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Reading Group Guide
by Robert J. Sawyer
Many reading groups and book clubs have enjoyed novels by Robert J. Sawyer.
The following questions may help stimulate an interesting
discussion about Golden Fleece. (These questions
might also suggest essay topics for students studying the book.)
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Note that these questions reveal much of the novel's plot; to
preserve your reading pleasure, please don't look at these questions
until after you've finished reading the book.
- Robert J. Sawyer wrote this novel in the late 1980s, when
Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars") was
under development a plan to use computer-controlled weapons
systems to provide an impenetrable shield against Soviet attacks.
Sawyer clearly feels that no such defense would have been
practical, because of the inherent bugginess of computer systems.
Do you agree? Should we entrust our defense to computers? What
about our health care? Would a computerized doctor be more
reliable than a flesh-and-blood one?
- It's been said that H-A-L is, alphabetically, one step behind
I-B-M. Well, Jason, rendered as J-C-N, is one step ahead. How
much of Sawyer's novel do you think is homage to the movie
2001: A Space Odyssey, also about an intelligent computer
committing murder aboard a spaceship? Who is the more realistic
computer, Arthur C. Clarke's HAL, or Sawyer's JASON?
- What did you think of JASON as a character? Was he a
believable artificial intelligence? Did his responses seem too
human? Too machine-like? Sawyer appears to be concerned about the
advent of artificial intelligence (see also his novel
Factoring Humanity). Is this a valid fear?
- Aaron Rossman is so psychologically reserved that, even with
sensitive monitoring equipment, JASON cannot read his emotions.
The reasons for Aaron's psychological problems are ultimately
revealed in the novel child abuse and incest. Did it surprise
you to find a psychologically damaged character as the human
protagonist in a novel? Aaron perhaps starts out rather
unsympathetically, because he has left his previous wife, Diana,
to take up with Kirsten. Did he become more sympathetic as you
learned about the traumas he had suffered?
- Sawyer take pains to present both Aaron's and JASON's points
of view as reasonable, at least in their own eyes. Who do you
think was right: Aaron, who felt all knowledge should be
revealed, or JASON, who felt people should be shielded from
horrible truths? Based on the text of the novel, whom do you
believe Sawyer thought was right?
- The novel invokes the story of Arthur Peuchen, a male
survivor of the sinking of the Titanic who had to deal
with survivor guilt after returning home. Would you feel guilty
if you survived a disaster when others had perished? Sawyer's
main human character, Aaron Rossman, is Jewish; presumably his
great-great grandparents were survivors of Hitler's Holocaust.
Did this occur to you while reading the novel? Is it an
appropriate allusion? (For another novel that deals with Peuchen,
see Terence M. Green's A Witness to Life [Forge
- A subplot of the novel deals with Proposition 3, a motion to
abandon the mission to Eta Cephei and return to Earth. The
majority of the ship's complement does indeed vote to abort the
mission. Do you think they would really do that? How good a job
did Sawyer do of portraying the emotional hardship of a
long-duration space voyage?
- Another subplot deals with the receipt of alien radio
messages from Vulpecula. What do you think humanity's reaction
would be if such messages were received? Are we prepared to
discover that we are not alone in the universe?
- Sawyer frequently combines science fiction and mystery (see
also his novels Fossil Hunter, The Terminal
Experiment, Frameshift, Illegal Alien, and
FlashForward, and his short stories "Just Like Old Times"
and "The Hand You're Dealt"). Does he do it effectively? How well
does Golden Fleece succeed as a science-fiction novel? As
a mystery novel? Would this novel appeal to a mystery reader who
isn't also a science-fiction fan?
- Some feel that Sawyer was setting up Golden Fleece for
a sequel with his epilogue. Do you think that was his original
intention? He's never written a sequel; does the book really need
one, or does it, in fact, invite the reader to write the sequel
in his or her own mind? (Arthur C. Clarke once suggested that
this was the ideal way to end a book, with a provocative twist
that would keep the reader thinking.)
More Good Reading
Download this Reading Group Guide in Adobe Acrobat Format
More about Golden Fleece
Reading Group Guide Index
Reading Group Guide for Quantum Night
Reading Group Guide for Triggers
Reading Group Guide for Wake
Reading Group Guide for Rollback
Reading Group Guide for Mindscan
Reading Group Guide for Hominids
Reading Group Guide for Calculating God
Reading Group Guide for FlashForward
Reading Group Guide for Factoring Humanity
Reading Group Guide for Frameshift
Reading Group Guide for Illegal Alien
Reading Group Guide for The Terminal Experiment
Reading Group Guide for End of an Era
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