Frederik Pohl
Gateway Cover

The Fourth Part of the World


"Extract from log: 'This is the 281st day out. Metsuoko lost the draw and suicided. Alicia voluntarily suicided 40 days later. We haven't yet reached turnaround, so it's all for nothing. The remaining rations are not going to be enough to support me, even if you include Alicia and Kenny, who are intact in the freezer. So I am putting everything on full automatic and taking the pills. We have all left letters. Please forward them as addressed, if this goddamned ship ever gets back.'"

In ancient / classical Western cartography there were reports of the unseen, unexplored fourth part of the world (Asia, Europe and Africa were parts one, two and three). After the fall of Rome, exploration of this speculative fourth part was only intermittent and accidental. No systematic and successful exploration took place until the Portuguese and Spanish started in the mid-15th century to rediscover the islands off the coast of Europe and Africa (Azores, Canary Islands). The exploration really took off at the turn of the 16-century most famously by Columbus, Vespucci, and Dias (yet even for these successful explorers just what they discovered was unclear at the time). When these explorers sailed off into the Atlantic or down the coast of Africa they did so with wildly distorted maps, and vague notions of distance and direction. Imagine the courage and fear. Gateway fast forwards many hundreds of years and the same true-life experiences are reenacted, but in space.

Gateway does an excellent job of explaining the profound fear of the unknown, the inexplicable, and the frailty of the human mind and body in the vastness of space.

I truly enjoyed the author's investigation of these highly charged emotions. Also interesting was the author's cataloguing of the mundane day-to-day errands of these would-be explorers. I found comical the juxtaposition of the flying into a black hole with Craig’s' List style want-ads back at base. No matter how noble or dangerous or courageous the work we humans are engaged in, somehow we still get roped into banal chores. Funny.

Only reason I didn't give this book a higher rating (I gave it a 6, would give it an 8 on the exploration part) was that 2/5ths of the book dealt with pyscho-analysis of the main protagonist recounting his courageous / cowardly / brutal / deadly / lucky time on Gateway. No problem with that at all, it is interesting, except that a significant portion was devoted to sex.

I felt it was unnecessary. I'm no prude, I just found it irrelevant. When Columbus discovered the Caribbean islands or when Vespucci confirmed the discovery of a new continent (S. America) or Dias became the first European to discover the end of the never-ending African west coast nobody cared about their sex lives, whether they were gay, or straight or 2% gay and 98% straight or if their mom loved them enough. It's a non-sequitor. Ask yourself where you would rank, in terms of importance, what the sexual peccadilloes were of Marco Polo, Ferdinand Magellan, and Neil Armstrong? Wherever that falls on the scale for you, the author ranks it higher in the case of Gateway.