Ratner’s Star

ISBN: 0679722920
ISBN 13: 9780679722922
By: Don DeLillo

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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


While everyone else at the beach had their noses in Twilight fan fiction, I was reading this.I don't know if this deserves 2 stars or 3. Parts of it are better than others. I love many of DeLillo's novels, and enjoyed much of this one too, but there were definitely parts that I read just to get through them.It's a story about a 14-year-old mathematical prodigy who's pulled into a project to decode a message received from space. Like other works by the author, Ratner's Star has some great dialogue and some very odd (and oddly self-aware) characters. And this one has a bunch of theoretical math in it too, which was quite fascinating (and not a common element in most fiction I've read). One of the things that I like about DeLillo is that his stories and characters are always a bit out there. Perhaps in this story they're a little too much so for my taste at times.I'm glad I read it, but I don't know if I'd recommend it to others who don't already love his work.


This book is a handful of scientific nonsensical babbling. It's my first contact with DeLillo's work, which I expected to be a somewhat interesting author. I suppose I was unhappy on my starter pick, because reading this was painful! You would expect the greatest scientists in the planet to be...well, smart. In this novel, though, the scientific mind is portrayed in such a weird and sophomoric way. I understand that the author is actually trying to mock the modern scientific method, yet everything sounds rather pathetic. Every character in here is arrogant, stubborn and a complete whacko. In theory, that's not a bad thing, since these traits can be a good definer for character's uniqueness. However in "Ratner's Star", the lack of charisma makes these characters quite unbearable. Don't worry, DeLillo, I'll still give you another chance.


They walked across a level expanse of grass. Softly, forced to move in mechanical tick-tock fashion because of permanently dislocated hips, lifted a tin of small cigars out of his side pocket and lit one up. He seemed to haul himself over the ground, hitching with every step, his stomach working as hard as his legs to produce some locomotion. Fields. Number fields. Algebraic number fields. Star fields. Electrical fields. Metrical fields. Field equations. Unified field theory. The grass had recently been cut and possessed that nearly toxic freshness of nature in recuperation, a savor of arrow poison more seductive than the wildest lime. The two moving figures were about a hundred yards from the building, which was hard to look at in this midpoint hour, having been designed to play with light, to magnify and angle it in veering octaves so that the whole structure resembled a burst of solar art.

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...


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

Andrew McCrae

One of the most disappointing, frustrating and for the most part tedious books I have ever read, Ratner's Star did not shine - it bludgeoned me to death with boredom.What started as a 4-star book and filled me with that rare thrill of excited anticipation lapsed by page 160 into an ineluctably inevitable downslide of disappointment, and a single star defeat. The opening - as good a setting up that anticipation as any novel's start - promising the dual thrill of this special boy with his precocious mathematical gift lending him an early maturity of perspective tinged with the expected slightly autistic response to all things, and (view spoiler)[the promise of the potential communication with an alien race from the vicinity of Ratner's Star (hide spoiler)] - dissolved into a series of tiers of absurdist vignettes by the agglomeration of highly yet abstractly intelligent scientists and Nobel laureates and their supporting clique, who, beyond idiosynchratic behaviour and deviantly abstract perceptions, proclaimed variously, widely and often inanely on everything from tersely perspicacious, eruditely accurate, elegantly true, through silly, stupid, mad and insane.But what - a supportive pillar of the intense frustration the book sliced under your skin for the most part - annoyed the most was that, despite the organisation of the Field Experiment (view spoiler)[(strangely subterranean topped by a geometrically attractive armillary sphere) (hide spoiler)] and its sophisticated brief, premises and staff, this agglomeration of the keenest scientific minds couldn't organise a proverbial in a guano cave. They individually and communally failed to progress one of the most important scientific projects by a single iota - until Billy, our singularly sane hero, (view spoiler)[solved the riddle of the momentous transmission while attempting to flee the insanity of his friendly captors, and (hide spoiler)] proved the lot of them useless and superfluous. Which meant the plot - which evaporated as the book waded through more and more dense meaningless language and statements from the tedious absurd episodes of this bunch of charmless crackpots - developed not one bit until page 390... Yet, by the end, a couple of revelations - not about the story, but the mechanism, about the novel's lack of story, its purpose, its writer's cathartic end - explain the whole pointless mess:"The very uselessness of [the project] ... is what makes the project a pure act of intellect and therefore supremely enriching." (p409 Vintage 1991).For the writer perhaps. Negate this, and you have a neat summary of this novel's near-uselessness for the reader, even though the project - the novel - may be useful to the writer.Further, the whole exercise - the novel - is clearly explained:"To express what is inexpressible isn't why you write if you're in this class of writers. To be understood is faintly embarrassing. What you want to express is the violence of your desire not to be read. The friction of an audience is what drives you crazy. The more they understand, the crazier you get. You can't let them know what you're writing about. Once they know, you're finished. If you're in this class, what you have to do is either not publish or make absolutely sure your work leaves readers strewn along the margins. This not only causes literature to happen but is indispensable to your mental health as well." (pp 410-11 Vintage 1991).On the nail, here. Most of what's written - the scientific, mathematical, metaphysical and sheer insane lunatic babble - is inexpressibly incomprehensible. This is DeLillo at his extreme. It drove me crazy. You meet this in many places in Mao II, come away from that book fretted about the margins, all confused. 'What do you mean Mr DeLillo?'But by here, you have simply stopped caring long long before.The only reasons to finish this vastly annoying novel were to:f) glean something from the undoubtedly intelligent and incisive thoughts of the author and enjoy some of the language in that process; g) stick it out with gritted teeth, issuing moans of forebearance, to see if there was some wonderful twist to redeem it all (endless hours of sighing)h) say you've read another DeLillo book, it was Ratner's Star, and frankly, it was bat shit.I thought the character of Billy one of the most promising of any I have read; I loved his intelligent simplicity; hated his family backstory. I thought all the other characters were prats. I came away with one line I could wholeheartedly equate with:"The period before sleep is my time of greatest mental helplessness..." (p413). I encountered this state dozens of times while reading this book. I sincerely hope no other DeLillo I read (and I will read more, despite this) is nowhere similar to Ratner's Star, except for Billy Twillig and the final almost redemptive passage of compassion (p429-32).["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>


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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.

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.


This is a really odd, somewhat incoherent and ultimately quite wonderful novel. I’d only previously read ‘White Noise’, ‘Underworld’ and some of the author’s later books and stories, so I was surprised to find a totally different style at work in ‘Ratner’s Star’, one more comparable to Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut or Philip K. Dick. To begin with it very much has the feel of a quirky mid-70s comic sci fi novel, being concerned in a fairly druggy way with conspiracy theories, secret transmissions from little green men and the threat of global annihilation.The plot follows Billy Twillig, a teenage mathematics prodigy who is taken by the government to a remote facility to join a group of scientists attempting to decode a mysterious radio signal received from the star of the title. We are quickly introduced to a large cast of weird characters who pop up and disappear as Twillig is led closer to the secret of the signal and the true purpose of a small group of scientists who are working on something quite different in the deepest parts of the facility. The basic conceit of the plot is presumably based on the discovery of Pulsars (which also formed the basis of a very different but also very interesting novel by Stanislaw Lem) but it’s really an excuse for the author to get all kinds of eminent scientific ideologues in one big space and bash them all together. I guess this was a time when all kinds of mind-expanding ideas about the universe were being propagated and popularised, and the idea that science itself could and should also expand to cover every possible aspect of the conceivable universe is just one element of the author’s broad satire here:"The problem concerns the true nature of expansion," the man said. "Consider science itself. It used to be thought that the work of science would be completed in the very near future. This was, oh, the seventeenth century. It was just a matter of time before all knowledge was integrated and made available, all the inmost secrets pried open. This notion persisted for well over two hundred years. But the thing continues to expand. It grows and grows. It curls into itself and bends back and then thrusts outward in a new direction. It refuses to be contained. Every time we make a breakthrough we think this is it: the breakthrough. But the thing keeps pushing out. It breaks through the breakthrough."If the defining image of ‘White Noise’ was that of the inexplicable Most Photographed Barn in America, the centrepiece around which ‘Ratner’s Star’ revolves is the image of a once-great scientist digging a hole in the desert and subsiding solely on larvae. In trying to crack the code, the researchers end up delving deeper into their own subconscious, which in turn is rendered as literally digging into the earth below the facility: it’s as though the mind could be represented as a series of geological layers, with some unexpected ancestral truth lurking in the deepest caves. The overarching suggestion is, I guess, one inherited from science fiction as far back as Wells and Mary Shelley; that for all their supposed arch-rationalism and clearly defined logical principles, the great scientist is as liable as any of us (perhaps more liable!) to not only personal delusions but also mental collapse.All of this is quite hard to follow, not least because Delillo had clearly been brushing up on his advanced maths and astrophysics in the research of this novel. But that need not bother you – this isn’t the kind of book you read for well-adjusted, ‘relatable’ characters, nor for an aspect of social realism or escapism. You read it for the writing. And the writing is absolutely astonishing on quite a frequent basis. Because I read this on an ebook reader I kept a list of marked passages which I then transferred to a Pages document for safe keeping; many of them are too long to quote in full but I couldn’t bear the thought that I might lose the memory of them afterwards. Perhaps this is a feeling unique to ebooks where you never quite have the sense of being able to pluck a book off a shelf and flick back to the right page again? I don’t know. I was surprised to read that Delillo considers this his favourite of all his own works. It’s a difficult read, not only because the subject matter is somewhat arcane, but because it’s fairly tedious and occasionally boring from a dramatic point of view. Not much really seems to ‘happen’, which is another way of saying that although an awful lot of stuff does happen, much of it seems weirdly inconsequential or episodic. But in the end I didn’t think that really matters. For all its Joycean reveling in wordplay, this isn’t a book like ‘Ulysses’ which can be decoded into a realistic sequence of events muddled up in time. Perhaps that’s what marks this book out as postmodern rather than modernist: there is no one single thing which it can be said to be ‘about’, other than itself.One last thing: I was intrigued to note that David Foster Wallace kept a heavily annotated copy of this novel because it does bear a striking resemblance to that author’s own work (particularly ‘Infinite Jest’ with its similarly gifted protagonist, but also the general themes of obsession, depression, scientific materialism, etc). Both are comic novels in the broadest conceivable sense and both are very much of their own time in terms of technological, political and pop cultural references, but both have a certain amount in common stylistically too: there’s the same tendency towards snappy dialogue set against lengthy and insanely cleverly written passages of description where high and low vocab is constantly mingled to startling effect. This is not to suggest that Wallace was in any sense an imitator of Delillo, but one was certainly a big influence on the other, and it’d be an intriguing exercise to read both side-by-side.


I don't understand this book. Parts are written almost as if a stream of consciousness. Parts of the novel are hilarious--like trying to "decode" a message from space, that consists of just three numbers. Dialog is often in a strange style, as if words or phrases are randomly deleted. Many of the characters are lunatic; they do and say things that seem just--crazy. The craziness pervades the book, and the narration goes of on wild tangents that don't send a clear message about anything.


Whacky story where a young boy wins a nobel prize in mathematics and is then recruited to solve the messages seeming originate from Ratner's star.Bizarre characters and scientific geek language abounds.

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...


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.


Earth has received an apparent message from a planet circulating Ratner's Star, and a brilliant mathematical boy is called in to decipher the message. Commentary on science and astronomy and a study on brilliant minds and how they relate (?)Despite the interesting premise, this book was torture to read. The ideas expressed are as vast and disconnected as the characters created to portray them. The characters were not integrated into the plot - not only did you (slowly and painstakingly) read along as Billy worked on the message, you tried to solve the mystery of why DeLillo included about 90% of the characters. The science, math, astronomy may be interesting to a very small minority, but it wasn't explained or integrated well, so those completing those sections was as fun as reading a dishwashing machine manual. I've read that DeLillo likes to forget his earlier stuff, and now I know why.

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