Frederick Pohl, Gateway

I enjoyed reading Frederick Pohl’s sci-fi novel, Gateway, partly because it is so dated. The women are all referred to as “girls,” etc. Lots of 1970s psychoanalytic talk. And yet, the conceit is quite good: a sci-fi book about that inner journey of dealing with psychic trauma. Very little happens in the book, except a damaged person slowly unwinding his memories for an audience (who happens to be an AI). The novel is tailor-made for a limited series… great potential. Looks like (from browsing the web) that SyFy had it under development at some point, but it appears not to have gone into production. I can see the audience potential being fairly limited: the dominant theme is bleakness, and that doesn’t always sell. but the AI shrink is ready for an update, and shifting the perspective to the AI starting to acquire consciousness by dealing with Broadhead’s trauma could be an interesting way to update the tale.

Another thought that occurred to me while reading was how sci-fi evolved form the 1970s. Gateway deals with psychological trauma (OK basically he’s a Korea or Vietnam vet whose buddies were left behind?) but in space exploration context. But the social institutions of the time are very recognizable. There is little LeGuin-style construction of an alternative social order, an alternative mentality. The characters go to parties, have relationships (a little daring in the casualness of same-sex relationships), and have normal “work” lives (which Pohl underscores with the miscellany that peppers the book. You can see how the anthropologically-inflected sci-fi started to become an important form of the genre? The idea of “world-building,” of crafting a social order that is alien but recognizable, must have been thrilling to the writers of the late 1970s.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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