Between V., Pynchon's maverick if disorderly first novel, and Gravity's Rainbow, which is still more unstrung and far denser while lacking the narrative encroachment of the earlier book, there is even a direct line of extension. Very literally -- it is a third longer than the original's 500 pages; but where V. was only death-directed, this seems almost death-obsessed and annihilation (from the V-bombs of World War II to the later Rocket with which this is concerned) looms over every page in a world where the technology of terror presides. . . . "Is the cycle over now and a new one ready to begin? Will our new Edge, our new Deathkingdom, be the Moon?" Somehow surfacing above it are other nonspecific, mystic, psychokinetic forces, perhaps Gravity, the "extrasensory in Earth's mindbody," or more simply, just a sense of wonder. They are personified in Tyrone Slothrop, the central character, who is identified as some sort of receiver when first institutionalized in the Abreaction Ward of a London hospital -- he's paranoid -- and later tagged as the Rocketman and sent to the Zone where the later postwar action partially takes place. Around him are all sorts of others -- scientists, behaviorists, friends (Tantivy, who is killed; statistician Roger Mexico, who remains trapped in the detritus of the War and is unfit for Peace) and assorted girls. It is reductive, perhaps presumptive, to say what this is all about -- the "depolarizing" or neurotic instability which follows war; the metallic mechanization of life thereafter; the blacks and blackness; drugs and sex -- a kind of vacant, performing sex; and a lot of catch-as-catch-can cabala all figure in Pynchon's sort of social surrealism. He has made no concessions: from the proliferation of acronyms (some very clever) to the hybrid referrals (King Kong, Murphy's Law, Godel's Theorem) tailgating each other in one paragraph; to the words (azimuth, megalo, runcible, terrenity) which are an "impedance." As of course is all this jammed input -- a parlous challenge to the reader's perseverance. But then however much the latter may have been strained, one must pay tribute to Pynchon's plastic imagination, his stunning creative energy, and here and there the transcendent prose: "It was one of those great iron afternoons in London: the yellow sun being teased apart by a thousand chimneys breathing, fawning upward without shame" -- all marvelously descriptive of the world in which we live and are sure to die.