Gateway by Frederik Pohl is one of the Hugo award winning novels that I have most enjoyed. This is a story that isn’t entirely about what you expect it to be about and that is part of the reason I enjoy it so much. The Gateway is an ancient space station that has been found by humans who barely understand how any of it work, but know that the technology is far ahead of them and potentially useful and so are exploring that technology.
The primary way that technology is being explored is by sending people out in the ships that they have found. There are three types of ships at this station. One hold one person, one holds three and another hold five. Though no one really understands why the three person ships seem the most safe and this idea of them guessing about what is safe makes up much of the ship as the main character is trying to find ways to improve his odds of not only surviving a trip on a strange alien ship, some of which never return, but also to find technology of true value so he can become wealthy.
What makes this book different than you might expect is how little the alien technology is really explored. This is about the man and the pain that he feels as well as guilt he feels. The reason for this guilt is one of the few of the major mysteries of this story that is really answered. But even though you don’t find explanations for the technology or solve every problem there is a lot to like about this story because it feels far more real. The technology doesn’t simply make sense because we want it too and the world isn’t a single solution to be found.
In some ways this story could be considered slow. There is a lot of time where very little actually happening besides character development, but the quality of the story telling and the way it is told helped to keep me hooked.
Having moved on to the next of the Hugo novels I did not read farther in the Heechee saga of books so I don’t know how much more is explained, but in truth I liked many of the questions that this story left as well as the fact that the life of the character isn’t perfect or even all that good simply because he has solved some scientific problem. So, if you like good hard science fiction with real character development then this is a good choice.