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Gateway (Frederik Pohl), Heechee Saga 01

Space scares me.
Scratch that.. When I am on the beach, I do not fear drowning in the ocean. It is not what happens to my body after I am dead that frightens me. I don’t really fear the numerous little nibbly biting things that will slowly devour my corpse until nothing remains.
Space is similar. I do not fear decompression. I don’t really fear the floating forever bit with no boundaries or edges, just an expanse of nothingness with no explanations or hope of understanding in my lifetime. There is an unknown number of little nibbly biting things who may or may not want to eat my corpse, but they will never have the opportunity due to lack of accessibility by proxy of statistical impossibility/unlikelihood.
With the ocean and space, both are wrought with the essential danger of asphyxiation. Decompression and lack of oxygen in space is not too far removed from increased pressure and lack of oxygen under water. They are all minor details when you get to that level.
What gets me sweating about the ocean/space is just the damnable expansive loneliness. On earth, the ocean represents a finite but tangible removal from all things I know. It is fear manifested. In space, it is the infinite and intangible removal from the same things. In both cases, the simplicity of the fear is nothing more than distance and nothingness. I can’t say it is manifest as there is NOTHING THERE.
Frederik Pohl’s Gateway is great science fiction. It’s focus is on Robinette, would be (nearly accidental) space explorer. Rob was living on the Gateway asteroid and pushing random buttons on alien space craft to see where they will go on autopilot. Each trip from Gateway to the unknown could mean instant death as he pops out of hyperspace into a sun going super nova, or could be safe, but 30 days longer round trip than his food supply will allow. It is a crap shoot.
Coming back to Gateway alive is not enough to earn you a living though. Just returning only pays enough for you to continue to breathe on the asteroid, air costs money, and those who can pay, can leave or be pushed out an airlock. In space, time matters more than on earth. every second it life that someone sold you. Survival is obviously fantastic, but coming back with scientific data that is new and useful is better, as it could earn you bonuses and make you a rich man or woman.
The Gateway novel takes some getting used to and is the only novel in the Gateway series formatted in the way it is. The book primarily flips between Rob Broadhead in his psychiatric sessions on earth (rich as a king) and his flashbacks to Gateway (poor and desperate). the book is filled with off-page notations, side conversations, and bulletin board posts in the asteroid. These can be distracting at times, but in the long view i believe help set the mood. All other books in the series are standard format, real-time, so if you want to read the series but are getting thrown off by the mixed in subtext just ignore these pages.
The last chapter of this book blew my mind and caused all of these space fear thoughts to be rehashed after years of successfully being ignored. It’s damned amazing and makes you rethink what torture truly could be, in relation to those you love. Sometimes the pain in your head is worse than anything you someone could do to you with a knife.
Highly recommended book for sci-fi aficionados.


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