Large claims are made for the accomplishments of the very elusive Thomas Pynchon within these eleven essays; the essayists bump and jostle one another in their eagerness to seat Pynchon in the company of Melville, Joyce, and even Goethe. After the editors' apologia to Pynchon--they feel they've forced him, perhaps, into the kind of solemn gathering he's always wanted to avoid--Richard Poirer takes over as main host, scolding Pynchon's audience for showing ignorance, dullness, and a serious countenance in their response to him so far. Then we're let off the hook and given some fine close readings of the texts themselves. Tony Tanner, for example, in an excerpt from City of Words, deals trenchantly with aspects of paranoia and its alternative, entropy, in the early stories and in V.; Anne Mangel has acquired a store of fascinating technical intelligence to explain the place of the physicist Maxwell's Demon and information theory in The Crying of Lot 49; and Scott Sanders finds a Calvinist strain in Gravity's Rainbow that poses an entropic counterpart to the Day of Judgment. Edward Mendelson goes so far as to name a new literary genre--the ""encyclopedic narrative,"" striking in itself--to describe the extraordinary range of scientific, cultural, and linguistic learning that distinguishes books like the Commedia, Faust, and Gravity's Rainbow from scores of other historic masterpieces. This is a first collection of criticism about Pynchon; perhaps with time and distance his critical reception will become more relaxed. Meanwhile, these essays will frustrate and enrich the Pynchon reader.