Ratner’s Star

ISBN: 0679722920
ISBN 13: 9780679722922
By: Don DeLillo

Check Price Now


1001 1001 Books 1001 Books To Read Before You Die 1001 Import 1001 To Read Contemporary Currently Reading Fiction Science Fiction To Read

About this book

One of DeLillo's first novels, "Ratner's Star" follows Billy, the genius adolescent, who is recruited to live in obscurity, underground, as he tries to help a panel of estranged, demented, and yet lovable scientists communicate with beings from outer space. It is a mix of quirky humor, science, mathematical theories, as well as the complex emotional distance and sadness people feel. "Ratner's Star" demonstrates both the thematic and prosaic muscularity that typifies DeLillo's later and more recent works, like "The Names" (which is also available in Vintage Contemporaries).

Reader's Thoughts

Mo Ringey-gareau

For me, this novel is the full experience; challenging, hilarious, intellectually puzzling, thought-provoking, suspenseful and compelling. Though the more-pointed parts of the mathematical jokes are over my mathless head, the punchline is impossible to miss. Having harbored a girly crush on Don Delillo's mind since my first reading of "Underworld", with the reading of this book I would say I am beyond smitten. The intellectual hilarity is, as noted in many a review, somewhat Pynchon-esque (I am only now reading those) yet uniquely Delillo-y.I've not yet finished it as I am doing so in a sort of circular motion -- somewhat like the flip side of experiencing a Gertrude Stein, who is so delightfully Gertrude Stein-ish, in a manner so very Gertrude Stein-ly --- re-reading sentences on average of three times till I am sure I get the joke and the point, despite my lack of mathematical prowess. The plot(s) is/are reminiscent of the word problems in university math classes yet with oddball characters throughout each scenario and an inherent punchline in every sentence. I was adequate at math yet excelled at word problems so perhaps this explains the appeal for a subject matter I'd not have chosen. I think Delillo would make an amazing and hilarious math professor, actually. I would like to keep his mind in a wired canister and absorb the sensory readings through some sort of osmosis. I read this without first reading any summaries or reviews, yet having read 3 other Delillo works -- "White Noise", "Underworld" (twice, a few years apart), and "Libra" (also twice; upon reading the last word I immediately turned to page one and began again) yet was fully unprepared for Ratner's Star. At first it seemed a departure, though I now know it preceded the other works I'd read and that makes more sense to me. I will absolutely read all the other Delillos. This read reminds me in part of that old 60s madcap movie with myriad questionable characters on a scavenger hunt, and so in my mind I call this, "It's A Math, Math, Math, Math World", though It's also a bit, "Sleeper" (Woody Allen's finest work, IMHO), and "Star Wars" (the bar scene), all within the rings of a circus. I almost want to never finish it, though I am becoming curiouser and curiouser about the final punchline of all punchlines.


Math is the perfect language for calculating life and this world. As for living it and living in it...

Will James

Math and mysticism. Full of allegories, satire and Zen koans. Confounding, long and sometimes torturous, whole sections are best read as giant poems with thin narrative as pretense. The language is a shabby, unedited mess that occasionally coalesces into something beautiful. Researchers are basically trying to decode a message sent from a distant star, and the main character is a 14-year-old Nobel Prize winner. Other characters - mostly made up of scientists at a think tank, having virtually no qualities except their ideas - are constantly introduced, then dropped, never to be seen again. All this, on purpose. The dialog is often sparse and funny, in contrast to just about everything else. There are secrets to be found here, but most readers will just be frustrated.

Angelo Ricci

Mi domando spesso se, nella scrittura di DeLillo, la trama rappresenti uno strumento, un mezzo, un escamotage, un lasciapassare per aprire visioni nascoste. C’è una sottile linea, spesso frazionata, ma non per questo meno decisa, nella struttura della sua narrazione. L’andare a ritroso di Underworld che, come la traiettoria di una palla da baseball, compie continui svisamenti temporali. La scrittura documentata di Libra, a metà strada tra una docufiction e la trilogia americana di Ellroy. I soliloqui densi di tragicità nascosta di Cosmopolis che, da soli, svelano una vita metropolitana definitivamente sfuggita al tentativo di classificazione compiuto dai minimalisti. L’apparizione di un linguaggio assassino che svela la forza terribile della parola, ne I nomi. Le immagini statiche di performances e di installazioni artistiche che dominano L’uomo che cade e, in parte, anche quella struttura teologica che è Punto Omega. Le figure di personaggi che incarnano, nella loro verbosità, i deliri di una cultura pop e underground che, come un fiume carsico, appare e ricompare nella vita americana, come in Rumore Bianco e Running dog, fino ad arrivare, con Great Jones Street al suo limite estremo, dove la vita e la morte collimano e collidono.La stella di Ratner presenta, come un catalogo programmatico di personali ossessioni, tutte quelle costruzioni semantiche e simboliche che DeLillo vede ergersi nel paesaggio di un’America che, al di sotto di una crosta labile di apparente solidità, nasconde afflati di tragedia onirica. La figura del quattordicenne genio della matematica apre tutto un mondo di normale e condivisa follia dove, ancora una volta, è il linguaggio (questa volta quello matematico) a trasfigurarsi in codice indecifrabile, paradigma della nostra schiavitù verso la parola. Torme di scienziati che sembrano preda delle loro più ataviche follie, persi in una eterna costruzione di codici e di teoremi, personaggi secondari (autisti e personale di servizio) che si esprimono per mezzo di una afasia meccanica, e che rimandano a certi simulacri di phildickiana memoria.Il tutto posizionato in un deserto assolato che ricorda le immagini californiane della miglior cinematografia noir e underground degli anni Settanta. Deserto nel quale, primogenitura di tutte le strutture e installazioni che faranno da sfondo al divenire linguistico dei personaggi dei suoi futuri romanzi, si erge il cicloide, edificio perfetto e insondabile che forse, come il monolito kubrickiano, rappresenta, ancora una volta, l'angosciosa e inquietante ostensione del Nulla.http://nottedinebbiainpianura.blogspo...

Joseph Crespo

This novel was a rough ride, and I made it through out of pure obstinacy. It helped that only a brilliant mind could have written it, but the reader's picture of this author's brilliant mind becomes a little twisted as the narrative progresses.The structure of the book appears to be nothing more than a long procession of weird intelligences that present themselves, one by one, to the protagonist, who must decide what to take and what to leave of their thoughts. There does exist a cumulative effect from all of this perspective, and the plot increasingly thickens around the story's focal point: extraterrestrial intelligence. The greatest thing I can say about this book is that it gives that concept a treatment serious enough to be on the order Stanislaw Lem or Arthur C. Clark. Unlike those authors, Dilillo has priorities beyond the simple conveyance of his (brilliant) story idea. He is presumably incapable (or utterly unwilling) to render a narrative that is free of ambiguities and strenuous, unanswerable questions. In the event that we are to view this effort in the context of science fiction, we can conclude that it's one that adds the full weight of human ambivalence and doubt to what is already an interesting tale. If we're to see it as a contemporary novel, then the promise of alien intelligence is a necessary justification for the dense concentration of odd personalities that populate it.


I'm giving this two stars but only because I am not smart enough to understand it. This takes a good knowledge of mathematics, science, Kabbalah and other forms of mysticism. I'm pretty sure it's a masterpiece, if you understand those things...

Lara Bell

Totally tedious. Made me regret that I can't stop reading a book once I start it. Put me to sleep after 3 pages every night. It's that kind of pretentious, look how smart I am, off-kilter writing that a college math freshman would probably spooge over. The beginning is fun and sucked me in enough that I waded through to the end for the somewhat predictable payoff. I guess if you like math give it a try...

Dysmonia Kuiper

Ratner's Star is intellectual, creative, strange, funny, clever, and dense. It's exciting to encounter a work of fiction about a group of quirky and brilliant scientists living together on a compound, trying to decode a radio message sent from a distant star. But it is not at all like Carl Sagan's Contact. Rather, imagine Contact written by David Foster Wallace.I would recommend it, but only to specific people looking for a particular kind of read. Say, science lovers who are smart, patient, and looking for an active read (not a simple distraction).It took me three and a half months to finish this book! That's insane for me: I can read a 438-page novel in a day, and I often do. As I mentioned, Ratner's Star is dense -- it was also kind of boring in places, particularly to begin with. As "funny and clever" as I describe it overall, I didn't laugh out loud in response to it until I was more than halfway through. But there were some hilarious scenes. Also, this book took concentration. I couldn't read it for escapist purposes: it took too much brainpower. In many ways, it is one of those books I feel I need a smarter person to explain to me to make sure I didn't miss anything.Which brings me to the ending, which was intelligent and satisfying, although I can't claim to be 100% sure I completely understood it.


My first DeLillo. Despite rave reviews for him, I found the story flat. It grabbed me initially, but it didn't conclude well.


LATEST ATTEMPT (aka, attempt #3);I WANT to like this book, would love to dig into a novel that takes place in a science think tank with odd characters, but I would liken this book more to some poor Kafka, and as listless as DeLillo's novel The Names. There is an intriguing mystery here, and like a Kafka K-named character, Twilling meets only further distraction and obstruction as he tries to decode a mysterious space message, but unlike Kafka, the distractions and obstructions become too redundant, and steadily lacking interest. Like The Names, the characters mainly in play just don't keep up enough intrigue to make the 400+ pages worth the consistent effort.************************I must admit that this book, even after two stabs at it, didn't thrill me the way other DeLillo novels can, and I did feel as though I were reading something more by Thomas Pynchon. Many of DeLillo's finest work seems to work on the exploration and twisting of its own metaphor, but filtered through extraordinary but still accessible characters, people who feel both rooted in and confused by the complexities of the world behind them. Ratner's Star seems to want to delve in such a way, but through a situation far more absurdist. Billy Twilling is a young math Nobel laureate who is pulled into a think tank that bombards him on all sides with eccentrics, from fellow mathematicians to the custodians. Yet many of these characters become redundant through their lack of introduction and propensity for monologue. Many moments of the book read like Kafka and Michio Kaku co-writing an episode of _Dragnet_. Twilling's main job is to decipher a coded message received from outer space, but of course his progress is hindered and his job outright disregarded by many in Field Experiment One. Eventually, the book breaks down in plotline and form itself when Twilling is pulled underground into a new project that is off the charts. There are many delights in this book--Twilling himself is a wonderfully concise and hilariously unhumorous boy. DeLillo shows his skill at even comic timing on the page. The scenes with a mathematic precurser who has banished himself to a hole in the ground and the meeting of the esteemed Ratner himself during a torch ceremony are wonderful, yet I didn't find the book as a whole challenging with its exploration of metaphor as DeLillo does in later books. There is a wide expanse of characters, but the ecentricities become the focus of the book, not the crucial ideas, and the eccentricities become a little formulaic at times, even in their seeming randomness.


I'm struggling. Disjointed, disharmonious and downright devilish. Still, I can't imagine ever finishing this. DeLillo is just not getting through to me here.


This is a load of bat guano.“His most spectacularly inventive novel” according to the New York Times. This I fear wasn’t really to my taste at all. I like plot and there wasn’t much plot here to like.The book is in two parts: “Adventures” and “Reflections”, it is set in a near future where the protagonist, Billy Twerlliger, is an underdevelopped teenager who is a maths prodigy, he has won a new Nobel Prize for Mathematics.Mathematics and fiction, what could go wrong…?Billy is called, somewhat reluctantly, to a remote laboratory (named Field Experiment Number One) to decipher a string of code believed to have come from a newly discovered planet orbiting Ratner’s Star. The code consists of fourteen pulses, a gap, twenty eight pulses, a gap and fifty seven pulses. Nobel laureates from across the World have been drawn to the laboratory to decipher the code. Some of those working on the code go crazy, one called Endor ends up in a hole eating larvae and other creepy crawlies he finds in the ground. Much is made of base sixty, could the signal be just a reference to the time (fifty seven seconds past 14.28)?Billy is rather detached from the events and reminds me of another Billy, Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse Five.The second half of the book, judders with different monologues, some interesting others not.A sample of the text:“Coming towards him was a woman wheeling a small carriage. She wore a long crystal-pleated sepia dress and was almost unendurably lovely, her face uncovered from some lost medallion, an ancient oval coin dug up and rubbed alive.”Some parts are interesting like when one of the scientists, Maurice Wu, is crawling in a bat cave and his light goes out and he tries to remain calm despite the fear engulfing him.Taste differs, I much prefer the Rolling Stones to The Beatles. Someone with a taste for postmodernism might love this novel, but it leaves me cold and unwilling to seek out any further works of Don DeLillo.

Brent Legault

Reading this has been like panning for gold in a mud-riven creek bed. There were a few flakes of value but not even enough of them to buy a new mule. And my brain now feels like it could use a thorough hosing or beer bath.


There is plentiful evidence of DeLillo's brilliance strewn throughout these pages, but for the most part the going is laboriously slow. In the imaginative conclusion, math and science are revealed to be just as much a creation of the human mind as mysticism and language, where no single one of these approaches is any more able than another to objectively answer the question: "What is the universe as it exists beyond the human brain?"

David Contreras

Man, woman or child:Do not be alarmed. Ratner’s Star is complete bullshit. Your assessment within the first few pages will prove to be correct. This is a powerful study on the the excesses, the triumphs and failures of the human mind. Bruce Allen from the Chicago Tribune sums it up best. Ratner’s Star is a prodigious satire on those pioneers who journey beyond the frontiers of knowledge and end up more ignorant than they were when they set forth.Billy, our Nobel Prize winning mathematical genius, is but a mere pup catapulted into an arena of world renown crazies and fellow mathematicians on a scary hyper-genius level. A radio signal is captured from the outer reaches of space (presumed to be shot off from or around Ratner’s Star, which may or may not be binary, which may or may not even be real). Billy's impossible role is to decode the message itself among other mental hybrids. What we know about Billy, what we need to know, is that Billy is essentially a non-character just like every other person or thing he meets in the story; he didn't speak out loud until he was three years old, etc. doesn’t matter in the end. Billy is an outsider, and takes over as a proxy for the reader's inquisitive mind. And what he witnesses on every page is fevered with eccentrics that blur the line between genius and insanity. They are contained and straight-jacketed by their own ploys to outdo one another; is it no wonder that the title of the book is in the possessive case? Mathematics made sense, bi-level coding, the mysteries of the Space Brain, Field Experiment Number One, the strange elusive semblance of the self when staring up at the mirroring black sky. This is the lost chapter of Infinite Jest written two decades before Infinite Jest with all the hilarity and absurdity, all of its special effects and technical wizardry kept intact. “Consider the fact that, relative to their respective diameters, the average distance between stars is roughly the same as the average distance between atomic particles in interstellar space. Is this mere ‘coincidence’?” One of many questions not offered to us as a challenge, but as a matter of reverence to the very real existing unknown out there. Even our current powers of scientific deduction will look at such a profound question with another question; every answer once began as a theory inside someone's head; everything is susceptible to a transformation, whether remarkable or deranged; ”Why sad?” Bill said. “The birth of a baby equals the death of a fetus. This experience recreates itself throughout our lives.” Billy asks a relatively mundane question like where the bathroom is, and is given a two page expose on seemingly unrelated topics, breaking news hits that Ratner’s Star is in fact a binary star, oh, wait, it isn't, then several paragraphs later the mutant responds, “Upstairs and to the left.” Little Billy Twillig stepped aboard a Sony 747 bound for a distant land. This much is known for certain are the opening lines to the book. DeLillo does his part keeping us in the know that we’re under the derangement of bullshit. Even when there is no resounding purpose other than to bludgeon you over the head with the fact that what you’re reading is characterless and pointless. This is the slick meditation of a mathematical know-it-all recounting Pi just to show you that he can. The book as a whole does not exist. Readers decide if it has to. But "We’re talking around it. We’re making sounds to comfort ourselves. We’re trying to peel skin off a rock. But this, according to Mainwaring, quoting Mohole, is simply what we do to keep from going mad.”Just when the book becomes fascinating, when we delve deeper into the mystery of the message sent to them from space, a character goes on a psycho babble rampage, and they dismiss the importance of said mystery outright. They're right, though. There exists no mystery in plot here. You are to be entertained by the wild imaginative things people say and then move on. The Post-Modern jibber-jabber exists to tell you that the Post-Modern jibber-jabber exists. Its purpose is to enlighten you on how to unravel your very own ego via a Socratic mantra. The important thing is the language, not the machine. In this way, DeLillo has created a means of bombarding you with so much bullshit, it elevates you to a level of understanding with our own destructive genius. "Our knowledge of the world. The world itself. Each, the other and both. They’re one and the same, after all. It’s been said that philosophy teaches us to talk with an appearance of truth about all things and to make ourselves admired by the less learned. There’s one branch of philosophy this definition doesn’t cover. Bi-Levelism. Bi-Levelism teaches us to talk with an appearance of truth and falsity about all things to make ourselves admired by the more learned.”The secret task of logic may be the rediscovery of play. There’s no doubt that DeLillo is a genius. He’s a threat to the general popcorn-munching Pepsi-guzzling populace. Often times Ratner's Star jumps around incoherently just to show us the inevitable failure within us all. And because of this, if Ratner’s Star wasn’t continuously jarring in its cold brilliance, it would have easily gotten one regular old nameless star. "Alternate physics, if it teaches us anything,” Speidell said, “it teaches us that once you go across the line, once you’re over the line and left without your classical sources, your rational explanations, the whole of your scientific ethos, once this happens you have to pause. You have to pause as we may have to pause someday in the future. You’re over the line, sure, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep going or hurl yourself into the uncharted void. This is nonsense. You pause. You reflect.DeLillo leaves the reflecting up to the reader. But just as the Mainwaring whispered: ”Things are interesting up to a point. Then they aren’t interesting anymore.” The inevitable screw loose in our perfected armor, DeLillo proposes that we are the smartest creatures in the universe, that is, until we meet someone or something that is smarter. He also proposes, at least to me, that we have no evidence to deny the fact that a rainbow-colored space whale lives in the center of the universe. Where he fails, though, is that he prematurely assumes that our patience is ready for this haul of bullshit and hilarity and profundity as well. (view spoiler)[As to the mystery of the space message? If you actually reach the end of the book, it's assumed that it was sent from Earth many millions (?) of years ago. If so, this is probably the most eye-opening part of the book, because would not then Billy and his freak show friends be the future of ourselves? Could it be that the people who sent that message out into space was us to begin with, as in you and I? If so, doesn't Ratner's Star, the book, its language, actually become the code or cipher itself? Are we all internalizing DeLillo's words and propelling them out into space? Is the rainbow-colored space whale that sits and waits in the center of the universe just hungry for our interpretations and inner reflections? Is there an even greater kind of intelligence that thrives on chaos and seemingly random ideas? What if that rainbow-colored space whale is actually turquoise? What if you and me are actually right? (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *