Sunday, December 12, 2010


Human Psychology. Risk. Gambling. Half of the chapters in the 1978 Hugo Award and 1977 Nebula Award winning novel Gateway by Frederick Pohl take place in the office of a computerized psychologist named Sigfrid. What happened to Robinette that compels him to continue to return for therapy? At the hub of the question is Gateway.

Briefly, Gateway is an asteroid where an unknown alien culture left hundreds of spacecrafts. The humans know almost nothing about the how the spacecrafts work. They do know that they can board them and go to some destination that had earlier—perhaps centuries ago--been programmed by the aliens.

We’re going into a ship that we don’t know if it’s going to go where it’s supposed to go, and we don’t even know where it’s supposed to go. We go faster than light, nobody knows how. We don’t know how long we’ll be gone, even if we knew where we were going. So we could be traveling the rest of our lives and die before we got there, even if we didn’t run into something that would kill us in two seconds…And not only that. We don’t anything about who built these things.

This causes a type of Russian roulette/gambling situation. The destination may bring the “prospectors” to a place where the aliens have left some wonderful technology or that has some great scientific value. In which case, the prospectors could earn millions of dollars. On the other hand, they could come back empty handed, injured, or not come back at all. In general the novel explores what type of person would sign up for such an assignment. In particular, it explores Robinette, who is caught between his fears and his desire for the big payoff.

This would have been an interesting book to read as part of a book club. At the end, I would have liked to know how other readers felt about Robinette. Could they relate to his fears? Did they find him a good, bad, or an in between type of person? This is the first novel a series, and at some point I would like to read the other books.

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