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The Gold Bug Variations (1991)

af Richard Powers

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
1,1381312,947 (4.14)84
An enthralling story about desire, new love and the mysteries of science from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Overstory Stuart Ressler, a brilliant biologist, sets out in 1957 to crack the genetic code. His efforts are sidetracked by other, more intractable codes - social, moral, musical, spiritual - and he falls in love with a member of his research team. Years later, another young man and woman team up to investigate a different mystery - why did the eminently promising Ressler suddenly disappear from the world of science? Strand by strand, these two love stories twist about each other in a double helix of desire. 'A love story of charm and substance, brimming over with ideas, yet anchored in emotional truth' Sunday Telegraph… (mere)
  1. 20
    The Gold Bug [short story] af Edgar Allan Poe (hippietrail)
  2. 10
    Ship Fever af Andrea Barrett (ateolf)
  3. 00
    Dissonance af Lisa Lenard-Cook (TheoClarke)
    TheoClarke: Dissonance and The Gold Bug Variations both address loss, love, and the power of music. Both use piano music as a key symbol and draw parallels between music, mathematics, and science while staying true to the normal novel form. If you like the spirit of one then I am sure that you will appreciate that of the other but their disparate lengths may be a hurdle to some readers' enjoyment: Powers' novel is longer than average and Lenard-Cook's is little more than a novella.… (mere)
  4. 00
    Proceduren af Harry Mulisch (hippietrail)
  5. 00
    Gödel, Escher, Bach : et evigt gyldent bånd af Douglas R. Hofstadter (hippietrail)
Indlæser...

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Two moving and mobile plotlines, a clever high-level structure, and more affectionate science nerdery than you could reasonably hope for. The novel's title works in Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold Bug and Johann Sebastian Bach's The Goldberg Variations, in a clever nod to the main thematic material, but in addition to those motifs of codebreaking and music, Powers also works strains of genetics, knowledge, and information into the mix, in addition to more human subjects like love, fidelity, and responsibility. Much like in Gain, the only other book of his I've read, he manages a deft admixture of somewhat quotidian plots with high-level concepts (in Gain, the fictional history of a soap company is overlaid onto a woman's struggle with cancer; here, it's genetics and Bach over two interrelated love affairs), and I think he succeeded even better in this earlier work at unifying ideas and messages he wanted to get across with the action. In fact, the scaffolding tricks he used to unfold the story were so clever that it's even more impressive that the main narratives were as compelling as they were in comparison.

There are two separate but inter-related narratives. The earlier one is set in the 1950s, the quest of biologist Stuart Ressler to determine how DNA translates genotypes into phenotypes while simultaneously struggling with his love affair with a married fellow biologist. The later one is set in the 1980s, the contemporary journey of reference librarian Jan O'Deigh to dig up more information on Ressler's failure and retreat into doing IT drudge work for a bank, along with her love affair with his coworker Franklin Todd. In the past, Ressler is the classic archetype of a science junkie, near-monastically devoted to his work until he falls in love with one of his co-researchers, who's inconveniently happily married even as she more than returns his feelings. In the present, Jan has been drifting along in her career as a librarian until Franklin asks her to help him indulge his curiosity about why his genius coworker abandoned his field in his prime, and she subsequently becomes much closer to both of them as she retraces Ressler's research steps. While each plot can move somewhat slowly at times, as each main character periodically pauses to ponder for a bit too long, their stories are quite compelling and relatable, especially the way that each struggles with big questions about life, responsibility, and parenthood.

However, the book gets even better once it's accepted that the slow parts are there for a reason. Powers decided to use Bach's famous Goldberg Variations as a template for the structure of the novel. This is obvious from the very first chapter, a brief poem laying out the major themes and goals of the novel under the heading of Aria, but the true import of that doesn't sink in for a while - each chunk of the story has its part to play in the overall piece. What seems like a slower, more contemplative part is just fulfilling the role of a quieter spot in the Goldberg Variations. Additionally, the main characters bond to their love interests and then peel away like complementary strands of DNA (though not identically in each timeline), so the genetics angle gets worked into the structure as well, and also into the narrative as Ressler attempts to follow in Crick's footsteps and Jan tries to follow in his. It's still written very humanistically in spite of all the high level science content, with long runs of great descriptive writing that's always on the edge of being self-indulgent while never quite going over. And while I preferred the science chat to the human narrative most of the time, much like with Gain, Powers managed to deliver a touching resolution that emphasized the themes without feeling forced. "Virtuosic" is a strong word, but it fits here. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
This one was a big of a slog for me. There were two parallel connected love stories built around the love of science and music as interconnected disciplines. The characters are almost alienatingly clever - I often felt lost in the dense parts. I was tempted to drop the book during the first half, but challenged myself to stay with it and it was OK. (January 13, 2007) ( )
  cindywho | May 27, 2019 |
The Gold Bug Variations wrecked the world of one jon faith a long time ago. My ecstatic reply generated ripples of both interest and disquiet . I loved the three characters, loved the Midwestern backdrop, the nerdy affinity that adults could maintain with straight faces. No, there wasn't much beer drinking, but the rich foam of ideas was a fair compensation. What followed was pure reverence. Then I had a girlfriend who found the novel to be shit. It should be noted that she was an actual scientist. I argued but in name only. I was defeated. My spirits sank. I now fear any return to this one.
( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
The idea behind this book, that a love story could be woven around dissertations on genetic mapping and music, turns out to be less appealing than you'd think. (That is, you might think it appealing if you had a more-than-average intellectual bent). But the result is neither fish nor fowl.

I can see why those who praise it like it. It's ambitious as hell, and sometimes the metaphors and wordplay are very apt and clever. But the book assumes that you either are a novice when it comes to the more technical material covered, and that you'll learn more about these things, or that you already have some expertise, and you're going to enjoy being lectured to. Neither is the case. The more you know, the more you're going to find the pages-long expositions tedious. And the less you know, the more you'll be lost in a less-than-clear literary muddle of fact, metaphor, and speculation. If you're in the latter camp, and you want to learn more about these subjects, I recommend the "...For Dummies" books.

However, I've heard Powers criticized for his characters being cyphers. I think that's a bit unfair. For me, the book flew along nicely when it dealt with the non-technical aspects of the lives of Jan, Todd, and Dr. Ressler, none of whom is in any way average, and none is indistinguishable from another, personality-wise.

I enjoyed the Q and A part of Jan's job. Trivia lovers will find a lot to enjoy in those segments. And it must be said that, when you finally get to them, there are a couple of very sexy set-pieces, although this book is by no means a bodice-ripper. This book was a literary sensation when it came out in 1992. I appreciate the ambition behind it, but its notoriety, I can't help but think, was only because there was little going on that year. ( )
1 stem EricKibler | Apr 6, 2013 |
The title is a warning to the casual reader:

"If you don't get the title, or

if you don't want to get the title,

beware."

In The Gold Bug Variations, author Richard Powers perspicaciously composes a novel with themes of puzzles (Edgar Allen Poe's The Gold Bug), music structure (Bach's Goldberg Variations), romance (two love stories that intertwine across twenty-five years), computer technology, art history, and DNA genetic codes. I remember reading this book when it was first published, maybe twenty years ago, feeling like I'd plunged into the deepest and most bewitching lake on earth, hopelessly unable to surface for 638 pages, desperate for a breath of air, powerless to return to the top of the water, smitten with the sparkle of the words all around me, bewildered by the enigmatic story, in awe of the intelligence of the writing. ( )
1 stem debnance | Aug 13, 2011 |
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An enthralling story about desire, new love and the mysteries of science from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Overstory Stuart Ressler, a brilliant biologist, sets out in 1957 to crack the genetic code. His efforts are sidetracked by other, more intractable codes - social, moral, musical, spiritual - and he falls in love with a member of his research team. Years later, another young man and woman team up to investigate a different mystery - why did the eminently promising Ressler suddenly disappear from the world of science? Strand by strand, these two love stories twist about each other in a double helix of desire. 'A love story of charm and substance, brimming over with ideas, yet anchored in emotional truth' Sunday Telegraph

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