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jcunningham

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Ermahgerd. Berks.

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James S.A. Corey
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Gateway

Gateway  - Frederik Pohl, Boris Vallejo 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 beating his ex-girlfriend into a pulp because she slept with someone else, even though he arrived on the scene freshly covered in another woman's sex juices -- no, really, the ex notices and comments on it and it is kind of gross, but I guess showers are at a premium in space -- at which point I almost stopped reading, but unfortunately did not, or I would have been spared the subsequent Luke & Laura reunion a few chapters later.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).