Gateway (novel)

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1st edition US cover.

Gateway is a science fiction novel by Frederik Pohl and first serialized in Galaxy magazine starting in November 1976 before being published as a book in April 1977. This is the first book in the Heechee Saga. The book was later adapted to a video game and was planned to be made into a television series, but it hasn't panned out.

The book is set in a dystopian future where Earth has become severely over-populated, healthcare can only be afforded by the ultra-wealthy, people sell off their organs to pay their family's debts, and a rich corporation has authority over much of humankind because they were one of the first to capitalize on newly discovered alien technology. The story revolves around Robinette "Rob" Broadhead who started his life very poor, but, after winning the lottery, decided to become a space prospector. Prospectors risk their lives using the space ships of an ancient disappeared alien race called the Heechee. Nobody understands how the ships work, so the corporation has their pilots punch in random settings and hope the flight will take them to a planet with more alien technology they can bring back and sell, unfortunately, a large percentage of the trips end in horrible gruesome death. The story bounces between Rob's past as a prospector, and his present where he spends much of his time talking to an AI psychologist.

Personal

Own?No
Read?Audiobook read by Jim Jensen.
Finished2022-01-21.

I was looking for a short and popular sci-fi novel to read and this one fit the bill. I ended up not caring for it, and have no desire to continue the series.

Review

Overall:

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— This section contains spoilers! —

Good

  • The absent Heechee and their various artifacts are pretty interesting.
  • Having to go off on probable suicide missions adds a lot of tension and fear to the story.
  • Although there are a lot of problems with it, I like that the book uses an AI psychologist. A sure sign of things to come.
  • Rob's inner torment from how he killed his friends "forever," is an interesting problem, though I'm pretty confident Pohl wasn't the first to use it in sci-fi.

Bad

  • Siegfried, the AI psychologist, seems based on Freud. He spends much of his time trying to interpret Bob's dreams, his relationship with his mother, and trying to uncover repressed memories. I don't think even in 1977 this archaic form of psychology was considered scientific, but, in the 2020s, it's clearly pseudoscience. Also, Siegfried appears to have been written in BASIC! Perhaps a little more research into computer programming, especially AI programming would have done the author some good.
  • I found the various newspaper articles, interviews, logs, etc. interspersed throughout the book to be distracting. I think I would have preferred if they were organically worked into the story.
  • If the Heechee ships are in such short supply, and traveling in them frequently results in the loss of a ship, it seems unlikely that the people in charge would allow the ships to be used, and lost, so carelessly.
  • Like most sci-fi authors, Pohl's futurism really missed the mark. Everyone smokes, there's no Internet, the USSR still exists, music is still stored on cassettes, etc. While the Heechee technology is futuristic, all the human technology is still pretty much set in the 1970s.
  • I think Pohl's economics are off. In his world, dinner can cost $100, and a good cocktail $40. Assuming the rest of the world's commodities experience similar inflation, it doesn't make any sense for people to be retiring young on a mere $1,000,000. Likewise, it doesn't make sense for the corporation to offer a massive $10,000,000 science bonus to the prospectors who were going on a mission that had expected results.

Ugly

  • I like to read sci-fi because the setting allows the author to address complex human issues, but dressed up in a way that doesn't trigger my preconceived notions, and, in doing so, I'm able to reassess an existing beliefs and possibly change my mind. Maybe Pohl was successful in this regard to people with 1977 sensibilities, but I found much of the book cringe-worthy. For example:
    • Even if I could forgive Pohl's awful future where a man can savagely assault a woman in public to the point of knocking her teeth out and not be arrested, the "justification" Pohl gives for Rob doing this to his girlfriend is absolutely horrible. Claiming that animals don't kill each other because they always submit to the stronger one is not only zoologically wrong, but wouldn't apply to humans anyway. The fact that Klara isn't too bothered by this, and seems to want Rob back, makes me hate him even more.
    • On multiple occasions, Rob violates the privacy of psych patients by hacking into their session logs so he can watch the more attractive female patients reveal intimate secrets. Not only does this make him a horrible person, but the fact that his doctor knows he's doing this, has the ability to report him to the authorities, but doesn't, underlines just how unbelievable this society is.
    • While I typically enjoy sex in fiction, this book plays out more like a juvenile's fantasy. Despite being poor, cowardly, a frequent substance abuser, not that attractive, and an asshole, Rob has no trouble finding a variety of women eager to sleep with him. However, I do appreciate that, after he becomes extremely wealthy, and women are having sex with him just because of the fame and gifts he can offer them, he ultimately finds it unfulfilling.
    • I appreciate the inner turmoil Rob shows about possibly being bisexual (though I doubt the stigma would still exist in the future), but the reason for why he has turmoil is awful. Pohl writes that Rob might be bisexual, not because he has a natural biological attraction to men, but because he only felt love from his mother when she was using a rectal thermometer on him. This is insultingly ignorant to how same-sex attraction forms.

Media

Covers

Links

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