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Literature / Gravity's Rainbow

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Gravity's Rainbow is a 1973 novel, a postmodern Doorstopper by Thomas Pynchon made of Mind Screw that split the Pulitzer board to the extent that no award was given that year. Gravity's Rainbow is set during the closing months of World War II, with flashbacks to 19th-century Madagascar, Weimar Berlin and 18th-century New England, and a flashforward to 1970s Hollywood, and breaks every rule of plot. Here we go now:

American soldier Tyrone Slothrop is hunted by a wing of British scientists, media men, military personnel and lunatics called The White Visitation, after it comes to light that every time he has sex with a British woman, a V2 rocket hits the house within days and that his erections may be able to predict V2 attacks on London. Slothrop, addled by justified paranoia, goes AWOL and, along with dozens of other characters, hunts for the truth behind a top-secret German rocket known as the Schwarzgerät or '00000', while being sidetracked by movie producers, Berlin drug dealers, and an affair with a witch. Meanwhile, a Russian Marine sets off to hunt down and kill his black half-brother, who is currently leading his platoon around Europe toward an ethnic suicide, and various characters form an inept Counterforce to the novel's conspiracy networks, along with about 30 other subplots.

This book contains examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: To call this book "non-linear" is like calling the Pacific Ocean "a bit damp". It might possibly be the first and only novel written in a fractal narrative! Most of the book's events happen between late 1944 and 1945, although good luck trying to figure out exactly when or where any given chapter takes place.
  • Anti-Climax: Enzian and Tchitcherine's vendetta.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Used as insulation for the rocket, Imipolex G plastic conditions the erections of Slothrop
  • Ax-Crazy: Margherita, who believes she is an avatar of a Hindu goddess.
  • Bawdy Song: A sequence of dirty limericks about engineers having sex with electrical devices and rocket equipment.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: Which promptly gets shot out of the sky by a V-2 rocket.
  • Decoy Protagonist: If you start reading the book and think Pirate Prentice is the protagonist, you'd be wrong. If you think it's Roger Mexico, you'd be wrong again. If you think it's Slothrop... you'd be wrong again. Kind of.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Inverted with Jessica, who becomes more cold and distant towards Roger Mexico as the book goes on.
  • Depraved Homosexual: And Depraved Heterosexuals, Depraved Bisexuals, Depraved Asexuals, Depraved Omnisexuals...just depravity in general.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The hunting of Dodos to extinctionnote  and the Nazi Imperial German genocide of Hereros in South Africa Deutsch-Südwestafrika (now Namibia) are detailed instead of the Holocaust.
  • Doorstopper: This book is well past the 700 pages mark in most editions.
  • Everyone Has Lots of Sex: The amount of sexual activity here is staggering.
  • Foreign Queasine: Foreign to Slothrop, anyway: the Disgusting English Candy Drill, in which Slothrop, on a visit to his girlfriend's landlady, is cheerily invited to feast on a succession of increasingly horrible British sweets. When one of them makes him cough, the landlady gives him a Meggezone, a cough drop the effect of which is described as "like being belted in the head with a Swiss Alp." Meggezones have been discontinued for some years, but anyone who has ever had one can confirm that this is Truth in Television.
  • Gainax Ending: The novel ends with Rocket 00000 destroying the text and the whole book. Possibly.
  • Genre-Busting: Skips between spy, sci-fi, war, romance, pornography, family tragedy, horror and slapstick comedy.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Horrifically applied to Gottfried who seems "happy" in his relationship with Blicero.
  • Hot Witch: Geli Tripping, apprentice German witch, is very attractive.
  • Mildly Military: None of the novels soldiers and commanders are actually doing their job.
  • The Musical: Most of the chapters contain an original song or poem.
  • No Fourth Wall: Pynchon frequently addresses the reader directly as "You". Also, some critics believe that at the end, Rocket 00000 destroys the novel itself, but with a book this dense, it's difficult to tell.
  • Painting the Medium: Once Slothrop dissolves, the entire novel begins losing its narrative thread and becomes even more incoherent. It's also possible that the novel's abrupt ending is symbolic of the text itself being destroyed by a rocket, or perhaps losing its thread for good.
  • Postmodernism: A landmark novel in the movement.
  • Properly Paranoid: Slothrop to a tee; possibly the main theme of the book, "Just because I'm paranoid, doesn't mean I'm wrong." However Pynchon also sees the world as far more complex and random than even the most paranoid can fathom, a point which is driven home by the novel's fragmented and abrupt conclusion:
    "If there is something comforting - religious, if you want - about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long."
  • Rape as Drama: Both literal and symbolic examples.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Giant adenoids, a trip to hell, diving headfirst down an unflushed lavatory, sentient lightbulbs and mice who talk like James Cagney.
  • Rule of Symbolism: More than you can possibly imagine...and you'll probably see quite a bit else there as well while you're at it (see "What do you mean...") Even the Squick is used symbolically.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying: Slothrop and everyone he encounters in Berlin.
    They're in love. Fuck the war.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The formulae for rocket projections. Used symbolically, if you can believe it. For example: the double-integration symbol for the acceleration-to-position calculation and its similarity to the Gestapo SS logo and the use of parabolas (the flight path of the rockets) in architecture and possibly the format of the book itself.
    • One of the real-life V-2 rockets did indeed attack a movie theatre in Amsterdam, killing people in the middle of a show.
    • In general, the novel prominently features knowledge from chemistry, physics, history, mathematics and a ton of other fields, and uses it thematically.
  • Shout-Out: Many, typically to popular songs from The '70s, such as "Rocket Man".
  • Sidequest: Slothrop is always on one of these instead of his main quest.
  • Suicide Attack: One of the characters Slothrop meet is a japanese pilot that ends as kamikaze.
  • Tarot Motifs: At one point Slothrop has a tarot reading. He draws The Fool, the Hanged Man and the three of pentacles reversed. Pynchon also notes the visual similarity between the Rocket and The Tower.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Blicero, who spends his days having severe BSDM threesomes while rockets bombard his test site.
  • Truth Serum: Subverted. Slothrop is interrogated twice under Sodium Amytal, but both times he is reduced to surreal babblings and squicky nightmares instead of volunteering information. Pynchon's presentation is Truth in Television, as sodium amytal does not work the way it is usually depicted in media.

“Now everybody—”