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RATNER'S STAR by Don DeLillo


by Don DeLillo

Pub Date: June 4th, 1976
ISBN: 0679722920
Publisher: Knopf

Billy Pilgrim, meet Billy Twillig--no Vonnegutian unstuck-in-time traveler, but another lugubrious pubescent hero beset by strange experiences having to do with extraterrestrial contact and space-time distortion. DeLillo's Billy is a fourteen-year-old, Bronx-bred mathematical genius, recipient of the Nobel Prize, who is summoned to a huge computer-radiotelescope complex called Space Brain to decode a cryptic message received from the vicinity of Ratner's Star. The author of Americana and End Zone has invented a futuristic, surrealistic research institute where the beauty and terror of pure science meets the absurdity of bureaucratic science and the paranoia of corporate applied science. Billy must dodge the attempts of a secret Honduran/Germanic cartel--led by Elux Troxl, who speaks Latinate garble, and Grbk, who smells like a foot and speaks Speedwriting--to wire his brain to Space Brain for purposes of profit. He must also elude the seductions of pneumatic female colleagues and the nameless perils of a knowledge which has driven one eminent colleague to live in a hole and eat worms, another into fits of narcolepsy. DeLillo's novel pirouettes madly at the new/ancient intersection of science and mysticism, simultaneously participating in and parodying our most modern discoveries: that we are as primitive as ever in the face of the expanded Unknown, and that all knowledge curves back boomerang-like on the self. It is a novel to be read, not for plot (rambling, obscure) nor for character (a thousand loony variations on the author), but for prose--DeLillo's enraptured aria to the twin kabala of mathematics and language, in arc after dazzling arc of words.