Gateway opened on all the wealth of the Universe...and on reaches of unimaginable horror. When prospector Bob Broadhead went out to Gateway on the Heechee spacecraft, he decided he would know which was the right mission to make him his fortune. Three missions later, now famous and permanently rich, Robinette Broadhead has to face what happened to him and what he is...in a journey into himself as perilous and even more horrifying than the nightmare trip through the interstellar void that he drove himself to take!BONUS AUDIO: In an exclusive introduction, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer explains why Gateway is one of science fiction's all-time greatest novels.PLEASE NOTE: Some changes were made to the original text with the permission of the author.
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Gateway is a book I’ve read several times since I was a kid, and an old favorite. At eleven, I was more interested in the science fiction aspects (somehow, most of the sex and drug use went over my head), but with repeated readings, I’ve come to appreciate the human elements of the story a lot more.
To be fair, the setup is one of the coolest in science fiction. Humanity has discovered an ancient alien space station near Venus, called Gateway, which is filled with small starships. Nobody knows what happened to the Heechee or why they abandoned their base, but many of the ships are in working order and will travel by autopilot to other star systems and the planets orbiting them.
Too bad there's a catch. Not all of the ships still work perfectly after half a million years, and some of the destinations are lethal. A once temperate star might have supernova-d since the time of Heechee civilization. Nobody has a clue how Heechee technology works. So, the Gateway Corporation recruits "prospectors" willing to risk a fairly high chance of death to take images of different parts of the galaxy and bring back artifacts that the Corporation might study.
People volunteer for this mission because life on an overcrowded Earth has become pretty miserable for most, with quality medical care available only to the wealthy few (sound familiar?). One such volunteer is Robinette Broadhead, a former miner of oil shale (now used for growing foodstuffs -- yum), who wins the lottery.
Bob, as he’s called, is a pretty flawed character, a self-centered, sex-chasing man who’s also somewhat of a coward. But he’s easy to relate to, not really being a bad guy at heart, and his fear is understandable, given the horrible deaths that await many prospectors. His story unfolds in two parts, one of which follows his life and relationships from Earth to Gateway and beyond, and the other of which has the older and now fantastically rich Mr. Broadhead in sessions with an AI psychiatrist, trying to get to the root of a deep trauma that both threads will eventually converge on. (And it is a pretty terrible one.)
Some readers aren’t fans of the sessions between Robinette and the computer psychiatrist, Sigfrid von Shrink, but I loved their relationship and think it’s integral to the story, in a subtle way. I found it fun watching Bob try to trick Sigfrid, only to find that the machine’s programming was nearly always a step ahead of him.
This book isn’t really about the Heechee (see further entries in the series to learn more about them), but about the dirty, messy tension of human desires, fears, and guilt in a place that stands between life and death, known and unknown. Gateway’s a moving examination of the psychology of our existence, of how we, from the personal level up to the species level, neither want to place our hopes on a frightening gamble on the unknown, nor on the ugly, suffering-filled known, but sometimes must make a choice and face what comes.
- Ryan "Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good."
A waste of time
After a rather long hiatus from writing reviews, one would think that I would return with one about a well received book. Unfortunately, this is not to be the case. I was enticed to read this book based on a great review by Ryan who, it turns out, writes a great review about not so great a book. He said he read the book several times since he was a kid. While it is not a particularly interesting adult book, it is definitely Not a “kids’ book.” This book managed to capture not only the Hugo award but also the Nebula. How it did so is beyond me except there must not have been very good writing back in 1978.
The premise of the story starts off interesting: a long, disappeared race of beings leaves behind a fleet of spacecraft that present-day “prospectors” take to unknown destinations in search of wealth and fame. The destinations are unknown because the craft are not well understood and the explorer / prospectors just go along for the “programmed” ride and hopefully don’t end up dying along the way or at their destinations because after millennia the destination star system may have gone or is in the process of going nova. Or, maybe the destination is invested with poison ivy and the visitors get all itchy and scratch themselves to death. No, I’m not making this up.
The hero, who is not much of a hero, let’s just call him the protagonist, throughout the book has conversation with a robotic teddy bear who is his automated psychotherapist. These sessions include excursions into the realms of not so traditional sex to our protagonist’s relationship with his mother. I’m no prude. This is not what’s so wrong with this book. It was just all pure detritus. The book was not interesting, the narrator could not and did not save the written word. Sometimes a good narrator will do that. Not here. The book has an unsatisfying ending and in no way, shape or form could I recommend it for anyone or anything… Not for anything except maybe starting a fire in your fireplace on a day like this. And if you have a digital copy, well sorry, it’s not even good for that.