Gateway (Heechee Saga #1) • 1977 • Space Opera novel by Frederik Pohl

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This SF masterwork from 1977 is centered around a BDO – a Big Dumb Object, which its owners, the Heechees, have left some million years ago. It remembers me a bit of Rendezvous with Rama which was published in the same decade. I also see a connection to the TV series “Stargate” which is based on a novel by Stephen Robinett, whose name is reflected in the main protagonist’s name.

Gateway is a kind of spaceport in the Venusian eclipse containing some 1000 small FTL spaceships, each of them pre-programmed to unknown targets. Prospectors on Gateway try their luck in a balance of Sense-of-Wonder and Angst, a kind of Russian Roulette – launched spaceships might end in a star’s corona, a black hole or lead to far away to get back alive. If lucky, they end as multimillionaires when retrieving some Heechee artifacts or discover interesting new things.
There is a very high death rate which makes it a bit implausible for me that anyone would man such a suicidal cruise under normal circumstances.
But they aren’t normal, they are very dystopian: Earth is overcrowded, polluted, just bad. People flee to Venus which isn’t much better.

Main protagonist Robinette Broadhead isn’t very likeable, he’s even an anti-hero: Agressive, broken, heavily flawed. He came back as the only survivor from an accident which can only occur in a SF setting, and has to work through his survivor depression. In fact, this is a novel that shows you that the main protagonist doesn’t need to be likeable at all to be worth reading, to suck you into the story.

It combines interior and exterior in a marvelous way, bridging pulpish Space Opera and New Wave subgenres:

Structural, the novel switches between psychotherapy session chapters (“Sigfrid” being a reference to Sigmund Freud) reflecting the interior world of Rob and chapters around exterior, space opera adventures. Both concentrate on the main protagonist. They are interleaved with lots of vignettes containing classifieds, mission reports, scientific articles which represent a world view independent of Rob.
There is no clear linear narrative structure, destruction the adventerous tension arc with those psychoanalytical sessions.

This structure reminds me a lot of dystopian New Wave novel “Stand on Zanzibar”, published in 1968 – although it doesn’t reach that novel’s literary quality.
The setting is great and mostly believable: the SF part isn’t an accessory for the psychoanalytical findings as in many other works – it is absolutely necessary and also creative.

I highly recommend it.

Meta: It won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Campbell Memorial awards. This is a copied review from GR; I’ve read it in 2015

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15 Responses to Gateway (Heechee Saga #1) • 1977 • Space Opera novel by Frederik Pohl

  1. pdtillman says:

    In 2015 I wrote: “Arguably Pohl’s best novel. Held up really well to my 3rd or 4th reread. A true classic from the mid 1970s.” and gave it 5 stars: — with a nod to Jo Walton’s fine retro-review.
    I own an ancient mmpb & will likely read it again sometime, assuming the copy and/or the reader are still intact then….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ola G says:

    I have this on my shelf… in Poland 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. pdtillman says:

    I liked them. Have a look @ my GR Pohl stuff. The first is the best, and the Ultimate Heechee Reveal is a bit of a damp squib — but he was a first-rate writer. “As you know, Andreas”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember this one well, and most of all I remember the constant ominous feeling the story gave me – and the fact that despite that, and my antipathy toward the main character, I was fascinated by it. Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. bormgans says:

    I liked this too, because it’s basic and simple, without pretentious fanfare.

    Liked by 2 people

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