Pohl, Frederik

Tagged: Author | Editor

(1919-2013) US man-of-letters and author, professionally involved in the sf field as an editor, literary agent, fan and writer since his teens, his first published piece being a poem, "Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna" (October 1937 Amazing) as by Elton V Andrews, and his first story proper – the first of well over 200 in an active career of more than seven decades (> Longevity (in Writers and Publications)) – being "Before the Universe" with C M Kornbluth, writing together as S D Gottesman, for Super Science Stories, July 1940; this and other early work was assembled as one of his memorial collections of collaborations with his main writing partner: Before the Universe, and Other Stories (coll 1980) with C M Kornbluth. His third marriage was to sf writer Judith Merril (1949-1952) and his fourth to Carol Metcal Ulf Stanton (1952-1983), who collaborated with him (as Carol Pohl) in editing several anthologies, including the Science Fiction: The Great Years sequence [see Checklist]. His fifth wife, Elizabeth Anne Hull (married 1984), is an academic and a leading member of the Science Fiction Research Association. Pohl was a member of the Futurians, and wrote much of his early work in collaboration with other members of the group, mostly with C M Kornbluth. Names used by these two, sometimes involving third parties – including Robert A W Lowndes and Joseph H Dockweiler (> Dirk Wylie) – were S D Gottesman (see above), Scott Mariner, Dirk Wylie and the House Name Paul Dennis Lavond. On his early solo work Pohl usually used the name James MacCreigh, though he published one story each as Wylie and Warren F Howard. He published much of this work himself while editing Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories Spring 1940-Fall 1941; he was subsequently assistant editor to Alden Norton on these magazines from late 1941 until their demise in 1943.

After military service in World War Two, Pohl became active as an sf literary agent, representing many of the most celebrated writers in the field during the late 1940s. Though his production of new work never fully ceased, he only began writing seriously again around 1950, after abandoning the MacCreigh pseudonym. While working as assistant editor to H L Gold at Galaxy Science Fiction he wrote a great deal for the magazine, usually under his own name, sometimes as Paul Flehr, Ernst Mason or Charles Satterfield, the last name used once for a story written in collaboration with Lester del Rey, in partnership with whom he also wrote Preferred Risk (June-September 1955 Galaxy; 1955) as Edson McCann. Other writers with whom he collaborated at one time or another were Merril, Isaac Asimov, Joseph Samachson, and Arthur C Clarke, the last on The Last Theorem (2008), a relatively weak completion of a work left unfinished by Clarke at his death. After Kornbluth, Pohl's main partnership was with Jack Williamson, a collaboration extending nearly four decades. Pohl was editor of Galaxy and If from late 1961 to mid-1969. While under his aegis If won three Hugos as Best Magazine 1966-1968. He also founded and edited two shorter-lived magazines, Worlds of Tomorrow (1963-1967) and International Science Fiction (1967-1968). Another significant editorial endeavour was an early series of original Anthologies, Star Science Fiction Stories, beginning with Star Science Fiction Stories (anth 1953) and ending with Star Science Fiction Stories #6 (anth 1959) [for details see Checklist]. He also edited numerous reprint anthologies, some of them – like The Expert Dreamers (anth 1962), sf stories by Scientists – moderately innovative.

As a writer Pohl made his first reputation by way of the slickly ironic short stories he produced during the 1950s and 1960s, mostly Satires with a hint of black comedy. Works in this vein include the classics "The Midas Plague" (April 1954 Galaxy; incorporated into Midas World, fixup 1983), a fine example of the Comic Inferno, and The Tunnel Under the World (January 1955 Galaxy; 2010 ebook); almost all these stories of the 1950s are collected in Alternating Currents (coll 1956; with one story dropped and one added, rev 1966), The Case Against Tomorrow (coll 1957), Tomorrow Times Seven (coll 1959), The Man Who Ate the World (coll 1960), Turn Left at Thursday (coll 1961) and The Abominable Earthman (coll 1963). Oddly, the only short-fiction award Pohl won before his 1986 Hugo for "Fermi and Frost" (January 1985 Asimov's) (> Nuclear Winter) was a Hugo for an atypical "posthumous collaboration" with Kornbluth, "The Meeting" (November 1972 F&SF), which appeared in Critical Mass (coll 1977) with Kornbluth; some of their collaborations had already been assembled as The Wonder Effect (coll 1962), and further selections appeared as Before the Universe, and Other Stories (coll 1980) (see above) and Our Best: The Best of Frederik Pohl and C M Kornbluth (coll 1987).

It was in the 1950s also that he cemented his growing reputation with his first novel in collaboration with Kornbluth: the classic Satire, The Space Merchants (July-August 1952 Galaxy as "Gravy Planet"; 1953). The savagely gaudy image here painted of a Dystopian future crippled by Overpopulation and Ecological degradation, dominated by Advertising and de facto ruled by private corporations, now seems remarkably prescient (> Media Landscape). Pohl's solo sequel, The Merchants' War (1984), which takes off from the unexpectedly successful Space Flight to Venus that climaxes the first volume, was unfortunately belated; both novels were assembled as Venus, Inc (omni 1985). The episodic Search the Sky (1954; rev 1985) with Kornbluth is an enjoyable early contribution to the "absurd-society" variety of sf. Gladiator-at-Law (June-August 1954 Galaxy; 1955; rev 1986) with Kornbluth is sillier, but makes some telling comments on housing projects (> Crime and Punishment). The more ambitious and surrealistically complicated Wolfbane (October-November 1957 Galaxy; 1959; rev 1986) with Kornbluth involves invading alien Robots, the kidnapping of the planet Earth, primitive societies engineered to provide human components for living Machines on the aliens' own dirigible planet, and a revolt organized by these.

Pohl's early solo novels were less successful: Slave Ship (March-May 1956 Galaxy; 1957), Drunkard's Walk (June-August 1960 Galaxy; 1960), A Plague of Pythons (October-December 1962 Galaxy; 1965; rev vt Demon in the Skull 1984) and The Age of the Pussyfoot (October 1965-February 1966 Galaxy; 1969) lack the vitality of his collaborations with Kornbluth, though the last has an interesting Prediction of the multi-function, Computer-linked mobile phone. But his collaborations with Williamson were vigorous and competent. They include Undersea Children's SF sequence – Undersea Quest (1954), Undersea Fleet (1955) and Undersea City (1958) (> Under the Sea) – and the Starchild novels, assembled as The Starchild Trilogy (omni 1977): The Reefs of Space (July-November 1963 If; 1964) (> Continuous Creation), Starchild (January-March 1965 If; 1965) and Rogue Star (June-August 1968 If; 1969). The latter are intelligent Space Operas combining Williamson's flair for melodrama with Pohl's economy of style. As Pohl's solo work matured, so did his collaborative work with Williamson. The Saga of CuckooFarthest Star (fixup 1975) and Wall Around a Star (1983), assembled as The Saga of Cuckoo (omni 1983) – is action-adventure fiction involving a vast artificial world. Land's End (1988) confronts the human survivors of a cosmic Disaster with a godlike Alien. The Singers of Time (1991) is an excellent fusion of traditional space opera with modern ideas in Physics.

There was a sharp improvement in Pohl's longer works once he was no longer editing full time. Two fine tales, Starburst (March 1972 Analog as "The Gold at the Starbow's End"; exp 1982) and "The Merchants of Venus" (July/August 1972 If), were important transitional works, the latter forming a prelude to the enterprising Heechee series – Gateway (November 1976-March 1977 Galaxy; 1977), Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980), Heechee Rendezvous (January-May 1984 Amazing; 1984), The Annals of the Heechee (1987), The Gateway Trip: Tales and Vignettes of the Heechee (coll of linked stories 1990) including "The Merchants of Venus" (see above), and The Boy Who Would Live Forever (fixup 2004) – which tracks humanity's exploration of the Galaxy using artefacts abandoned by the Aliens known as the Heechee, who have gone into hiding because of a threat posed to all living species by the enigmatic Assassins. The first artefact discovered, a vast spaceport carved out of an asteroid (Space Habitats), contains the eponymous gateways, which convey Spaceships at Faster Than Light speeds to what seem to be random destinations. The universe depicted is, in the end, not well designed for humans to comprehend (an inference whose modesty, in the face of the inconceivable complexities of a cosmos created by AI-like entities akin to gods, distinguishes the Heechee series from the work of most of Pohl's contemporaries). Gateway – almost certainly his best novel – won the Hugo, the Nebula and the John W Campbell Memorial Award, following up the success of the first volume of the Mars sequence, Man Plus (April-June 1976 F&SF; 1976), an effectively cynical novel about the adaptation of a man for life on Mars which had won a Nebula the year before (> Cyborgs; Pantropy). The rather less impressive sequel is Mars Plus (1994) with Thomas T Thomas.

JEM (November-December 1978 Galaxy; 1979; vt JEM: The Making of a Utopia 1979) is a similarly cynical and compelling account of the Colonization of an alien world – which somewhat resembles the eponymous planet in Medea's World (anth 1985) edited by Harlan Ellison – by competing human power blocs, but the more lightly satirical The Cool War (fixup 1981) is less successful. Syzygy (1982), a mundane novel about the failure of a much-touted Disaster to overwhelm California as a result of a rare alignment of planets, understandably suffers from a lack of melodrama – an absence made good in two later non-sf novels, the thriller Terror (1986) and the "drama-documentary" novel Chernobyl (1987). Pohl occasionally complained about the unwillingness of sf writers to be constructive in their dealings with Near-Future scenarios, and he made a sustained attempt to practise what he preached in The Years of the City (fixup 1984), a Future History of the City of New York which won the John W Campbell Memorial Award. The Coming of the Quantum Cats (January-April 1986 Analog; 1986) is an Alternate-History adventure story only lightly seasoned with satire, but a more considerable satirical edge is evident in Black Star Rising (1985), Narabedla Ltd (1988) and the sharply pointed The Day the Martians Came (fixup 1988). Homegoing (1989) is a more romantic and light-hearted story of confrontation between humans and aliens. The World at the End of Time (1990) recalls the theme of Land's End in presenting a human colony's encounter with a godlike Alien in a tale which traverses aeons to the time and location referred to in the title; while the novella Outnumbering the Dead (1990) focuses on the predicament of a man who is among the very few who age and die in a world of youthful-seeming immortals (> Immortality). The late Eschaton sequence – comprising The Other End of Time (1996), The Siege of Eternity (1997) and The Far Shore of Time (1999), all three assembled as The Eschaton Sequence (omni 1999) – places in a complex Space Opera arena a war between two Alien civilizations, each guilty of attempting to enslave Homo sapiens; a flattening of affect can be detected at points, but the action is densely deployed, and Pohl's demonstration of his comprehensive grasp of the tropes of sf is often masterful. This easy mastery is not always fully engaged in O Pioneer! (October-December 1997 Analog; 1998), set on a colony planet inhabited by (in all) five Alien races, with political Paranoia rife and justified; nor in All the Lives He Led (2011), set in a radically changed Near Future 2079, some time after a volcanic Disaster has destroyed America as a country. The young American protagonist – an indentured servant performing ancillary functions in Pompeii as the two thousandth anniversary of the explosion of Vesuvius nears, and elsewhere in the transformed Middle East – is reminiscent of the street-wise entrepreneur of George Alec Effinger's more engaging Marid Audran: Budayeen sequence, and contemplates international terrorism (> Politics; Religion) from an emotionally distant remove.

Pohl was president of the Science Fiction Writers of America 1974-1976 and president of World SF 1980-1982. Much insight into the early days of his career is provided by the commentary in The Early Pohl (coll 1976), much of which was subsequently incorporated into The Way the Future Was: A Memoir (1978). The special September 1973 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction was devoted to his work. In 1993 he was given the SFWA Grand Master Award; in 1998 he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame; in 2009 he received the Eaton Award for life achievement; and in 2010 he won a Hugo for best fan writer, honouring him for his blog, "The Way the Future Blogs" [see links below], which comprises short reminiscences of his own life, separate pieces on writers he had known over his long career, and cultural and political commentary from a left-wing position (moderate by European standards but extreme in the US political context). Gateways: Original New Stories Inspired by Frederik Pohl (anth 2010), edited by Elizabeth Anne Hull, assembles tales written in honour of his works. Like Brian Aldiss, and for even longer, he served his chosen field as ambassador to the wider world; for half a century he and Aldiss were the central men-of-letters of sf. [BS/JC]

see also: Adventure; Anti-Intellectualism in SF; Asimov's Science Fiction; Astounding Science-Fiction; Automation; Avatars; Black Holes; Cities; Climate Change; Conceptual Breakthrough; Corpsicle; Cryonics; Cybernetics; Del Rey Books; Dimensions; Discovery; Economics; End of the World; Evolution; Fermi Paradox; Fandom; First Contact; Games and Sports; Golden Age of SF; Great and Small; History in SF; History of SF; Humour; Hyperspace; Identity Transfer; Leisure; Linguistics; Living Worlds; Mathematics; Money; New Wave; Nuclear Energy; Optimism and Pessimism; Organlegging; Outer Planets; Parallel Worlds; Power Sources; Psi Powers; Race in SF; Relativity; Julius Schwartz; SF Magazines; Skylark Award; Sociology; Stars; Terraforming; Utopias; Thomas D Clareson Award; Upload; Weapons; Weather Control; Writers of the Future Contest.

Frederik Pohl

born New York: 26 November 1919

died Chicago, Illinois: 2 September 2013

works

series

Space Merchants

  • The Space Merchants (New York: Ballantine Books, 1953) with C M Kornbluth [first published July-August 1952 Galaxy as "Gravy Planet"; Space Merchants: hb/Richard Powers]
  • The Merchants' War (New York: St Martin's Press, 1984) [Space Merchants: hb/Izumi Inoue]
    • Venus, Inc (Garden City, New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1985) [omni of the above two: using the 1985 rev of The Space Merchants: Space Merchants: hb/Jack Woolhiser]

Undersea

Starchild

  • The Reefs of Space (New York: Ballantine Books, 1964) with Jack Williamson [first appeared July-November 1963 If: Starchild: pb/Jacques Wyrs]
  • Starchildsfgateway.com (New York: Ballantine Books, 1965) with Jack Williamson [first appeared January-March 1965 If: Starchild: pb/Jacques Wyrs]
  • Rogue Starsfgateway.com (New York: Ballantine Books, 1969) with Jack Williamson [first appeared June-August 1968 If: Starchild: pb/Paul Lehr]

Saga of Cuckoo

Mars

  • Man Plus (New York: Random House, 1976) [first appeared April-June 1976 F&SF: Mars: hb/Paul Gamarello]
  • Mars Plus (New York: Baen Books, 1994) with Thomas T Thomas [Mars: hb/Stephen Hickman]

Heechee

Eschaton

individual titles (fantastic)

individual titles (nonfantastic)

collections and stories

works as editor

Star Science Fiction

Galaxy

If

Science Fiction: The Great Years

SFWA Grand Masters

individual titles

nonfiction

about the author

links

Previous versions of this entry

Website design and build: STEEL

Site ©2011 Gollancz, SFE content ©2011 SFE Ltd.