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Gravity's Rainbow

Gravity's Rainbow is a novel published by Thomas Pynchon in 1973, set in Europe near the end of World War II during the end of 1944 and much of 1945. It features the creation of the first military rockets as a main theme and dispenses with many of the traditional elements of plot and character development.

Table of contents
1 Public reaction
2 Structure
3 Plot
4 Relation to actual wartime happenings and facts
5 Availability
7 External links

Public reaction

The novel is regarded by some as one of the great postmodern works of 20th century literature, but many others have declared it unreadable.

It was unanimously voted by the three-member Pulitzer Prize jury on fiction for the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. However, the other eleven members of the fourteen-member Pulitzer board overturned this decision, calling the book "unreadable," "turgid," "overwritten," and "obscene," with at least one member confessing to not having gotten more than a third of the way through the book.


The plot is complex, involving the V-2 rocket and Operation Paperclip, IG Farben, Standard Oil, parapsychology and conspiracy theories, drawing heavily on themes that Pynchon had probably encountered at his work as a technical writer for Boeing, where he worked on the Minuteman missile.

Gravity's Rainbow is in four parts, each made up of a number of episodes whose divisions are marked by a series of squares. (It has been suggested that these represent sprocket holes as in a reel of film.) Each part opens with its own title and opening quotation:

  1. Beyond The Zero
  2. Un Perm au Casino Hermann Goering
  3. In The Zone
  4. The Counterforce

It is often difficult to fathom out the plot of the book and its direction, particularly as a main plot line does not emerge until the second part of the book; the lengthy first part effectively acts as an introduction.


Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

The main narrative thread (in as far as there being one) concerns a promiscuous US army lieutenant named Tyrone Slothrop. In "Beyond The Zero", it's noted by some of the other characters and organisations of the book that each of Slothrop's sexual encounters in London precedes a V-2 rocket hit in the same place by several days.

He is studied covertly and sent away by superiors in mysterious circumstances to the Hermann Goering casino. There he learns of a rocket, the 00000, and a component called the S-Gerät which is made out of the hitherto unknown plastic Imipolex G. It is hinted at that Slothrop's prescience of rocket hits is due to being conditioned as an infant by the creator of Imipolex G, Laszlo Jamf. After getting this information, Slothrop escapes from the casino into the coalescing Zone of Europe, searching for the 00000 and S-Gerät.

Slothrop's quest continues for some time "In The Zone" as he is chased by other characters. Unfortunately, he is repeatedly sidetracked until his persona fragments totally in part four despite the efforts of some to save him. The final identification of him of any certainty is his picture on the cover of an album by obscure Californian band The Fool.

Towards the end of "The Counterforce", it transpires that the S-Gerät is actually a capsule crafted to contain a human. The maniacal Captain Blicero prepares to fire the 00000. He launches it in a pseudosexual act of sacrifice with his bound sex slave Gottfried captive within its S-Gerät. At the end of a final episode where the rocket descends, the text halts with a completely obliteration of narrative from a rocket blast as the 00000 lands (or is about to land) on a cinema.

Relation to actual wartime happenings and facts

Many facts in the novel are based on technical documents relating to the V-2 rockets. Equations featured in the text are correct. The firing command sequence in German that is recited at the end of the novel is also correct and is probably copied in verbatim from the technical report produced by Operation Backfire.

In reality, a V-2 rocket hit the Rex Cinema in Antwerp on December 16, 1944 where some 1200 people were watching the movie The Plainsman killing 567 people, the most that were killed by a single rocket during the whole war.


Gravity's Rainbow is available in paperback under ISBN 0140188592 and ISBN 0140283382.


"In the static space of the architect, he might've used a double integral now and then, early in his career, to find volumes under surfaces whose equations are known -- masses, moments, centers of gravity. But it's been years since he's had to do with anything that the dynamic space of the living Rocket, the double integral has a different meaning. To integrate here is to operate on a rate of change so that time falls away: change is stilled....'Meters per second' will integrate to 'meters'. The moving vehicle is frozen, in space, to become architecture, and timeless. It was never launched. It will never fall."

"It means this War was never political at all, the politics was all theatre, all just to keep the people distracted...secretly, it was being dictated instead by the needs of a conspiracy between human beings and techniques, by something that needed the energy-burst of war."

"Homosexuality in high places is just a carnal afterthought now, and the real and only fucking is done on paper...."

External links