Pohl (World 13)
Frederik Pohl (1919 – 2013; first SF publication, 1939) is yet another author who wrote on a broad range of subjects, sometimes with a variety of writing partners. I haven’t read nearly all of his works, but a couple bring back memories as I scan my shelves: In Black Star Rising, in a sorta-post-apocalyptic world, aliens demand to be taken to the leader (no longer existent), so rice-collector Castor is appointed. The Coming of the Quantum Cats portrays an alternate-reality future where earths collide. His works are sometimes humorous — from wacky to sharply satirical — and sometimes deeply thought-provoking. And not infrequently, both at the same time.
Pohl’s Heechee series is what I know best. Space-faring humans discover an immense garage depot full of alien starships. You have little control over where you’re going once you hit the power button. Sometimes you arrive at a treasure trove of alien technology. Sometimes you arrive nowhere; whatever used to be at the end of the run is clearly gone now. And sometimes … you don’t make it back. Your food doesn’t last as long as the flight, and your starved, dead body arrives back at the depot with no indication of what was found at the other end of the run. One reviewer describes it as the ultimate game of Russian roulette. Robinette Broadhead is the lead character, who strikes it rich only after the loss of his partners.
There are several specific items found throughout the Heechee stories (the Heechee are the aliens who left the depot), but the drives themselves seem the most representative token of this series.