Gateway by Frederik Pohl
Read by Oliver Wyman
Length: 8 hrs 37 min
Genre: Science Fiction
Quick Thoughts: While this classic science fiction tale had many things going for it, it wasn’t a good fit for me. Excellent narration couldn’t make up for an unlikable main character.
I have a confession to make: Classic Science Fiction and I don’t always mix well. I want to like it. I want to join in the worship of Heinlein, Asimov, and Bradbury, but somehow, I just don’t always connect. Even authors I love, like Kurt Vonnegut, I seem to like the "wrong" novel. I think I may be the only person who loved Slapstick, and yet struggled with Slaughterhouse Five and will fight to the death against anyone who doesn’t agree that Cat’s Cradle was his best work. So many people I talk to, when I tell them I enjoy science fiction, tell me I have to read a certain classic, and I do, and I’m just, well, blah about it. I really do want to like it. I think some of it is a disconnect with the culture surrounding the particular book. I had no problem connecting the war time images of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and it’s message, but I struggled at times with the peace and love messages of Heinlein’s classic Stranger in a Strange Land. Yet, all this never hampers my desire to read classic science fiction. Recently, people who I respect, and usually lead me right recommended the Frederik Pohl classic Gateway. It seemed to have a lot of things I would like, interstellar travel, unreliable alien technology, dark humor and one of my favorite audiobook narrators. I so was gonna love this novel, I promised myself.
Sadly, my promises to myself seem made to be broken. I can say I had a lot of respect for this novel, that I can see why it’s a classic. I found many of the themes interesting. The overall concept was fascinating, and the execution of the novel was well done. I just didn’t, well, enjoy it. First off, the main character, Robinette (Bob) Broadhead, annoyed me. Much of the novel jumps back and forth between Bob’s time at Gateway, an abandoned alien port which humans attempted to use the technology to collect alien artifacts, and his present therapy sessions with a computerized therapist called Sigfrid. I actually was quite amused with the therapist itself, but found Bob to be hard to deal with. There are certain things I find unforgivable in a character, things like child abuse, battering women, and rape. In rare occasions I can accept the character, with the knowledge that he is an unlikable antihero, but the actions must have some sort of context. Bob broke one of my rules, and it seemed to be just glossed right over. Now, I already didn’t like the character, but this just pushed me over the edge. Gateway has a lot of intriguing concepts, and added with more interesting situations and a likable protagonist, I could see enjoying a future novel in this world. I just didn’t enjoy this one.
I wish I could say that Oliver Wyman’s excellent performance of this novel saved it for me. I know this is a particular favorite of his, and that was a major factor in why I wanted to like it. Wyman was perfect for a novel like this, full of characters for him to uses his malleable vocal skills to bring to life. I am sure there are many people out there that will just love this novel, and I can only see Wyman’s performance enhancing that love. Yet, for me, I will continue my search for classic science fiction to love. Maybe one day I will find it.