I’ve decided I’m just crazy enough to try to read every book that’s ever won the Hugo Award for Best Novel…and, of course, that I want to share this insane experience with all of you. This week we take off into space again, aiming for the inner Solar System and the Gateway station left behind by the mysterious Heechee. Sixty-odd posts of science fiction, speculation and social justice continue!
serialized in Galaxy in 1977
published in 1977
Nobody knows who the Heechee were, what they were like, or why they left. But they did leave a lot behind, including the artificial habitat known as Gateway, from which their abandoned ships may travel to unknown locations apparently of interest to the disappeared aliens. Most of these missions end in failure, but the lure of Heechee artifacts and technology – maybe even an encounter with the Heechee themselves – keeps prospectors gambling with their lives and their sanity on the chance of striking lucky. Robinette Broadhead was one of the lucky ones – maybe…
Warning! Mild spoilers ahead!
Sometimes I think white dudes should just be banned from writing their own novels.
Ugh. This happens all the time. Brilliant ideas! An amazing world to play in! SCIENCE! Everything Myriad loves!
…all wrapped up in dislikable characters and Male Gaze and ugh. Honestly, I am so tired of this. I am so tired of viewing these incredible mental playgrounds through such alienating lenses. It’s like A Song of Ice and Fire but with less incest (there’s a reason I decided to let HBO read the rest of the books for me SOPHIE TURNER LET ME LOVE YOU.)
I don’t like Robin. I just don’t. He’s not appealing; he’s only semi-sympathetic. HE HIT HIS GIRLFRIEND. IN FRONT OF A SMALL CHILD. Any and all chances he had at redemption were pretty much lost once that happened. I get that his life sucks. I get that he’s been through trauma. That doesn’t automatically make him an appealing character.
It’s all just so ugh. The wooden women. The unlikeable man with whom I’m supposed to sympathize. Fuck that shit.
And yet, for all that, the Gateway and the Heechee and all of it are incredibly creative and engaging and somehow it’s hard to pull away from that world. There are sequels. I’ve been reading them. I hate everybody BUT I CAN’T STOP. (It’s a lot like ASoIaF that way. Except Pohl’s books are about 250-300 pages, rather than 1000+. And again, less squick. Mostly.)
I don’t even know. Let’s do the usual review and be done with it.
Race: China and Brazil are on par with the US and Russia as world powers. Most major characters presumably white, with the exception of a few Brazilians, the aforementioned young witness to Robin’s act of domestic violence, and Shikitei Bakin, Robin’s neighbor/mentor/boss. I can’t tell if he’s a Mystical Old Asian Dude or not; things are further complicated by his disability (more below).
Gender/Sexuality: I was SO HAPPY when Robin admitted to being bisexual I was ready to forgive Pohl a lot and then…oh, no, his attraction to men/anal sex is actually a traumatic response to his Mommy Issues. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME. There is not enough nope in the universe. There’s quite a bit of mention of homosexual/bisexual couples and poly arrangements, though very little engaged in by the main characters. I’m starting to feel like I should stop giving books points for this kind of ‘representation’ – oh, yes, well, in the future any and all sexual/romantic configurations happen, but, you know, the heroes are all monosexual/heterosexual dudes. Everybody seems to be cis and well within the gender binary; women are hollow and/or ornamental as per usual.
Other: Shikitei is physically disabled; he lost his legs in a Gateway trip accident. The low gravity of Gateway suits him; he wears a pair of ‘wings’ and is able to move about quite easily by flapping them with his arms. Interestingly, he has enough money to return to Earth and have his legs replaced by prostheses, but chooses not to. We never get his reasons for this (from his own mouth, that is; others speculate), but I will give Pohl props for including a disabled character who chooses not to “fix” himself.
I suppose I should also talk about the fact that much of the novel – the framing story, if you will – takes place during Robin’s visits to his therapist. Other characters in the book undergo psychotherapy as well. I’m all for people getting therapy. I just would much rather have found out what Klara was talking to her shrink about than delving into the deep dark corners of a man I didn’t much like to begin with. But, hey, points for representing therapy as a Good and Normal part of health care.
OVERALL RANKING: 7 out of 10 (rankings subject to change as my sample size increases).
As mentioned above, I’m still plowing through the Heechee Saga, hating and loving every other page. Tune in next week for the next few books, in which things improve, and get worse, and generally twist me about.