Bleeding Edge

I think we can all agree that what the world needs is more book reviews of famous novelists by theoretical physicists. The clamor has been, admittedly, somewhat muted, but I can see through the coy silence. (Can one see through silence? A famous novelist would never write like that.)

Thomas-Pynchon_Bleeding-Edge-Cover_smSo I was very pleased when Nature, that well-known literary publication, asked me to review Thomas Pynchon’s new book, Bleeding Edge. Longtime readers of me will know that I’ve been fascinated by Pynchon’s work for a long time now; longtime readers of Pynchon will know that it’s not always easy going (even when it’s consistently rewarding). Fortunately, Bleeding Edge was a delightful page-turner, with the usual colorful characters and many laughs along the way. It’s a detective story set in Manhattan, 2001, as things were falling down: the tech bubble, not to mention the World Trade Center. Because Pynchon seems to enjoy confounding expectations, this is a book with a single definite point-of-view character, as well as an identifiable plot. Because he is nevertheless still Thomas Pynchon, there are multiple strands of interlocking schemes and conspiracies, most of which don’t really get “resolved” in the conventional sense. But some do! It’s a great book, easily recommended either to the committed Pynchon fan or to their skeptical friend would would appreciate a user-friendly introduction.

Sadly my own wordsmithing wasn’t at its highest peak while writing my review; it’s not easy to squeeze all the basic facts that would actually be useful to the reader into a 1000-word limit while also keeping things amusing and poetical. But it can be done; you might want to check out Jonathan Lethem’s review in the NYT to see how a real writer would have done it.

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7 Responses to Bleeding Edge

  1. BobC says:

    As I add this to my reading list, I’d like to nominate another publication for review:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/1212.5605

    If this pans out in more realistic environments, I’d love to learn the math!

  2. Cdr. Varma says:

    Dear Sean,
    I am relatively very new to the list of, I wouldn’t call it your ‘followers’, but ‘admirers’ certainly, having seen/heard your (old) TED presentation on “Time”, just a day earlier! However, as I commented there, I would like to repeat here too; you make some very profound philosophical statements, perhaps unwittingly. For instance, your comment in the present post, on ‘seeing through silence’… I don’t know if you are familiar with Vedic philosophy; it is straight from the Veda-s… Mind can ‘see’ only when it is ‘silent’… Real ‘understanding’ takes place in total absence of all noise!
    Cdr.

  3. Joel Grant says:

    Glad to hear you liked it. Reviews have been very positive. I pre-ordered the book, which arrived yesterday and I am very much looking forward to digging into it.

    Pynchon’s books are always a treat, one way or another, although I was not 100% excited about ‘Inherent Vice’. This seems like it is going to be an awesome contribution to his catalog.

  4. You managed to write so many words without saying anything more than that the book has a point of view and a plot. Disappointed. Would rather read about dark matter. That has more intrigue and suspense. May be someone can write a novel about that and that might be more interesting.

  5. Marcoli says:

    Speaking of creativity, have you seen this rather amazing a capella song called
    Bohemian Gravity? It is about string theory, and it kind of blows my mind.

  6. Sid says:

    It’s usually hard for a non-writer like me to tell the difference in skill levels between a full-time professional writer like Jonathan Lethem and a widely published but non-professional writer like Sean; usually because they’re writing about different things and aiming at different audiences. In this case though, the stark difference is clear as day. Reading Sean’s review I thought: “this seems like a cool book”; but reading Lethem’s review: “this is probably one of the most mind-bending, colorful, original and complex books of recent times and why am I not reading it right now.”

    Sean is a fantastic writer for someone who is a very accomplished theoretical physicist, but this case illustrates what can happen when you dedicate most of your time to writing.

  7. dmck says:

    Sean: I for one much prefer your review to that huge exercise in egotism by Lethem. So much more about him than about the book. Thanks for the review — I bought the book. 🙂