Heechee Saga

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Needs to be split out into separate pages for the individual novels.


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. Millions of years prior to the beginning of the novels, the Heechee disappeared from the Universe, leaving almost no trace of their existence. The exception is Gateway, a large asteroid base filled with Heechee tunnels and covered in long-abandoned faster-than-light starships.

Gateway (1977)

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. The Earth he lives on is a Crapsack World where overpopulation and polution have left much of the planet barren, and people have to mine oil for food.

On Gateway, humanity has discovered a fleet of a thousand-odd FTL starships left by the mysterious Heechee. Nobody knows exactly how they work. 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, 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. The few ships that try to change their preset courses never come back. Even making it to your final destination is no guarantee, as the presets can take ships to planets with high radiation, suns that have gone nova, or other deadly locations. The Gateway Corporation offers varying bonuses for scientific discoveries made on trips, with especially valuable discoveries paying the lucky crew a lifetime of royalties. Ironically, they only pay small bonuses for discovering inhabitable planets, 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.

With the majority of Earth's population desperately poor, many view the insane risks they will have to face a fair price for a shot at incredible wealth. After Robinette wins enough money from a lottery to buy a ticket to Gateway, he spends most of the rest of novel too scared to take a space mission. A couple of near fatal missions only reinforce his fears. When a group of daring (or insane) prospectors come up with a scheme to fly two 5 man ships in tandem, Robinette impulsively joins the mission--and changes his life forever.

In the early 1990's, Legend Entertainment published two videogames based on the Heechee saga.

Gateway provides examples of:

Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980)

Set several years after the first novel, and finds Robinette Broadhead a wealthy man. Robinette is trying to use his vast wealth to improve conditions on Earth by sending a mission to locate a Heechee food factory in the Oort Cloud. Meanwhile, Earth is being subjected to a mysterious event every 130 days, which subjects all its inhabitants to experience temporary insanity.

BTBEH provides examples of:

  • Brain Uploading: The food factory contains the uploaded memories of the "Honored Ancestors", as well as unlucky Earth prospectors that accidentally found the factory.
  • Fake Russian: While Essie is a real Russian, her dialogue sometimes has tendency to lack of pronouns and phrasing of awkwardness, nyet?
  • May-December Romance: Robinette is described as being much older than his wife, Essie, but still deeply in love.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Robinette is determined to use his weath to make the world a better place.
  • Virtual Ghost: Your body doesn't survive the transition in becoming an "Honored Ancestor", but your memories (and most of your personality) does.
  • Wealthy Ever After: By the end, Robinetter is wealthy enough to buy the Gateway Corporation.

Heechee Rendezvous (1984)

Set several decades after Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, Robinette is now a billionaire, thanks to the discoveries he made in the second novel. Those discoveries have positively transformed life on Earth, though there are still those that oppose the changes for political or military reasons. Robinette has been able to extend his life thanks to medical treatments, but suffers great guilt over the apparent death of his lover Klara (in the first novel).

Heechee Rendezvous provides examples of:

  • Brain Uploading: How Robinette survives after his body dies from post transplant tissue rejection.
  • Gratuitous Russian: Essie steps up her use of Russian words in this novel and the next.
  • Precursor Killers: The Heechee are revealed to have hiden themselves in a super black hole to escape from energy beings from before the Big Bang.
  • Hidden Elf Village

The Annals of the Heechee (1987)

With the return of the Heechees from the hiding place inside a giant black hole, Robinette works to disover how to defend the Universe from the mysterious beings known as the "Assassins".

Annals of the Heechee provides examples of:

  • Embarrassing Nickname: Since Heechee names are impossible for Humans to pronounce, they end up with nicknames. The young Heechee ends up with the moniker "Sneezy".
  • Energy Beings: The Assassins are energy beings from the Universe that existed before the Big Bang.