Gateway Paperback – November 1, 2004
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About the Author
* #41 in the Millennium SF Masterworks series, a library of the finest science fiction ever written.
* Frederik Pohl, one of the old pros of the genre, never takes unnecessary risks. For him, science fiction is a form of play an excusable indulgence since he plays it so much better than most people. The New York Times Book Review
* 'The most consistently able writer science fiction has yet produced' -- Kingsley Amis
* One of Frederik Pohl's best novels and my personal favourite. Complex people in tough situations on a marvelous and gritty world who could ask for more from any novel? Greg Bear
- Publisher : Orion Pub Co; New Ed edition (November 1, 2004)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1857988183
- ISBN-13 : 978-1857988185
- Item Weight : 10.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.12 x 0.87 x 7.76 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #5,810,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Asimov's Foundation Series
95%+ of Heinlein's work (I think I've read them all)
Clarke (Fountains of Paradise, Rendezvous with Rama)
The Stainless Steel Rat, by Harry Harrison
Ray Bradbury (451 for example)
Charles Sheffield's Cold as Ice series
Aldous Huxley (BNW, Chrome Yellow, Ape and Essence)
I think that Gateway fits into this genre very well, but closer to the "far out" range, like Niven's Rig World. Still, he handles the fantastic very well and makes it believable, as in "Yeah, that could happen."
Now the bad news. The sequels are very good and they introduce interesting new situations and characters. But in my opinion (you may think otherwise) they are 4-star. This first book in the series is the best. To me, it's well worth reading the series but Gateway is a stand-alone masterpiece, like Stranger in a Strange Land, and Fahrenheit 451. If you like shootouts with ray-guns, this is not your book.
So why did Pohl have to wrap half the novel around a hyper-neurotic main character who is working out his repressed feelings of homosexuality?
While establishing the underground Venus colony, the remnants of a previous civilization are discovered. A "prospector" finds a self guided alien spacecraft which transports him to Gateway, some type of alien way station at which hundreds of self guided alien ships are stored. The story revolves around life at Gateway and the process of using the alien (Heechee) ships (they are capable of interstellar travel) to explore the galaxy. The pilots of these one, three and five man ships are compensated based upon the importance of their discoveries. Each trip contains a very high likelihood of mortality, but the rewards are great.
The story is told through a Gateway "prospector" named Robinette Broadhead, a former food miner who has earned his way to Gateway through a lottery. The chapters alternate between his "current" psychiatric sessions and flashbacks to his time on Gateway.
The premise of the story is excellent and the story is well developed. The chapters dealing with the psychiatric sessions are not nearly as entertaining however, and almost amount to filler. This brings us to the length of the work. At 275 pages, the book is relatively short to begin with, however, fully 60+ pages are comprised of "exhibits" which are interspersed throughout the story. These exhibits take the form of Gateway bulletin board postings, pages from what appears to be a Gateway orientation manual, and various trip reports and scientific findings. Many of these are largely filler, the remainder deserve only cursory attention. In addition, there are roughly thirty chapters, each of which begin and end in the middle of a page. You are left with what is actually a book with 150-175 pages of text. Throw out the psychiatric sessions and you are largely left with what could easily be compressed into a lengthy short story. The book can be read in its entirety in 5-6 hours.
There are several sequels to Gateway and I will possibly follow up the story, but suspect that two or three could have been combined into one standard length science fiction novel.
Top reviews from other countries
The idea of the book must have influenced the creators of the movie Stargate and this is why I decided to read it.
I find the main character very annoying, as he isn't very bright. he has psychological issues and sees an AI psychologist to help him. He is also more concerned about meeting women and having relationships with them than actually exploring the universe.
I am quite surprised this book got so many awards. While it does contain some cool ideas I found the characters very boring and not intellectually stimulating. This is why I gave it just two stars.
The committee that runs the colony from where it happens is also very nicely depicted in that it's harsh but seems meticulously fair; large sums of money are doled out to successful pilots.
As well as the scenario and setting, the characters and their tales are also naturalistic: they're in constant emotional turmoil. It's an interplanetary human society that without religion and tradition leaves many of its members morally rudderless.
Only the narrative device of telling the story to an AI psychotherapist feels a bit clunky.
The author, Frederik Pohl, lived from 1919 to 2013 and published science fiction prolifically on and off over about 70 years, during which he must have seen some of his ideas of the future become reality, others disproved and some surpassed beyond expectation.
Reviews suggest that some of his works are much better than others. I would not want to read them all. However, having initially come across his interesting 1988 short story `Waiting for the Olympians' in an anthology, Amazon reviews guided me to the novels `Gateway' and `Man Plus' as among his best, for which thank you, fellow reviewers.
Few things date more quickly than the future. A novel like this written in the 1970s inevitably gets some things right and others wrong about how technology and human society will develop. Read decades later they usually display what now appear some anachronistically old-fashioned attitudes set in what is meant to be the future. This book, like the author's other great achievement written the year before, Man Plus (S.F. MASTERWORKS) is post-sexual revolution but pre-politically correct feminism. However, it is said to be the first science fiction novel to make use of the then new theory of black holes.
What it has going for it above all is a good story, including danger and mystery, and an effectively imagined society far enough in the future to be different from ours but close enough that much is comprehensible without needing too much explanation.
The story is told by the central character but his narrative it is now and then interspersed with imaginary documents from his time, from classified advertisements to mission reports. These add variety to the reading experience and shed side lights on the society in which the narrator lives, avoiding the need for excessive explanatory digressions.
It is a time when people are just beginning to explore the universe beyond their solar system, aided by partly-understood fragments they discover of an advanced technology left behind long ago by - they don't know who, but the machines seem designed for use by creatures not shaped like humans.
People are learning by trial and error, and errors can be fatal, how to use some of this technology, including spacecraft set to go to destinations in the universe that the original creators must once have had their own reasons for visiting.
Among the interludes are the narrator's sessions with a computer programmed to function as a psychotherapist. At first this seems a single joke about therapy that goes on too long, but does have an important function explaining how the story ends, semi-tragically. The ultimate fate of the narrator's crew members is one I would never have thought up.
By the end of the novel some major things, especially about the alien technology, are still unexplained. Information on the Internet is that the author did eventually explain many of them in his subsequent `Heechee' novels, although I do not know if the explanations were part of his original plan when writing `Gateway' or were later rationalisations. In a way, I would perhaps rather leave them forever mysteries.
The narrative is cleverly peppered with scientifically accurate contributions about neutron stars, black holes and the dilation of time around such singularities. Pohl brilliantly constructs a tangible space community with a convincing ethos, population and culture skilfully sketched through the inclusion: of resident’s letters, adverts and mission reports.
This is a study of fear, desperation and the pioneering spirit of humanity. The claustrophobia of the semi lit Heechee tunnels of Gateway and spacecraft adroitly create tension and suspense throughout.
At the heart of the narrative is also a pleasing theme of guilt as the flawed central character struggles to come to terms with the consequences of his own survival. This is developed through the dialogue between Brodhead and his AI psychotherapist the juxtaposition between who serves to illuminate the former and the reader as to what it is to be human.
Pohl writes with fluidity and pace and uses comic one-liners to great effect. This is an accomplished piece of writing which is convincing on many levels.
The book features an entirely flawed but human cast of characters in a truly dystopian future, and portrays them in a very clear and concise manner. You feel for the main character, whilst at the same time wanting to give him a kick up the backside and say 'get on with it!' But that's easy to say when your life isn't at risk.
My only real complaint is that the cover jacket in no way reflects the actual story, but since this is a very minor niggle and is still great artwork I'll let it pass!
Overall a great read and well worth a little suspension of disbelief.