Saturday, 21 April 2001

Frederik Pohl: The Annals of the Heechee (1987)

Edition: Del Rey, 1988
Review number: 802

The Heechee series, which begins with Gateway and ends with The Annals of the Heechee, is a classic. It is very traditional science fiction, but the quality of the ideas and the writing raise it well above the commonplace. I remember reading the first three novels for the first time when this was published, which is when I bought it; for it to have left as strong an impression on me as that, I must have found it an inspiring read.

The other thing I can remember is that The Annals of the Heechee was comparatively disappointing. Re-reading it now (without re-reading the others first), I can see both why this was and what I found impressive about the series as a whole.

The plot is rather difficult to summarise without completely ruining the earlier novels. The central character and narrator, Robinette Broadhead, is in some ways dead; he is now a machine stored personality. A lot of the novel is about the interaction of human beings and computer programs, a relationship which is clearly going to become closer and closer as time goes on in the real world.

Another theme of the novel - and of much hard science fiction - is the nature of the universe, and quite a large proportion of it is given over to descriptions of the big bang and string theory. This is a little unhelpful for plot development, but is probably needed for many readers to understand what is going on. (The descriptions are very clear, and do not appear to have gone out of date particularly badly.)

The Annals of the Heechee is quite a slow novel - partly a deliberate effect to emphasise the difference between machine stored and "meat" people - and its ending is anti-climactic. However, it succeeds on the ideas and characters sides, and provides a definite conclusion to a great series.

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