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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.
Still a classic.
110 of 115 people found this review helpful
I first read this over 30 years ago. At that time I was amazed by the whole thought of an ancient race leaving behind a space station with ships included. The thought that humans would risk there lives getting into a ship, that they knew not where it was going or how long it would be gone. I still think that this an interesting concept as other must have since it won the Hugo and the Nebula. This time when I read it I got caught up in the characters and the cast of Blacks, Brazilians, gays, Bi's, strong women, Russians, handicapped etc. This belongs in any collection of great science fiction. The main character is a man with weaknesses and personal problems, but anyone who has every read any FP novels know that all his novels are filled with characters who are less then heroic. People who have problems, you know, kind of like yourself. If you insist that your novels have heroic swashbuckling characters with no flaws, then you will not enjoy this or any FP novel.
42 of 47 people found this review helpful
The book is deservedly known as a science fiction classic, but watch out for this audio version as it is heavily abridged. Although it's title 'unabridged', in fact all the side bars in the text have been removed.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
Where does Gateway rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
This is by far the best audio fiction book I have ever listened to.
What did you like best about this story?
The story is paced well with a 3 dimensional central character. It is much more of a human story than I expected while being set in a very believable science fiction universe packed with detail.
What does Oliver Wyman and Robert J. Sawyer bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?
The story was very well narrated and, dare I say, very well acted. The narrative brought the characters to life and made them very believable. The pacing and general narrative was excellent throughout.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
The end. lol. I was sorry to hear the story end as I was very much left wanting more. This is not to say the story was left unfinished, I merely wanted the universe to continue and learn more about this wonderfully imaginative creation of Pohl's.
Any additional comments?
This is the first full fiction book I have ever listened to, as even short stories on audio do not hold my attention for long. However, the narrative was so good, the story was so gripping and the book was so well written that it held my full attention and I even found myself contemplating certain characters when I wasn't listening to the book as though they were real human beings - something which totally took me by surprise when I realised I was doing it. There is also another first for me in that I know which book I will be ordering next as I wish to continue learning more about this universe and its inhabitants (not to mention the Heechee). I am looking forward to listening to the next installment in this series.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Great book. Reminded me a little of Phillip K Dick. Great story, with a backdrop of exploration, alien tech and flawed human beings dealing with it all. Straight on to book two.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful