Visions of Paradise

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Heechee Rendezvous

There are times I wonder what is the purpose of reading long series set in the same sf universe. Isn’t one of the primary joys of reading science fiction the sense of wonder of discovering new worlds which are considerably different from our own? That may not be true for all readers, but it is important to me. I started reading science fiction at a time in my life when I needed to escape from the real world, and the easiest escape was to bury myself in a book set in the far future.

And yet originality and creativity are surely not the only reasons for reading sf. I am a big fan of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, which offer a variety of delights. One of them is each book explores her creation a bit deeper, often discovering new aspects of it. A truly satisfying creation cannot be fully examined in a single book, so perhaps one of the purposes of reading a long series is that the truly deep worlds require more than a single book to explore fully.

Of course, discovery is not the only purpose in reading an sf novel. Storytelling is important as well, and a really good sf writer develops plots which utilize the created world in a way which makes it fundamental to the story. Thus in an extended series, each new novel stretches into a previously-unexplored corner of their world, amplifying the original sense of wonder while also telling a gripping story.

Which brings us to Heechee Rendezvous, the third novel of Frederik Pohl’s Heechee series. I reviewed the first two books last issue. Briefly, Gateway was one of my very favorite sf novels ever written, while Beyond the Blue Event Horizon was a worthy sequel. At initial glance, a third novel seems unnecessary, basically revisiting events which were mostly covered in the first two novels. But there were a few plot threads left unresolved in those books. At the end of Beyond the Blue Event Horizon we knew where the Heechee were hidden, but we still did not know why they felt obligated to flee the outside universe. Nor have we ever seen a Heechee or learned anything about them directly. And what about Robinette’s feelings towards the two women in his life: his current wife who is described as pretty much the perfect wife for him, and his former lover whose loss inside a black hole was the source of most of his trauma in Gateway. Although she was lost to him for all eternity, because of the time lag inside a black hole, she was actually fated to survive him by several centuries.

Pohl brings all these loose threads together in a well-plotted novel. Because he is a satirist at heart, his future Earth is a bleak world where governments bicker constantly, terrorists abound, and the population crunch has gotten so bad the entire world is a boiling kettle always on the verge of exploding. Robinette is obsessively determined to save as much of the world as he can, a situation hampered by seemingly everybody else’s selfish motives, as well as his own personal issues. Ultimately all those concerns pale next to the mystery of the Heechee, a solution which introduces new aspects to the universe and raises more sense of wonder than anything in Beyond the Blue Event Horizon did. It is gripping reading throughout, and Pohl does an even better job of tying everything up than I anticipated.

There are still three remaining books in the series, the novel Annals of the Heechee and two collections of ancillary stories The Gateway Trip and The Boy Who Would Live Forever. Since the latter two both contain several excellent stories related to the Heechee which I have already read and liked (such as “The Merchants of Venus”), I have not decided whether to read the novel of the collections next. In any case, I highly recommend the original Heechee trilogy to anybody who enjoys sf which combines original ideas and strong storytelling. I don’t see too many readers being disappointed by it.

2 Comments:

  • I can't believe I have never read this series. It is an unfortunate victim of the "to be read" stack. I will read the Gateway books this year.

    Thank you for continuing to provide great reviews.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 5:18 AM  

  • Gateway is on my list of books I would love to get to this year. When I do, it sounds like I will have a couple of really good follow up books to read.

    By Blogger Carl V., At 4:40 PM  

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