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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 551

If Richard Powers is less than forthcoming in providing interviewers with autobiographical information, one had only to turn to two of his novels, Prisoner’s Dilemma and Galatea 2.2, to find a great deal of such information. Indeed, in Galatea 2.2 , Powers goes so far as to name the...

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If Richard Powers is less than forthcoming in providing interviewers with autobiographical information, one had only to turn to two of his novels, Prisoner’s Dilemma and Galatea 2.2, to find a great deal of such information. Indeed, in Galatea 2.2, Powers goes so far as to name the novel’s fictional protagonist Richard Powers. This novel is one of Powers’s more accessible novels. The characters he creates in it, particularly Richard Powers and C., the girlfriend he followed to the Netherlands where he lived with her for several years, are better rounded and more human than any characters he created previously.

In this novel, Powers pursues two distinct but overlapping story lines—the Richard Powers/C. story and the Lentz/Powers story. Powers, who in the novel works at the Center for Advanced Sciences (Powers’s fictional name for the Beckman Center of the University of Illinois), first comes into contact with Philip Lentz at the Center. Lentz looks with disdain on the humanities. Familiar with Powers’s work, he dubs him “Marcel,” likening him to Marcel Proust, whose sprawling multiplot novels bear broad similarities to Powers’s writing.

One night, out boozing with friends, Lentz stumbles on Powers and asks what one has to do to qualify for a master’s degree in literature. When he learns that the degree is granted after successful completion of the prescribed course work, familiarity with the literary works on a six-page reading list, and a passing grade on a comprehensive examination that occupies two days, Lentz boasts that he could program a computer to master such a reading list and pass the requisite examination. He suggests that he and Powers embark on a project to create such a computer program within a ten-month time period. It is the story of this project that occupies the novel’s second story line.

In the course of the novel, one learns not only of the relationship that developed between the fictional Powers and C., a student in his freshman English class, but also about the devastating effect his father’s death has upon him at a crucial time in his life. Readers also learn of the profound effect that Professor Taylor, in actuality the late Professor Robert Schneider (“Schneider” is German for “tailor”), had on Powers in a seminar he took with him early in his college career. So profound an effect did this seminar have upon him that Powers switched majors from physics to English. Taylor, indeed, changed the course of Powers’s life.

The Lentz/Powers part of the story unfolds after Powers has separated from C. and has returned to the United States. Powers is shocked to learn that during the years of his relationship with C., she has been almost paralyzed emotionally through the awe in which she held him. She ends up marrying an instructor in the translating school where she is taking a four-year course, interestingly an authoritarian teacher who often reduces his students to tears.

The Lentz/Powers collaboration moves from Computer A to Computer B and continues to Computer H, when, like the robots in Karel Capek’s R. U. R. (1921), it is humanized. Its creators give it a human name, Helen, and now have only to go through the mechanics of programming it to complete their task.

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