Currently, I am reading Jem by Frederick Pohl. It’s all right, quite interesting really, a very dark view of humanity with some well-rounded characters. Of course, characterization has always been science fiction’s missing link, but that never seemed to stop Frederick Pohl.
I am reading this novel because my favorite science fiction novel ever is Gateway. I guess I could even take away the words ‘science fiction’ and call it my favorite novel. Of course, it is also by Frederick Pohl. And Frederick Pohl was a great writer.
There has always been an academic divide between what is considered literature and your so-called genre fiction. I am here to tell you that this divide is illusory. The best genre fiction is on a par with your so-called mainstream crap, and perhaps even superior. Well, okay, I really enjoyed Blue Angel by Francine Prose, but how does that compare with Orwell’s 1984. Even Wells’ War of the Worlds is still immanently readable one hundred years after the fact. I’m not sure that will be true with the Prose novel.
The problem that most people have with Gateway is that the main character is an alcoholic. If you read the negative reviews on amazon.com, the people who gave it one or two stars are wondering where is the action. The people that rated it highly seem to appreciate the chapters where the main character is talking to his robot psyochotherapist.
As for me, I like novels with a fully realized main character and Robinette fits the bill, even if certain aspects of him are not very likable. I think the alternate chapters with his robot psychotherapist are the weak link in the book, although it does all come together in the end.
Quite frankly, I identify with Robinettte. Life is a crapshoot, and I think the deciding factor has more to do with the family you are born into than your innate abilities. (Thus, George W. Bush.) Robinette won his way into this incredible situation through the lottery. And once there, he had a failure of nerve. But you know, who really wants to be a ‘winner’ anyway? Science fiction would be much better perceived if more of its novels invoked this sort of humanity.