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AuthorFrederik Pohl
Cover artistBoris Vallejo
CountryUnited States
SeriesHeechee; The Heechee Saga
GenreScience fiction

The Heechee are a fictional alien race in a series of science fiction novels by Frederik Pohl. The Heechee are portrayed as an exceedingly advanced star-traveling race that explored the Milky Way Galaxy, including Earth's solar system, hundreds of millennia ago and then disappeared.

On January 6, 2019; Skybound Entertainment announced that they have reached an agreement to option Frederik Pohl’s 1977 science fiction novel, Gateway. The deal includes all other volumes in the Heechee saga. Although without a time frame for it, Skybound plans to produce a TV series based on Gateway.


Pohl introduced the Heechee in a 1972 novella, "The Merchants of Venus" (sometimes called "The Merchants of Venus Underground"). In 1990, it was packaged with nine original short stories as The Gateway Trip (Del Rey Books), a book of about 240 pages that is the only collection in the Heechee series.[1]

Five novels published from 1977 to 2004 also feature the Heechee.

Collectively the Heechee stories have been considered a series called "The Heechee Saga"[2] or Heechee Saga or simply Heechee.[1] A German-language edition of the first three novels was published 20 years later as "The Gateway Trilogy": Die Gateway-Trilogie (Munich: Heyne Verlag, 2004).[1] Book four was sometimes promoted as "the ultimate book in the renowned Heechee Saga".[2] Book six, the fifth novel, incorporated three previously published stories.[3]

The first novel was serialized in Galaxy Science Fiction beginning November 1976, illustrated by Vincent DiFate. The third was serialized in Amazing Science Fiction from January 1984, illustrated by Jack Gaughan.

The new stories packaged with "The Merchants of Venus" as The Gateway Trip: Tales and Vignettes were all published in the first three 1990 issues of Aboriginal Science Fiction; both the serial and the late 1990 book were illustrated by Frank Kelly Freas.[1]

Gateway, a series of two video games were released in 1992 and 1993 by Legend Entertainment.


"The Merchants of Venus"[edit]

The original Heechee novella was published in the July–August 1972 issue of Worlds of If[4] – or If, a magazine Pohl had edited from 1961 to 1969 – and almost simultaneously in The Gold at the Starbow's End (Ballantine Books, 1972), a collection of short fiction by Pohl. In 1990 it was included in an all-Heechee collection, The Gateway Trip: Tales and Vignettes of the Heechee, comprising the novella and nine new short stories. The 1972 magazine story was illustrated by Jack Gaughan[4] and the 1990 collection by Frank Kelly Freas.[1][a]

The Heechee originated [5] as a plot device enabling Pohl to give a plausible reason for humans to make the effort of colonizing the inhospitable planet that space probes had proven Venus to be. In "The Merchants of Venus", the Heechee (a name given to them by humans since nobody knows what they called themselves) are nowhere to be found, and humans know of them only from their advanced artifacts.

The first evidence comes with the discovery of tunnels constructed under the Venusian surface, each tunnel distinguished by a mysterious light-emitting cobalt blue metal covering the interior sections. The tunnels facilitate colonization, since they can be adapted to human use at a fraction of what it would cost to dig them from scratch, and they and the other artifacts attract scientists who want to study them; then adventurers and prospectors who hope to make money by discovering more artifacts; and finally tourists rich enough to travel to Venus. By the next parts of the series, enough people have come to Venus to make it a sovereign state and a major power.

In the main part of the series, the frontier moves away from Venus after explorers discover an asteroid orbiting perpendicular to the ecliptic plane, filled with cobalt blue tunnels, and hundreds of small Heechee spaceships. The asteroid, named Gateway by the discoverers, is occupied by the powerful nations of the world, who subsequently form the Gateway Corporation to administer the object.

By happenstance, one of the asteroid explorers enters a ship and hits a button, activating the vehicle and sending him on a thirty-day journey to another solar system. Upon his return, the Gateway Corporation decides to allow explorers (called Prospectors) to take trips on the mostly still-functioning ships. Even though the ships function, they have unknown pre-programmed destinations that cannot be changed, and humans cannot figure out the Heechee technology. Prospectors who find valuable materials or make discoveries are rewarded with substantial bonuses. Some Prospectors, though, become lost or arrive at worthless or dangerous locations. Ships on the asteroids come in three sizes and are defined as a "one", a "three", or a "five" based upon the number of passengers that they can carry (for the most part uncomfortably). Not every vehicle returns and there are other great hazards to the explorers.


The novel Gateway was serialized in Galaxy beginning November 1976, with illustrations by Vincent DiFate, and was published as a book by St. Martin's Press in April 1977.[6] It won four major awards as the year's best English-language speculative fiction or science fiction novel.[6][b] Translations into French, German, Dutch, and Italian were all published during 1978 and 1979.[6][c]

Gateway focuses on the exploits of one of those explorers, Robinette Broadhead. Broadhead hits the jackpot by becoming the first person to return from a black hole's event horizon, becoming fabulously rich as a result. In the sequel, Broadhead uses the money to fund further discoveries involving Heechee technology, locating a Heechee food factory that is capable of turning raw carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen (CHON) from comets into edible food for an overpopulated Earth.

The Heechee do not appear until book three in the series, in which the reason for their absence is explained. Some 500,000 years earlier, the Heechee were active in exploring the galaxy, including an Australopithecine-inhabited Earth (where a sampling of the creatures were extracted and left to propagate to modern time on a Heechee station). The Heechee found out that there was a race of pure energy called simply The Foe (or alternatively called either The Assassins or The Kugel) wiping out civilizations on any planet where they emerged. The inherently cautious Heechee retreated to the interior of the black hole in the Galactic Core hoping to avoid being destroyed. Due to time dilation, only a few hundred years have passed for the Heechee in the interior of the black hole since they left the normal universe. While in hiding, Heechee scout ships are periodically sent outside the black hole to check on developments through the universe in general and the emerging Earth in particular.

When the latest Heechee crew exits the black hole, they are shocked to discover that humans are flying Heechee spaceships to all parts of the galaxy—and one of those places happens to be the Kugelblitz (a black hole made of energy and not matter), where The Foe is concentrated. The Heechee expected humans to discover the ships, but the cautious race believed Earth people would study and unlock the ships' secrets over a period of hundreds of years—and not simply take the equipment out for random rides in the dangerous galaxy.

When the Heechee finally arrive in force, it is decided that the human intrusion cannot be reversed and The Foe must be confronted.

The Heechee have collected evidence that The Foe have been adding matter into the universe. The Foe intend to tilt the balance and allow the Big Bang to be reversed and the universe to collapse into a Big Crunch billions of years into the future. The Foe intend that once the universe rebounds into a second big bang, it will do so in the form of pure energy, removing the atomic matter that The Foe regard as so much clutter. A détente is created between Broadhead and The Foe, allowing the aliens to continue their project and humans and Heechee growing to accept that they too will eventually progress toward bodiless minds.

Physical and cultural attributes[edit]

The Heechee's appearance is described as smaller than humans, bow-legged with skeletal frames, and possessed of dark, plastic-smooth skin with patches and curlicues of bright gold and scarlet. Each Heechee carries a microwave emitter in a trapezohedral storage pod between the legs. The pods also explain why the seats on the ship have V-shaped indentations to accommodate the devices. The Heechee's home planet evolved near a naturally occurring microwave source, making the background radiation a necessary requirement for an ambient environment; the extended absence of the radiation will cause illness and death.

Heechee relationships do not generally feature couple cohabitation for lengthy periods as with human marriages. A burrowing species, they tend to display more solitary conduct than humans. A Heechee bed is a cocoon, stuffed with soft bits of fabric. Heechees only breed when a female is in season.

Heechee are omnivorous and use a fibrous plant to clean their teeth. There are two Heechee languages: the language of Do and the language of Feel, with communications with humans restricted to the former.

Unlike humans, the Heechee did not develop artificial intelligence. Instead, they relied upon technology to pour the brains of departed Heechee into data storage, giving them a limited immortality. These "stored minds" operate at remarkably faster speeds than "meat" brains. Those stored operate in their own social strata often separate from their organic counterparts. After centuries of existence, the various Heechee consciousnesses join the "massed minds", essentially dying while memories are distributed among other machine-stored intelligences.

Heechee devices[edit]

In addition to the Food Factory, the Heechee created a number of devices that the Earth people discovered and used, including:

  • Piezoelectric devices (allowing voltage to be generated from placing pressure on crystals).
  • "Prayer fans" that appear and unfold like traditional fans but are actually computer-related equipment containing the minds of dead Heechees and, later, dead humans. The fans also are used for data storage.
  • Faster-than-light spaceships that act by nullifying the mass of the ship and avoiding the implication of Einstein's Relativity Theory that states that an object becomes more massive as it approaches the speed of light.
  • A Disruptor of Order in Aligned Systems is the device that allows Heechee to unseal the Schwarzschild barrier in black holes and allow ships to traverse the boundaries (referred to jokingly by humans as a "can opener").
  • The "Dream Couch" or, more properly, a telepathic psychokinetic transceiver, is capable of receiving and transmitting thoughts across long distances. Heechees focus their law enforcement efforts on catching criminals while they are having perverse thoughts. In the novels, terrorists are depicted as putting insane people in Dream Couches and broadcast their thoughts into populated areas, causing widespread damage and destruction. Before learning of the Dream Couch being the cause, this was known on Earth as the "130-day fever", a period of planet-wide temporary insanity occurring roughly every one hundred and thirty days.


  1. ^ Beside subsequent editions of The Gold at Starbow's End and a 21st-century collection of Pohl stories, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database shows that "The Merchants of Venus" also appeared in at least three English-language anthologies (1973, 1977, and 1994).
      ISFDB catalogs no interior illustrations for any but the original and The Gateway Trip. It catalogs a short introduction to the story by Poul Anderson in 1977 and notes a short introduction in 2006 by James Frenkel, editor of Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories.[1]
  2. ^ ISFDB lists the annual John W. Campbell Memorial Award, Hugo Award, and Nebula Award—sometimes called the "triple crown", selected by a respected panel, by world fans, and by American writers respectively. It also lists the annual Locus Award for Best Novel, 8th place in the 1987 all-time poll of Locus readers (All-Time Best SF Novel), and 11th place in the comparable 1998 poll (All-Time Best SF Novel before 1990).
  3. ^ ISFDB catalogs editions published in six foreign languages: French and German, 1978; Dutch and Italian, 1979; Portuguese, 1986; Hungarian, 1991.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Heechee – Series Bibliography". ISFDB. Retrieved 2014-12-12.
  2. ^ a b "The Heechee Saga" (directory). Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2014-12-13.
  3. ^ The Boy Who Would Live Forever (book) first edition publication contents at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2014-12-14.
  4. ^ a b Worlds of If 21.6, issue 161 (Jul–Aug 1972) publication contents at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2014-12-12.
  5. ^ Victoria B. Denton, Recent History of Science Fiction", p. 46, 79
  6. ^ a b c Gateway title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2014-12-13.

External links[edit]