The cover of Thomas Pynchon's new book, "The Bleeding Edge"
Indeed, video-game culture deeply informs Pynchon's new novel. There are references to Final Fantasy X, Deus Ex, Metal Gear Solid, Super Mario and the like. In a fine passage, a free-spirited father takes his children on a Midwest tour on which they visit timeworn arcades to learn "what blowing aliens away was like in the olden days." Throughout the narrative, the language of gaming bubbles up in unexpected places, as in this description of a tryst between Maxine and Windust, a neoliberal covert operator whose malefic past disgusts her: "His hands, murderer's hands, are gripping her forcefully by the hips, exactly where it matters, exactly where some demonic set of nerve receptors she has been till now only semi-aware of have waited to be found and used like buttons on a game controller." Even one of the book's major plot devices, a program for exploring the unmapped regions of the Internet known as the Deep Web, is itself structured like a game.
Maxine is drawn into a mysterious world of entrepreneurs, financiers, mobsters and other sketchy folk after an old flame, Reg Despard, turns up at her office, where she works as an unlicensed fraud examiner. A filmmaker of dubious talent, Reg is under contract to make a documentary about a computer-security firm called hashslingrz. Spooked by his inability to find "normal company records — daybooks, ledgers, logs, tax sheets," he hires Eric Outfield, a hacker, to help him suss out this information, which is buried somewhere in the Deep Web. Since everybody in the book is connected in ways that shatter all odds of probability, it's totally normal that the parents of a kid who goes to the same school as Maxine's children, California transplants Vyrva and Justin, should invite her to their apartment to peep out a program for exploring the Deep Web.
Developed by Justin and his buddy Lucas, DeepArcher is a 3-D program that allows one to leave the trackable web behind, to dodge the straight world's designated paths of communication — just like the secret mailing system in Pynchon's novel "The Crying of Lot 49" (1966). A wide range of interests, including hashslingrz, wish to acquire it.
Seated before a monitor, Maxine learns just how engrossing DeepArcher's virtual space can be:
When the program is loaded, there is no main page, no music score, only a sound ambience, growing slowly louder, that Maxine recognizes from a thousand train and bus stations and airports, and the smoothly cross-dawning image of an interior whose detail, for a moment breathtakingly, is far in advance of anything she's seen on the gaming platforms Ziggy and his friends tend to use, flaring beyond the basic videogame brown of the time into the full color spectrum of very early morning, polygons finely smoothed to all but continuous curves, the rendering, modeling, and shadows, blending and blur, handled elegantly, even with … could you call it genius?
Much later in the novel, after her investigation into hashslingrz uncovers a variety of disreputable figures who know more about the events surrounding 11 September than what's being disclosed to the public. Maxine is alarmed to find DeepArcher's days as a sanctuary from the surface web are nearly over. Trawling the program's depths, she finds that commercial and government interests have pierced its firewalls. In time, this leaves her with the feeling that no spot on the Internet is safe from large-scale organizations that wish to reach into the lives of the general populace.
Given her time with DeepArcher and the fact that she is the mother of two gamers, I'd wager that Maxine would grasp the appeal of GTA V, though I doubt she'd play it, since "all-male narratives, unless it's the NBA, challenge (her) patience." A fair amount of attention has already been devoted to the absence of any compelling female characters in the game. It's a shame that GTA V fails to expunge the stink of misogyny that has plagued the series over the years, because aside from that, it improves upon every other element in its repertoire. Its world is more geographically diverse than any of the previous entries in the series. Its missions are more interesting, and the writing is sharper.