My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Frederik Pohl’s Gateway is a sci fi classic, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards, as well as others. I’ve been looking forward to reading it for some time. And I’ve got to say that upon finishing it, I have some mixed feelings. I think the book, on the whole, was decent, a good read, etc., but there were some very unlikeable things about the book as well.
I’ll start with the protagonist, Robinette Broadhead. “Bob” is a first class, egocentric, shallow, oversexed, wussie jerk/asshole and it was really hard for me to like him. He spends the novel being a pansy for fear of flying out on dangerous missions from Gateway, a place formerly colonized by a long-gone alien species called the Heechee. (Who came up with that name anyway? It’s never explained, and that bugged me throughout the novel.) He has a crap job on earth, wins the lottery, goes to Gateway to find his fortune, as “prospectors” flying leftover Heechee ships that no one knows how they work go out to various locales to try and hit it big by finding Heechee materials and winning large cash awards from the Corporation in charge. Broadhead goes there, gets flight training, but doesn’t go out. He’s too scared. Instead he spends his time wandering around, getting drunk, high, and laid (this book is from the ’70s), until he starts running out of cash and is forced to go out on a mission, which is a failure. He develops a relationship with Klara, which doesn’t stop him from having sex with everyone else, but their fights are borderline stupid, and they’re both too scared to go out on missions. OK, missions are dangerous, but isn’t that why you are on Gateway — to face dangers in the hope of striking it rich?
The format of the book is interesting. Every other chapter is of a current day Broadhead session with his AI shrink, Sigfrid. During these sessions, Bob pouts, screams, shouts, insults the computer, tries to manipulate his shrink, doesn’t relay important facts, and is an unlikeable character altogether. The good part of these scenes is they are very instrumental toward the end to unraveling a couple of major secrets the book is building toward in its climax. And I would have to say the climax is partially good. There are a couple of surprises — big ones — that make it worth reading the book through. That said, there are quite a few dry patches in the book, just boring pages following each other into more boredom. I could have used a little more space missions and a little less gratuitous sex. (The other chapters are the tale leading up to his psychological sessions told in chronological order.)
Parts of the book feel a little dated too, although that’s surely a curse for most sci fi books. The psychotherapy, especially, that Broadhead undergoes feels dated. And the science component of the book, dealing with light speed and light years and all that, doesn’t feel quite right. But Pohl’s not a scientist and I’m not either, so I’ll not quibble about that.
I’d have to say I cautiously recommend this book, in large part due to its giant reputation. I’m glad I finally read it and even though it took me forever to make it through its 313 pages due to my growing bored repeatedly, I’m glad I did. That said, I doubt I’ll ever read it again, and I’m reluctant to pick up one of the Heechee sequels. I’m giving this book four out of five stars — barely.