The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Although Gravity’s Rainbow is often considered a culmination of his earlier novel, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Thomas Pynchon created his magnum opus with this book. It is particularly difficult to categorize a work of this scope in any specific genre because it has been called revisionist history, apocalyptic, picaresque, a Grail quest, satire, social criticism, Magical Realism, and encyclopedic narrative, among others. It does, however, fall under the broad parameters of science fiction given its preoccupation with machinery—the fact that the rocket becomes the protagonist of the work and that the multiple technological crises presented overshadow or eliminate human emotions and human worth. Although it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and many critics believed it was the best novel of that or any year, the committee rejected the book as being “obscure and obscene.”

With a circuitous romp through subplots, minor characters who appear and disappear without warning, technological and mathematical jargon, and world-class wordplay, Pynchon introduces the reader to a revised history of the latter days of World War II in Europe. In fact, not until at least one-third of the way into this massive tome does it become evident that the protagonist is Tyrone Slothrop, an American who has been assigned to the experimental whims of Pavlovian scientists who are attempting to prove a correlation between Slothrop’s sexual encounters and the striking zone of the German A-4 rocket.

Paranoia is an integral part of Slothrop’s...

(The entire section is 644 words.)