Frederik Pohl’s Gateway is one of the all-time great science fiction novels. While the lottery luck of exploring alien artifacts forms the book’s central device, it’s in fact the main character’s personal struggles which form the central conflict. The novel contained and complete, in 1980 Pohl nevertheless decided to return to the setting with Beyond the Blue Event Horizon. What, if anything, does it add to Gateway?
The majority of BtBEH bounces back and forth between two scenes. First is good ol’ Robinette Broadhead. A wealthy magnate due to his ‘adventures’ in Gateway, he decides to sponsor an expedition to a large Heechee food ship dubbed Heechee Heaven. Second is the family who decided to make the expedition to Heechee Heaven. They hope to bring massive supplies back to an impoverished Earth—and be rewarded massively for it. Arriving at the ship, they make a discovery that puts ahem, a hitch in their plans to say the least. But Robin has some ideas what can be done…
As stated, the element which made Gateway so great was Robin/Robinette’s internal struggle and relationship difficulties, that is, the universally human rather than science fictional aspects. With BtBEH, however, Pohl shifts away from the focus on character and identity, and digs deeper into the setting and possibilities of the Heechee ambiguity. In other words, BtBEH is more mainstream sf.
And this will be a good or bad thing. For readers who longed to know more about the world, Pohl delivers, offering a couple interesting twists and turns that both enlighten and delight. Like sensawunda? Pohl turns up the dial. But for readers who appreciated the personal, human aspects of Gateway, BtBEH may disappoint. Plotting, pace, style—all are up to par technique-wise, only that the focus is not what it was in Gateway.
So to answer the question posed above, Beyond the Blue Event Horizon adds a big chunk of worldbuilding, and, to some degree, carries forward the story of Robin. It comes recommended for people who want to learn more about the Heechee, and in general the universe Pohl has imagined. The mysteries of the alien race are peeled back, and simultaneously made more intriguing. If Robin’s story is what you appreciated most from Gateway, the novel may not satisfy as deeply. Pohl is certainly competent, just be aware this is not Gateway II.