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 the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union, New People's Asia, the Venusian Confederation, and the United States of Brazil.
Nearly a thousand small, abandoned starships are at Gateway. By extremely dangerous trial and error, humans learn how to operate the ships. 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 danger. 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, filled with equipment and hopefully enough food for the trip. Some "threes" and many "fives" are armored. Each ship includes a lander to visit a planet or other object if one is found.
Despite the risks, many people on impoverished, overcrowded, starving Earth hope to go to Gateway. 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 is frightened of the danger and delays 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 unsuccessful. On the second, he makes a discovery through unauthorized experimentation, but the bonus he is awarded is offset by the large 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 has gradually come to love on Gateway, and who is struggling with her own fears.
When the ships arrive, their crews find to their horror that they are in the gravitational grip of a black hole without enough power to break free. The crews devise a desperate escape plan: Move everyone 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, Broadhead finds himself alone in the wrong ship when time runs out. He closes the hatch so that the plan can proceed. By chance, his ship is the one that breaks free, leaving the rest of the crew falling into the black hole.
Broadhead returns to Gateway and receives the entire bonus. He feels enormous survivor guilt for leaving his crewmates, especially Klara, and is unsure whether he intended to sacrifice himself or the others, so once back on Earth as 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 Broadhead's experience on Gateway and his sessions with Sigfrid, converging on the traumatic moment near the black hole. Sigfrid helps him realize that, due to the gravitational time dilation due to the black hole's immense gravity field, time is passing much more slowly for his former crewmates and none of them has actually died yet. Broadhead, however, concludes that this means that they will still be dying when he dies in several decades, with Klara still believing that 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. The economic side of living at Gateway is presented in detail, commencing with the contract all explorers must enter into with the Gateway corporation, and including how some awards are determined.
- Audio review and discussion of Gateway at The Science Fiction Book Review Podcast
- Gateway at Worlds Without End