Win the lottery, save the species

Today, I’m going to be Robinette Stetley Broadhead.

Now, odds are that you aren’t a SF geek, and so you don’t really have any idea who that is. That’s all right, chillun—I will explain. Patience.

Rob Broadhead is the protagonist of a serialized novel “Gateway”, published in 1977. It won the 1978 Hugo Award for best novel, and it’s the first title in an (eventually) much larger series, the Heechee Saga.

Broadhead is a working-class schlub, who wins a one-in-millions lottery, earning him a paid trip to the Gateway asteroid. The Gateway asteroid is filled with starships, left behind by the Heechee. And for the people living there, it is a corporate-controlled exploration venture.

The ships are (originally) navigated only by an alien computer system that no one really understands. Getting into one takes you across the galaxy, or somewhere.

A good percentage of the pilots never come back; space is dangerous, particularly when you have no idea where you’re going. So the corporation pays out exploration and science bonuses, based on where you went, what you saw, and what you brought back. Knowledge is valuable—none of the money ever spent in space has ever failed to pay dividends. And so the Gateway Corporation makes boatloads of cash from the new scientific goodies (and general knowledge) brought back by the pilots.

Now, Broadhead is afraid to go (of course), but eventually must—he can’t afford to live on Gateway, nor afford a ticket back home. So there’s the midpoint; protagonist faces an adversary that forces him to grow.

Bob eventually does go. And loses a loved one (the subtext throughout the novel is psycho-drama, Bob must face his guilt), but Bob—again—Scores Big, he wins the lottery, again. The biggest science bonus ever paid out by the Gateway Corporation, Broadhead will be fabulously wealthy, for life. Which is the novel’s payoff, of course. Bob deals with his guilt, and Bob gambles and “wins”.

But I don’t want to be the Broadhead of Gateway. Bob doesn’t begin to have any real fun until the later novels of the series.

In Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, Bob goes back and rescues Klara from her imprisonment (inside the event horizon of a black hole). So yay, Bob’s guilt can go away for good. More importantly, Bob funds the development of new technologies based on the Heechee, decoding those navigation boards (opening up space to Mankind in a huge way), and Food Factories—that turn Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen into unlimited food (eliminating human poverty).

In Heechee Rendezvous and the Annals of the Heechee, things get dangerous again. We finally find the Heechee. And we find the Foe (the reason why the Heechee went into hiding).

At this point, Bob is a virtual person. Thanks to adaptations of Heechee recording technologies, Bob (and most all of the other dead people of the human race) share ongoing virtual lives in a shared cyberspace.

So Bob had a number of long shots pay off. But then he had a number of things he worked hard for that paid big dividends, too.

He’s got a legacy, he’s saved the human race, and he’s got nearly infinite time to enjoy a virtual paradise. And he can do the work he loves doing. But there’s still a threat to keep an eye out for…

Not a bad way to end a series.

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If you could spend the next year as someone radically different from the current “you” — a member of a different species, someone from a different gender or generation, etc. — who would you choose to be?

Big dreams, yo


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