Gateway to the Stars
Gateway to the Stars. Pierce Askegren
Original Publication: 1998
Current Availability: Uncertain
Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in November of 2009, and is reprinted in the February 2012 issue of Freelance Traveller and here with the author’s permission.
Author’s Note: I think that one of the best ways to prepare yourself to run a game is to immerse yourself in its fiction, and thus get a real sense of its milieu. Thus, this series of reviews, which looks at some of the fiction that influenced Traveller, was influenced by Traveller, or is actually set in the Traveller universe.
T4, or Marc Miller’s Traveller, was the first edition of the game to really treat its setting as a multimedia opportunity. Thus, it very quickly published a novel and filled its magazine with short fiction. The results…well, they were what you’d expect when you very quickly publish a novel just for the sake of doing so.
This fifteenth review covers Gateway to the Stars, by the late licensing author, Pierce Askegren.
About the Story
Gateway to the Stars is the story of one man—a man known as Navis Redling—as he flies his trading ship through some backwater of the Third Imperium. Except Navis Redling’s not his real name, but rather one that he’s bought. And, trading isn’t really his goal; instead, he’s trying to get out to a cache of priceless Droyne artifacts unnoticed.
And, the problems don’t stop there. A member of the well-known Guy-Troy race—and the founder of the biggest megacorp in the whole Imperium, the Kaal Corp—has taken passage on Redling’s ship for reasons of his own. Meanwhile, his engineer might not be what she seems as all.
If you think Redling’s ship is going to make it to its destination without drunken K’kree, an assassin Aslan, political kidnappers, and sly pirates getting in his way…then you probably haven’t read the book, because all of that indeed happens.
I should probably mention that Gateway to the Stars never finishes its main plot and in fact ends with a “to be continued”, but if you were reading it for the Traveller content, you'll be just as happy to toss it to the side when you get there, for reasons that I’ll describe.
Genre & Style
Gateway to the Stars falls into the genre of publishing that I call “licensed books”. This typically means that a gun-for-hire is brought on board to write a book in a specific setting. I find that the results are more polished but less accurate than writing done by people truly familiar with the setting. Unfortunately, in Gateway to the Stars the result is a lot less accurate, but I’m going to save that for the next section.
I find it a bit ironic that a licensing writer was brought on to author Gateway to the Stars because he wrote a book that might as well be “RPG fiction”, too—by which I mean a story that could have been a roleplaying adventure. The plot is entirely picaresque. We have our roguish hero going on a journey. There’s a bit of continuing tension due to the mysteries surrounding certain peoples on the ship (as noted above), but almost all of the actual adventure is centered on the troubles that the crew of the Gateway gets into on each planet.
Much like a lot of RPG fiction, Gateway to the Stars has pretty flat characters too, usually characterized by one or two simple characteristics each: the captain is confident and skilled; the navigator is an inveterate gambler; and the gunner is stoic. I couldn’t even tell you what the Guy-Troy and the engineer are like, simply what they do.
That’s not to say that the writing of the book is all bad. Askegren does a good job of keeping things moving. His one extended action sequence, involving a fight against kidnappers, is quite engaging. Unlike a lot of rpg/journey adventures that I’ve read, this one remains interesting rather than bogging down.
Overall, I’ve given Gateway to the Stars a Style of “3”, because it’s engaging enough to rise above its deficiencies. However, I’ve only given it a Substance of “1”, and that largely reflects its pathetically bad depiction of the Traveller universe.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
Gateway to the Stars is worse than useless for GMs of Traveller. Though its maintains the facade of a story set in the Third Imperium, it gets the feel and the specifics so wrong that it’s more likely to damage your understanding of the Traveller universe than improve it.
With that said, let me explain in more detail:
Pierce Askegren clearly has no idea what he’s talking about when he tries to depict the setting for Traveller. Instead, he just makes it all up. In His Traveller Universe, the “Core Worlds” are a powerful political faction, while the “Core Worlds Ruling Council” controls the Imperium. Individual worlds are run by “Colonial Governors”. That’s right: no Barons, no Emperor, no Moot, and no loosely connected polity of worlds where the Imperium is largely a government between the stars.
I could continue to list many more errors, like the fact that not a world that he mentions actually seems to exist in the Imperium; not that I really knew where to look, mind you, because both his precise setting and his time period are entirely vague. (I would have guessed a time period of Milieu 0 given this was a T4 book, but instead it’s clear that Askegren’s Imperium is entirely mature.)
Rather than listing piles of specifics, I’ll instead offer up the three biggest groaners from the book:
- He thinks that the Droyne are a long-dead race of sophonts and that people eagerly race around the Imperium looking for their artifacts—which seem quite common as we more than once hear about ship holds full of them.
- He treats the Guy-Troy like they’re a major race that everyone in the Imperium would recognize on sight. In truth, they have to be pretty darned minor because the T4 book Aliens Archive is—as far as I know—the only source that discusses them.
- Based on the point-of-view of one character (who might be crazy or something, though the book doesn’t suggest it), the Third Imperium is an entirely racist empire of human supremacists who not only think they could kick the butt of every other sophont in the galaxy, but they even have a secret police organization especially tasked with keeping all of those other races down.
I find it pretty ironic that Gateway to the Stars was called “the first Traveller novel”. Not just because it wasn’t “the first”—and if you’ve been reading this series of articles, you’ve seen the predecessors, at least nine of which deserve the title more than this book—but also because it misses the mark on the setting so badly that it’s hard to call it Traveller. Out of that whole marketing phrase, the one word that’s not a lie is “novel”. By which I mean a book-length piece of fiction, because Gateway to the Stars isn’t particularly new and innovative.
I can’t really excuse such shoddy work on the part of a professional licensed writer, but even worse is that the folks at Imperium Games either didn’t bother editing this book, were too ignorant to recognize the constant errors, or saw them and didn’t care. But inconsistent editing and production were really the biggest hallmarks of T4’s brief time in the sun.
In case you missed it: don’t buy this book, Traveller GMs.
Seriously, don’t buy this book. You’ll just corrupt your understanding of the Traveller universe. Though I’ve found other Traveller books harder to read and/or enjoy, this was nonetheless the worst novel I’ve read for this series.