Gravity's Rainbow

Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pynchon, George Guidall Best fiction book I've ever read (technically listened to).

This is not a typical fiction book. There is a real method to the madness within the story. It's not meant only to divert ones attention from the mundane or entertain, but to explore the human experience from one author's perspective. The story in the book can be hard to follow and definitely won't be everyone's cup of tea.

In someways, the book reminds me of a conversation I usually have with strangers when I'm sitting at a bar having a beer, say. I know three things will almost always happen, 1) I'll end up alienating the person, 2) I'll start talking about science, history and philosophy, and 3) they won't alienate me whatsoever because I'm always interested in learning what they have to say about their thoughts but never about what they've done or the jobs they've had or the sports team they like or any of the other things they do, but I always am interested in what they think and why. Let them teach me new thoughts and new ways of seeing the world, but sadly they seem to be interested in the boot camp they had 20 years ago or that job that they worked on many, many years ago. I'd much rather talk with them about this book than the mundane.

There's no more interesting question than what is the order of the universe and what our purpose 'should' be and how we best should deal with the absurdity of life (by 'absurdity' I mean it the way Camus uses it in his "Myth of Sisyphus"). Those three question or variations of them are what drives me and this novel explores them in it's own unique way.

To understand this book, it takes someone who knows the pre-1945 movies to appreciate the book fully. I understand the war and its pop culture more than today's culture. (I probably could not really name a song from the last 35 years, but I know my war and pre-war culture, and there is probably not a thing I don't know about the old movies and actors). It's necessary to have that background when he's telling the story. He'll often leave the reader dangling by making a statement like "it's like when Spencer Tracy went to Africa", and he doesn't complete the circle until 10 hours later when he mentions the movie "Stanley and Livingston" and how the African Chieftain was a Mason and gave the Masonic handshake (paranoia is definitely a theme in this book).

I can only hint at what this novel is about. The first line in the book is the line "there is not extinction only transformation". That theme definitely runs through out the book. The most important statistical distribution in discrete space is the "Poisson Distribution" and the time between events (continuous space) is the Exponential Distribution. He explains this concept better than any text book and why it's so important for understanding the world we live in. His example regards number of bombs falling in a grid and the time between bombs. He could have just as easily explained it by a boy fishing ('poisson" is fish in French) on a dock. Life itself has a random nature and the Poisson and Exponential distribution are real things and are expertly explained within the text.

There's a very special feature of the Exponential Distribution. It is a memory less distribution. He'll comment on that (though he called the property something else). The memory less property means that if the average time between bombs blowing up in a grid happened to be 4 hours, and if you know that the grid hadn't happened to have had any bomb within 30 hours the expected mean time for a bomb to blow up next would be still four hours. Pynchon really understands his math!

He'll elaborate this concept 10 hours latter and talk at length about "Byron the bulb", the immortal bulb. Light bulbs are the quintessential example for the exponential distribution.
An immortal bulb will understand the truth, lives forever and is doomed to never tell it to anyone. The bulb will ultimately get hit with the "karmic hammer' of which only the 1937 Ford never gets and will ultimately get recycled much as the most popular machine gun from WW I did.

He'll tell many asides in the book. He's giving what he believes is his order to the universe. The 'temporal bandwidth' is the time width we use to assess our reality and we use it for our past and future. As our delta time (a calculus term and is the arbitrarily unit of time remaining) approaches zero and since it's in the denominator our last moments will approach relative infinity. The author doesn't really hide what he's talking about in the story. The Benzine molecule can only ever mean one thing within fiction.

There's a lot of crap in this book. There's a lot of racism. But, it's all there for a reason. He'll explain the crap when he talks about 'crap from Shinola'. Hint, our toilet seats are white for a reason. The 'we' and the 'they' are fundamental to our worldviews, and sometimes they just can't touch each other. (Ontological foundations are never necessarily unique. But, Pynchon is definitely not a philosopher and doesn't talk that way at all).

Section 175 of the Nazi death camps and 50 thousand Jehovah Witnesses as recipients of the 28000 meter frequency with the 9 km antenna in the German town listening to U-boats in order to hear of possible crucifixions at sea makes sense to somebody who has read as many WW II books as I have. (hint: JWs come out looking like heroes).

He doesn't say it directly but he brings it up multiple times. Clark Gable as the Devil and William Powell as the angel and Myrna Loy (yes, they are Nick and Nora Charles) is an ironic movie for what happened after the movie was released. John Dillinger and the lady in red, and the blood on him at the Biograph in Chicago. The movie is called "Manhattan Melodrama" is ironically named because of John Dillinger was gunned down in Chicago and the movie was forever known for that event. The author just assumes the reader knows those kind of things. Doesn't everyone know everything there is to know about the old movies? The author brings up Fritz Lang a lot too. My all time favorite director.

I better stop. There are many themes tied loosely together in this book. Paranoia (everything happens for a reason) or anti-Paranoia (nothing happens for a reason). Cause and effect, at the quantum level cause can happen before effect and the author definitely leans that way. Singularity, there is a point at which our knowledge collapses because we have to divide by nothing. Rebirth through the shuffling around of the molecules and the father/son mother/daughter connections. Our background, media and corporations take away our authentic selves. There is always a rocket hanging over us and it's just a matter of time and chance (or as multiple characters say 'time and god').

This is not a typical fictional book. I love pre-1945 culture, I love the science in this book and I love learning about the order of the universe. BTW, the book at times is laugh out loud funny. Don't let your emotional repulsion from some of the topics get the best of you. (Funniest line in the book, "Brigadier pudding died from e-coli infection").