Tyrone Slothrop, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army toward the end of World War II. Stationed in England, he is sent on a strange mission to locate the staging area both for the V-2 rockets bombarding England and for the prototype of a new rocket, the A4. The A4 is even more destructive than the V-2. The Germans are preparing to launch it in a desperate effort to change the course of the war. Slothrop goes to the French Riviera, to Switzerland, and ultimately to the “Zone,” occupied Germany after the hostilities officially have ended. Slothrop is a naïve young man who is never fully aware of what he is doing. As an infant, he had been experimentally conditioned by a famous behaviorist, and the behaviorist psychologist Ned Pointsman tries to make use of that conditioning for his own purposes. Made aware on the Riviera that he is being manipulated, Slothrop escapes from the surveillance that Pointsman and his masters have arranged and roams around Europe in the chaos of the first months of “peace.” He is still searching for the rocket, and he finds traces of it in many places but never discovers the rocket itself. After numerous strange adventures, he loses whatever it was that made him unique and becomes completely ordinary, seeming simply to disappear.
Captain Weissmann (Blicero)
Captain Weissmann (Blicero), a German officer, the manager of the project to create the A4 rocket. Physically unimpressive, he is a terrifying figure, in love with death and destruction, sadistic in his bisexual love affairs with the African Enzian, the young soldier Gottfried, and the spy, Katje Borgesius. In the final days before the German surrender, he manages to fire the rocket, with Gottfried as its passenger, but as far as is known the rocket never lands. Blicero apparently is killed as the war ends.
Roger Mexico, a British mathematician and officer. He is the spokesman for the importance of chance and indeterminacy in the lives of humans. He is the most human of the characters in his sense of humor, his love for Jessica Swanlake, his determination to counteract the behaviorism of Ned Pointsman, and his willingness to take risks with his own life to try to save Slothrop from the people who are trying to control his life. In the end, he loses Jessica, but he never gives up the struggle against the forces of repression who dominate the world and seek total control of human actions.
Ned Pointsman, a British scientist and exponent of behaviorism. He is the director of a secret facility called the “White Visitation,” where scientists and pseudoscientists are carrying on experiments in psychological and parapsychological warfare that they hope will destroy the Germans’ will to fight. A disciple of Pavlov, Pointsman believes that all human behavior can be controlled through conditioning, and he uses Slothrop’s early conditioning as a means to direct his actions in the search for the rocket. The failure of Pointsman’s efforts to find the rocket using Slothrop dooms his hopes for a Nobel Prize and a knighthood.
Geoffrey “Pirate” Prentice
Geoffrey “Pirate” Prentice, a captain in the British Army, a secret agent. He has a special talent for living the fantasies of other people, a talent valued by those who direct espionage for the British government. Prentice is in charge of collecting the remains of V-2 rockets fired by the Germans, so that the British can learn as much as possible about the rockets and how to combat their effects. Prentice also directs the activities of the spy Katje Borgesius, who...
(The entire section is 1501 words.)