Gateway – Frederik Pohl

I don’t know why I am so politically obsessed. My first thoughts when I finished reading this were to write a politically charged review. I’ve now opted against that.

Let’s try a different strategy.

You know, it isn’t all just phazers, slimy space slugs and pangalactic war cruisers. I’ve often joked that Star Wars (all of it) was one of the worst things to ever happen to sci-fi, in that it gave audiences that in 1974 were entirely unfamiliar with the genre a rather false impression of what it was like. My efforts in recodifying the now dodecaology as a Space Opera hasn’t taken much effect. Not all science-fiction is dashing heroes saving galaxies. Sometimes, it is much simpler than all that. And much more wonderful.

Enter Gateway, the story of a man undergoing therapy to come to terms with some recent trauma, involving both what he did and who he is. Does that not sound like science-fiction? It also would not be too much of a struggle to reframe the story in such a way as to make it sounds like a fantasy, or merely mundane fiction. The science-fiction in this story is window dressing, but what wonderful window dressing it is. The man in question is undergoing therapy with a robot. The tragedies for which he is getting therapy occurred while he was working with some discovered alien tech. The world feels large and lived in by giving you a great big world with many mysteries, and then leaving them as mysteries for the course of this story, which is only really about the central character’s personal struggles and his coming to terms with certain aspects of his own life.

All of this speaks to the execution of this novel, which is certainly excellent. Genre art is often ruined by giving the consumer too much, at which point they can begin to see just what was logically swept under the rug to craft this world. For such a short novel, Gateway is very rich. It presents an Earth which is still burdened with political strife, an the discovery of a foreign alien race that is still having impacts on the human race of the story, though we don’t know what the impact exactly is.

So what of it?

In a time when so many of our stories always seem to end up being about larger stories, a smaller one seems refreshing. The protagonist of this novel didn’t solve all the mysteries, or all the problems. All he really did was escape with his life and suffer a massive amount of regret for it. Stories such as this focus on characters much more than mere plot points to push the story forward, and are just as wonderful as stories where a singular hero defeats an overpowered villain.

Those people who think that such character focused stories are new to the genre are flat out wrong.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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