For years people have been recommending Thomas Pynchon's 1973 novel Gravity's Rainbow. So, when I saw a copy on sale at the bookstore a few months ago, I decided to pick it up and see what all the fuss is about. I was prepared to like this book a lot. It's about a bunch of things I'm fascinated by: World War II, rockets, conspiracy theories, and secret history.
The Short Version: Neal Stephenson did it better.
The Alternate Short Version: "Yes, Mr. Pynchon, it is rather amusing how much a rocket resembles a penis, but did you really have to go on about it for 770 pages?"
The Long Version:
Reading Gravity's Rainbow was like being stuck in the back seat of your college roommate's car on a cross-country drive with his stoner hometown friend from middle school sitting next to you endlessly spouting a bunch of faux-profound insights plagiarized from Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn until you snap somewhere west of Kansas City and start flailing at him with the empty Pringles canister.
The book is famous for its satirical humor, but it barely rises above Mad Magazine in actual comedy. We're supposed to laugh because there's a warship named the USS John E. Badass, or because there's a character named Teddy Bloat, or because of the endless parody song lyrics Mr. Pynchon helpfully provides. All it needs is a back-page Spy Vs. Spy comic strip.
We're supposed to be amused because everyone in World War II was, like, totally baked all the time and having kinky sex. Perhaps it was daringly transgressive and liberating and profound in 1973, but now it looks a hell of a lot like an outpouring of petty adolescent rebellion. I can get that for free from my kids.
My chief emotion while grimly plodding through Gravity's Rainbow was puzzlement. I literally don't understand why this book was written. Perhaps I'm so grumpy because I absolutely loved The Crying of Lot 49, which managed to do almost everything Gravity's Rainbow does, in less than a third of the page count.
Now I'm going to reread Cryptonomicon as a palate-cleanser.
For an example of works which did not disappoint me, check out my ebook Outlaws and Aliens!