The Heechee Series Critical Essays

Frederik Pohl


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In the later books of this series, Frederik Pohl gradually develops a theme of the nature of cybernetic intelligence. In Gateway, Broadhead interacts with a somewhat limited psychiatric program called Sigfrid von Shrink, which projects a human image and creates the appearance of a personality. The story unfolds as a series of encounters between Broadhead and Sigfrid that ultimately result in Robin coming to terms with his guilt.

Beyond the Blue Event Horizon introduces a much more sophisticated program modeled on Albert Einstein. It serves as an information processor for Broadhead. Broadhead’s wife continues to upgrade the Albert program, which eventually has a profound crisis when it is forced to accept the validity of quantum mechanics. In Heechee Rendezvous, Broadhead dies, and his wife reads his personality and memory into machine storage, where he is then free to interact with other, similarly stored individuals. In this cybernetic reality, Broadhead can simulate experiences such as skiing, drinking, or making love, and do so in conjunction with others. In The Annals of the Heechee, the Assassins are revealed to have far more in common with these machine-based entities than with organic life. The final two novels directly address the question of the nature of intelligence and life.

Gateway won the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Memorial awards, and with good reason. The novel creates an interesting balance between the terrifying but exciting exploration of the galaxy on Heechee ships and Robinette Broadhead’s painful and frightening exploration of his inner guilt in a series of sessions with a psychiatric computer program. Gateway effectively conveys both the terror that grips...

(The entire section is 725 words.)