Gravity's Rainbow (or what to read instead of Ayn Rand)

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Gravity's Rainbow (or what to read instead of Ayn Rand)

Post by geoff_sebesta » Tue Dec 04, 2007 8:35 pm

OK, I was sort of a dick in dismissing Ayn Rand. I don't mean to dismiss her fans, I meant to dismiss her personally. Although she does say a lot of things that a lot of people want to hear.

And I also realize that I responded to a topic that was, like, a year old. For which I apologize.

So here's what I would read instead of Atlas Shrugged:

Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon, was the starting gun that set off the cyberpunk movement. Not that it's science fiction; it's not, really. It's about the crazy days at the end of World War II, when Germany was a battered wasteland and anything could happen and sometimes did. It contains elements of....everything. The book is an encyclopedia. It's very, very true too -- even the weather is accurate -- except when it's crazy lies, which is a lot of the time. It's been said that the book doesn't change characters, it changes "methods of input." First it's a dream. Then it's a war movie. Then it's a musical. Then it's a work of film criticism. Then it's a lab report. Then it's an acid trip.

It's seven hundred pages long, dense as a brick, and when you finish it you feel like you've been hit by a brick. It has something to say on nearly every topic you can imagine, and changed popular culture in the weirdest of ways. This book actually broke the Pulitzer Prize system -- the judges chose it unanimously, the sponsors rejected it unanimously (probably because of the poop-eating sequence), and they just didn't give a prize that year.

It is NOT a book for children. It is NOT a book to be read in one sitting. You probably won't finish it the first time you try. It IS plausibly the "greatest" American novel. It's like three Great Gatsby's and a calculus textbook rolled into one.

The last pages will also change the way you look at Superman forever. Who the hell sticks their kids in an experimental rocket, anyway? What sort of bad parenting is that?

If you have trouble with Gravity's Rainbow, try "The Crying of Lot 49," by the same author. It's a much shorter, simpler book that Pynchon wrote at the same time, because he needed a break from Gravity's Rainbow.

I've beat this into the ground, but here's a short list of pop cultural artifacts that have drawn directly from this book:

Trainspotting, and Neuromancer, and House of Leaves, and the books of Tim Powers
"Smells Like Teen Spirit," by Nirvana, is (no lie) drawn in part from a song near the end of the book. "All Her Favorite Fruit," by Camper Van Beethoven is from a conversation near the beginning.
and if Warren Ellis, and Grant Morrison haven't read it I'll eat my hat. I'll go out and buy another hat and eat that one too. I'm serious.

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Post by b.patrick » Mon May 12, 2008 4:03 pm

Pynchon rules. It took me forever to get through The Crying of Lot 49 and I hated it. But it was in my head and kept coming back and so I read Vineland (which Pynchon fans revile but which I really like) and part way through I "learned" how to read Pynchon - how to go with it and not be held up by all the stuff I didn't get. Once you get him in your head you're never the same - and that's extraordinary. And getting the Pulitzer No-prize has to feel amazing.

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