by Frederik Pohl
Rob Broadhead, a food miner working in terrible conditions, wins the lottery and decides to use all proceeds to purchase a one-way ticket to Gateway, an abandoned alien space station featuring built-in ships taking explorers to unknown destinations in space.
Less than one-third of the ships ever come back, and may that do are carrying only the bodies of dead astronauts. But potential profits for the Gateway Authority are huge, as are payments made to successful prospectors, and the richest finds leave explorers with the unimaginable wealth required for Full Medical benefits.
A great deal of the novel is Rob’s robotic shrink Sigfrid attempting to get the ex-spacer to open up about his feelings of what happened to him in the past—Rob’s returned to an elite section of Earth, phenomenally successful in his explorations and can now afford such extravagancies.
The rest of the novel is a dirt-broke Rob trying to get up the courage on Gateway to use one of the ships that are so dangerous—to get out there and explore like he originally intended. He’s consistently bedding women while he deals with his cowardice, and an interaction with one of the women finally pushes him far enough to climb into a ship.
Gateway is mesmerizing and mysterious. The horrors of the unknown new frontier aren’t really all that different from the horrors experienced by Earth’s early pioneers. It takes something special to explore a dangerous unknown, and bravery itself isn’t enough. A strong ego and sense of self-importance—‘I and my family deserve better,’ is important. Also the need to be tough, the kind of person for whom failure is just another motivating factor. And most important is desperation. You have to conclude it’s better to risk it all just for the chance at a better life rather than continuing living as you are; self-improve or die.
Gateway is another necessary work of speculative fiction. If it’s sitting somewhere in a TBR pile, you’d do well to skip other major award winners in order to get to this one right away.
Then the star rush began… and we were part of it.