Even before this week's publication of Thomas Pynchon's latest novel Bleeding Edge, (remember this blog is the digital home of the Thomas Pynchon Muted Horn Dinnerware ) I had already been reminded of Pynchon via his early book Gravity's Rainbow, which was published in 1973. The opening sentence of the novel – “A screaming comes across the sky.” refers to the V-2 rocket, which is one of the main characters or symbols of the 760 page tome.
Now the weird thing is that I am currently finishing another tome, Rick Atkinson's The Guns at Last Light, the last book in his World War II Liberation Trilogy and it pays an indirect/ intentional/unintentional veiled homage to Pynchon's book. The Guns at Last Light is a history of World War II in Western Europe, 1944-45.
As you would expect Atkinson gives a more direct historical understanding of the unmanned V-2 rocket, which first stuck London on September 8, 1944. “...the V-2 rocket,” writes Atkinson, “was forty-six feet long, weighed almost thirteen tons, and carried a one ton warhead. Reaching 3,600 miles per hours and an apogee of sixty miles, it had an impact velocity, comparable to fifty big train engines slamming into a neighborhood.” What made the V-2 even more terrifying was that it was difficult to detect and it made no sound as it finished its trajectory. At first, Prime Minister Churchill tried to downplay the unexpected blasts by claiming that gas mains were bursting. But as the death tolls mounted (3000 British citizens) and thousands of homes reduced to rubble, that ruse was abandoned. The strategic Netherlands port city of Antwerp suffered even more destruction in the autumn of 1944. Germany used V-2s (developed by German rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun who later worked in the American space program) in an attempt to prevent the Allies from using the port to supply troops fighting in Europe.
When describing the V-2, Atkinson described the missile as “streaking across the heavens” which reads a lot like “screaming across the sky” to this longtime Pynchon reader. I am probably trying to make too many connections from these seemingly disparate authors. But who can blame me? Making connections, understanding how our personal history is often a combination of strange happenstances, coincidences, and trickle down of decisions by supreme commanders is one of the takeaways for anyone who reads both Atkinson and Pynchon.