Frederik Pohl
Gateway Cover



Pohl's novel made almost a clean sweep of the sf awards when it appeared in 1977. I didn't find that it has aged very well. Half the book takes place during analysis sessions with Robinette Broadhead and his computerized therapist. Listening in on another person's therapy sessions is about as interesting as having someone tell you their dreams. The other half is Broadhead's story of his life as a prospector on Gateway. Gateway is an asteroid honeycombed with tunnels left by the Heechee, an advanced race that inhabited the universe five hundred thousand years ago. On Gateway they left behind a fleet of their spacecraft, ships that will still travel to their preprogrammed destinations when you push the right button. Fortunes can be made on these trips if one discovers traces of Heechee technology that can be adapted for human use. Broadhead has made one. But most flights discover nothing, return with their crews dead of starvation or disease, or never return at all.

Pohl creates a believable, and to us an unpleasant future - and yet the type of future humanity might adapt to. Broadhead has been raised in the shale mines of the Western United States. The petroleum extracted from the shale provides the medium that produces most of the imitation food on which an overcrowded planet survives. The mining has turned Colorado, Wyoming, and part of South Dakota into a lunar landscape. The rich live inside the bubbles that cover the desirable parts of New York City and other major metropolises. Life for most is grim enough that people spend fortunes for a chance at Gateway. On Gateway a small group of people lives as you expect people facing a job with about a 70% mortality rate would behave. There is much drinking and coupling.

Broadhead, who narrates his own story, is a tedious, self-centered character. Even his anguish is tedious. Finding out about his "issues" in those therapy sessions doesn't make for dynamic storytelling. All this would be fine if I had the sense that Pohl found him as irritating as I did, but I think we are expected to find him interesting if not always sympathetic. And he will carry two more novels in Pohl's Heeche Saga trilogy. I am bailing after this first one.