The Heechee Saga, Frederik Pohl

Del Rey, 1977-1990, ??? pages, C$??.?? mmpb, ISBN Various

Gateway,1977, 278 pages
Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, 1982, 279 pages
Heechee Rendez-vous, 1984, 311 pages
The Annals of the Heechee, 1987, 278 pages
The Gateway Trip, 1990, 244

Frederik Pohl is a workmanlike SF writer, turning out novel after novel of decent -if not overly exciting- works. As a founding elder of modern SF, he’s been around a while and so there’s a large fan base for his works. Pohl’s writing career can be divided in two sections: The first took place before 1961, when he revolutionized the SF field by writing social satires (often in collaboration with C. M. Kornbluth; see the beloved classic The Space Merchants). After a lull in which he edited genre magazines, the second half of his writing career truly ignited in 1977 with Gateway.

Gateway (Best Novel Nebula and Hugo) was the story of one Robinette Broadhead, who spent most of the novel telling his hang-ups to a psychological computer program. The Gateway of the title is a vast asteroid, filled with alien ships who can travel across the galaxy. Problem is, they don’t always come back… and Humans can’t control the ship in any way. Gateway is a fun read, presenting intriguing idea and a suitably complex protagonist in a clean, compelling prose. Some call it one of the best SF novels ever, others just like it very much.

Beyond the Blue Event Horizon takes place a few years later, when Robinette is even richer, and feeling far more guilty. Another alien Heechee artifact is discovered in this solar system, and Robinette must (as in “must advance the plot”) explore it. This sequel is a bit of a letdown, and isn’t resolved at the end.

Heechee Rendez-vous picks up another few years after the events in the sequel, and introduces even more plot threads only tied up at the end of the fourth volume. Said fourth volume offers less surprises than the previous three, and the ultimate conclusion is easily guessable by the sufficiently attentive reader.

The four-book cycle could have easily been compressed in a trilogy, mostly by forgoing extrataneous elements in the second and fourth volume. The inclusion of a few misunderstood kids in the fourth tome is especially grating.

But it’s an interesting series. Concepts are deftly introduced (not always, though: Lumps of ugly exposition are scattered here and there) and used in efficient ways. Pohl’s style is readable even at its worst. A sense of accomplishment is gained.

The Gateway Trip ends up the series on a high note. More of a collection of ideas about Gateway, it reprints the fascinating novella The Merchants of Venus (prequel to the whole series) and a bunch of short fictional-expositionnary texts about Gateway, the expeditions from Gateway, the Heechees and other stuff. It can be safely read by anyone who’s read the first two volumes, and could even be used as a substitute for the last three books. Lavishly illustrated by Frank Kelly Freas (the illustrations lose their potency in the paperback edition, though) it’s a lovely little book, well worth the effort and money for Gateway fans.

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