Gateway Review

01:38 Sun 30 Aug 2009
[, , ]

Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, the opening novel in his Heechee series, won the Nebula in 1977 and the Hugo, Locus, and John W. Campbell awards in 1978 (making it even more highly-decorated than most of the “triple crown” winners).

It tells the story of Robinette Broadhead, a prospector who struck it rich while searching for alien artifacts and/or significant scientific discoveries. It takes a split form, alternating chapters between Robinette talking about his past and about his present; the chapters in the present are all focused around his sessions with an AI therapist, Sigfrid.

This structural device means that the reader knows from the start that Broadhead is ultimately successful in his quest for riches, while both present and past strands move towards a common point of revealing the key traumatic event in his history.

The universe that Pohl sets up involves an Earth that is short of food and other resources. Pohl suggests that easily-accessible oil will run out with the result that shale mining is common, and Broadhead begins his adult life at that. He wins a lottery that pays enough to get him off planet, to Gateway. Gateway is an abandoned base, constructed out of an asteroid by the long-gone Heechee, aliens who apparently abandoned the human sector of space five hundred thousand years ago. Humans found artifacts of theirs on Venus, and then discovered Gateway, where the Heechee left abandoned starships. These ships have faster-than-light capabilities, but humans can’t figure out how they work, or how to really control them. They have navigation systems that seem to go to predetermined destinations and then return to Gateway, so the humans use them by trial and error.

This process is extremely dangerous, which is why the reward structure is such that lucky trips can mean retirement into a life of luxury. Broadhead initially refuses to take many trips, because of how dangerous they are, but economic and other pressures eventually push him to it.

As might be evident from its structure, the novel has a strong psychological bent, and there’s a heavy focus on Broadhead’s therapy, his complexes, and the relationship he has with his lover Gelle-Klara Moynlin. (Incidentally, I read this novel as encouraging toleration of homosexuality, and difference in general, something it shares with its “triple crown” predecessor.)

I liked it but wasn’t crazy about it. I’m curious enough to want to read the rest of the series, and while it certainly wasn’t bad, I thought it was weaker than most of the previous triple winners.

Leave a Reply