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Frederik Pohl's most famous Science Fiction creation, the Heechee Saga (beginning with a short story, The Merchants of Venus, though most people know it through the 1976 novel Gateway) details humanity's discovery of the Heechee, a long-vanished race of advanced aliens. More particularly, humanity's discovery of Gateway, a large asteroid base filled with Heechee tunnels and covered in long-abandoned faster-than-light starships.
Gateway, the first novel in the series, is widely recognised as a classic of the genre, and a perfect example of New Wave science fiction besides.
Robinette Broadhead (who is, in spite of his name, male) is very rich, and very troubled. In between his therapy sessions with the robot psychiatrist he's nicknamed Sigfrid Von Shrink, he tells the story of his time on the titular asteroid Gateway, where he eventually made his fortune.
Gateway is largely a Deconstruction of Imported Alien Phlebotinum. Only some of the thousand-odd starships left by the Heechee work, and nobody knows exactly how. Programming in a new destination consists of twiddling twelve wheels until something glows pink, and squeezing the go-teat. The ship will go somewhere, but there's no telling where, or how long it will take, until the ship starts decelerating, meaning you damn well better have enough supplies to last the trip. If you haven't reached the midway point of the outbound voyage by the time a quarter of your food is gone, you draw straws... loser goes into the fridge. Some ships that went out with 5 people got back with one. Whatever happens when somebody tries to change course mid-flight, none of the ships that tried have ever come back. The Mega Corp in charge of Gateway offers a relatively small bonus for discovering an inhabitable planet, in spite of the fact that Earth is a Crapsack World where people have to mine oil for food, since the biggest starships in Gateway can only carry five people, and somebody has to bring the ship back. Experiments to get ships to carry more people have not ended well.
In the early 1990's, Legend Entertainment published two videogames based on the Heechee saga.
Gateway provides examples of:
- Bi the Way - Metchnikov. Robinette.
- Death World - most of the planets found by prospectors.
- Freudian Excuse - most of the story
- Future Food Is Artificial - Most foodstuffs are made from algae and bacterial cultures grown on oil.
- Ho Yay - Metchnikov. Robinette.
- Human Resources - Full Medical.
- Imported Alien Phlebotinum - Deconstructed with the starships, though other Heechee artifacts are reverse-engineered successfully.
- Mega Corp - The Gateway Corporation, which takes 50% of the initial profits from any particular discovery, and 90% of the royalties.
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup - Heechee technology, especially in The Gateway.
- Portal Network - Since everybody uses pre-set coordinates in the ships, they function in a relatively similar way.
- Robot Buddy - Sigfrid Von Shrink, though Robinette doesn't exactly like him.
- Straight Gay - The three other men in Robinette's first mission.
- Technology Marches On - Cassette tapes, everywhere.
- Tomboyish Name - Robinette Broadhead