After an absence of 14 years, Pohl returns to his Heechee universe (The Gateway Trip, 1990, etc.) with a grab-bag yarn that updates many of the previous themes and ideas and adds a few new ones.
At the Gateway asteroid, loyal readers will recall, humans embarked hopefully in Heechee ships toward preprogrammed (but, to the occupants, unknown and random) destinations at which there was an equal likelihood of finding immensely valuable Heechee artifacts, tragic disappointment, or death. Two young prospectors, Stan Avery and Estrella Pancorbo, endure a disappointing, unproductive voyage, returning only to find that the guidance problem has been solved—hence, prospectors are superfluous. Their single option is to join a mission to the black hole at the galaxy’s Core, where the Heechee themselves are hiding in dread of the Foe, the life-destroying Kugel. Numerous other narrative strands fill out the big picture. A Heechee named Achiever leaves the Core to discover what the Kugel are up to inside their Kugelblitz. Superrich Gelle-Klara Moynlin, using advanced Heechee science, observes the explosion of the Crab Nebula and the fate of its sun’s inhabited planet. Superrich, insane Heechee-hater Wan Enrique Santos-Smith hatches plots to destroy the Heechee inside the Core. Fellow Heechee-hater Reverend Orbis McClune, stored electronically after his death and sold to Wan, wonders whether to assist the clearly mad Wan or resist him. And artificial intelligence Marc Anthony, the galaxy’s greatest chef, roams the spaceways as an undercover agent, keeping tabs on the Kugel and on Wan.
An astonishing eyeful, rich and absorbing, albeit undramatic, leaving scope for at least one more installment: a feast for Gateway travelers.