The Stonehenge Gate
Reviewed date: 2007 Jan 8
One of the perks of being a bona fide science fiction Grand Master is that you can write dreck like The Stonehenge Gate and somebody will publish it. Nobody pretends that its much good, but the editors will publish it, the readers will lap it up and give it a pass because--by golly--it's the latest Jack Williamson book!
Williamson uses an old tired plot: abandoned stargates built by a long-dead civilization. The Earth gate is discovered by four professors from Eastern New Mexico University who use satellite imagery to see ancient ruins in the Sahara Desert. Rather than do the smart thing and talk to colleagues and experts, they sneak off on their own to investigate. One of them is kidnapped by a giant metal bug that takes her through the gate. Rather than do the smart thing and call for help, the others run through the gate after her.
Of course they don't find her on the other side. What they do find is a planet with a poisonous atmosphere and more gates. Rather than do the smart thing and turn back for help, they keep going through the gates. They wander through abandoned ruins and nearly get themselves killed, until they finally end up on a world very much like Earth. There they get involved in a slave rebellion, helping to incite the blacks to rise up against their white masters. It's an unusually boring episode.
After escaping the slave planet through another gate, they finally learn enough to find their way back to Earth. Rather than do the smart thing and go back, three of them decide to stay and keep exploring the galaxy. One of them--the narrator--goes home and has to explain why his companions are missing. Since he didn't do the smart thing and bring back any proof of the gates, he can't tell the truth, so he has to make up a bizarre story ("We were exploring in the Sahara, there was a sandstorm, I have amnesia and I don't know where the others are.")
The whole plot only works because everybody does what Jack Williamson wants them to do. They never act like real people; Williamson needs to keep them moving to give us a grand tour of his universe (which is rather dull) and he can't waste time developing the characters or giving them rational motivations.
The only interesting part of Williamson's universe is a double planet system. The planets are "locked in rotation, always facing each other" and the ancient builders connected the planets with a skywire--a ribbon of super-strong nanotubes along which cablecars make the trip between the planets. It's an elegant solution for interplanetary travel. It is also utterly unnecessary due to the stargates.
The Stonehenge Gate just isn't any good. There is no reason to read it. It's not actively bad, but reading it is like eating sawdust. You can chew it and you can swallow it, but that doesn't make it food.