I'm trying to recall a story I read as a child, probably in the late 1980s, though it may well have been written before that. I think it was a short story in an anthology, but I don't remember anything about the book it was in.

The plot, as far as I remember, is that a person (probably male) is seeing a counsellor or therapist of some kind, who I'm fairly sure is a robot. The person has been on a space mission that resulted in some other people falling into a black hole while this person escaped, perhaps in an escape pod, and they're trying to deal with the trauma.

I remember specifically a scene at the end where the person leaves the therapist's office but then re-enters, finding the room partially reconfigured to match the next client's psychology. The story concludes with the person realising or stating that because of relativistic effects, the people who fell into the black hole are not dead but frozen in time, forever living out the last moments of their lives.


Could this be Frederik Pohl's 1977 novel Gateway? The protagonist is the sole survivor of an accident where several other people are pulled into a black hole. Per Wikipedia: "He feels enormous survivor guilt for leaving his crewmates, especially Klara, and is unsure whether he intended to sacrifice himself or the others, so once back on Earth as a wealthy man he seeks therapy from an artificial intelligence Freudian therapist program which he names Sigfrid von Shrink. [...] Sigfrid helps him realize that, due to the gravitational time dilation of the black hole's immense gravity field, time is passing much more slowly for his former crewmates and none of them has actually died yet."

Sigfrid can change his office to make the protagonist more comfortable, and the final chapter has a scene where he returns after an appointment and discovers the room plain:

There is no one there, not even a hologram. I yell, “Sigfrid! Where the hell are you?”

No one. No answer. This is the first time I’ve ever been in this room when it wasn’t set up. I can see what is real and what hologram now; and not much of it is real. Powder-metal studs for projectors. The mat (real); the cabinet with the light (real); a few other pieces of furniture that I might want to see or use. But no Sigirid. Not even the chair he usually sits in. “Sigfrid!”

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    Definitely the answer. However, now I keep thinking of Tom Hanks at the end of Castaway. "WILSOOOON!!!" – Spencer Aug 8 '20 at 16:00
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    Just from reading the title, I immediately thought of Gateway. – Buzz Aug 8 '20 at 16:56
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    Asked about many times, this seems to be the master question: scifi.stackexchange.com/q/138354/28516 – Organic Marble Aug 8 '20 at 17:28
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    "Sigfrid von Shrink" rings a bell, so I'm sure this must be it. I'm quite surprised it was a novel - I guess that's why I wasn't able to find it by searching. – Nathaniel Aug 9 '20 at 0:41
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    From the answer linked by @OrganicMarble I recognise a lot of those details as well, but I wouldn't have guessed they were from the same story. – Nathaniel Aug 9 '20 at 0:44

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