Frederik Pohl is a classic genre writer – unknown outside sci-fi circles, very highly regarded within it. I don’t think that every 40-year old novel I read is worth sharing, but on rereading Gateway I was blown away by how good it is. I’ve probaly read it at least four times over the decades, and it gets better every time.
Pohl’s starting point is a classic trope – the artefact left by vanished aliens (the rather strangely named Heechee). Gateway is an asteroid stuffed full of spaceships that go somewhere across the galaxy when you press a button, and sometimes even make it back. A gold rush ensues attracting prospectors escaping lives on a grimly overcrowded earth, including the protagonist Robinette Broadhead. Who we first meet at a robot psychiatrist’s – fabulously rich after a trip that has left him not just wealthy but fabulously guilty. The story unravels in flashbacks to Robin’s arrival at Gateway and struggles with his own fear about taking a ship that may never return, out into the void for an uncertain reward.
Pohl’s world is economically but vividly created – and his characters are never less than adult and believable. Robin makes a dislikable but compelling protagonist – driven by fear, guilt and lust rather than any higher calling.
Above all the vanished Heechee and their spaceships lurk behind the thoughts of all. The fear of pressing ignition on an artefact about which nothing is known – as if a garage full of Ford Fiestas had materialised in Saxon England – gives the book a very adult and pressing forward motion. You may come back a millionaire, or never come back at all. And there’s no such thing as new or old content, just stuff you haven’t got around to yet.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Philip K Dick and other sixties and seventies ‘social sci-fi’
One thing you’ve learned
A TV series based on Gateway is allegedly in development. Read it now before some sub-standard actors are attached to it.