The Gold at the Starbow's End

"The Gold at the Starbow's End"
Gold Starbow Analog.jpg
AuthorFrederik Pohl
Country USA
Genre(s)Science fiction
Published in Analog
Publication typePeriodical
PublisherCondé Nast
Media typeMagazine
Publication dateMarch 1972

"The Gold at the Starbow's End" is a science fiction novella by American writer Frederik Pohl. Originally published in the March 1972 issue of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, it was nominated for both the 1973 Hugo Award for Best Novella[1] and the 1973 Nebula Award for Best Novella.[2] It did win the 1973 Locus Award for Best Novella.[3]

Writing in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, John Clute and Brian Stableford noted that Pohl's longer work had greatly improved after he stopped being the editor of Galaxy Magazine and the Worlds of If in 1969. They considered "The Gold at the Starbow's End" to be an important transitional work leading to his better-known work of the late 1970s and 1980s.[4] As the editor of Platinum Pohl (a collection of Pohl's work), James Frenkel described "The Gold at the Starbow's End" as a "wild adventure" that also addressed "the conflict between the needs of science and the exigencies of balancing a budget".[5]

Pohl later expanded the novella into a full-length novel, which was published in 1982 under the name Starburst.[4]

Plot summary

The story is told with two narrative devices—reports from members of the crew of the U.S. Starship Constitution alternating with a traditional third-person narration of the activities back on Earth. The main protagonist of the activities on Earth is Dr. Dieter von Knefhausen, the scientist in charge of the U.S. space program.

In the first report from the starship, the reader learns that the ship is approximately one month into a multi-year journey to the Alpha Centauri star system, where the crew will begin colonization of the planet Alpha-Aleph. Already, the crew is finding they have too much free time and have begun filling that time by studying various problems in mathematics. In the first narration of the action on Earth, the reader learns that society has become dystopian. The possibility of colonizing Alpha-Aleph is a source of hope for a better future.

As the story progresses, the reader is told that the existence of the planet Alpha-Aleph is a hoax, perpetrated not only on the American people but also on the crew of the starship. The true purpose of the mission is to place the crew in a position where they will have nothing to do other than study mathematics. The hoax was the idea of Knefhausen, who believes that, if deprived of any other means of recreation, the crew will succeed in making scientific breakthroughs that will then be broadcast back to Earth. Knefhausen's theory proves true, but he learns that the crew quickly becomes bored with technological applications of their new-found mathematical prowess. Instead, they become increasingly interested in using it to develop their understanding of art and philosophy. These new understandings give the crew an unusual control over the physical universe and, by the end of the story, they have achieved god-like powers.

Two recurring mathematical themes in the story are Carnap-Ramsey sentences[6] and Godel encoding.[7]

The word "starbow" in the story's title is a word coined by one of the characters on the starship. It refers to the rainbow-like effect seen when stars are undergoing a relativistic Doppler effect.[8]

Other Languages
italiano: Alpha-Aleph