Friday, February 14, 2020

14. Gateway by Frederick Pohl

I found this in the ever-fruitful free shelf on St-Viateur.  It was in the nice old-school paperback that I like and my father is a huge fan of the Space Merchants.  I have so many books on my on-deck shelf that I am more picky now about what I take home, but this one made the cut.  Later on Twitter, a person whose taste I respect had a picture of it and when I mentioned that I had just found it, she said it was one of her favourites and she had read it three times.

So I had sort of high hopes, and I had just finished Appleby's Other Story, which I enjoyed but also found it left me a bit wanting.  Unfortunately, Gateway left me even more wanting.  I guess this is post-new age (was written in 1977), but it still feels like it comes out of that American masculine semi-nerdy, inner and out exploring period.  I just found it really boring.  The book has two storylines, both following Rob Broadhead.  In the first thread, he is later in life a very wealthy playboy in some future earth where Manhattan is under a dome and seeing a computer therapist named Sigfrid.  The second thread is his younger self, when he wins the lottery that frees him from a life of food-mining to take his chances in Gateway.  The stories come together as we slowly learn what his great trauma was that he is resisting facing in therapy and as it actually happens on Gateway.

The Gateway concept is cool.  An asteroid is discovered not too far out in the solar system that was once inhabited by some technologically superior race that humans call the Heechee.  They have left almost nothing except hundreds of pre-programmed spaceships that go far out to various spots in space and then come back again. The trick is that the tech is so advanced, nobody knows where they will go nor for how long until they actually launch them.  You could go, find yourself in the middle of nowhere and come back.  You could go and keep going far past the duration of your life support systems and die.  You could go and have a horrible accident.  In most cases, the ships return with the crew dead or alive.  In the best situations, you come to planet where you find a usable Heechee artifact.  If this happens and you return alive, the Gateway Corporation will pay you a big rewards.  So it is the ultimate high-risk high-reward gamble.

As I say, it is a really cool concept.  For me, the way it was put in to use was just utterly unentertaining.  I am really not into therapy sessions in fiction in general.  Here it was especially trying as the protagonist is fighting the computer therapist the whole time.  It just seemed stupid.  I don't know, maybe in the '70s this kind of childish resistance with you finally breaking down and realizing some deep thing about yourself was the norm.  Even worse, one of the big things he realized was that he had been sexually aroused by a man and had hooked up with one during one of the trips from Gateway.  It was just like, dude, really, this is what you go to therapy for?

And then on Gateway itself, the whole plot was about his fear to actually commit to going on a trip and his relationship with one woman.  It went on and one with Broadhead saving his money and avoiding for as long as he could actually going out on a trip.  I get it that it would be scary as hell, but his whole raison d'etre was to get out of his hardscrabble existence.  And it just was not fun or interesting to read about him being scared.  So we finally get a cool trip only at the very end of the book.  It just took way too long to get there and when we did, the payoff, while sort of neat conceptually, did not justify all the build-up.

Also, the guy freaks out at one point and beats the woman up, knocking a tooth out.  But then later, they realize they are really in love and the big tragedy is because they are separated at the end because of the big trauma that went down on their trip together.  That was just a rotten little cherry on the top that made me thoroughly dislike this book. Going to read up on what they hype was.


Anonymous said...

"Gateway by Poul Anderson" a closer look at the book's cover...

OlmanFeelyus said...

D'OH! That's embarrassing, especially after I had read several articles about Frederick Pohl's contributions to science fiction. In defense of my muddled brain and lazy blogging, they were contemporaries and have similar sounding names (though one is the first and the other the last.
I will change it. For posterity's sake, I record here that I originally titled this post "14. Gateway by Poul Anderson"