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The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers

The Gold Bug Variations (1991)

by Richard Powers

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1,0751212,319 (4.18)82
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… (more)
Recently added bynwchap, motherraccoon, zbuxton, private library, Robert_Musil, Roeghmann, southallc, pluriebus
  1. 20
    The Gold Bug [short story] 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)
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    Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter (hippietrail)

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» See also 82 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
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 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 |
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