By Frederik Pohl
Frederik Pohl has an enviable reputation in the Sci-Fi community. His seven decades as a writer and editor brought him many awards and plaudits from critics and fans alike. Gateway has become one of his best-remembered novels, and for a very good reason. The premise behind the story is simple and ingenious. It is the story of one of a new breed of prospectors, men and women venturing into the unknown in search of wealth, much like the prospectors of the old west during the Gold Rush.
Like the intrepid prospectors if America’s Wild West, the adventurers of Pohl’s vividly imagined future are out for wealth and, if they can get it, a little glory. The parallels between the two run quite deep, at least at the human level. Those that chose to risk their lives at Gateway do so for many different reasons, but ultimately, they are either running away from something or aiming towards their fortunes. Either way, Pohl’s masterpiece paints a very vivid picture of life on a wild frontier.
Gateway is an alien construct, it’s the base for hundreds of alien spacecraft. Each has its own pre-programmed destination, the only trouble is, the human flying them can’t read the maps. Nor can they change the destination. It’s like a cosmic lucky dip, some you win, some you lose. Consequently, if you don’t know where you are going or how long it will take, you don’t know how many supplies you need.
And of course, unlike Earthbound explorers, you can’t take a small detour to replenish your food and water supplies. Trusting yourself to the unknown could mean being sent into a Super Nova, a Black Hole or simply starving to death.
But there is another side to this story. The book alternates between the narrator, Robinette Broadhead’s past and his present. And for me, that is the really clever part of the book. On the one hand, Pohl gives us a good old-fashioned adventure story complete with heroes, villains, romance and tragedy. On the other, he examines, through a computer psychiatrist, the mixed emotions that inevitably come from daring to stare the universe in the eye and shout “bring it on”.
As the book approaches its climax, the parallel threads begin to resolve themselves and the reader is made aware of the reasons behind our narrator’s present position.
Gateway is an imaginative yet simple book that proves beyond doubt how well deserved Frederik Pohl’s reputation is.