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Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon is a Wild Airship Ride Through Pulp-Inspired Genius with the Chums of Chance
Get on the Airship with the Chums of Chance for ADVENTURE!
Old guys like me remember the dime store novels. Okay, I'm not that old, but my dad had oodles of these things kept in boxes at his father's flat. When I was a kid, we dug them out of the back closet, and pored over them, with the wild, sensual, and over-the-top cover art promising thrills and chills and adventures great and small. Most of these books were dreck. The covers were often better than the words inside. Pynchon, no stranger to these books, has untapped the potential of them.
Beginning on an airship, with the Chums of Chance, who descend upon the Chicago World's Fair as boys, eager to engage the future and loyal to the cause of the mysterious organization, and always ready to take to the skies and float away on their marvelous dirigible on the cutting edge of light science. They are engaged with the services of a man who is a dedicated photographer in the days when wandering portraiture photographers were a profession involving equipment, plates, various chemicals, and an adventurous spirit. Together with the airship, the photographer scours the ground for signs of Anarchy.
Not one to focus on just one thread of narrative, the glorious sentences, tumbling end-over-end explore the various mad scientists and maddening scientists and tinkerers and thinkers of the late nineteenth century, pushing up against that inspirational genius to all Steampunkers: Nikola Tesla, whose amazing discoveries paved the way for the future of electronics.
The episodic novel meanders between Good and Evil, Light and Chaos, with the Union bombers and the gumshoes that hunt them down in the Railroad and Mining towns of the Old West. There's hucksters and sheisters and gloryhounds and secret societies and flim-flam and musical numbers and expeditions to the arctic and expeditions under the crust of the earth and the Chums of Chance upon their airship soaring and sailing and tumbling in and out of the sprawling masterpiece of gonzo, post-modern re-imaginings of the great, glorious pulp-era dimestore novels that promised so much astounding, amazing adventure and so rarely delivered.
When one of this country's leading novelists decides to write airship and adventures, he definitely knows what he's doing. His success is magnificent. The novel is a triumph of light. It is a Platonic universe, journeying ever closer to an astonishing source of glorious, glorious light at the heart of all adventures and all zany worlds.