|The first sensation I had
while reading the
sequels to the exemplary Gateway
was one of disjointedness.
First, the narrative of Beyond the Blue Event Horizon
jerks around in an uneven fashion. It's one of those books where (a)
there are multiple protagonists; (b) sometimes nothing interesting will
be going on with one of those protagonists; but (c) the author feels
compelled to periodically spend a chapter telling you about all the
non-interesting stuff happening to that protagonist as if some sort of
Equal Time for Equal Narrators (ETEN) lobby existed.
the book is jarringly different from its predecessor. At first it feels
as if it might be the different main characters or the different
narrative focus creating the disparity, but eventually I figured out
what was really going on.
Pohl switched genres.
The gritty, hard science fiction of Gateway
is abruptly replaced with Golden Age Space Opera studded with Heinlein
heroes. The fallible and interesting Robin Broadhead of Gateway
is transmogrified into the Richest Man in the Universe married to the
Beautiful Super Model Who Is Also A Genius. Together they fight crime
and single-handedly solve all of the galaxy's problems. Even
most ultimate and terminal of setbacks only result in giving the main
Even this, by itself, wouldn't necessarily
be catastrophic. Unfortunately, it's badly written space
opera. This is Heinlein fan fiction by way of the brain eater.
The entirety of Heechee
Rendezvous, for example,
consists of absolutely nothing important happening. A bloated cast of
characters go caterwauling around the galaxy, but they never seem to
actually accomplish anything. The entire "plot" of the novel, in fact,
appears to be leading up to nothing more than a "surprise
revelation"... which might make some sense, if it wasn't for the fact
that the "surprise" had already been revealed at the end of the last book.
(It's as if someone made Citizen
Kane 2 as a film entirely focused around
revealing to the audience that Rosebud is... wait for it... a sled.)
aping of Heinlein's brain eater years includes his
beautiful-and-brilliant protagonists having lots and lots of sex. Not
because this has any relevance to the plot or elucidates the characters
in any way, but just because Pohl really likes to tell us about all the
hot, hot sex that his Mary Sues are having. It starts out puzzling,
becomes annoying, and then resolves into boring.
and enigmatic Heechee themselves are transformed into nothing more than
a momentary (and largely irrelevant) speed bump for the Heroes to
cruise over. This is part and parcel of the switch to over-the-top
space opera (conforming to the "Humans Are the Awesomest Awesome That
Ever Awesomed" branch of the genre), but is nonetheless a terrible,
squandering waste of one of the most intriguing and evocative creations
of the genre.
In many ways, Pohl's failure with the Gateway sequels is
very similar to Arthur C. Clarke's failure with the Rendezvous
with Rama sequels
(except that Pohl doesn't have a hack co-author to shoulder the blame).
The first volume of each series is a beautiful exercise in engima,
creating evocative riddles that provocatively suggest the contours of
their solutions without ever providing concrete answers. They force
every reader to provide their own closure to the questions they raise,
creating an endless panoply of possible truths.
The sequels attempt to provide the
definitive answers to every single question and (perhaps predictably)
it would be impossible to provide any answer as satisfactory as the
non-answers we create for ourselves in reading the first books. But if
they were going to try to answer those questions, I wish they'd come up
with something more than vanilla pablum that could be found in dozens
of other science fiction books before and since. You've got a blank
check: Take some risks.
The only questions Pohl doesn't try to
answer in the Gateway sequels
are those which he has apparently forgotten about. For example, in Gateway
a relatively big deal is made out of a golden spiral device in the
Heechee vessels -- it lights up with sparkling light when the ship
reaches the mid-point of a journey and gets hot at seemingly other
random times. Nobody knows what it does, exactly, but everyone is very
curious about what its true purpose might be.
In the sequels,
however, it becomes nothing more than an indicator light and the
mystery of its "true purpose" is completely forgotten.
types of raggedly hanging loose ends are just a rather specific example
of a wider problem in the books: Huge, gaping continuity errors are to
be found everywhere. Within any given volume these errors are usually
of only a minor sort, but between volumes the Gateway sequels
fail to have any sort of consistency. For example, in the last five
pages of Heechee
you are authoritatively told that characters X and Y have gone to
location A. Within the first five pages of the next book, only
character X has gone to location A and character Y has instead been
killed off-screen in a helicopter accident. Similarly, an entire ship
full of people is miraculously resurrected because Pohl apparently
forgot that he killed them all in the previous book.
These books are, in the final analysis, a
complete and utter failure. By the time The
Annals of the Heechee blatantly
breaks the fourth wall, thus shredding any credibility the books have
left, the sequels have already firmly established themselves as the
literary equivalent of Highlander 2:
Exercises in mediocrity interrupted only by stretches of atrocious
self-indulgence which you would be well-advised to avoid even on their
own sub-par merits. At the same time, they are the sort of work whose
existence you must scour from your own mental reservoirs in order to
enjoy the excellent work which lamentably gave them birth.
The fact that Gateway
is a better
novel than Highlander
is a movie only makes it worse.
And the quality of the Gateway sequels
continues to deteriorate from one volume to the next.
example, I have a pet peeve about authors who feel the need to
summarize the plots of the previous books in a series. First, it is
unlikely that anyone is picking up Book 3 of a seven book series
without having already ready Book 1 and Book 2. Second, the little
snippets of information presented in awkward expository lumps they do
include are insufficient to the task of
bringing new readers "up to speed" -- which means that (a) the extant
readers are bored and (b) the new readers are still lost.
authors in series with less tightly-woven continuity do an excellent
job of incorporating such details through the simple expedient of
writing each book as if it were a stand-alone narrative. One of the
tricks here is that they don't try to summarize the plots of other
books. Instead they simply drop in the necessary details from their
protagonists past lives just as they would with any such detail. The
difference is subtle and requires a certain mastery of your craft. Bujold, for
example, has practically perfected the technique.
Pohl, unfortunately, has not.
begins as a predictable drag on the narrative pace of the books
eventually becomes something ludicrously disastrous: My copy
of The Annals
of the Heechee
is 275 pages. Despite this brief length, 100 of the first 120 pages are
spent finding clumsy ways to reiterate the narrative from the previous
three books. And much of this material is studded with the familiar
errors of continuity.
Combined with the fact that Pohl treats his
readers like idiots (by repeating the same bits of exposition
over-and-over again just in case we missed it the first time) and
structures his narratives around solving "mysteries" by revealing
things that he he already revealed in the previous book the entire
series quickly becomes completely interminable.
In short: Yes, that is an actual F- on The Annals of the Heechee. It deserves it.