10 June 2012


Gateway by Frederik Pohl
1978 Hugo Award Winner (1977 Nebula Award Winner)
Got it from: Public Library
278 Pages

Humans have been living in tunnels on Venus for a number of years, but when suddenly ancient alien spacecraft are uncovered, the universe, just as suddenly, gets a heck of a lot smaller.  Robinette Broadhead makes his way out to the Gateway asteroid/base in hopes of striking it rich as a prospector and leaving his problems behind.  Once he arrives though, he realizes it’s not quite as simple or as safe as he’d hoped.  Alternating between Robinette’s prospecting journeys from Gateway and therapy sessions with a computer some years after later, we slowly unravel the details that have plunged him into a stiflingly dark depression since leaving.

How much do I care about this guy?
I almost always love super advanced computers/self-aware machines.  If I have not made this clear in the past, let me do so now.  I don’t even care if it is a really anachronistic view of computers – if you make that personality real enough or you give that computer the power to do cool enough stunts, I will be drooling all over the pages.  I’m not sure when this obsession started, but I am thoroughly stuck in it and I don’t care to get out.

So when Gateway begins with a computer named “Sigfrid” putting Robinette through a Freudian psychoanalysis session and it’s a pretty sassy program.  I knew I was going to have fun with this one.

My immediate fascination with Sigfrid may have actually worked against my interest in Robinette.  He is kind of a jerk and just not that interesting to me, or at least he wasn’t as I read through this time.  He isn’t completely colorless, he’s just a really immature guy and maybe a little bit of an anti-hero who had trouble currying any of my favor (come to think of it though, Pohl probably intended that very much).  I think there was probably some potential for him, but the way he kept making it so hard to get to know more about Sigfrid made me more than a little frustrated.

The therapy sessions did go a long way to humanizing Robinette in the end though.  And that was my take-away here; even once the entirety of space is opened up to us, we are still going to need to deal with our problems, parents are still going to suck (I should know) and people are still going to just have sex and use drugs rather than face up to their issues.  Scalzi said it: “I’m still going to need to take out the trash.”

For those who have read this, the ending, which I hope I will not give away for those who haven’t, gave me a little of a Hitchcock’s Psycho feeling – you know the feeling of being made to believe we should care about one person and then abruptly realize it was someone else?  I don’t normally like the shocker type ending, but given my previously mentioned propensities, this one worked out in my favor.

Throughout the book are little vignettes, classifieds excerpts or other miscellany from life on Gateway.  Some of the excerpts worked better than others.  I’m not sure if it was just my printing but they seemed to be placed nearly at random and practically every other instance interrupted a thought/sentence and, even if it was interesting, the effect was to pull me right out of the story almost every time.  Of the different types of excerpts, I most enjoyed the classifieds and the mission reports.  Most others were not quite mildly interesting and there were quite a few aimed at simply reiterating how little we know about the Heechee and seemed redundant.

Funny classified, but interrupting a sentence

I didn’t always understand why this method was chosen either.  Sure it functions as kind of a unique worldbuilding technique but interrupting the rest of the text didn’t make sense and to be honest some of the mission reports just seemed like copouts in place of having to work include some semi-relevant info into the story when it otherwise would not fit. The classroom exchanges could have easily been shortened and worked into their own chapter and would have been much easier to read and probably more interesting to boot.  But then, Pohl won not only the fan choice (Hugo) but also the writers’ choice (Nebula) awards, and according to the back cover copy Pohl called this the best thing he’d ever written, which probably illustrates the fact that I’m just making this up as I go along and my literary judgment is worth slightly less than squat.

I had a little trouble identifying with Rob as I read Gateway, but now that I’ve written this review, I’m starting to see him as an ingenious character as devised by Pohl.  He’s just so blah that it makes the ending all that much more shocking.  This was an easy, fast-paced read (not for the action, it just read that way) and I while it incorporated a lot of my favorite SF elements, I wouldn’t expect this to be one of my favorites.  It did make me want to seek out more of Pohl’s work.  I couldn’t say how accurate they were but if you enjoy the tension and drama of a juicy therapy session, you’ve got to read this!


Universe 3/5
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Dialogue 4/5
Scientific Wonders 4/5
Characters 4/5

Overall 20/25

Another roll of the die…
This week’s book is Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre.  I’ll be listening in to this very pornographic sounding title via audiobook this week because it was available and I haven’t done a Hugo winner aurally yet!

Next week’s book is Ringworld by Larry Niven.  I was first told about this book by my GIS instructor in college.  He was super nerdy about how much he liked this book and made references to it quite a lot.


  1. Gateway is yet another favorite of mine. I'm delighted about the decent HEP score it got. The Heechees are still a most alien and mysterious race.

    1. Yeah, and I got the feeling that if I looked at the Gateway series as a whole, the score would go up even more. The lowest score was the universe score and that was only because I wanted to see it developed more and also some of that went into the scientific wonders score. It was pretty clear that a lot of Heechee stuff was getting saved for later in the series so I think once I read a few more (which I can't wait for), I will like the series even more.

  2. I had mixed feelings about this one myself. My dislike for Rob kept getting in the way of my enjoyment of the strangeness of the Heechees and the coolness of the whole exploration/potential-suicide aspect of going on missions. To be honest, it wasn't until reading your review that I ever considered that Pohl may have intentionally made Rob an unsympathetic character. I had read this book right after Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles", some Heinlein, and Wyndham's "Chocky", and so I was starting to get defensive about the rampant misogyny and homophobia in some of the earlier sci-fi "classics." As such, I wasn't very charitable to Pohl.

    Now I think I need to take another look at this one, but not until I get my hands on the rest of the series. Thanks! You've made me re-appraise my impressions of this one.

    1. Yeah, I had the same experience, reading it after a good deal of Heinlein and others that started to make me feel I'd fallen into a vortex of gross mysogyny and I wasn't going to get out.

      I think the final determination for me will come down to what kind of transformation Rob goes through in the rest of the series.


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