Saturday, December 11, 2010

Classic Book Review – Gateway by Frederik Pohl



Frederik Pohl


Del Rey Books

278 pages

1977 Nebula Award Winner, 1978 Hugo, Locus and John W. Campbell Award Winner

What exactly is Gateway you ask? For those Science Fiction fans unfamiliar with this novel I will say this, “You will definitely want to read this masterpiece.” It is a classic SF work that even after a number of re-reads never fails to entertain me. Number 32 on the Top 100 SF Book list it has won the Nebula, Hugo, Locus and John W. Campbell Awards, the only book I’m aware of to do so. Now for those of you who have read Gateway I’d like to say a few words. Something about this book has always stood out for me but I’ve always had trouble defining and articulating what it was. Now that I’m a bit older I understand it better and hopefully will be able to help you do the same. Gateway is filled with nothing less than “The Pioneer Spirit” that helped to make the United States the country it is today. Let me explain. In 1845, my great-great-great-great grandfather moved, via wagon train, from New York to Wisconsin settling in the newly opened territory of Dodge County. When they left New York they knew they were leaving everything behind for good. Family, friends, homes, jobs, everything they knew was replaced by hard work and a completely new environment. So begins Gateway. Spacers head out in newly discovered alien spacecraft in search of riches and a better way of life. (Sound familiar?) Change the spacers to farmers and the exploration of space to unknown territory and you have what our ancestors faced when they began their treks west.

Obviously, I was not thinking about historical aspects or pioneers when originally reading Gateway, nor have I on additional readings. On the contrary, I am always totally immersed in the Science Fiction (the alien culture, the unknown destinations, spaceships, etc) of the book throughout my entire reading. It wasn’t until much later that I saw the correlation between the pioneers of America and the characters in this story. Be that as it may, I don’t think a better novel of the human condition has ever been written using SF as a backdrop. The frailty of the human psyche and the complexities of the heart are so well-written that you’ll feel sympathy for the main character knowing full well what a schmuck he truly is. And, the technology Pohl covers holds up – information concerning black holes, holographs, A.I. psychology software, and the characteristics of relativity described in the narrative continue to stand up under scrutinization.

Pohl’s Gateway, Joe Haldeman’s Mind Bridge, and Jack Chalker’s Midnight at the Well of Souls remain, to this day, my favorite novels from the year I graduated high school. What do they have in common? They all explore space and while doing so examine the human condition. All are worthy of five star ratings and all should be in your library.

Gateway has all the elements of great Science Fiction - fear of the unknown, underlining terror of an alien race (Xenophobia), some of the coolest settings in all of literature, alien heirlooms and collectibles, robotic A.I. psychotherapy, technically advanced civilizations, the exploration of far-off star systems, brain downloading, vaguely understood alien spacecraft, unknown destinations, and one of the best writers of our time pulling it all together into a tightly bound plot. Find it, devour it, and love it. You’ll revisit it again and again in the ensuing years ahead. Alternative guaranteed.

Heechee Series

1. Gateway (1976) -- Nebula winner, 1977; Hugo, Campbell and Locus SF winner, 1978

2. Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980) - Nebula and British SF Awards nominee, 1980; Hugo and Locus Awards nominee, 1981

3. Heechee Rendezvous (1984) -- Locus SF Award nominee, 1985

4. Annals of the Heechee (1987)

5. The Gateway Trip: Tales and Vignettes of the Heechee (1990)

6. The Boy Who Would Live Forever: A Novel of Gateway (2004) -- Campbell Award nominee, 2005

5 out of 5 stars

Additional reading:

Gateway Article Interesting article (read the entire essay for full disclosure) 

Gateway Game Download (Note: Does not work with Windows 7 OS)

Frederik Pohl’s Blog

Author’s website

Frederik Pohl's Wikipedia Entry

Internet Science Fiction DataBase Bibliography

In-depth and Insightful interview With Pohl

Pohl on Writing the Gateway Story

The Alternative

Southeast Wisconsin

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