A fat silver moon hangs low in the clear Calgary sky and I’m thinking about wolves. And the endless excuses we make for ourselves. According to Bob Broadhead- protagonist of the Gateway by Frederick Pohl – the only reason big, strong wolves don’t kill weaker wolves is because the weaker wolves submit to them. They roll over and present their throats and the alpha wolves are unable to attack them any more. Bob Broadhead uses this example to justify bashing up his girlfriend Klara. You see, she did not submit to him.
While I don’t like Bob Broadhead – a damaged bit of goods with an unfortunate tendency to beat the women he purportedly loves – I do like the book. Gateway swept the Hugo, Nebula and John Campbell awards of 1977 / 78 and it’s not hard to see why. 35 years later and it’s not even that dated. Except that everyone smokes a lot in the book. Which I’ve noticed in Calgary too. Anyway. It’s a very well written book, with an amazingly detailed world. I didn’t much like any of the characters except Sigfrid, Bob’s psychiatrist, but as Sigfrid is a machine I suppose that doesn’t count. Even so, the book had me utterly absorbed.
Gateway is a space station built into a hollow asteroid constructed by the Heechee, an alien race that has made itself scarce. A thousand spaceships with FTL travel are found abandoned in it. Humans learn to operate them – at a very high cost in human life. The ships are pre-programmed for making round-trips out in space, and there is no way of knowing or changing the destinations in advance. The ultimate space Russian Roulette. You can die out there. Or you can live and come back empty-handed. Or you can strike it rich with alien artifacts, metal and scientific knowledge. An interesting concept. How much control do we have over life, and how much does it control us?
Gateway is a book worth reading. And while I’m about it, I may as well add that Calgary is a place worth visiting. Not just for the clear skies and the pretty moon and vast sweep of prairie. There’s lots to admire about conservative little Calgary, even if the Stampede is not quite your thing. It’s very clean – maybe the cleanest city in North America. It’s got an excellent transit system and great museums. It’s prosperous, convenient, well-planned, wonderfully organized. And clean. Did I mention it’s clean? This is a city that just suffered one of the worst natural disasters in Canadian history – in June the Bow and Elbow Rivers flooded major parts of the city and nearby communities, displacing a hundred thousand people. To say nothing of the zoo animals – apparently the big cats were put in the local jail.
You have to admire the resilience of the city and the hard work that’s gone into the clean-up. Calgary shines bright and new, everything’s open for business – even the zoo, albeit with some animals still missing. No wonder it’s been rated the most livable city of Canada. So what if the winters are horribly harsh? The buildings in downtown are all connected. You can just hang around in the indoor Devonian gardens until the Chinook winds come, raising the temperature to a respectable level. Right?
Right. Back to science fiction. From 1984 – 2011, Calgary was home to Con-Version, an annual science fiction and fantasy convention. Sadly this event is no longer part of the Calgary science fiction scene, although the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association is going strong, and so is When Words Collide – Calgary’s festival for readers and writers. Who says yoghurt has more culture than Calgary? Edmontonians, that’s who. I so disagree!