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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 17 July 2014
I do not usually read science fiction, but I like this short novel.

The author, Frederik Pohl, lived from 1919 to 2013 and published science fiction prolifically on and off over about 70 years, during which he must have seen some of his ideas of the future become reality, others disproved and some surpassed beyond expectation.

Reviews suggest that some of his works are much better than others. I would not want to read them all. However, having initially come across his interesting 1988 short story `Waiting for the Olympians' in an anthology, Amazon reviews guided me to the novels `Gateway' and `Man Plus' as among his best, for which thank you, fellow reviewers.

Few things date more quickly than the future. A novel like this written in the 1970s inevitably gets some things right and others wrong about how technology and human society will develop. Read decades later they usually display what now appear some anachronistically old-fashioned attitudes set in what is meant to be the future. This book, like the author's other great achievement written the year before, Man Plus (S.F. MASTERWORKS) is post-sexual revolution but pre-politically correct feminism. However, it is said to be the first science fiction novel to make use of the then new theory of black holes.

What it has going for it above all is a good story, including danger and mystery, and an effectively imagined society far enough in the future to be different from ours but close enough that much is comprehensible without needing too much explanation.

The story is told by the central character but his narrative it is now and then interspersed with imaginary documents from his time, from classified advertisements to mission reports. These add variety to the reading experience and shed side lights on the society in which the narrator lives, avoiding the need for excessive explanatory digressions.

It is a time when people are just beginning to explore the universe beyond their solar system, aided by partly-understood fragments they discover of an advanced technology left behind long ago by - they don't know who, but the machines seem designed for use by creatures not shaped like humans.

People are learning by trial and error, and errors can be fatal, how to use some of this technology, including spacecraft set to go to destinations in the universe that the original creators must once have had their own reasons for visiting.

Among the interludes are the narrator's sessions with a computer programmed to function as a psychotherapist. At first this seems a single joke about therapy that goes on too long, but does have an important function explaining how the story ends, semi-tragically. The ultimate fate of the narrator's crew members is one I would never have thought up.

By the end of the novel some major things, especially about the alien technology, are still unexplained. Information on the Internet is that the author did eventually explain many of them in his subsequent `Heechee' novels, although I do not know if the explanations were part of his original plan when writing `Gateway' or were later rationalisations. In a way, I would perhaps rather leave them forever mysteries.
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on 4 February 2014
The strength of this excellent book is the pleasing premise on which it is founded. The theme of a human encounter with the artefacts and machinery of a mysteriously vanished alien civilisation is redolent of ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ by Arthur C Clark published three years prior. However Pohl develops this shared theme brilliantly by introducing a means by which humanity can travel at in access of the speed of the light without the usual literary and scientific objections. In this way he is able to maintain a high degree of scientific verisimilitude.

The narrative is cleverly peppered with scientifically accurate contributions about neutron stars, black holes and the dilation of time around such singularities. Pohl brilliantly constructs a tangible space community with a convincing ethos, population and culture skilfully sketched through the inclusion: of resident’s letters, adverts and mission reports.

This is a study of fear, desperation and the pioneering spirit of humanity. The claustrophobia of the semi lit Heechee tunnels of Gateway and spacecraft adroitly create tension and suspense throughout.

At the heart of the narrative is also a pleasing theme of guilt as the flawed central character struggles to come to terms with the consequences of his own survival. This is developed through the dialogue between Brodhead and his AI psychotherapist the juxtaposition between who serves to illuminate the former and the reader as to what it is to be human.

Pohl writes with fluidity and pace and uses comic one-liners to great effect. This is an accomplished piece of writing which is convincing on many levels.
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on 2 March 1999
I've just noticed that this is due to be published in the SF Masterworks series, wiith the original US paperback cover, even!
I read this about 20 years ago, not long after it came out in 1977, and again a couple of times since. Probably my favourite Pohl book. It's the story of a man named Robinette Broadhead, his struggle to survive and make it rich in a world where most people are poor. On an asteroid named Gateway, a long-gone species of aliens called the Heechee left a thousand of their spaceships. No one knows how they work, but it is possible to operate them, to go to preprogrammed destinations elsewhere in the galaxy. Sometimes the crew bring back valuable discoveries. Sometimes they come back dead, or not at all. It's also the story of Broadhead's guilt at letting something terrible happen to his girlfriend, Klara, and how he learns to deal with that.
What makes the story for me is a mixture of things - Pohl's use of sidebars to give us a picture of the world the story is set in, for instance. The sense of mystery created by the fact that no one really knows what they're doing with the Heechee ships. His telling of the story in the form of flashbacks interspersed with sessions with Broadhead's psychoanalyst (who is a computer programme). Even the way it ends so suddenly, in just a page or so, when the actions that Broadhead spends years regretting flash by in a blur...
Well worth anyone's money, I'd say, and certainly an appropriate addition to the SF Masterworks series.
If you enjoy this, go on & read the other Heechee books, such as Beyond the Blue Event Horizon & Heechee Rendezvous - Pohl has created a fascinating Universe to set these stories in!
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on 15 December 2014
Meh. For a SF 'masterworks' I was expecting something a bit better. Dated and slow. Have read much better, not just modern SF either. My favourite 'older' SF has got to be Starship Troopers - much better.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 September 2016
Despite the age it's hardly dated and still well worth reading. It is a good story, realistically conceived with interesting perspectives on mankind presented subtly without ever preaching or trying to impress.

It alternates two stories both told in the first person by the protagonist, Bob. One is the story of his life, leading up to and on Gateway. The other is his psychotherapy as he attempts to recover after those events.

The AI psychotherapist has been described as one of science fiction's greatest character creations. I disagree. Having lived with a practising psychoanalyst for many years I didn't find the sessions remotely realistic, nor was there a single Aha! moment or a conversation that made me stop and think about the implications of AI personality. The issues raised in Beckett's Genesis are much more thought provoking. Still it's an enjoyable read.

If you use audible, I don't recommend it for this one. The narration is horrible
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 April 2011
Frederik Pohl's Gateway has the rare distinction of winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards, that is both the award given by critics and by readers (in addition to also winning the John W Campbell Award). That popular and critical acclaim deservedly recognises the skill of a novel that weaves a story set in space with the exploration of the psychology of one of the main characters. Chapters alternate between sessions with a robotic psychiatrist and accounts of space exploration.

It is best to gloss over the question of why robots are not more widely used in the space exploration of the book (why send humans on risky voyages of discovery rather than, at least initially, machinery?) but that is the only real flaw in the book's internal logic. It is a minor flaw set against the scope and possibility of the setting - a mystery departed alien lifeform has left behind numerous spaceships, programmed in ways that humans have not yet understood to take courses to unknown locations.

The result - prospectors willing to risk their lives on the random lucky dip to find out where a course ends, whether it is in death, tedium or the pay day of finding new technologies to exploit. In some ways therefore Pohl's novel is Western style gold-rushes transferred to space, with space filling a similar role to that of the desert in separating off the main characters from the rest of society.

Though the book's future has a multinational feel, with nationals of several countries featuring, in one respect it is very rooted in the concerns of twentieth century American life - worries over how to afford health insurance are as prevalent in the book at they were in American society at the time Frederik Pohl wrote Gateway.

The book had a number of sequels, though Gateway is by far the most famous and is the one that often features in "best of" lists.

One tip - although audio versions of this book are called unabridged, in my experience they exclude the side-bars which form a significant part of the text. The book works without them, just not as well.
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on 27 April 2017
Yet another appallingly depressing dystopia. How on earth this won 1 award yet alone 3 is mind boggling. There are so many things wrong about this book I am going to throw it away. Constant smells, smoking, psycho-analysis, gratuitous sex (not graphic), claustrophobia and nothing but losers everywhere. Then there is extreme violence against a woman. What a load of tosh. If you are a feminist seriously don't read this it will make you very angry. The protagonist does everything wrong and is an out and out loser and yet he has extreme luck not just once but Three times. Rubbish. Everyone else, nearly, dies. Crap ending yet again. Somewhere in this there is some science fiction which yet again is all 'Mysterious'. No Aliens, no good news. no excitement. Even the sex is improbable as everything happens in virtually zero gravity. The really annoying thing about this book is that it is well written. But what an appalling story. DON'T BOTHER!!!!!! There is a whole universe out there and yet another writer has to come up with garbage like this. Its clear to me the author has extreme issues which he seems to delight in putting down on paper. Star Trek is light years better than this garbage and was written before this.
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VINE VOICEon 5 August 2001
Deservedly called a classic. Pohl's novels have varied in quality, but this is undoubtedly his greatest work. The sequels are good but tend to dilute rather than intensify the original. But do not miss "Gateway".
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on 3 July 2000
From the initial premise to the final resolution this novel was powerful, imaginative stuff. Revolving around the central idea that a spacestation full of abandoned alien spacecraft have been found, and which human prospectors are trying to exploit, it paints a dark and sinister tale. For, though the alien craft can be used to travel to preset destinations, nobody actually knows where most of those destinations are, or whether they will ever come back. The perils of this hi tech Russian Roulette range from flying straight into a boiling sun, to simply running out of whatever fuel these ships use. It is a tale about fear of the unknown, and overcoming that fear for greed.
The central character Robinette Broadhead is a complex person teetering dangerously on the edge of sanity, and his tale is interwoven with counselling sessions with his computer therapist Sigfrid who manages to steal every scene in which he appears.
It is a long time since I was able to lose myself in the mystique of a sci fi novel like this. Questions such as who were the Heechee who built these ships, where did they go, and what awaits humans who try to make use of their barely understood technology will keep you turning the pages to the very end.
I cannot stress how highly I regard this book. Buy it now or forever wonder what you missed.
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on 2 June 1999
Although the only reviews i post are on those books that i really love (with one exception) this truly is a standout book. An intellligent, gripping and beautifully written book that deals with the ideas of fear, guilt and ultimately what it is to be human. I truly can't recommend this book highly enough and for anybody who wants to read interesting thoughtful SF you'll do well to read this. A true masterpiece
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