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The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers

The Gold Bug Variations (1991)

by Richard Powers

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,0391112,105 (4.21)81
  1. 20
    The Gold Bug by Edgar Allan Poe (hippietrail)
  2. 10
    Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett (ateolf)
  3. 00
    Dissonance by 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.… (more)
  4. 00
    The Procedure by Harry Mulisch (hippietrail)
  5. 00
    Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (hippietrail)

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» See also 81 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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 vote 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,


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 vote debnance | Aug 13, 2011 |
It’s about the underlying similarities between, and conflicts inherent in, music and the genetic code and programming and language and beauty and meaning and relationships and patterns; the twin quests of discovery that are science and love… and it just blows me away. I don’t know how he can write so beautifully about such dense subject matter, and relate it so well back to the basic things that make us all human, but he can. ( )
1 vote jddunn | Nov 14, 2010 |
Just when you start to think you are smart, a guy like Richard Powers comes along and reveals how little you know about so many things. The raw candle-power of this man is stunning, but what I like best about all of his books is the genuine compassion he has for his characters.

This novel is basically a love story set against the backdrop of the quest to solve the mysteries of genetic coding. Music also plays a prominent theme; in fact, the blueprint of the novel itself is patterned after the structure of Bach’s Goldberg Variations for piano. Reading this one is unlikely to be a relaxing experience--in fact, it might feel a whole lot more like investment than consumption--but it is well worth the effort. ( )
4 vote browner56 | Sep 12, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060975008, Paperback)

A national bestseller, voted by Time as the #1 novel of 1991, selected as one of the "Best Books of 1991" by Publishers Weekly, and nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award--a magnificent story that probes the meaning of love, science, music, and art, by the brilliant author of Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:33 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Stuart Ressler, an up-and-coming molecular biologist, finds his career sidetracked by the turmoil of the 1960s, and a young couple of the 1980s tries to discover why the biologist abandoned his scientific pursuits

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