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    Thomas Pynchon's New Heroine Is Caught Up in Some Sort of Virtual-Reality Game

    Written by

    Brian Anderson

    Features Editor

    Photo via Flickr / CC.

    There are no catchy themes. No options. "When the game is loaded," Pynchon writes in his forthcoming private-eye romp, Bleeding Edge, "there is no main page, no music score." All you've got in the game is the slow-burning din of what was once a new, 21st Century lifeforce suspended over a nagging suspicion that you'll always miss your stop:

    ...only a sound ambience, growing slowly louder, that Maxine recognizes from a thousand train and bus stations and airports, and the smoothly cross-dawning image of an interior whose detail, for a moment breathtakingly, is far in advance of anything she's seen on the gaming platforms Ziggy and his friends tend to use, flaring beyond the basic videogame brown of the time into the full color spectrum of very early morning just before dawn, polygons finely smoothed to all but continuous curves, the rendering, modeling, and shadows, blending and blur, handled elegantly, even with ... could you call it genius? Making Final Fantasy X, anyway, look like an Etch A Sketch. A framed lucid dream, it approaches, and wraps Maxine, and strangely without panic she submits…

    …If it's a travel connection that Maxine's supposed to be making, she keeps missing it. "Departure" keeps being indefinitely postponed. She gathers that you're supposed to get on what looks like a shuttle vehicle of some kind. At first she doesn't even know it's ready to leave till it's gone. Later she can't even find her way to the right platform. From the sumptuously provisioned bar upstairs, there's a striking view of rolling stock antiquated and postmodern at the same time vastly coming and going, far down the line over the curve of the world. "It's all right," dialogue boxes assure her, "it's part of the experience, part of getting constructively lost."

    Don't ask me how I got my hands on this. But rest assured that is Maxine Tarnow, the "defrocked fraud investigator and daftly toting Manhattan mom" who cuts across Bleeding Edge. Slated for a September 17 release, it'll be the eigth entry to Pynchon's notoriously brickish ouevre of batshit, genre-defining fictions. And while we don't have much to go off of, just a blurb from Penguin Press, the first page of the novel, and an initial trickle of positive reviews, we do know, however spottily, that this is a tale situated in that weird space between the dotcom bust and the horrors of 9/11, and as such is a story about the ever-complicated promise of computers, about privileged information and the bottom rungs of Silicon Alley, among other things. 

    To think the lead in Bleeding Edge must navigate something across this backdrop—something more than a game, something that would have you submit "without panic"— is precisely why the stuff of Pynchon is still so goddamn on point today. After all, Pynchon is (maybe) Edward Snowden

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