Frederik Pohl
Frederik Pohl is one of the great SF writers of this century. He was made a grand master of SF by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1992. He has authored about 100 books on a lot of subjects, but mainly science fiction. 
In the 1970's Pohl wrote the two masterpieces of his career as a writer. Gateway and Man Plus are two of the best SF novels ever written.

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Frederik Pohl

Millions of years ago, an alien species created a vast galactic empire, colonized thousands of worlds, and created technological marvels almost beyond human comprehension.

And then they disappeared.

By the time humans arrived on the scene, the species--which humans dubbed the "Heechee"--was long gone, as was most of their technology. But the traces that remained--including Gateway, an abandoned space station holding 1,000 still-functional Heechee starships--hinted at technology that could bring about a new Golden Age on Earth.

There was one catch. The starships went to a mind-boggling array of destinations in the old Heechee empire, but there was no way of knowing where they would go. Those brave or stupid enough to try the ships could travel hundreds of light years and find treasure troves of alien technology at the other end. Or they could find themselves caught in the advancing wave front of a supernova. Or on a planet with a toxic biosphere. Or traveling until their food supply ran out. Half of the ships that "went out" into the interstellar void didn't return, and those that did didn't always come back with live crews.

Robinette Broadhead was one of those lucky enough to get a ticket to Gateway, and crazy enough to actually use it. He traveled to the space station, learned everything there was to learn about the Heechee ships (which wasn't much), procrastinated for weeks, fell in love and finally went out on a ship. He ultimately made three trips, and returned a very rich--and very dysfunctional--man.

Compelling psychodrama

Pohl's Gateway universe is bleak and depressing. Humanity's technology has reached its limits, and 25 billion people hang on the edge of starvation. The survival of its protagonist (and humanity) is based not on ingenuity or intelligence, but on luck and endurance. A winning lottery ticket gets Broadhead to Gateway, and his ability to tolerate mental and physical hell enables him to survive.

The novel opens as Broadhead meets with his psychiatrist, a computer he calls Sigfrid von Shrink. Despite the fact that he survived his trip, and is rich enough to have anything he wants, he's miserable. Pohl deftly switches between the counseling room and Broadhead's past as Sigfrid tries to expose the reason for the former space traveler's misery.

Pohl uses one-page inserts to introduce readers to the day-to-day operation of his universe. The inserts include lecture transcripts, classified ads and other tidbits, recreating Gateway in a way that a simple narrative couldn't achieve.

Pohl creates suspense both by withholding the cause of Broadhead's neurosis, and by depicting the suspense and fear of waiting for--and going out on--one of the Heechee ships. The downside to all this tension is that the protagonist is passive throughout most of the story. He's compelled toward his courses of action but is given few opportunities to show off any traits other than his ability to endure.

Those looking for proactive heroes won't find them in Gateway, but what they will find is a story that will keep them turning pages well into the night, searching for the cause of Broadhead's pain. The final answer is as frightening as it is imaginative, and it leaves Pohl with plenty of material for Gateway's three sequels.