel's violent and precarious universe are equally compelling, especially the cultured mapmaker Abraham Ortelius, who is so careful to conceal his homosexuality; the sexy and volatile half-Native American, Williblad Cheroo, and Bruegel's smart, saucy wife. Just as Bruegel's paintings are a great joy to behold even as they induce the viewer to face the grimmer aspects of life, Rucker's vivid imagining of Bruegel's trials and triumphs is set against a cutting indictment of the horrors of the Spanish occupation and Inquisition. Bruegel's great gift was his perception of the sacred in the earthy, and Rucker follows suit in this vital portrait of a sweet-natured disciple of life's fecund beauty in a time of cold-blooded tyranny."

                      ----- Book List

"Rucker manages the delicate trick of making his tale both exotically foreign in time and space yet resonant with the present day. Much of Rucker's success stems from his obvious identification with his subject. Given a relative paucity of solid historical data about Bruegel, Rucker is able to reverse-engineer the man from his paintings, and the result is a visionary artist who embodies Rucker's own dichotomous concern with the matters both of dirty earth and of numinous heaven."
                  ----- Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine

"Pictures at an exhibition, sort of, as mathematician and SF writer Rucker tells the life of the great Flemish painter. ... Here we follow Bruegel's story from 1552 to 1569 in sixteen chapters that organize themselves around sixteen of the master's best-known paintings ... A lively and well-narrated tale that will appeal to Bruegel fans and may awaken newcomers to an interest in his work."

                      ----- Kirkus Reviews

"As intricate ... as one of its subject's own vivid depictions of 16th-century life in the Spanish-dominated Low Countries, Rucker's fictionalized life of Bruegel draws its readers into a teeming world of politics, art, love, sin and loss. ... This is clearly a labor of love and ... it grapples handily with Bruegel's genius --- his ability to wittily and gracefully recreate all human activity, from the sublime to the scatological."

                      ----- Publisher's Weekly

Book Description

Rudy Rucker is an author whose writing thus far has been devoted to nonfiction about science and to genre fiction. He has won awards and achieved a substantial reputation in those fields. But he also has a long-standing fascination with the paintings of one of the great European artists, an interest that has led him to visit museums around the world and to investigate the facts of the artist's life.

Peter Bruegel's paintings-a peasant wedding in a barn, hunters in the snow, a rollicking street festival, and many others-have long defined our idea of everyday life in sixteenth-century Europe. They are classic icons of a time and place in much the same way as Norman Rockwell's depictions of twentieth-century America. We know relatively little about Bruegel, but after years of research, novelist, mathematician, and art lover Rudy Rucker has taken what is known and imagined for us the life and world of a master who never got old.

In sixteen chapters, each headed by a reproduction of one of the famous works, Rucker brings Bruegel's painter's progress and his colorful world to vibrant life, doing for Bruegel what the bestselling Girl with A Pearl Earring did for Vermeer. We follow the artist from the winding streets of Antwerp and Brussels to the glowing skies and decaying monuments of Rome and back. He and his friends, the cartographer Ortelius and Williblad Cheroo, an American Indian, are as vivid on the page as the multifarious denizens of Bruegel's unforgettable canvases.

Here is a world of conflict, change and discovery, a world where Carnival battles Lent every day, recorded for us forever by the enigmatic and engaging genius readers will meet in the pages of As Above So Below.