By Frederik Pohl

Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Science fiction is often accused of stealing the basic plots of
cowboy stories and other pulp fiction genres, then simply
transferring them to outer space.  What is
Dune, according to this
perspective, but a story of uprooted settlers finding a new home
in the untamed and inhospitable open spaces where few other
cowpokes dare to go? The protagonist Michael Valentine Smith,
Stranger in a Strange Land is quaint and provocative with his
different ways . . . just like Owen Wister’s
The Virginian, huh?  
And who hasn’t seen the similarity between the final chapters of
Joe Haldeman’s
The Forever War, and that great John Wayne
The Alamo?

Well, maybe not. . . .

But Frederik Pohl makes no bones
about what he is up to in
His characters are all prospectors
searching for hidden riches in remote
and dangerous locales – just like
Treasure of Sierra Madre
, but
expanded to galactic proportions.   
Gateway, a pear-shaped rock in space,
is the last safe outpost before heading
off into the unknown.  Some prospectors
come back rich, but many never come
back at all.  

But Pohl has created an interesting twist to give new flavor to this
old tale.  The prospectors in his novel rely on nearly one
thousand small spaceships left behind by the vanished Heechee
civilization.  They don’t know much about the Heechees, but their
spaceships still seem to work . . . more or less.  No one knows how
to steer one of these contraptions, but if you fiddle around with
the controls it will take you to one of the Heechee’s “pre-set
destinations” and back home again.  (Think of these destinations
as akin to the stations you program into your car radio – push a
button and you’re off!)  The pre-sets were created eons ago, and
sometimes they just take you into a black hole or some other ugly
cosmic disaster zone, from which you will never return.  But
occasionally they bring the prospectors to a place where there is
cool Heechee technology that can be brought home and

With this elegant and clever concept serving as a foundation, Pohl
tells the tale of Robinette ‘Rob’ Broadhead, an aspiring prospector
who is sometimes cowardly, sometimes greedy, often evasive and
defensive, but never dull.  We follow Broadhead on a series of
adventures, all in search of that big gold vein that will make him
fabulously wealthy.   

Some of the trappings of this story – especially the recurring
parodies of Freudian psychoanalysis played out by Broadhead  
and a ‘virtual reality’ shrink – have not aged well.  But in other
ways, Pohl is quite daring.  The use of flashbacks and unexpected
shifts in the chronology are very deftly handled.  Pohl takes a
huge risk in letting us know toward the beginning of his story how
it will end, but still keeps us on tenterhooks by leaving us guessing
the reasons and specifics, which only are revealed toward the
close of his narrative.   Pohl’s use of sidebar exhibits throughout
the course of the novel is also effective and amusing.  

Just a space western?  Perhaps.  But this is one of the better
examples of the genre.  
Gateway is smartly paced and written
with just the right touch of parody and light humor.  Just as movie
lovers still cherish
The Treasure of Sierra Madre, sci-fi fans will
continue to enjoy this space-age prospecting tale for decades to
come.  Certainly the sci-fi establishment gave it the thumbs up.  
Gateway sweeped the major honors, winning the Hugo in 1978,
the Nebula in 1977, and the John W. Campbell Award in 1978.  
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Conceptual Fiction:
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Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas
Camp Concentration

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Saramago, José

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute

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