Exploring Frederik Pohl’s Heechee Saga Part 3 – Heechee Rendezvous

The third novel in the Heechee Saga, Heechee Rendezvous, is the perfect place to end the series. Never mind that there are three other books; only one of them, Annals of the Heechee, continues the main plot.

Heechee Rendezvous neatly wraps up everything that began in Gateway. The reader is introduced to an aging, ailing Robinette Broadhead, his Artificial Intelligence companion, Albert (a facsimile of Albert Einstein) and a few of Broadheads “friends” and acquaintances.

As the story unfolds, the reader also meets a Heechee officer named Captain, emerging from the black hole in the center of the universe to confront the space-faring humans and warn them of an unknown danger of the universe, setting up the grand finale of the main series.

The tone here is consistent: it’s all told from the perspective of Robinette Broadhead, who at this point has barely evolved his personality at all and is, in fact, regressing to the same type of person he was in Gateway. Why? Because he is feeling his mortality.

The novel eventually becomes a race against time in several ways: Broadhead against his own health, Broadhead’s scientific research against constant terrorism and Wan’s frantic search through several black holes using Heechee technology.

In this novel, the reader will finally meet the Heechee, be introduced to old characters and find out how Broadhead deals with his mortality problem. I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll leave it at that.

Something I quite enjoyed about this story is we see the character of Wan, from the previous novel, become somewhat of a villainous presence, though this is greatly overshadowed by Pohl’s introduction of the titular aliens early on in the story. I also, despite his unlikable nature, quite like Robinette Broadhead and can relate to him in some ways.

Pohl’s prose is consistent and well done, engaging the reader and making them care about what happens to these characters. I am interested to see how book four handles the new relationships man has forged with the Heechee and the unknown, mysterious threat that scared the Heechee into a black hole in the first place.

We’ll continue the journey through the Gateway as soon as I finish reading the fourth installment (and conclusion of the main series). Books five and six are anthology collections set in the Heechee universe.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading/sharing/etc…

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Exploring Frederik Pohl’s Heechee Saga Part 2 – Beyond the Blue Event Horizon

Hello, and welcome to part two of our exploration of Frederik Pohl’s Heechee Saga. Today, the focus will be on book two of the series, “Beyond the Blue Event Horizon.” In the previous novel, “Gateway,” the reader meets one Robinette Broadhead, the filthy rich, guilt-ridden expedition survivor and somewhat unlikable narrator.

The first thing the reader will notice about the book is this: it starts out in the third person, introducing a boy named Wan, currently living off-world on a Heechee artifact. Next, it switches to first person with a different narrator from the previous book. In this chapter, the reader is introduced to Paul, a pilot, and his family: his wife Lurvy, sister-in-law Janine and father-in-law, Peter.

It is here the reader learns the primary conceit of the story: Robinette Broadhead financed an expedition to find the Heechee Food Factory, so-called because it mines the basic elements of life from comets: Carbon Hydrogen Oxygen and Nitrogen or CHON for short.

As the story unfolds, the perspective eventually shifts from third-person whenever the explorers are involved to Broadhead’s perspective. Broadhead is, once again, our primary protagonist, whom everything revolves around. This time, however, he is much more likable.

Don’t let that last sentence fool you; he’s still selfish, odd and kind of an ass. It’s just that now, he’s not so guilty and self-absorbed. He has a machine intelligence in the guise of Albert Einstein with whom he spends most of his time. His wife, S. Ya Lovorovna from the previous book, helps build and create several machine intelligences throughout the story.

She also becomes a major part of the plot, but I won’t spoil that for you as the result of an interesting concept that was fleshed out in a disappointing way, the 100-day fever. It actually becomes a major plot point, directly affecting upcoming events in the series.

In “Beyond the Blue Event Horizon,” Pohl does an excellent job delivering on some of the suspense built up in “Gateway” and adds a few more interesting elements to the story. The one which sticks out the most in my mind is the Dream Bed, which is essentially a large telepathic transmitter. You can imagine what sort of shenanigans folks can get up to with one of those.

The title refers to the blue hue of the event horizon of a black hole, which is a reference to the end of “Gateway.” It is well done, interesting, engaging and a worthy successor to “Gateway.” There is substantially less psycho-babble and outdated concepts, but the book does suffer from a few anachronistic tendencies and a few inconsistencies. I still highly recommend it.

“Beyond the Blue Event Horizon” is available on Amazon here.

Exploring Frederik Pohl’s Heechee Saga Part 1 – Gateway

A look into Frederik Pohl’s excellent science fiction novel, “Gateway.”

I am a massive Science Fiction fan. I discovered a love of reading at an early age, thanks to authors like Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Since then, my reading has been all over the map. I’m not sure how the works of Frederik Pohl escaped my attention.

Earlier this year, I discovered a copy of his 1977 novel “Gateway” at my University Library. I haven’t felt this involved in a book series since reading Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series. The book is more than a simple space-faring adventure; it is a psychological study of the rich, successful protagonist and his feelings of guilt surrounding his fame and fortune. I found the character so compelling that now, three books in, I’m hooked.

The book follows the story of a man named Robinette Broadhead, feeling rather guilty about something. The story opens with Broadhead speaking with an automaton psychiatrist whom he dubs Sigrid von Shrink. The story then alternates between Broadhead’s in-person (so to speak) sessions with the robot and flashbacks of his time on the Gateway asteroid, with several sidebars creating atmosphere for the narrative.

The story is told in the first-person, so the reader is right there in Broadhead’s shoes as he learns about the asteroid, finds romance, balks at taking missions and finally makes something of himself. Of course, along the way, there are some…shall we say, issues both wrought upon and caused by our protagonist. Broadhead himself is not a particularly likable character at first, but it feels as if he were designed to be that way, as later novels explore who he is more in depth.

The way he treats those close to him is quite deplorable at times, but some of the characters, like Gelle-Klara Moynlin end up playing an important role in the story later on.

“Gateway” is both futuristic and unique, introducing an alien race called the Heechee and their amazing faster-than-light technology.  The novel stands well on its own, but also serves to set up an entire series of adventures revolving around the Heechee and their wondrous technology.

The technology is fascinating, especially with the mystery surrounding it and the fact that despite the danger, humans constantly take out ships on prospecting missions to attempt striking it rich.

There are also, as with any older sci-fi story, some interesting anachronisms. Tapes are regularly used to store and retrieve information, for instance. There are a few more, but I recommend reading it for yourself to find out.

This is an excellent book, well-liked and a winner of both a Hugo and a Nebula award in 1978. The book was popular enough to spawn computer games, five sequels and a possible TV movie, which seems to be locked in production hell at the moment.

Of course, after what SyFy did to to Riverworld, perhaps we don’t need a Gateway film.

If you like “Gateway,” be sure to check out its sequels, “Beyond the Blue Event Horizon” and “Heechee Rendevous.” Stay tuned for part 2 of this series coming soon!

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The Holodeck and Content Analysis in Science Fiction

I watched an episode of Star Trek: Voyager last night, where the holodeck characters became self-aware and decided that the creImage result for star trek voyagerw of the ship were demons, devils, sprites, fairies etc…It was bizarre and typical of the sorts of conflict a science fiction genre program would introduce during the time frame in which the show was produced.  If anyone is curious, the episode in question was Episode 237, Spirit Folk.  I find it interesting how two of the best episodes, at least in my opinion, in the series (One Small Step and Blink of an Eye) were in this season, but was followed by and interlaced with all of the bizarre holodeck weirdness that is The FAIRHAVEN Program.

This episode got me thinking about just how often the holodeck malfunctions in the Trek Universe. I wonder what percentage of holodeck characters in the Star Trek Universe become self-aware at some point during the execution of their program? Sounds like an opportunity to do some content analysis.

First off, we’re limited to the Star Trek Universe.  While it may be interesting to look at other worlds and novels, I believe that would only cloud the data.

Second, we have a relatively small sample size here, culled from only three, perhaps four television series’ and foImage result for star trek voyager fairhavenur feature films.  Remember, The Original Series didn’t have a holodeck; they had a Rec Room and a promiscuous captain. I’m certain there is a list of episodes over at  Memory Alpha.

Finally, I wonder how common the trope of a malfunctioning holodeck really is. I’m sure TVTropes has some information on the subject, but I don’t know much about that site, so I’ll let the reader decide for themselves. Also, why would humanity put themselves at the mercy of a series of light and force fields that can hurt them? What sort of research questions could we come up with based on this type of content analysis? These are the mysteries of Sci-Fi. If anyone is interested in helping tackle this just for the heck of it, feel free to let me know!

 

 

The Man Who Cheated Death: a review of “On a Pale Horse” by Piers Anthony

HI, PIERS (ANTHONY)!

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In my teenage years, I would have told you that “On a Pale Horse,” the first novel of the eight-part “Incarnations of Immortality” series by Piers Anthony is an excellent book for what it is. It is, of course, entertainment and idle fantasy with a hint of sci-fi, which can prove to be fun at times.

From the age of 12, up until around age 25 or so, I was an ardent, dedicated Piers Anthony fan. I read the “Xanth” novels almost religiously and began consuming most of his work with great fervor and enthusiasm. I flew through the “Bio of a Space Tyrant” series, juxtaposed my way into “Apprentice Adept,” snuck in some of the standalone titles and navigated the universe of the entire “Cluster” series in only

The point is, I was a big Piers Anthony fan. I only really stopped following his work about five years back. He even used one of my suggestions in Xanth; quite poorly, I may add. Sending the suggestion was probably not my best idea. I should have known what I was getting myself into, given the fluffy and pun-filled nature of Xanth itself. Ah well, you live, you learn. On the bright side, he did thank me for the suggestion in the author’s note, even if I didn’t like the way he used the suggestion.

When “Incarnations of Immortality” first hit my radar, I was a lonely high school kid. I was not well-liked, unpopular, a bit on the overweight side with acne, and let’s just say I didn’t have the right attitude about anything. It made sense that escaping into a world of magic and sci-fi would be right up my alley. It worked, for a time. I loved the series and still have a bit of a soft spot for it these days. Except for Book 8.

THE MAN WHO CHEATED DEATH

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As an adult, revisiting the novel approximately 12-14 years later, I would hesitate to call it a great work of art, but I still ended up enjoying my journey through the story. It was just a little bit different, perhaps some magic lost, but still quite good. Following is my review, which includes a few spoilers.

My first instinct is to say that the story is not an example of superb literature. However, it has value in that it serves its purpose: to entertain, inspire, and provide an escape. The prose is a bit choppy, but, it does manage to get its point across. I initially found the main story interesting, but the protagonist to be stiff and boring. The story concept is unique and it can be thought-provoking at times.

The novel is mostly about a man named Zane, an out of work photographer living in abject poverty. The opening sequence of the novel sets Zane up for failure through an interaction with an unscrupulous shop keep that results in setting up the plot of the novel. Zane is sort of a two-dimensional figure, but eventually receives a bit of character development.

Following this incident, Zane feels cheated out of everything in life: his potential wife/lover, wealth, fame, and fortune. Thus, he heads to his rundown little apartment – running into the ghost of Irish lass Molly Malone along the way (she comes up later as part of the plot, too; FORESHADOWING).

At his apartment, Zane contemplates suicide. He obtains a gun and points the barrel at his temple. Before he can fire, however, he notices the door open and stares into a skeletal face.

It would seem the Grim Reaper himself attends to Zane. When the door opens, Zane panics and fires at the figure standing in the doorway. Zane’s actions set off a chain reaction which leads Zane assuming the office of Death.
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Some of the instruments and procedures described seem a convoluted and are not explained in full, especially pertaining to how certain tools are used to do the job. The pale horse, named Mortis (Ha-ha! Punny! I’m not being facetious here and genuinely find it funny), is a nice touch, in that it can transform into a hover car at will. A few of the interaction between Death and his “clients” are well written, evoking emotion at times. These subtle nuances of the story are what makes the story. I especially liked how touching his scenes with the trapped miners, the elderly lady, and the young boy with cancer were written. These show Anthony’s interest in the human condition and provide some much-needed empathy with the character.

Eventually, Zane ends up meeting with the other incarnations of Time, Fate, War, and Nature and falling in love with a woman named Luna. The reader discovers through the course of the adventure that Zane is to act as the foil to Incarnation of Evil, Satan, whose sinister plan to shift the balance of good and evil in the world into his favor “must be stopped at all costs.” Of course, later books in the series paint an almost entirely different idea, so good luck with that.

STYLE AND PROSE

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Anthony’s prose leaves a bit to be desired. Some novels, like “Prostho Plus” are incredibly well-written, while others, like the Mode series are not. Anthony’s work can be a bit disjointed at times, which is noticeable the further along the bibliography one gets.

While this series is quite solid from start to finish, I will warn that reading past the “Being a Green Mother” in this series will more than likely be a mistake for the typical reader. Books six and seven are good follow-ups to the main series, but book eight, “Under a Velvet Cloak” is horrendous and should be skipped at any cost.

Anthony’s character descriptions are overtly vague and he spends far too much time describing superfluous actions, such as body and sexual functions. The text suffers from excessive filler at times, but I believe this is more stylistically related to the plot of Anthony’s world. Either way, I’m not a fan of these. However, if one can look past them – and there really aren’t that many on this book – the story is quite engaging.

Some shallow secondary characters round out the story, but truly highlight Anthony’s bizarre portrayal of women. He has often been labelled as misogynistic and rarely has female protagonists. In some cases, such as the novel “Ogre, Ogre,” nearly all his

protagonists are female…except for the one male character protecting them. It’s certainly a trend in most Anthony novels.

Another drawback to the story is the mild degree of sexism inherent in the novel, notably in the scenes involving Luna. Occasionally Anthony writes challenging material, and if one can ignore his quirks or accept them as part of the story, that has the potential to render the story itself rewarding.
It does get a bit convoluted at times and Zane is not a well-developed character on the overall. Anthony would have done well to better describe Zane and his motivations. What we have here is a hastily thrown together novel with a cool premise that leaves much to be desired.

With that said, however, this book is an easy, quick read. It can easily provide a gateway into the wonderful world of reading, it can also give the reader an interesting perspective on life and death. Teens and young adults are probably the best audience for the book, but fans of Anthony and similar authors would likely enjoy it as well.

Per Anthony’s rather long and self-indulgent author’s note, it appears that Discworld author, Terry Pratchett critically blasted this book. Pratchett had recently published “Mort,” on a similar subject. In my opinion, “Mort” is the superior work.

In his constant, egregious, self-indulgent author’s notes at the end of each book in the series, Anthony mentions that this novel was originally going to be a standalone book. Later, Anthony -with constant goading from his fan base at the time – decided that the story should expand to include four other Incarnations (Time, Fate, War, & Nature).

A startling number of cross-media has been made for this novel. Innovation Comics created a graphic novel version of the book to be published in six installments. The company went out of business before the sixth could be published. Volumes 1-5, are readily available via eBay.

Be forewarned: the comic is graphic, poorly drawn and the company who made it went bankrupt before the concluding issue went to press. You can see examples at a blog called Off the Beaten Panel, a blog I discovered while researching this review. A simple search for “On a Pale Horse” will lead down a deep, dark rabbit hole of bizarre unreality.

AUDIBLE AUDIO VERSION

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An audio version of the novel is available via Audible. The narrator, George Guidall seems to genuinely be enjoying the book. His commanding, almost academic timbre lends credibility to the story. Guidall also narrates the sequel, “Bearing an Hourglass.”

Unfortunately, when read aloud, some of Anthony’s quirks, mannerisms, inconsistencies and favored phrases become obvious and even annoying at times. Anthony’s excessive use of the word “balk” and the phrase “in due course” are repetitive at best, cloying at worst.

Anthony’s descriptions of a complex action, followed up with the phrase “they did it” seems like lazy writing, but the story is still quite interesting for those whom enjoy their sci-fi light and their fantasy even lighter.

I’ll use the Good Reads scoring system for my overall score: 3 out of 5 stars. I liked the book long ago, but the flaws are many. The core concept, combined with the significance of the book in my life (it’s the first novel Jessica and I bonded over) and the nostalgia of being a Piers Anthony reader make “On a Pale Horse” worth reading at least once.

Piers Anthony can be found online here, if you’re interested in any of his long-winded news letters or learning more about the author.

“On a Pale Horse” is still in print and can be purchased at your local book store or favorite online retail. Also try Amazon if you’re into that Kindle sort of thing.

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