This science fiction novel won the Hugo, Nebula and other awards and spawned a series: the Heechee Saga.
Click here to see the rest of this review
Poor miner Robinette "Bob" Broadhead wins the lottery and uses the money for a one-way ticket to Gateway. When a hollowed-out asteroid was discovered, it was found to hold nearly a thousand small spaceships and other artifacts left behind by the long-gone alien Heechee. Despite their advanced age, most of the ships are functional. They come in three sizes; one, three or five people can cram into them with (hopefully) enough supplies. The trouble is, people can only pick a destination setting and go there; experimentation generally leads to fatal results. What's at the other end and the trip's duration can only be learned by trial and error. The ships then return to Gateway. It's a high-stakes gamble, with mostly duds, rare big scores, and all too often, lonely or messy deaths. The Gateway Corporation, acting on behalf of a group of nations, pays for knowledge, Heechee artifacts and in one case, a habitable planet.
Bob's first trip is a dud. His second results in a worthwhile discovery when he becomes frustrated and experiments without authorization (or common sense). He survives, but wrecks the ship; the damages nearly offset his discovery bonus. Meanwhile, he falls in love with Gelle-Klara Moynlin.
When the corporation decides to see what happens when two ships are sent to the same destination, one after the other, Bob and Klara sign up. The mission is a disaster. They end up too near a black hole. Neither ship can get away alone. In desperation, they come up with a plan: to link the two ships together, cram everyone into one, and jettison the other. The resulting boost might be enough to let them break free. However, when time runs out, Bob is stuck alone in one ship. He closes the hatch to give the others a chance, but as it turns out, his ship is the one that gets away. He returns to Gateway and, collecting the rewards of both crews, becomes fairly wealthy. However, the survivor guilt he feels is almost crushing.
Best part of story, including ending:
It's very engrossing. Every so often, Pohl slips in a one-page report of a previous mission.
Best scene in story:
As Bob approaches Gateway for the first time, he gives the history of the place. A very fascinating premise.
Opinion about the main character:
Bob is way too full of self-loathing.