This review will contain spoilers!
In many sentences:
One of the aspects that I enjoyed so much about Gateway, however, was that the story wasn't told in nearly so straightforward of a manner. Rather, each odd chapter centered on Bob as he undergoes psychotherapy with Sigrid (a robot therapist) in an attempt to help Bob to deal with the guilt of being the sole survivor of the doomed voyage, and of (in his mind) killing Karla. This stylistic choice was particularly effective because it developed Bob more deeply as a character through his banter with Sigfrid. Furthermore, and more importantly, it allowed for the author to foreshadow the fact that Bob's final journey was going to be doomed, and that Karla was going to be left behind. At the same time, it also revealed to us that Bob would eventually go on a journey (3, in fact), even though we saw him struggling with his fear throughout much of the first half of the book. It was also enjoyable, because it broke up the story enough that I never felt bored with the book. At certain times (such as when he was trying to discover the code to control Sigfrid) there were exciting things happening in the "present", while other times, the "past" was where the excitement was occurring. Either way, the result was that I always felt compelled to read the next chapter, and never felt the book was dragging.
The other component of the book that I greatly enjoyed was the "exhibits" that were strewn throughout the book every 5 to 10 pages. Pohl uses these exhibits expertly to flesh out the history of the world he was creating, without interfering with the actual flow of the narrative. These included classifieds that were on Gateway, the code Sigfrid was processing, lectures by an astrophysicist, and more. The idea of adding these in periodically was a great idea and something I'm surprised I haven't encountered in other works as well. I can see something like this being used to great effect in a book such as Harry Potter. I also enjoyed the way the exhibits became more and more personal for Bob, as he became included in the lectures and ultimately when they revealed his earnings for his second and final journeys. The major tone and themes of the book were also quite engaging. On the whole, the tone was desolate, and cynical. It reminded me of the Asimov books.
The major themes I found were the power of love, and especially its relationship with guilt, and the relationship between courage and fear. We see the first as Bob falls in love with Karla, and at the same time, we see him deal with the guilt of what happens during his therapy sessions. The second theme is revealed similarly, as we move between seeing Bob's fear, and then in the present, seeing that he eventually found enough courage to take the journeys. The alternating chapter style was particularly effective in developing the contrasting elements of these themes because both were constantly in front of us at all times. Normally we would see one progressing into the other, but by alternating the time periods of the chapters we were able to compare and contrast them simultaneously. Not surprisingly, the climax of the book utilizes this same tool as Bob has his breakthrough session with Sigfrid where he finally faces his guilt over what happened so he can deal with it and in the next chapter as we actually get the full story of what happened on that ship.
There is an interesting twist at the end when Bob, having finally faced everything, asks his robot therapist if his superficial life can really be considered living at all. Sigfrid responds: "You asked me, 'Do you call this living?' And I answer: Yes. It is exactly what I call living. And in my best hypothetical sense, I envy it very much." From this I think we can conclude that, though Bob has been through a lot of hardship, it is difficult to claim that he is not currently living a life that should be given up on. Robot, or human, it is clear that though many may have been lost on that final journey, as a survivor, Bob's life has value, and that it should be cherished.
Clearly, I enjoyed the book quite a bit. In fact, I can't think of much about it that wasn't good. There was a certain obsession with sexuality, but it wasn't gratuitous and did make sense in the context of the work. I would definitely recommend this to any fan of science fiction for its unique style and engaging content.
Frederick Pohl in Gateway Scott notes: The speaker, Sigfrid, is a robot.
Frederick Pohl the First Line of Gateway
Frederick Pohl the Last Line of in Gateway