The Boy Who Would Live Forever
by Jerry Wright
The Boy Who Would Live Forever|
Author: Frederik Pohl
Hardcover: 384 pages
If you look at the cover you'll notice that the whole title is The Boy Who Would Live Forever: a Novel of Gateway. I imagine most of you need no introduction to Frederik Pohl's Gateway universe, but just in case, let me sort of set the stage for this latest book in the series: The original novel Gateway was published in 1976, received both Hugo and Nebula awards and quickly burned itself into the memory of many SF readers. And irritated many more. It told the story of the discovery of an asteroid full of alien ships. The ships are seem to be functional, but only trial and error (mostly error) has allowed a desperate few to fly off into the unknown, some to disappear, some to die, but a few to return with information which could lead them to enormous wealth. Robinette Broadhead, the protagonist of Gateway appears in several of the other "Gateway" novels, but remains offstage in The Boy Who Would Live Forever. Gateway novels are relatively rare things, appearing every three to four years.
The Boy Who Would Live Forever is the story of Stan, a young American growing up virtually penniless in Istanbul. After his father dies he inherits a life insurance payoff that is just enough to take him and a friend to Gateway. When Stan and company finally get to fly a Heechee ship, it comes to nothing. Even worse, he returns to Gateway to find that the secret of Heechee ship navigation has been cracked. There are no more journeys to the unknown, and no more big payoffs. But Stan and his new companion Estrella somehow find themselves on a trip to the black hole at the center of the galaxy that will make them some of the first humans to find the elusive Heechee.
The novel is composed of a number of narrative threads somewhat tied together. Gelle-Klara Moynlin, the psychotic Wan, who would like to destroy the Heechee, an A.I. named Marc Antony who is a chef when he's not defending humanity (and who is one of the most interesting characters in the book), and Sigfrid Von Shrink, the A.I. psychiatrist that Robinette Broadhead spent much of the original novel sparring with, as well as Achiever, a Heechee who has been damaged mentally by his forced association with humans.
Technically, this book is a "fixup" as it has been constructed from a number of short stories ("From Istanbul to the Stars", "In the Steps of Heroes", "A Home for the Old Ones", "Hatching the Phoenix") with original material added to tie them together. Because of this, the book jumps around and for readers unfamiliar with the Gateway universe this can be quite disconcerting. Some of that is inevitable given that a big chunk part of the novel takes place within a black hole. And inside the black hole there is a time-compression of 40,000 to 1.
I definitely would NOT recommend this book as an introduction to the Gateway universe, but as a continuation of Pohl's greatest creation, it is a fun read, fills in some gaps, and is a worthwhile addition to the series.