``Opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.''
WARNING, WHOPPING SPOILERS AHEAD. I write these pages as notes, records
and reminders to myself of books I have read. You are welcome to peruse these
reviews, but be warned that they will spoil your reading pleasure if you have
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Gateway by Frederick Pohl
|The essence of this book is how utterly terrifying deep-space exploration is
going to be: like exploring underwater caves, leaving the oxygen tanks behind to
explore narrow crevasses beyond the point of no return.
An alien race has left a space-base—the Gateway, a converted
asteroid—in the vicinity of the Solar System complete with ships, which
humans have worked out how to fly but not control their far destinations, though
they can reliably return after the destination has been reached. The
protagonist is a poorly miner who wins a lottery giving him the means to travel
to and live on the base, and thereby volunteer for missions with the prospect of
a very lucrative reward: to fly in one of the ships in the hope of discovering
something wonderful about the vanished alien species, but with the real
possibility that the ship might not return to base before supplies run out.
The book alternates chapter-by-chapter: half are spent on the space-base
being too afraid to actually volunteer for any mission, and the interleaved
chapters are a retrospective examination of the man's state of mind by an
Earth-based robot psychologist. The whole is an exploration of the
interactions, sexual and otherwise, of the protagonist with various interesting
people he meets on the base and with whom he shares missions. The final reveal
is that in his last mission the crew find themselves under the skin of a black
hole, and the man sacrifices the lives of his nine companions to escape,
eventually to live a life of luxury back on Earth with the rewards gleaned from
providing valuable scientific data on the black hole.
The alternation of chapters and the psychology bit in particular I found
tedious, and only marginally helped the development of the story. But the book
is riveting because it looks at space exploration from such a different
perspective to any other SF work. It is almost certainly never going to become
a realistic future, but it does bring out how dangerous the deep space
environment is going to be when mankind does start to explore in earnest.
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