First edition cover
|Cover artist||Boris Vallejo|
|Series||The Heechee Saga|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Publisher||St. Martin's Press|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
|LC Class||PZ4.P748 Gat PS3566.O36|
|Followed by||Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980)|
Gateway is a 1977 science fiction novel by American writer Frederik Pohl. Gateway won the 1978 Hugo Award for Best Novel, the 1978 Locus Award for Best Novel, the 1977 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the 1978 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. It is the opening novel in the Heechee saga. Several sequels followed, and the novel was adapted into a computer game in 1992.
Gateway is a space station built into a hollow asteroid (or perhaps the dead heart of a comet) constructed by the Heechee, a long-vanished alien race. Humans have had limited success understanding Heechee technology found there and elsewhere in the solar system. The Gateway Corporation administers the asteroid on behalf of a cartel of countries including the United States; the Soviet Union; New People's Asia (implied to be a successor state to the People's Republic of China); the Venusian Confederation, a human colony on Venus; and Brazil.
Nearly a thousand small starships are found abandoned at Gateway. By extremely dangerous trial and error, humans have learned how to operate the ships in a limited way. The controls for selecting a destination have been identified, but nobody knows where a particular setting will take the ship or how long the trip will last; starvation is a major danger. Occasional attempts at reverse engineering to find out how they work have ended only in disaster, as has changing the settings in mid-flight. Most settings lead to useless or lethal places. A few, however, result in the discovery of Heechee artifacts and habitable planets, making the passengers (and the Gateway Corporation) wealthy.
The vessels come in three standard sizes, which can hold a maximum of one, three, or five people, crammed in with equipment and (hopefully) enough food to last the trip. A small fraction of "threes" and many "fives" are armored. Each ship includes a lander to visit a planet or other object if one is found.
Robinette Stetley Broadhead—known as Robin, Rob, Robbie, or Bob, depending on circumstances and his state of mind—is a young food shale miner on Earth who wins a lottery, giving him just enough money to purchase a one-way ticket to Gateway. Once there, he loses his nerve, putting off going on a mission as long as he can. Eventually he starts running out of money, and although he is terrified, he goes out on three trips. The first is fruitless. On the second, he makes a discovery through unauthorized experimentation, but the bonus he is awarded is offset by the hefty penalty for incapacitating the ship.
On his third trip, the Gateway Corporation tries something different: sending two five-person ships, one slightly behind the other, to the same destination. Bob signs up in desperation, along with Gelle-Klara Moynlin, a woman he had gradually come to love on Gateway, and who was struggling with her own fears. When they reach the end of their journey, they find to their horror that they are in the gravitational grip of a black hole without enough power to break free.
One of the others comes up with a desperate escape plan—to cram all the people into one ship and eject the other toward the black hole, thus gaining enough of a boost to escape. Working frantically to transfer unnecessary equipment to make room, Bob finds himself stuck alone in the wrong ship when time runs out, so he decides to sacrifice himself and closes the hatch. However, his ship is the one that breaks free, leaving the rest of the crew falling into the black hole.
He returns to Gateway and as the sole "survivor", he receives the entire bonus. He feels enormous survivor guilt for deserting his crewmates, especially Klara, so once back on Earth (now a wealthy man) he seeks therapy from an Artificial Intelligence Freudian therapist program which he names Sigfrid von Shrink.
The narrative alternates in time between Bob's experience on Gateway and his sessions with Sigfrid reflecting back on that experience, converging on the traumatic moment near the black hole. He finally comes to terms with his guilt despite the realization that, due to the gravitational time dilation resulting from proximity to the black hole, time is passing much more slowly for his former crew mates and none of them have actually died yet, leaving him with the dread that Gelle-Klara believes he betrayed them to save himself.
Also embedded in the narrative are various mission reports (usually with fatalities), technical bulletins, and other documents Broadhead might have read on Gateway, adding to the verisimilitude of the narrative. There is considerable attention given to the economic side of living at Gateway, commencing with the contract all explorers must enter into with the Gateway corporation, and including details about how awards are determined.
- Audio review and discussion of Gateway at The Science Fiction Book Review Podcast
- Gateway at Worlds Without End