I have heard The Gold Bug Variations compared to Gravity's Rainbow; I think it's more appropriate to regard it as a fictional cousin to Gödel Escher Bach. It explores the relationships between biology, music, and computation while telling a very good story. It is well written and the language is often beautiful, although I think Powers sometimes plays too many games with the language of science, at the expense of its meaning.
The Gold Bug Variations describes a librarian and an ABD art history student who happens to be working a computer job, as they become involved with each other while unraveling the past of Stuart Ressler, a coworker who had been a promising researcher in genetics thirty years earlier. Their story and his are told alternately, with neither one becoming subservient to the other; instead, they complement each other. The comparison to Gravity's Rainbow is accurate in a couple of respects; both books are long, and both alternate between being difficult to get into, and difficult to put down. Highly recommended.
copyright © 1997 John Regehr