j's Reviews > Gateway

Gateway by Frederik Pohl
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Dec 04, 13

bookshelves: 2012, audiobooks, sci-fi-fantasy, sf-masterworks
Read from May 29 to June 01, 2012

Can you like a book when you kind of hate the main character? Especially when that character is the first-person narrator? The answer, for me, for this book anyway, is apparently "not all that much."

Gateway is one of those sci-fi classics that I am supposed to have absorbed if I want to consider myself well read in the genre. It's one of the rare Hugo/Nebula double winners (not to mention the Locus and Campbell awards, which pretty much covers all of them)! It is by one of the stalwarts of geek writing, the man who, as an editor, made sure Dhalgren was published, fergoshsakes! (And congratulations to Fred Pohl, by the way, on still being alive and engaging with the fandom at the approximate age of 103!)

A good portion of the book still holds up pretty well. The imagining parts. The setup is pretty simple: Earth discovers a mysterious alien space station built into an asteroid around, I don't remember, Venus or something. It is full of little ships. No one knows how or why the ships came to be there, but they have figured out that if you get inside one and push a button, it will take you somewhere very far away, very quickly. Relatively speaking. It also might take you very, very far away, but not so fast that you don't run out of food and wind up arriving there dead, or with nothing to eat on the way back but your fellow shipmates. But greedy brave souls are still willing to risk these death lottery missions because a rare few of them result in the discovery of yet more alien technology, which can then be reverse-engineered and patented and everyone winds up very rich, most particularly the omnipresent Company (TM).

So, to borrow from nerd parlance, this is your signature BDO (big, dumb object) adventure. Unfortunately, our window into this intriguing world is this total asshole. I read the book a few weeks ago and his name has been lost to the mists of time and sleep deprivation, but I remember one thing: what a douchebag. I mean, ok, he had a shitty childhood, growing up mining some unpleasant crap or another on... was it Venus again? But he gets lucky and wins the lottery, and enough money to travel to Gateway and maybe become really rich. And the book is told in an alternating structure, so we know that while he does (become really rich), it also happens in a pretty miserable fashion, and we have to sit in on his whiny sessions with his robot therapist.

Aside from the fact that I just didn't particularly like the structure (too much ominous foreshadowing!), it requires us to spend half the book with the jerk, before we find out why he's such a jerk. Except he was always kind of a jerk, and while his reason for sliding further down into a jerky abyss is ultimately a pretty good one, he also did plenty of stuff earlier in the timeline to evaporate every drop of my sympathy. Like (view spoiler)

For a sci-fi book, it is also very clearly Of Its Time, what with all the casual references to swinging sexuality and dated therapy movements like primal screaming. Which just goes to show how hard it is to write a book set in the future that won't sound rather ridiculous once you've arrived there.

This is the first in a series, and I have heard the later books go a long way to explaining the mysterious alien objects, but I like them just fine all enigmatic and obtuse; over-explaining would make them just one more piece of technology, sans the risk associated with their use -- the drive to explore and discover new things that lights a fire under humanity. Well, that and greed. And I don't know if the narrator comes back (probably not) (EDIT: oh wait, I looked it up, and he does), but there's another reason to get out while the gettin's good (EDIT: indeed).
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Reading Progress

05/31/2012 page 200
64.0%

Comments (showing 1-50 of 51) (51 new)


message 1: by Jason (new)

Jason Perhaps I should give audiobooks another shot. I find myself zoning out and losing my place too easily. Well the one time I tried it that is.


message 2: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j Elizabeth wrote: "Can you like a book when you kind of hate the main character?

Yes. Death in Venice."


yeah. also lolita. i can probably think of more examples. probably this just wasn't a great book. the jerk character wasn't compelling enough to bother reading about, even when he was having adventures in space.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Maybe it's first person narrators that you're supposed to think are awesome, yet are douches? I bet you're supposed to think this guy is awesome.


message 4: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j yeah, probably. even though i hated humbert, i liked him as a storyteller. this guy though...

it was a little disconcerting because there is an intro from robert j. sawyer on the audiobook, and he refers to the narrator as one of the great protagonists of SF or something.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Humbert is such an elegant monster. There are some Byatt and Atwood main characters I don't like as people, but like the books.

Sawyer writes terrible books, so that makes sense.


message 6: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 20, 2012 03:54PM) (new)

I'd say the inverse is true too - I like a bunch of books despite their (sometimes major) flaws if I like the main character. And sometimes it's not even the character so much as his or her voice - that can cover a lot of things that would otherwise bug me.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

How do you explain stuff like the Fever series? I wanted to murder Mac much of the time, and the writing is not fantastic, but omnomnom. I guess I didn't really hate her though, and she ended up interesting.


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

True facts.


message 9: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j yeah, i often root for the annoying ones in books and movies. sometimes i find it endearing.


message 10: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j Ugh. Not like that. I was thinking more of rachel on glee. Ambitious, talented, abrasive, no social skills. I'm sure you watch and know who I mean... But I can't think of a good movie example.


message 11: by Jason (new)

Jason There was something about Cher that was really endearing, though. Has anyone ever seen Young Adult? Girl was messed uuup! Yet the movie worked somehow.


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

The movie surprised the hell out of me. Yay! You can't go home anymore redemption narrative...or not. Kinda surprised me coming from Diablo Cody.


message 13: by Jason (new)

Jason Oh, nice! I thought that was a shot in the dark, it's sort of indie. I learned the other day that my college friend went to high school with Diablo Cody, who's really Brook Busey.


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Yeah, she's from a Minneapolis suburb, and the opening was filmed here, so I pretty much had to see it. But then The Tomato also spoke highly of YA, and she's got good taste.


message 15: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j What! MY college friend went to high school with diablo cody!


message 16: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j She grew up in illinois in some semi-posh suburb.


message 17: by Jason (new)

Jason Not Naperville? Wiki says "Lemont" but I don't know my Chicago suburbs as well as you do. I will ask my Naperville friend again to clarify her gonnegtion.


message 18: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j It was a private school called Benet Academy, so it could have been any nearby posh suburb.


message 19: by Jason (new)

Jason Brigid wrote: "Yep she was in my class. Sorry cant respond on goodreads as I am on my phone." —from FB

I guess my Naperville friend went to Benet Academy, which is where she was classmates with Diablo Cody. So your college friend must have also gone to Benet, Joel.


message 20: by Jason (new)

Jason Oh sorry I posted before I saw your post.


message 21: by Jason (new)

Jason Joel, where did you go to college?


message 22: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j Loyola chicago.


message 23: by Jason (new)

Jason Cool. Small world. I don't know how big Benet was, but there's a good chance your friend knows my friend.

Stuff like that is weird. I just found out the other day that karen brissette grew up very close to where I used to live.


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Oops. I got that wrong. She did live in Minneapolis post college for sure.


message 25: by Brigid (new)

Brigid Alright Jason dragged me in. :P Benet wasn't that big only about 350 students per grade. What's your friend's name from Benet? I'm sure I probably know him/her. There were a lot of people that went to Loyola. I went to DePaul. Brooke was always super nice, I had some classes with her. She was quiet so never realized she was so funny.


message 26: by Jason (new)

Jason Whatever, Brig. I was an extra in a movie once! Doesn't that make me cooler than you and Joel's friend for having known Brooke Busey? No. No, it does not.


message 27: by Brigid (new)

Brigid Yes, Jason, it makes you much cooler.


message 28: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j i was an extra in a movie, and got to stand six inches from nicholas cage. he was hung over.

brigid, my friend's name is paula sejut.


message 29: by Jason (new)

Jason Joel, which movie?

I eventually saw The Most Fertile Man in Ireland at the Brattle in Cambridge only to discover that my scene had been cut short. =(


message 30: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j the weather man. one of the people in the group i was with can actually be seen onscreen. i noticed him in the theater. most of what they shot was cut though. it took a whole day to film and is in the movie for maybe 7 seconds.


message 31: by Jason (new)

Jason That's cool! I think I might have seen part of that. I remember it being a pretty bad movie, but no worries—it can't hold a candle to how awful "mine" was.

Joel wrote: "it took a whole day to film and is in the movie for maybe 7 seconds."

It was the same with my bad movie. I did get to meet James Nesbitt, though, which was cool. Not sure if you know who that is. I had a drink at the table next to him in a bar after the shooting and said hello. (Brigid, the Queens Pub in Dalkey!)


message 32: by Jason (new)

Jason Er, Brigid's probably sleeping now. It's +13 in Seoul, I think. So, +14 from Chi-town.


message 33: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j i actually really like the weather man. i've seen it about four times.


message 34: by Jason (new)

Jason It's probably just me. I have an unnatural/unexplainable aversion to everything Nicholas Cage, although I wish I knew why.

I'll give him Matchstick Men, though. I thought that was pretty good. Although it could just be that I really like Ridley Scott, I dunno. Honestly, I just don't understand myself.


message 35: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j that's fair. nick cage is gross.


message 37: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j and how many of those books are first person narrated?


message 38: by mark (new)

mark monday hey, you said "Especially"! i was only addressing the first sentence. i'm in the clear, the post stands as is!


message 39: by mark (new)

mark monday and don't you go back and edit your review to make me look bad. i'm watching!


message 40: by [deleted user] (new)

Bray House has an absolutely terrifying first person narrator - probably the worst person I've ever encountered in a first person story, even considering HH. Brrr. She still freaks me out.


message 41: by [deleted user] (new)

mark wrote: "and don't you go back and edit your review to make me look bad. i'm watching!"

Do it, Joel! Shenanigans!


message 42: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j i don't know what mark is talking about, i didn't even write this review.


Crystal Try: picaro. I read Gateway that way. I never did finish "Confederacy of Dunces" because I wasn't smart enough to see the picaresque. That had to happen after Lit Crit 311...

Someday, CoD, someday.


message 44: by mark (new)

mark monday ugh, Confederacy of Dunces. no Like! and also unfinished.


message 45: by Andrea (new)

Andrea Jackson Can you like a book when you kind of hate the main character? Especially when that character is the first-person narrator?

Joel, it's a good question. I disagree with your answer but your review is thoughtful. Thanks for letting us know what you think. In this case, it didn't work.


message 46: by Brigid (new)

Brigid Yes, Jason, I was sleeping.
Joel - I didn't know your friend because she was 2 years younger than Brooke Busey and myself. Got that information from my younger sister who was in the same class as your friend. Small world.


message 47: by Jason (new)

Jason Yeah, brigid. You know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows me through GR. Real small world.

No, but, I kid—that's still cool!


message 48: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j Andrea wrote: "Joel, it's a good question. I disagree with your answer but your review is thoughtful. Thanks for letting us know what you think. In this case, it didn't work."

yes, in the comments i concluded that there are many books with main characters i don't like that are still enjoyable. perhaps they have to be redeemed by being either interesting or written exceptionally well. i found the narrator in gateway (i remembered his name, by the way -- it's robinette, which is maybe why he has such a chip on his shoulder) to be neither.


message 49: by Brigid (new)

Brigid Oh Jason, how I miss you sarcasm in person.


Michal Can you like a book when you kind of hate the main character? Especially when that character is the first-person narrator? The answer, for me, for this book anyway, is" a resounding NO> yucky book.


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