Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Have Gates, Will Travel

If you wanted to get from one part of the universe to another, would you choose (a) a fast spaceship, (b) a spaceship that uses a wormhole, or (c) a gate that instantaneously transports you?  I would go with option (c).  When it comes to space travel, I'm not sure the journey is more important than the destination.

The theme of gates like these has been quite popular in science fiction.  For example, consider the movie "Stargate", its sequels, and the TV series it spawned.  One simply steps through the gate and arrives in a new location - usually a new planet.  Of course, in fiction one doesn't always know what to expect on the other side ...

One of my favorite series of books is C. J. Cherryh's "Morgaine" saga (Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan, Fires of Azeroth, Exile's Gate).  This series includes both fantasy and science fiction devices - low technology weapons like swords and high technology machines like gates - and a special sword ("Changeling") that controls gates, but the author considered this work as fantasy.  When I learned that Gate of Ivrel was her first published novel, I was amazed.  (I have to admit that I was influenced by Michael Whelan's cover art as well.)

In contrast, I was very disappointed with Jack Williamson's The Stonehenge Gate.  This was another example of a gate (appearing very primitive, despite its power, compared with the gate in "Stargate") transporting people to other places in the universe.  This was the first novel by Williamson I've read, so maybe it's just his style, but I was put off by this book's poor plot development.  Important details were glossed over.  Transitions from one scene or locale to another made it seem like the book itself was going through gates!  I had to give up after the first 30 pages.  To be fair, it appears that this novel, published a year before Williamson's death in 2006 at the age of 98, was his last.  It is likely not representative of the work of this award-winning science fiction author.

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