Against the Day

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Pynchon, Thomas. Against the Day. New York City: (The) Penguin Press, 2006. See Internet Speculative Fiction Database for reprints, award(s), and citations of reviews by, as of October 2022, John Clute, Adam Roberts, and Rob Latham.[1] There is also an unabridged audiobook, from, narrated by Dick Hill, copyright 2007 Tantor Media.[2]

Against the Day is labeled "A Novel" on the front cover of the Penguin Press 2006 edition, and described in the Wikipedia entry as "epic historical fiction" set

between the 1893 Chicago World's Fair ["World's Columbian Exposition" (1492/93 + 400)] and the time immediately following World War I [... that] features more than a hundred characters spread across the United States, Europe, Mexico, Central Asia, Africa and "one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all," according to the book jacket blurb written by Pynchon. Like its predecessors [by Pynchon], Against the Day is an example of historiographic metafiction or metahistorical romance. At 1,085 pages, it is the longest of Pynchon's novels to date.[3]

We'll call the work by the old term satura, meaning a hodgepodge of different forms, a significant one of which is steampunk,[4][5] especially with — quoting "Steampunk Scholar" on line — "The 'Chums of Chance,' crew of the hydrogen skyship Inconvenience, [...] the first characters the reader is introduced to. [...] The Chums are the embodiment of the term 'boy's adventure story,'" being only boys themselves."[6] And the "boy's adventure story" is of the Tom Swift variety, featuring nifty devices,[7] plus participating in what what Rob Latham calls in the novel a "thoroughgoing deconstruction of the Edisonade" (Review-Essay, "Our Jaded Tomorrows," SFS #108, last paragraph).[8] Among the Chums, note appearance of devices or at least one device (like — in the sense of "for example" and "similar to" or "can be used as" — a very high-tech cigar lighter) that are futuristic and may be from a universe off at an angle, so to speak, from ours.

Isaac Asimov once defined "(Social) science fiction" as "that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings" ("Social Science Fiction," Science Fiction: The Future, 2nd edn. [1983]: 348; beginning § IV, italics removed). Especially if we count mathematics as a science, Pynchon's satura includes social science fiction and science fiction, looking at real-world science at various high points from the Michelson–Morley experiment "performed between April and July 1887 by American physicists Albert A. Michelson and Edward W. Morley at what is now Case Western Reserve University"[9] and the early years of commercial cinema, with the motion picture (1895) used by Dunn and Erlich as one key mark for the start of the modern era (Introduction to Clockworks2).[10] And 1895 saw the publication of H. G. Wells's The Time Machine, which helped establish SF as a genre. Movie cameras and projector embody, so to speak, light as a phenomenon, used for art (more or less) through an electro-mechanical mechanism and using a quirk of perception to give the illusion of movement.[11] Against the Day ends (just about) in a kind of "science fantasy" or in the most speculative fringes of speculative science with a variation on movies that shows alternative times: before actually ending with the latest version of the Chums, far beyond Tom Swift and on an airship growing into a giant vehicle (shades of Jonathan Swift's Laputa!),[12] like a city in flight.

Note also beginning of electrification and its social impact.

And note Against the Day as an emphatically political novel, looking at labor issues, Anarchism, immigration, race, and other matters of the ending of "the Gilded Age" (ca. 1877-95, with allusions back to the US Civil War).[13]

RDE, finishing, 22/31Oct22, 23Jun23