Pynchon, Thomas

Tagged: Author

(1937-    ) US author, all of whose works are Fabulations which resemble sf under some interpretations; though the Paranoia-wracked worlds his protagonists inhabit defeat any secure reading of the malign figurations of reality, the narrative patterning of most of his work is Equipoisal. In V (1963; rev 1963), various dovetailing quests for a character named V geographically reproduce the title, but the geographies of the novel induce vortices of psychosis in the cast, and the woman who may be V is dead before the tale begins, her dismembered body proving to have been constructed out of mechanical parts and bricolage, her resemblance to the eponymous Cyborg in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Man That Was Used Up" (August 1839 Burton's Gentleman's Magazine) not being, perhaps, coincidental; automata (see Robots) crop up throughout the book, whose paradigm protagonist figure is named Stencil. Much more concisely, The Crying of Lot 49 (portion December 1965 Esquire as "The World [This One], the Flesh [Mrs. Oedipa Maas], and the Testament of Pierce Inverarity"; 1966) presents a complex conspiracy theory of history, possibly (nothing is clear: Entropy as always fogs the mirror) operated through a secret postal system called Tristero run for centuries on the behalf of Secret Masters; the tone of the tale seems to have influenced Robert Shea's and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy (1975); and Maas's hegira from the safety of northern California to the conspiratorial nightmarishness of the south neatly models the Californian drama of geography: the north nestled within mountains, the south balanced over crashing tectonic plates.

Enormous and complex, Gravity's Rainbow (1973) offers no repose for a secure reading, but the anxiety-generating, gonzo accumulation of images of World War Two, in which the tale is set, embeds into a potentially sf understanding of the capacity of its main protagonist to predict (and perhaps to attract) V-2 attacks according to his orgasms; his powers are unfolded in oneiric counterpoint to a vision of the West into Technology-tormented chaos, into a future with no map – no text – for humans (see Amnesia) to read, and who therefore suffer Vastation (see Eschatology; Horror in SF). The walking dead in the Aftermath tale Vineland (1990) are – it is almost certain – not literally posthumous.

But all these novels pale, as far as sf content ("real" or imagined) is concerned, in comparison with Against the Day (2006), an enormous paean to the death of story (as exposed by the doomed enactors of various dying genres who carry the tale) and to the death of the planet (see Fantastika). Genres of sf interest honoured and destroyed in its thousand pages include Airship Boys tales (see Pax Aeronautica; Balloons), the Alternate World story, thrillers built on world-threatening Disasters, the Edisonade (Nikola Tesla's appearances in the novel serve to counterpoint the triumphalism of that mode), the Fantastic Voyage, the Future War tale, tales of the Hollow Earth, the Lost World novel, the Scientific Romance, Steampunk, the Temporal Adventuress tale (Pynchon's awareness of Michael Moorcock is evident throughout), any novel (there is no specific genre) in which World War One is seen as the End of the World. But there is no Conceptual Breakthrough: Against the Day is set in a world which, in the end, cannot be helped; as is Bleeding Edge (2013), where New York – with its massively tunneled counter-city deep Underground dominated by a tentacular secret corporation with advanced Computers – is as helpless as any mundane New York against the future: in this case, as the tale is set in 2001, the future created by 9/11. Pynchon's general concerns with Entropy, Paranoia and Communication (seen as conspiracy) have had a fruitful effect on some sf writers; but perhaps deeper and more compelling than that is the universal hard rain he foretells. [JC]

see also: Cyberpunk; Fantasy; History of SF.

Thomas Pynchon

born Glen Cove, New York: 8 May 1937



  • V. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: J B Lippincott, 1963) [hb/Ismar David]
    • V. (London: Jonathan Cape, 1963) [rev of above: though not major, revisions were made by Pynchon: hb/]
  • The Crying of Lot 49 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: J B Lippincott, 1966) [portion first appeared December 1965 Esquire as "The World [This One], the Flesh [Mrs. Oedipa Maas], and the Testament of Pierce Inverarity": hb/Milton Charles and others]
  • Gravity's Rainbow (New York: The Viking Press, 1973) [hb/Mar Getter]
  • Vineland (Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown, 1990) [hb/David Kinsey]
  • Mason & Dixon (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997) [hb/Raquel Jaramillo]
  • Against the Day (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006) [hb/Michael Ian Kaye]
  • Inherent Vice (New York: The Penguin Press, 2009) [hb/Darshan Zenith]
  • Bleeding Edge (New York: The Penguin Press, 2013) [hb/Evan Gaffney]

collections and stories (individual stories are listed by date of magazine publication)

  • The Small Rain (London: Aloes Books, 1982) [story: chap: first appeared March 1959 Cornell Writer: pb/Robert Carter]
  • Mortality and Mercy in Vienna (London: Aloes Books, 1976) [story: chap: first appeared Spring 1959 Epoch Magazine: pb/Jim Pennington]
  • Low-Lands (London: Aloes Books, 1978) [story: chap: first appeared 1960 Epoch Magazine: pb/Louise Nevett]
  • Entropy (see comments: 1980) [story: chap: first appeared Spring 1960 Kenyon Review: several piracies of this story exist: it may have been published as early as 1967 by "Trystero", in "Troy Town": but its first appearance may be as late as 1980: pb/]
  • The Secret Integration (London: Aloes Books, 1980) [story: chap: first appeared 19 December 1964 Saturday Evening Post: illus/pb/Jake Tilson]
  • Slow Learner: Early Stories (Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown, 1984) [coll: hb/Fred Marcellino]


about the author

The literature on Pynchon is very extensive. A few representative studies are listed here.


Previous versions of this entry

Website design and build: STEEL

Site ©2011 Gollancz, SFE content ©2011 SFE Ltd.