I often think of Gateway as being the last great hurrah of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Although published in 1977, to me it has always felt like a Campbellian classic — as if it should be a contemporary of Childhood’s End or the Foundation Trilogy. A throwback to the 1950’s.
I probably wouldn’t have that impression if I had been reading science fiction when Gateway was published, but there it is.
And there’s really no denying, in my opinion, that Gateway‘s crowning achievement is the perfect melding of multiple branches of the science fiction tree.
On the one hand there is the Big Concept: The Gateway itself. A concept so breathtakingly original that people have been imitating it ever since. (Basically, it goes like this: Humans find a space station abandoned by aliens. Inside they find hundreds of ships. They don’t know how the ships work, but they can operate the auto-pilot. Brave prospectors board the ships, hit a button, and go God-knows-where in the search for Heechee technology.)
Hidden within that Big Concept are the hints of space opera: Small bands of adventurous heroes journeying into the unknown on missions of thrilling exploration.
But while Pohl teases us with the structure of space opera, he weds it to the best literary traditions of hard science fiction: His prospectors are exploring the cold, hard worlds and braving the impossible terrors laid bare by the cutting edge of science. And rather than proving indulgences, the carefully extrapolated detail of the milieu is instead used to provide dramatic sauce for the goose.
Meanwhile, wrapped around all of this, Pohl is tapping the alternative literary structures and deep, psychological characterizations of the New Wave to illuminate the personal struggles of Robin Broadhead, one of the richest and most rewarding characters in science fiction.
The plot of Gateway doesn’t merely happen; it is made painfully relevant by the effect it has on Broadhead. Indeed, the greatest triumph of the novel is the creation of Broadhead: A deeply sympathetic, flawed, and yet (on some very real level) noble human being. His transformation — revealed through complex and interwoven flashbacks and flashforwards — is the heart and soul of the book, lending true meaning to the amazing universe that Pohl has crafted.
In short, Gateway pushes all the buttons. It’s a true highlight of what the science fiction genre is capable of achieving.
Publisher: Del Rey
Cover Price: $14.95