Gateway – Frederik Pohl. Don’t let the cover fool you.This isn’t a novel about space or brave men doing fancy things, it’s a novel about waiting around in a cramped, miserable future, where people pay enormous amounts to take lethal gambles using technology left behind by a vanished alien intelligence, cryptic technology which starving humanity needs but can’t understand. The protagonist is a man called Robinette Broadhead. Robinette spends much of the novel talking to his robot psychoanalyst, Sigfrid. Each chapter contains clippings from the mediasphere of the time – classified ads, lecture fragments, etc. Ennui and risk, psychoanalysis and artificial intelligence, sex and boredom. (Pohl edited Dhalgren, btw, and his take on sexuality is like Delaney drained of wonderment.)

There’s very little ‘action’ in Gateway; sci-fi tropes get mostly discarded, and there’s no technophilia in sight – the aliens are long-gone and left no trace except for random pieces of weird equipment, the space travel sections are all about how awful it is to spend months in a vehicle the size of a Lower East Side apartment living room with four other people, etc. The sequels probably try to bring in action, which would tip the scales and make this less special…

17 thoughts on “SUMMER READING PT 2.”

  1. Amusingly the exact art used for the cover of Gateway was also used for my Elementary school grammar book!?!?!

    Strangely I’ve never read a Pohl novel not written with someone else. Space Merchants (w/ Kornbluth) is a classic (total Mad Men-type stuff.)

  2. Gateway is great.. for precisely the reasons described..

    On a related note (touching on lots of neat future dystopia).. try John Brunner… (Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up)

  3. Sounds good. Have you read Solaris? I had watched the Clooney movie which I like, but the book is better than either of the movie versions. He creates a whole science out of the study of a fictional planet and sections of the book go into the different theories about it.

  4. Squares of the City is also a great Brunner book, although it’s nothing like Sheep or Stand (which I’ve never been able to get into.)

  5. yes, I read Squares on your recommendation. fascinating stuff… in a very different mode than the other Brunner i’ve gone through, true.

  6. Lem … I wouldn’t start with Solaris, instead the Pirx books—rusty nail blue-collar scifi, with rock climbing—Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, and Eden.

  7. Gene Wolfe – good question! I think ‘Fifth Head of Cerberus’ is a major, major (literary) achievement. its one of the masterpieces of ambiguous American fiction, slot it in beside Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil”. He’s so precise, the technical skill required to pull it off is incredible, and he doesn’t seem to be breaking a sweat.
    That said, I haven’t been able to get into anything else. In theory, a trilogy about an empathetic torturer w/ a perfect memory would be right up my alley, perhaps I need to overlook the fantasy-trappings.

    Any recommendations for where to go after Cerberus? thanks for the Lem ones.

  8. I don’t think he ever topped Fifth Head myself, but the Book(s) of the New Sun are well worthwhile.

    Have you ever read James Tiptree’s short stories, Jace?

  9. Tiptree – nope! Don’t know him.

    incidentally (or perhaps NOT!) two amazing contemporary writers both have the Pringles connection — Argentine Cesar Aira grew up in a town called “Colonel Pringles” which he returns to in fiction, and Gene Wolfe developed the machine that makes those scary mass-manufactured chips.

    Along those lines, is it true you invented the machine that makes Pringles¨ potato chips?

    Gene Wolfe: I developed it. I did not invent it. That was done by a German gentlemen whose name I’ve forgotten for years. I developed the machine that cooks them. He had invented the basic idea, how to make the potato dough, pressing it between two forms, more or less as in a wrap-around, immersing them in hot cooking oil, and so forth and so on. And we were then called in, I was in the engineering development division, and asked to develop mass production equipment to make these chips. And we divided the task into the dough making/dough rolling portion, which was done by Len Hooper, and the cooking portion, which was done by me, and then the pickoff and salting portion, which was done by someone else, and then the can filling/can sealing portion which was done by a man who was almost driven insane by the program. Because he would develop a machine, and he would have it almost ready to go, and they would say “Oh, instead of 300 cans a minute, make it 500 cans a minute.” And so he would have to throw out a bunch of stuff, and develop the new machine, and when he got that one about ready, they’d say “make it 700 cans a minute.” And they almost put him in a mental hospital. He took his job very seriously and he just about flipped out.

  10. James Tiptree’s actually a she, it was the pseudonym of Alice Sheldon (who had a very complicated story–just read a recent bio–I was just looking at wikipedia and it does scant justice to her.) Anyway in 70s she wrote maybe a half dozen of the best short sci-fi fiction (or maybe fiction period) ever. There is a recent trade collection which contains most of the best stuff, but if you are looking for old PBs the stories you want are “The Girl Who Plugged In”, “Love Is The Plan The Plan Is Death”, “The Screwfly Solution”, “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?”

  11. How about AE Van Vogt? Any opinion on him? His work seems to have been largely concerned with superior beings getting persecuted by the mob. This has always led me to worry that he was some kind of Ayn Rand right-winger. But I believe that Pohl – a card-carrying commie – was Van Vogt’s biggest supporter, which throws the whole thing in a rather different light. In any case, his books are a great read.

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