A Trove of New Works by Thomas Pynchon? Bomarc Service News Rediscovered

By Wisnicki, Adrian | Pynchon Notes, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

A Trove of New Works by Thomas Pynchon? Bomarc Service News Rediscovered


Wisnicki, Adrian, Pynchon Notes


Early in 1960, after having graduated from Cornell and while writing V., Thomas Pynchon moved to Seattle and began working for the Boeing Airplane Company. What Pynchon did while working at Boeing has puzzled scholars almost from the moment of the very private author's literary debut. When we try to delve into his stint at Boeing--first mentioned by Lewis Nichols and Dick Schaap--we reach dead ends or find conflicting information. Yet Pynchon's time at Boeing is perhaps the most documented period of his life, and over the years a number of interesting (though not always accurate) bits of information have emerged.

Here I first recount the previous scholarship on this phase of Pynchon's career and consider its weaknesses. Next, I detail my own research and conclusions, namely that while at Boeing, Pynchon wrote primarily for an internal newsletter--none of whose articles have bylines--called Bomarc Service News (first mentioned by Richard Lane), and that in two and a half years of work he produced some twenty-five to thirty technical articles for this newsletter. I discuss these articles and the criteria for attributing their authorship, and finish with a comprehensive annotated list of those I attribute to Pynchon. In this way, I hope to solve what has been one of the longest-running mysteries in Pynchon scholarship, as well as bring to light the depth and range of Pynchon's expertise on the Bomarc missile--an expertise which almost certainly inspired and underlies Gravity's Rainbow.

In "The Quest for Pynchon," Mathew Winston provides the first substantial, if brief, discussion of Pynchon's work for Boeing. Though Winston's essay is not particularly well-documented, he does give Pynchon's dates of employment as February 2, 1960, to September 13, 1962. What did Pynchon do during this time? Winston gives only a vague account: Pynchon worked "not as editor of a house organ ... but as an 'engineering aide' who collaborated with others on writing technical documents" (284-85). In half a sentence Winston first refutes a suggestion Nichols had made, then drops a tantalizing hint, but provides no evidence for his claims and leaves many questions unanswered.

Five years after Winston, David Cowart develops the picture further. Cowart locates one of Pynchon's colleagues at Boeing, Walter Bailey, who worked "'a couple of desks over'" from Pynchon "in Boeing's giant Developmental Center." According to Bailey, Pynchon "wrote for an intramural sheet called the 'Minuteman Field Service News' (to be distinguished from the company's official house organ, The Boeing News)." Specifically, the two men "worked in the Minuteman Logistics Support Program," and Pynchon had "a 'Secret' clearance." Pynchon, Bailey recalls, was an introvert, had few friends at Boeing, and, while working, would occasionally "shroud himself in the enormous stiff sheets of paper used for engineering drawings and work within this cocoon, like an aerospace Bartleby, by whatever light filtered in" (96). The men became friendly when "Bailey made a casual literary reference one day, which generated an immediate and enthusiastic response from Pynchon." Pynchon, Bailey discovered, was "'very literate'" and also well-versed in "technical matters" (97). Unfortunately, Bailey's reminiscences end there (except for a further brief reference, relegated to an endnote, to Pynchon's technical competence), and Cowart, like Winston, fails to inquire further--about either Minuteman Field Service News or, more intriguingly, what Pynchon wrote for it.

Clifford Mead's comprehensive Pynchon bibliography does not include Minuteman Field Service News or any Pynchon articles it might contain. Mead does list one article from Pynchon's time at Boeing, "Togetherness," from the December 1960 issue of Aerospace Safety. (1) I discuss this article below, so for now will note only that its byline identifies the author as "Thomas H. [sic] Pynchon, Bomarc Aero-Space Dept. …

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