I first read Gateway when I was working through the Hugo Award winners. I didn’t remember much of the main story, but I vividly remembered the climax of the book. Having the knowledge of what was going to happen while reading it this time really changed some things.
The premise of the book is really interesting. Humanity has discovered an alien space station which they name Gateway, but the technology is so foreign that they have no idea how any of it works. They do, however, figure out how to pilot the alien ships to pre-programmed coordinates. Individuals, known as prospectors, fly the crafts to these coordinates with no control over the ships and no idea what awaits them at the end of their journey. Any prospector that finds something of value (technology, scientific curiosities, life-sustaining planets, etc.) on their trip is rewarded. The bigger the find, the bigger the reward. The job is highly dangerous. Many ships never make it back, some prospectors are killed during exploration, and those that make it back may not have discovered anything and so they aren’t paid.
Gateway follows a prospector, Rob Broadhead, during two different points in his life. The bulk of the story starts around the time Rob begins his training on Gateway and follows him as he struggles with fear and begins taking missions. This narrative is occasionally interrupted by chapters that take place back on Earth after Rob has scored a big find as in very wealthy. These chapters focus on Rob speaking with an artificial intelligence that serves as a therapist. Both storylines converge at the book’s climax where the reader finally learns what Rob found and why it left him needing therapy.
The character development in the book is excellent. Rob, as the protagonist, gets a rich background and a full personality that’s deeply explored. He changes significantly through the course of the novel, but it’s all done in a natural way. Every other character is peripheral, but they all get enough time to see how they grow throughout the story. Not only are the characters well developed, but the world is fantastic. Descriptions are simple, but vivid, and the author does a good job of explaining the space station while maintaining the alienness of it.
One quirk in the writing style is that some of the chapters include introductions that aren’t part of the narrative. Some of them are classifieds from a Gateway newspaper, others are letters, and there are even one or two that are computerized transcriptions from the AI therapist. They rarely have anything to do with the plot, but do help in the world building. (I’ll add that some of them were definitely intended to be read, and did not translate well to the audiobook.)
Gateway really is a fantastic book, and one of the best Hugo winning novels. I’ve never read any of the other books in the series (this book functions well as a stand-alone), but after going through this one again, I might.