Despite my ambivalent reaction to Gateway, I decided to continue on with it. Damned if Pohl didn’t make me curious! I made it through the next three books, which aren’t exactly a sequilogy but which I am going to call one since I don’t get enough excuses to use my made-up word. The Hugo Project continues…
Beyond the Blue Event Horizon
The Annals of the Heechee
published in 1980, 1984, and 1987
FREDDY WUT R U DOIN
Okay, first the good. I actually liked Beyond the Blue Event Horizon better than Gateway. And Annals introduced some cool new characters who might have saved it if Pohl hadn’t decided to forget about them for the sake of wrapping things up as quickly as possible. Robinette is also a bit more tolerable than he was in the first book.
Good things, Myriad. We’re talking about the good things. Focus.
The premise is pretty darn awesome. Scientifically it’s crap, but hey. It’s still pretty cool. Basically Pohl takes the Missing Mass problem – the fact that, based on observations of gravitational interactions, the Universe has a lot more mass than can be accounted for based on what we actually get light from – and says, hey, what if that mass were somehow added to the Universe after its creation in an attempt to reverse inflation and collapse the Universe, thus allowing for a new Big Bang and the creation of new constants that might make the Universe more hospitable to a particular kind of life? And what if this particular kind of life, these aliens who wanted to reboot the Universe more to their liking, were hiding inside of a black hole somewhere?
Within the novels, these ideas are presented as Totally Logical Conclusions, by no less a person than a facsimile of Albert Einstein. Which is, again, basically crap (our model is incomplete THEREFORE ALIENS WANT TO KILL US ALL), but a cool idea nonetheless.
There’s also the fact that multiple species (these mysterious aliens, called the Foe or the Assassins, the Heechee, and even a few humans) spend time chillaxing in black holes and hopping back and forth across the Schwarzchild Radius like it ain’t no thing. Cool concept, but science says NOPE.
The other cool – and perhaps less improbable – bit of scientific extrapolation Pohl engages in is the idea of harvesting CHON (Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen – i.e. the elements that make up the vast majority of organic matter) from the Oort Cloud, and later directly from seawater and the atmosphere, to create food. Assuming you have the tech for it, it’s a neat way to feed your population, and circumvents potential ethical issues like consuming other animals. It also provides raw materials for growing replacement organs, which solves the ethical dilemma posed in the early novels by the fact that those who can afford Full Medical can buy replacement organs to extend their lives – but the organs come from individuals so poor they resort to selling parts of their own bodies.
So, yes, cool science and pseudo-science abound. I haven’t even really discussed the whole energy-being/machine-consciousness/life-after-death-as-a-computer-program thing because, frankly, I didn’t find the concept that appealing, especially the way it was used to ‘solve’ the problem of the Foe/Assassins. The ending of Annals was a complete and utter cop-out, to be perfectly frank. And God showed up for No Good Reason, which has been happening a lot in the ’70s Hugos and their sequels and is making me quite anxious for the ’80s when perhaps we will be done with all this nonsense.
(however, I did love the existential crisis of the Albert Einstein facsimile program, who had to reconcile the meat-Einstein’s utter rejection of quantum mechanics with the irrefutable data collected since meat-Einstein’s death. Super cool idea!)
The not-so-good…gods, where to start. The usual place, I suppose: the women. Those poor, poor, cardboard cut-out sexual objects\. The miraculously devoted Essie, computer programmer extraordinaire (oh, you’re still in love with your girlfriend who’s returned from being trapped in a black hole? Please do use me as your shrink and tell me all your feelings while I make soothing noises! Oh, you’re dead and exists as a machine consciousness? Okay, I’ll make you a machine-copy of myself to keep you company, maintain both of your programs, and live out the rest of my life alone!). Klara, whose sole purpose seems to be to cause Robinette angst (through no fault of her own; she’s not developed enough to be credited with such lofty traits as fault). The fifteen-year-old girl who keeps trying to seduce her much-older brother-in-law (WHAT) and seems to be in love with Wan but disappears from the story entirely. Even poor Oniko, who can’t be more than ten, but falls into the clutches of a sadistic pedophile (I think she manages to escape relatively unscathed, but it’s not entirely clear. Pohl seems to get bored with her storyline and abandon it entirely).
I just…ugh. Pohl’s treatment of women reminds me quite a bit of Fritz Leiber’s, which is not a complement.
Then there are the usual problems with minorities. I thought the worst Pohl was going to pull was the relative lack of them – but no, he decided in Annals to throw out microaggressions right, left, and center, including using “Black” and “American” as mutually exclusive categories and having the Albert Einstein program don digital yellowface and blackface – and then have the gall to ask a POC character if he minded (of course not! Because when a white person’s writing the story, no person of color would ever be bothered by horribly offensive racist stereotypes! CHECK YOUR FUCKING PRIVILEGE, POHL).
Honestly. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: somebody needs to stop white dudes from writing their own stories. There are a lot of cool ideas in the Heechee novels, but the characters SUCK – either because they’re wooden caricatures or because they’re just not likeable people. Which makes it rather difficult to care about what’s going to happen on the next page.
That’s enough of that nonsense. I do intend to finish out the Heechee series next week, but we’ll see; I may need to save myself and move on to Vonda McIntyre’s Dreamsnake, which I’m assuming, as a Tiptree winner, will be a lot less objectionable than this nonsense. See you soon…