Thomas Pynchon - Against the Day

luka

Well-known member
Staff member
you people ha ve a high tolerance for 'wackiness'....
very much a scientists sense of humour i think
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
Pynchon is a fucksight less 'wacky' than Reza Negarestani, I'll give him that much.
 

BareBones

wheezy
as well as being wacky though, he's taught me more about our world than any other author of fiction i've come across... and yeah, maybe that's because i didn't know much to begin with... but even on a basic level, there's no other author that would get me reading about euclidean geometry or trying to understand feynman lectures...
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
as well as being wacky though, he's taught me more about our world than any other author of fiction i've come across... and yeah, maybe that's because i didn't know much to begin with... but even on a basic level, there's no other author that would get me reading about euclidean geometry or trying to understand feynman lectures...

Neil Stephenson is another good one for that.
 

BareBones

wheezy
yeah, one of my friends read one of his books a few years ago (cryptonomicon i think) and said i'd really like it. what do you recommend??

He looks like he has a really cool beard - very ming the merciless.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
yeah, one of my friends read one of his books a few years ago (cryptonomicon i think) and said i'd really like it. what do you recommend??

He looks like he has a really cool beard - very ming the merciless.

Heh, yeah, the photos I've seen of him make him look like some guy who'd share his spliff with you at a Slayer gig and turn out to have a PhD in information theory from CalTech - which he probably has, for all I know. Cryptonomicon is awesome, I'd say I probably liked it better than the Baroque Cycle that he wrote more recently, although that was very good too. It was just sooo long that some parts of it couldn't help but drag a little; excellent if you want to learn far more about early-modern European history than you ever did at school! His tendency to use historical figures as characters (think Leibnitz, Newton, Hooke, Peter the Great, Louis XIV etc. in the Baroque books: General McArthur, Hermann Göring and Alan Turing in Cryptonomicon is especially appealing.

I've not read any of his futuristic sci-fi (even his books that are set in the past are science fiction of a sort), but people speak very highly of The Diamond Age.
 
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IdleRich

IdleRich
"Pynchon is a fucksight less 'wacky' than Reza Negarestani, I'll give him that much."
Nah, I know what Luka means, there is something wacky about having characters called Eigenvalue or Dewey Gland. It's not hard to imagine those names said by a nasal and annoying US comedian with nerdy glasses.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
Nah, I know what Luka means, there is something wacky about having characters called Eigenvalue or Dewey Gland. It's not hard to imagine those names said by a nasal and annoying US comedian with nerdy glasses.

Yes, wacky in a specifically comedic (or attempt-at-comedic) way, I agree. There's a minor character called Hilbert-Spaess in GR, isn't there? R.A. Wilson is another one for this, characters called Markoff Chainey, Ped Xing ('pedestrian crossing') and so on.

I have to confess, if I were ever to get around to writing a novel, I'd probably find it hard to resist the temptation to create characters like this. In fact I've already got a small stock of them in my head: Duncan de Sorderlie, the notorious libertine and reprobate; radical feminist 'Militant' Millicent; avant-garde jazz virtuoso Drummond Basie; veteran roadie Marshall Stack; you get the idea... :D
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
"I have to confess, if I were ever to get around to writing a novel, I'd probably find it hard to resist the temptation to create characters like this. In fact I've already got a small stock of them in my head: Duncan de Sorderlie, the notorious libertine and reprobate; radical feminist 'Militant' Millicent; avant-garde jazz virtuoso Drummond Basie; veteran roadie Marshall Stack; you get the idea..."
Sounds like a Kosmische dj line-up Stan d'Arde Lamp seems to stick in my mind.
My favourite RAW one is the Male Chauvanist Organisation or MaChO.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
My favourite RAW one is the Male Chauvanist Organisation or MaChO.

In cosmology/astrophysics the two leading candidates for cold dark matter are MaCHOs (MAssive Compact Halo Objects) and WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles). You can just imagine the hearty science-LOLs when those two were thought up.
 

STN

sou'wester
excellent if you want to learn far more about early-modern European history than you ever did at school! ].

I'm afraid I find this recommendation rather unappetizing, like a computer game where you vapourize baddies through the power of MATHS!

unless this was intentionally a jest, in which case I am a tool and I humbly apologize.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
I'm afraid I find this recommendation rather unappetizing, like a computer game where you vapourize baddies through the power of MATHS!

unless this was intentionally a jest, in which case I am a tool and I humbly apologize.

Haha, well it was a joke and it wasn't; I actually found it really interesting, it's put across in a way that's entirely relevant to the plot(s) and in the end it's the characters and what's happening to them that's important. It doesn't feel like he's lecturing you, he's just unfolding this incredibly detailed, consistent and fleshed-out world for the characters to emerge from and interact with - and it happens to be the real world a couple of hundred years ago. Which makes me think there's probably more imagination involved in using a real-world historical setting like this as a convincing and interesting backdrop to a novel than there is in constructing a fantasy or sci-fi world. And (if you're a bit nerdy, like me) you'll find yourself admiring the sheer thoroughness of his research.
 

BareBones

wheezy
haha, i don't think it was a jest. [edit: whoops, beaten to it] I admit i think it does sound quite interesting though, and I love all those pun-names and acronyms, even the super-dorky dark matter ones... i am quite easily amused though.

mr tea, going back to what you were saying about historical figures popping up as characters in Stephenson novels, there's a lot of that in Mason & Dixon - Benjamin Franklin and George Washington for instance... the depcition of GW was particularly funny i seem to remember, he was always getting stoned on hash cakes. Nicola Tesla is in Against the Day a fair bit too.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
haha, i don't think it was a jest. I admit i think it does sound quite interesting though, and I love all those pun-names and acronyms, even the super-dorky dark matter ones... i am quite easily amused though.

mr tea, going back to what you were saying about historical figures popping up as characters in Stephenson novels, there's a lot of that in Mason & Dixon - Benjamin Franklin and George Washington for instance... the depcition of GW was particularly funny i seem to remember, he was always getting stoned on hash cakes. Nicola Tesla is in Against the Day a fair bit too.

Cool, I definitely mean to check out some more Pynchon at some point. What's a good recommendation for someone who more-or-less enjoyed GR but would like to read something a leeetle less hard-going on the logorrhoea, sing-a-longs, crappy limericks, stream-of-consciousness brainwibble &c.?
 

BareBones

wheezy
probably Vineland i'd say, i reckon that's definitely the most accessible - it's not overlong, has a fairly contemporary setting (1960s-80s) etc. It gets a bad rap as his worst book, but i think it's only po-faced academic GR fanboy scholars that say that, i really enjoyed it. Crying of Lot 49 is a good starter one too, if only because it's really short. Quite a lot of songs in Vineland, but not so many in CoL49 as far as i can remember...
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
probably Vineland i'd say, i reckon that's definitely the most accessible - it's not overlong, has a fairly contemporary setting (1960s-80s) etc. It gets a bad rap as his worst book, but i think it's only po-faced academic GR fanboy scholars that say that, i really enjoyed it. Crying of Lot 49 is a good starter one too, if only because it's really short. Quite a lot of songs in Vineland, but not so many in CoL49 as far as i can remember...

Thanks for the rec. :)
 

Slothrop

Tight but Polite
Cryptonomicon is awesome, I'd say
I always have this nagging feeling that Cryptonomicon isn't actually very well written, but love it all the same for the number of really awesome bits.

Cool, I definitely mean to check out some more Pynchon at some point. What's a good recommendation for someone who more-or-less enjoyed GR but would like to read something a leeetle less hard-going on the logorrhoea, sing-a-longs, crappy limericks, stream-of-consciousness brainwibble &c.?
Mason & Dixon would probably be up your street. Stylistically it's fairly conventional albeit with cod 18th century prose (which censors the word 'devil' but leaves 'fucking' intact), and it follows some approximation to a linear story with just a bit of messing around between levels of reality. And it's got decent jokes, great characters, nice historical cameos, really inventive fantasy bits... there are still quite a lot of songs, though.

The others I've read beyond Gravity's Rainbow are V and Crying of Lot 49, both of which were also a) ace and b) a lot easier going than GR.

People who've read more of him than me - everything I've read by him has, to some extent, been centred around societies or sections of societies that are in the process of reconstructing (or constructing) themselves, or at least beyond the bounds of 'normal' society and ripe for the creation of new structures and new myths... is this ongoing throughout his writing, or is it just the stuff I've read?
 

BareBones

wheezy
People who've read more of him than me - everything I've read by him has, to some extent, been centred around societies or sections of societies that are in the process of reconstructing (or constructing) themselves, or at least beyond the bounds of 'normal' society and ripe for the creation of new structures and new myths... is this ongoing throughout his writing, or is it just the stuff I've read?

Hehe, with your name I thought you'd be the most eminent Pynchon scholar around these parts... ;)

Anyways, I've read most of Pynchon's output - all the novels and a lot of essays/articles etc (most of which you can find online and I heartily recommend if you're a fan of his stuff), and i'd agree that that idea is evident throughout all of his novels. However, i'm not sure if these societies/sociological groups etc actually ARE changing - i think it's a lot more about the possibility of change, and that possibility being neutralised by the "Them" who is always refers to. He is always dealing with form and chaos... so much of his stuff, if not all of it, takes place beyond the bounds of "normal" society - as someone upthread said, he's often concerned with the history of American dissent. Time is a big factor (he often capitalises it as "Time") and the way he grounds his stories in these historical settings is obviously important as he's writing in the context of times of great change - WW2, birth of the USA, etc. And at these moments there's always scope for change and renewal. Of course in GR we see "Them" using the chaos of WW2 to tighten their grip, but it's important that at these junctures the potential for alternatives is there, glimpses of the road(s) not taken...and this ties in with all the multiple universe stuff in Against the Day... And of course you can relate all of this back to entropy, which is so prominent in all his work. Though there's a big difference between thermodynamic entropy and information entropy - summed up nicely by someone on the Pynchon listserve here:

"Pynchon criticizes the misuse of the thermodynamic entropy model most effectively by contrasting it against the information theory model of entropy. Both models mandate a natural tendency towards disorder, but with completely opposite effects. Instead of chaotic activity leading to uniformity, stillness, and death, information dispersal leads to increased heterogeneity, unpredictability, the nonlinearity at the heart of our "mindless pleasures" [the working title for GR] "

But I'm certainly no authority. I've been a casual member of the pynchon listserve thing for a few years, which contains a whole raft of people, far more intelligent than me, discussing his work in EXTREMELY fine detail - and so i'm always wary of trying to summarise his stuff at all, as I know that it would provoke a lot of disagreement from those who really know what they're talking about. The thing i like about it him the most ultimately is his humanism - you get such a sense of compassion in his novels underneath all the trickery, word games, songs, jokes, conspiracies, paranoia etc etc. And compassion for everyone, not just the 'good guys'. It's been widely commented that the overall tone of his writing is "sad, but not despairing" and i'd definitely agree with that. An absurd world, looked at hopefully and cheerfully. Mason & Dixon is probably the best example of his compassion, i'd say - possibly why it's my favourite.
 

tryptych

waiting for a time
Haha, well it was a joke and it wasn't; I actually found it really interesting, it's put across in a way that's entirely relevant to the plot(s) and in the end it's the characters and what's happening to them that's important. It doesn't feel like he's lecturing you, he's just unfolding this incredibly detailed, consistent and fleshed-out world for the characters to emerge from and interact with - and it happens to be the real world a couple of hundred years ago. Which makes me think there's probably more imagination involved in using a real-world historical setting like this as a convincing and interesting backdrop to a novel than there is in constructing a fantasy or sci-fi world. And (if you're a bit nerdy, like me) you'll find yourself admiring the sheer thoroughness of his research.

The only other thing I've read apart from Pynchon that does that sort of "teaching by steath" is Umberto Eco - Name of the Rose taught me more than I thought I needed to know about medieval European religion.

EDIT: Although I think Terry Pratchett does it quite well in very small doses, I have to say.
 
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