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Thomas Pynchon: Bleeding Edge

With Pynchon, you generally have an idea of what you are going to get: language games, smartarse wisecracks, a fast-moving and complicated plot (or, rather, lots of fast-moving and complicated plots), a range of characters you would not want to introduce to your mother (or, in many cases, meet yourself) and, in particular, conspiracies within conspiracies within conspiracies. If you this is not your idea of enjoyable reading, you might want to look elsewhere.

This novel is set at around the turn of the millennium. With mysterious Arabs, Mossad, dubious and, apparently, unregulated US government agencies and a key character who rents an office in the World Trade Center, you know that at least one of the key conspiracies is going to involve 9/11. This is, indeed, what happens. And, of course, this is not going to be the conventional view of 9/11, particularly as there seems to be some link with the TWA 800 crash. Of course, the Internet is full of 9/11 conspiracy theories, so Pynchon really has to dig deep to come up with original ideas. With the novel set around that time, it gives Pynchon the opportunity to explore dial-up Internet connections, Zip drives and even the idea of YouTube (Someday there’ll be a Napster for videos, it’ll be routine to post anything and share it with anybody, says one of the characters).

There are two main plots, though numerous sub-plots, and, of course, even the two main plots are linked. The first concerns DeepArcher (=Departure, geddit?). This is a game which consists of a virtual world in which users can socialise, like Second Life. Unlike Second Life, this world is located in the Deep Web, where only very few people have access or, indeed, even know of its existence. It has been part-funded by a mysterious company called hashslingrz. Hashslingrz and its activities will form a core part of the book and much of the second major plot line. Hashslingrz was created by Gabriel Ice. Ice was one of the original dotcommers but, unlike many of them, when the dotcoms went bust, he managed to get out with a large sum of money. He has used this money to set up and run hashslingrz.

Our heroine is Maxine Tarnow, formerly Loeffler. She is divorced from Horst, a TV biography-watching dealer (he has enjoyed a nearly error-free history of knowing how certain commodities around the world will behave, long enough before they themselves do), though they see each other frequently. They have two sons, Ziggy and Otis, who attend the Otto Kugelblitz School. Maxine was a CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) but she has been decertified for associating with shady characters. She now runs runs a small fraud-investigating agency, called Tail ‘Em and Nail ‘Em. (She was going to add Jail ‘Em but decided against it). She first hears of hashslingrz from Vyrva, whom she meets at the school gate. Vyrva is married to a man who is one of the co-founders of DeepArcher and who mentions hashslingrz. However, her old friend, Reg Despard, a documentary film-maker, is making a film about hashslingrz and has some concerns, so he comes to tell Maxine about them. Very soon, everything she seems to get involved in or everyone she knows, seems to know about or have some connection to hashslingrz. She finds about hwgaahwgh.com, for example, (hwgaahwgh apparently stands for Hey, We’ve Got Awesome And Hip Web Graphix, Here) to whom hashslingrz makes regular payments but it is not clear what for. When Maxine visits them, it is even less clear. In short, it is the usual Pynchon complicated multi-layer conspiracy, with Gabriel Ice as the evil presiding genius.

If you enjoy this sort of thing, as I do, you enjoy this sort of thing. It is not one of Pynchon’s greater works – comparable, say to Inherent Vice – but a thoroughly good read and one that keeps Pynchon as one of my favourite authors.

Publishing history

First published 2013 by Penguin Press