Pohl, Frederik 1919–
Pohl, Frederik 1919–
(Elton V. Andrews, Paul Fleur, S.D. Gottesman, Lee Gregor, Warren F. Howard, Cyril Judd, a joint pseudonym, Paul Dennis Lavond, Scott Mariner, Ernst Mason, Edson McCann, a joint pseudonym, James McCreigh, Jordan Park, a joint pseudonym, Charles Satterfield, Donald Stacy, Dirk Wilson)
PERSONAL: Born November 26, 1919, in New York, NY; son of Fred George (a salesman) and Anna Jane (Mason) Pohl; married Doris Baumgardt, 1940 (divorced, 1944); married Dorothy LesTina, August, 1945 (divorced, 1947); married Judith Merril, 1948 (divorced, 1952); married Carol M. Ulf Stanton, Septem-ber 15, 1952 (divorced, 1983); married Elizabeth Anne Hull (a professor of English), July, 1984; children: Ann (Mrs. Walter Weary), Karen (Mrs. Robert Dixon), Frederik III (deceased), Frederik IV, Kathy. Education: Attended public schools in Brooklyn, NY, "dropped out in senior year." Politics: Democrat. Religion: Unitarian.
ADDRESSES: Home and office—855 S. Harvard Dr., Palatine, IL 60067.
CAREER: Writer. Popular Publications, New York, NY, editor, 1939–43; Popular Science Publishing Co., New York, NY, editor in book department and assistant circulation manager, 1946–49; literary agent, 1946–53; freelance writer 1953–60; Galaxy magazine, New York, NY, editor, 1961–69; Ace Books, New York, NY, executive editor, 1971–72; Bantam Books, New York, NY, science fiction editor, 1973–79. Staff lecturer, American Management Association, 1966–69; cultural exchange lecturer in science fiction for U.S. Department of State in Yugoslavia, Romania, and the Soviet Union, 1974; also lecturer at more than two hundred colleges in the United States, Canada, and abroad; represented United States at international literary conferences in England, Italy, Brazil, Canada, and Japan. Has appeared on more than four hundred radio and television programs in nine countries. County committeeman, Democratic Party, Monmouth City, NJ, 1956–69; trustee, The Harbour School, Red Bank, NJ, 1972–75, and First Unitarian Church of Monmouth City, 1973–75. Military service: U.S. Army Air Forces, 1943–45; received seven battle stars.
MEMBER: Science Fiction Writers of America (president, 1974–76), Authors Guild (Midwest area representative; member of council, 1975–), British Interplanetary Society (fellow), American Astronautical Society, World Science Fiction (president, 1980–82), American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow), World Future Society, American Civil Liberties Union (trustee, Monmouth County, NJ, 1968–71), New York Academy of Sciences.
AWARDS, HONORS: Edward E. Smith Award, 1966; Hugo Award, World Science Fiction Convention, 1966, 1967, and 1968, for best editor, 1974, for short story, "The Meeting," 1978, for best novel, Gateway, and 1986, for story "Fermi and Frost"; H.G. Wells Award, 1975; Nebula Award, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1977, for best novel, Man Plus, and 1978, for best novel, Gateway; John W. Campbell Award, Center for the Study of Science Fiction, 1978, for Gateway, and 1986, for The Years of the City; National Book Award, 1980, for JEM; Popular Culture Association annual award, 1982; guest of honor at science fiction convention in Katowice, Poland, 1987; Grand Master Award, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1993; Milford award, 1995; Gallun award, 1998; Prix Utopia, 2000; Hubbard Lifetime Achievement, 2000.
(Under pseudonym James McCreigh) Danger Moon, American Science Fiction (Sydney, Australia), 1953.
(With Lester del Rey, under joint pseudonym Edson McCann) Preferred Risk, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1955.
Alternating Currents (short stories), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1956.
(Under pseudonym Donald Stacy) The God of Channel 1, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1956.
(With Walter Lasly) Turn the Tigers Loose, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1956.
Edge of the City (novel; based on screenplay by Robert Alan Aurthur), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1957.
The Case against Tomorrow, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1957.
Slave Ship, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1957.
Tomorrow Times Seven: Science Fiction Stories, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1959.
The Man Who Ate the World, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1960.
Drunkard's Walk (also see below), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1960.
(Under pseudonym Ernst Mason) Tiberius (biography), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1960.
Turn Left at Thursday: Three Novelettes and Three Stories, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1961.
The Expert Dreamers, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1962.
The Abominable Earthman, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1963.
The Case against Tomorrow: Science Fiction Short Stories, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1965.
A Plague of Pythons, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1965.
The Frederik Pohl Omnibus, Gollancz (London, England), 1966, portions published as Survival Kit, Panther (London, England), 1979.
Drunkard's Walk, Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1966.
Digits and Dastards, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1968.
The Age of the Pussyfoot (also see below), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1969.
Day Million (short stories), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1970.
Practical Politics, 1972 (nonfiction), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1971.
The Gold at the Starbow's End, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1972.
(With wife, Carol Pohl) Jupiter, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1973.
The Best of Frederik Pohl, introduction by Lester del Rey, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1975.
The Early Pohl, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1976.
In the Problem Pit, Bantam (New York, NY), 1976.
Man Plus, Random House (New York, NY), 1976.
Gateway, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1977, reprinted, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2004.
The Way the Future Was: A Memoir, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1978.
JEM: The Making of a Utopia, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1979.
Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1980.
Syzygy, Bantam (New York, NY), 1981.
The Cool War, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1981.
Planets Three, Berkley (New York, NY), 1982.
Bilpohl, Two Novels: Drunkard's Walk and The Age of the Pussyfoot, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1982.
Starburst, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1982.
Starbow, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1982.
(Author of introduction) New Visions: A Collection of Modern Science Fiction Art, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1982.
Midas World, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1983.
Heechee Rendezvous, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1984.
The Years of the City, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1984.
The Merchant's War, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1984.
Pohlstars, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1984.
Black Star Rising, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1985.
The Coming of the Quantum Cats, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
Terror, Berkley (New York, NY), 1986.
Chernobyl, Bantam (New York, NY), l987.
The Annals of the Heechee, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1987.
Narabedla Ltd., Del Rey (New York, NY), 1988.
The Day the Martians Came, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Homegoing, Del Rey (New York, NY), 1989.
The Gateway Trip: Tales and Vignettes of the Heechee, illustrated by Frank Kelly Freas, Easton Press (Norwalk, CT), 1990.
The World at the End of Time, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1990.
Outnumbering the Dead, illustrated by Steve Crisp, Century, 1990.
(With Isaac Asimov) Our Angry Earth, Tor (New York, NY), 1991.
Stopping at Slowyear, illustrated by Rob Alexander, Axolotl Press (Seattle, WA), 1991.
Mining the Oort, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1992.
(With Thomas T. Thomas) Mars Plus, Baen (New York, NY), 1994.
The Voices of Heaven, Tor (New York, NY), 1994.
The Other End of Time, Tor (New York, NY), 1996.
The Siege of Eternity, Tor (New York, NY), 1997.
O Pioneer!, Tor (New York, NY), 1998.
The Far Shore of Time, Tor (New York, NY), 1999.
Chasing Science: Science As a Spectator Sport (nonfiction), Tor (New York, NY), 2000.
The Boy Who Would Live Forever: A Novel of Gateway, Tor (New York, NY), 2004.
Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories, Tor (New York, NY), 2005.
Also coauthor, with Marion Zimmer Bradley, of Elbow Room. Contributor, sometimes under pseudonyms, to Galaxy, Worlds of Fantasy, Science Fiction Quarterly, Rogue, Impulse, Astonishing, Imagination, If, Beyond, Playboy, Infinity, and other magazines.
WITH CYRIL M. KORNBLUTH
(Under joint pseudonym Cyril Judd) Gunner Cade, Simon & Schuster, 1952.
(Under joint pseudonym Cyril Judd) Outpost Mars, Abelard Press (New York, NY), 1952.
The Space Merchants (also see below), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1953, 2nd edition, 1981.
Search the Sky, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1954.
Gladiator-at-Law, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1955.
A Town Is Drowning, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1955.
Presidential Year, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1956.
(Under joint pseudonym Jordan Park) Sorority House, Lion Press (New York, NY), 1956.
(Under joint pseudonym Jordan Park) The Man of Cold Raaes, Pyramid Publications (New York, NY), 1958.
Wolfbane, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1959.
The Wonder Effect (short stories), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1962, revised edition published as Critical Mass, Bantam (New York, NY), 1977.
Before the Universe and Other Stories: The Best of the Early Work of Science Fiction's Most Famous Team of Collaborators, Bantam (New York, NY), 1980.
Venus, Inc., (includes The Space Merchants and The Merchants' War), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985.
Our Best: The Best of Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, Baen (New York, NY), 1987.
WITH JACK WILLIAMSON
Undersea Quest (also see below), Gnome Press (New York, NY), 1954.
Undersea Fleet (also see below), Gnome Press (New York, NY), 1956.
Undersea City (also see below), Gnome Press (New York, NY), 1958.
The Reefs of Space (also see below), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1963.
Starchild (also see below), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1965.
Rogue Star (also see below), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1969.
Farthest Star: The Saga of Cuckoo, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1975.
The Starchild Trilogy: The Reefs of Space, Starchild, and Rogue Star, Doubleday, 1977.
Wall around a Star, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1983.
Land's End, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1988.
The Singers of Time, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1991.
The Undersea Trilogy (contains Undersea Quest, Undersea Fleet, and Undersea City), Baen (New York, NY), 1992.
Beyond the End of Time, Permabooks (Garden City, NY), 1952.
Star Science Fiction Stories, six volumes, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1953–1959.
Shadow of Tomorrow, Permabooks (Garden City, NY), 1953.
Star Short Novels, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1954.
(And author of introduction) Assignment in Tomorrow: An Anthology, Hanover House (Garden City, NY), 1954.
Star of Stars, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1960, published as Star Fourteen, Whiting & Wheaton (London, England), 1966.
The Expert Dreamer, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1962.
Time Waits for Winthrop and Four Other Short Novels from "Galaxy," Doubleday (New York, NY), 1962.
The Best Science Fiction from "Worlds of If" Magazine, Galaxy Publishing, 1964.
The Seventh Galaxy Reader, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1964.
The Eighth Galaxy Reader, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1965, published as Final Encounter, Curtis Books (New York, NY), 1965.
The If Reader of Science Fiction, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1966.
The Ninth Galaxy Reader, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1966.
The Tenth Galaxy Reader, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967, published as Door to Anywhere, Curtis Books (New York, NY), 1967.
The Second If Reader of Science Fiction, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1968.
The Eleventh Galaxy Reader, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1969.
Nightmare Age, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1970.
Best Science Fiction for 1972, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1973.
(With Carol Pohl) Jupiter, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1973.
(With Carol Pohl) Science Fiction: The Great Years, Ace Books (New York, NY), Volume 1, 1973, Volume 2, 1976.
The Science Fiction Roll of Honor: An Anthology of Fiction and Nonfiction by Guests of Honor at World Science Fiction Conventions, Random House (New York, NY), 1975.
(And author of introduction) The Best of C.M. Kornbluth, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1976.
(With Carol Pohl) Science Fiction Discoveries, Bantam (New York, NY), 1976.
The Best of C.M. Kornbluth, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1976.
(With Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander) Science Fiction of the Forties, Avon (New York, NY), 1978.
(With Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander) Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction, Playboy Press (Chicago, IL), 1980.
Nebula Winners Fourteen, Harper (New York, NY), 1980.
(With Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander) The Great Science Fiction Series: Stories from the Best of the Series from 1944 to 1980, Harper (New York, NY), 1980.
(With son, Frederik Pohl IV) Science Fiction: Studies in Film, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1981.
Yesterday's Tomorrows: Favorite Stories from Forty Years As a Science Fiction Editor, Berkley (New York, NY), 1982.
(With wife, Elizabeth Anne Hill) Tales from the Planet Earth, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.
(With others) Worlds of If: A Retrospective Anthology, Bluejay Books, 1986.
Asimov, Isaac, Our Angry Earth, Tor (New York, NY), 1991.
The SFWA Grand Masters, Volume 1, Tor (New York, NY), 1999.
The SFWA Grand Masters, Volume 2, Tor (New York, NY), 2000.
The SFWA Grand Masters, Volume 3, Tor (New York, NY), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: "Like all the other great men in SF," wrote Algis Budrys in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, "Frederik Pohl is idiosyncratic, essentially self-made, and brilliant. Unlike many of the others, he has an extremely broad range of interests and education." In addition to his obvious affinity for science and writing, Pohl has also shown a lively interest in music and politics. During the course of his long career, which spans more than sixty years, he has made his mark as a writer, editor, literary agent, and enthusiastic promoter of science fiction. He is, Robert Scholes and Eric S. Rabkin asserted in Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision, "one of the few men to make a genuine impact on the science fiction field."
Pohl attended school sporadically as a child, and dropped out completely "as soon as it was legal," as he once commented. The library fed his hunger for knowledge, and he read voraciously. "'Catholic' is the word for my tastes," he explained. "There were days when I would take out a book at random and go home to see what I had found. A lot of what I read was so profoundly trashy that I no longer remember it at all, but in among the volumes of trash were precious insights and inspirations. Somewhere in my mid-teens I discovered the Russians—Tolstoi, Gogol, Pushkin, Dostoevski—and the weirder Americans like Thorne Smith and James Branch Cabell. Before I was old enough to vote I came across the French decadents—Proust and Huysmans in particular, as well as Baudelaire and Anatole France." Visits to museums, movies, and bookstores rounded out his education.
During the 1930s he became involved with several groups devoted to the new field of science fiction, where he met many writers who would be his fellow pioneers in the field: C.M. Kornbluth, Isaac Asimov, and James Blish, among others. By the 1950s, he had written a number of influential books with Kornbluth, which "pioneered and excelled in a completely new kind of science fiction," wrote Charles Platt in Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction. "They invented and played with 'Sociological SF'—alternate futures here on Earth, exaggerating and satirizing real-life social forces and trends." The best of these collaborations was The Space Merchants, a satirical look at a world ruled by advertising; the book was inspired by Pohl's own short stint in an advertising agency. In this world, "exploitation of resources, pollution of environment, and overpopulation are all rampant," Scholes and Rabkin pointed out, "while the advertisers use every device of behavior control including addictive substances in the products. The beauty of [the book] is that it manages to be absurd and at the same time frighteningly close to the way that many people actually think. The lightness of touch and consistency of imagination make it a true classic of science fiction." "This novel is the single work most mentioned when Pohl's fiction is discussed," Stephen H. Goldman of the Dictionary of Literary Biography explained. "It is on every critic's list of science fiction classics and has never been out of print since its first appearance. While Pohl and Kornbluth produced other highly readable novels The Space Merchants remains their single greatest achievement." The book has been translated into over fifteen languages, including Japanese, Hebrew, Serbo-Croatian, Dutch, and Latvian.
As editor of Galaxy and later with Bantam Books, Pohl was a strong supporter of the "new wave" writers in science fiction—writers who borrowed literary techniques from mainstream literature to use in their science fiction, while eliminating what they saw as the genre's clichés. Ironically, Pohl came under fire from some of these writers for being too conservative. "I published the majority of 'new-wave' writers," Pohl told Platt. "It wasn't the stories I objected to, it was the snottiness of the proponents…. The thing that the 'new wave' did that I treasure was to shake up old dinosaurs, like Isaac [Asimov], and for that matter me …, and show them that you do not really have to construct a story according to the 1930s pulp or Hollywood standards."
Some of the new wave's influence can be seen in Pohl's prize-winning novel Gateway. The author has said he considers it his best novel, and many commentators agree with that assessment. Gateway is the story of the discovery of an ancient spaceport of the Heechee, a long-dead civilization. Each spaceship found at the port is operable, but so highly advanced that the propulsion system and the destination for which it is programmed are incomprehensible to humans. A few brave adventurers dare to travel in the ships in a kind of lottery system. "Occasionally," wrote Goldman, "one of the Heechee ships lands at a site that is filled with undiscovered artifacts, and the human riders share in the financial rewards these discoveries can bring." At other times, the adventurers never return, or return dead. The story, Mark Rose of the New Republic found, "conveys a vivid sense of the pathos and absurdity of human ignorance in attempting to exploit a barely understood universe." Patrick Parrinder of the Times Literary Supplement agreed: "The novel is remarkable for its portrayal of human explorers rushing into space in a mood of abject fear and greed, in machines they cannot understand or control."
The story of the spaceport and its hazardous explorations is interspersed with seriocomic scenes involving a guilt-ridden adventurer—an adventurer who made a fortune during a trip on which he was forced to abandon the woman he loves—and his computer psychoanalyst. "Pohl's touch is always light and sure," Rose commented, "and, indeed parts of the novel are extremely funny." Goldman noted that in Gateway "Pohl has finally balanced the demands of an imaginative world and the presentation of a highly complex character…. This balance has led to his most successful novel thus far." In Gateway, Roz Kaveney of Books and Bookmen believed, Pohl "successfully combined wit and humanity in a novel of character. [The result is] a highly competent, darkly witty entertainment." Other critics found the computer psychoanalyst a particularly believable character. "What makes this book so intriguing," Peter Ackroyd wrote in the Spectator, "is not its occasional satire and consistent good humor, but the fact that Pohl has managed to convey the insistent presence of the non-human, a presence which may indeed haunt our future."
Pohl's next novel, JEM: The Making of a Utopia, also won critical praise, including the National Book Award in 1980. Set in the near future when the Earth has been divided into three camps—People, Fuel, and Food—the novel tells the story of three bands of human colonists on another planet. When there is a war and a resulting social breakdown on Earth, the colony is suddenly independent and "must then find a way to reconcile its divisions, both among the colonists and between the colonists and the three excellently depicted native sapient species, if it is to survive," wrote Tom Easton of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Gerald Jonas, writing in the New York Times Book Review, compared JEM to The Space Merchants because "JEM is also social satire—but without the humor." "It is essentially a political allegory," Alex de Jonge of the Spectator observed, "describing the struggle between the world's three blocs … each attempting to colonize a planet."
The colonization of Jem repeats some mistakes made on Earth. "With systematic, undeviating logic," wrote Budrys, "Pohl depicts the consequent rape of Jem. As each of the expeditions struggles to do its best, there are moments of hope, and moments of triumph. But they are all no more than peaks on a downhill slope. The ending of it all is so genuinely sad that one realizes abruptly how rarely SF evokes pure sorrow, and how profound Pohl's vision was in conceiving of this story." Russell Lord of the Christian Science Monitor found it is Pohl's "basically poetic imagination that elevates this novel to a high position among the author's works."
Pohl's 1982 novel, Starburst, was a sequel to one he had written a decade earlier, The Gold at Starbow's End. Starburst concerns four American couples, all perfect physical specimens and geniuses to boot. They are tricked into undertaking a space mission to a nonexistent planet by a scientist who wants to give them limitless time to expand their human knowledge. Their transmissions back to Earth eventually overload the planet's computers, bringing about catastrophe for the planet. A Publishers Weekly writer commented, "This novel is Pohl at his best, blending science, speculation and satire to fascinate us from first page to last." And a contributor to Voice of Youth Advocates called Starburst a "creatively cryptic blending of narrative, scientific, and mythological description. Speculation at its best by the master of the genre!"
In The Voices of Heaven, published in 1994, Pohl features Barry di Hoa, who is hijacked from his comfortable perch on the Moon and forcibly placed on a ship bound for the planet Pava. Once here, he discovers a society of humans in the grips of a fundamentalist religion, whose leaders are prone to instigating mass suicide. He also meets the Lepsnative Pavan creatures that take the form of giant caterpillars early in their life form before evolving into butterflies. Pohl uses the narrative to expound on familiar questions of religion, state, and human behavior. A contributor to the Washington Post Book World remarked that the author created "as chilling an ending as you'll find in modern science fiction" and averred that The Voices of Heaven is "perhaps the most perfectly constructed of all Pohl's books."
During the 1990s Pohl made another significant contribution to the science fiction genre with a trio of novels known as the Eschaton Sequence: The Other End of Time, The Siege of Eternity, and The Far Shore of Time. The story concerns a war over Earth, fought between two alien races: the scarecrow-like Others and the Horch, who are reminiscent of dinosaurs. The Others have implanted transmitters into the brains of many people so that they could monitor key thoughts and senses. The Others promise to protect humans from the Horch, but they also plan to turn them into slaves. "In this war against Ultimate Evil, [human beings] are the hobbits, but without the cuteness, and only the sourest of comic relief," commented Russell Letson in Locus. He went on to say that the irony that pervades The Far Shore of Time made it "the strongest book of the three and a real keeper." Kirkus Reviews contributor Paul M. Lamey rated The Far Shore of Time "solidly engrossing and professionally rendered," and a Publishers Weekly writer found that "Pohl's fertile imagination and subtle characterizations are as evident as ever. The book's densely packed action and impressive world-building make it a gratifying wrap- up to an entertaining series."
During the early 2000s Pohl continued to publish new work, including the nonfiction volume Chasing Science: Science As a Spectator Sport and the fiction volume The Boy Who Would Live Forever: A Novel of Gateway. A book of Pohl's writings, Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories, was also released. It is interesting to note that The Boy Who Would Live Forever is a return to the Heechee and the Gateway Universe after a fourteen-year break from the topic. The story begins when two human boys travel to the Heechee way station. The boys then find themselves embroiled in an effort to save the Heechee from the Kugel, a rival alien species. Critics noted that fans of the Heechee will be glad to read the new release and also noted that the plot of the story leaves room for future installments. In addition, Library Journal reviewer Jackie Cassada applauded the story's "gentle humor," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor stated that the story is "an astonishing eyeful, rich and absorbing."
Although his work as a science fiction writer has brought him an international reputation, Pohl has also played a large role in science fiction publishing, having served stints as the editor of Galaxy magazine, and as editor with the paperback publishing firms of Ballantine, Ace Books, and Bantam. In these positions, he has helped to develop new talent in the genre and publish daring or experimental work by more experienced writers. Among the books Pohl has brought into print are Joanna Russ's The Female Man, a controversial feminist novel, and Samuel Delany's Dhalgren, a novel that had been seeking a publisher for many years before Pohl took a chance on it. Dhalgren went on to sell over one million copies.
For every promising new talent Pohl has nurtured, there have been many instances of frustration, however. In a 1970 interview with Paul Walker for Speaking of Science Fiction, Pohl remarked that the economic demands of the sci-fi industry led to a plethora of overwritten manuscripts. Even those submissions he has read that have some good qualities, he said, "are fat, bloated, stretched out, milked. The reason for this is the pressure of the market; there is little market for short stories and novelettes, an insatiable market for novels. So if you are a writer of moderate talent and standing, what do you do with your short story ideas? Why, you do what everybody else does: you pad them out to 60,000 words, whether they can stand it or not."
Joseph McClellan, writing in the Washington Post Book World, offered an insight into what has made Pohl's writing among the best in twentieth-century science fiction. "Pohl's work," McClellan wrote, "offers science fiction at its best: basic human problems … woven deftly into an intricate plot; pure adventure happening to believable (if not deeply drawn) characters in surroundings almost beyond the borders of imagination; and at the end, when other questions have been laid to rest, the posing of a new question as unfathomable as time and space themselves."
Offering a different view, essayist David N. Samuelson noted in Bookvoices for the Future that Pohl's reputation as a master of his craft does not preclude criticism of his work. While the author "is at the top of American SF writers who are 'fan oriented,'" wrote Samuelson, Pohl still "shows significant defects" as an artist. "Even the best of his fiction is sometimes marred by the intrusion of melodrama, sentimentality, unrationalized fantasy, and other features more or less calculated to appeal to an addicted audience. For the most part, his work seems to lack depth, density, an authentic personal voice, and a sense of style as anything more than a serviceable medium." In Samuelson's opinion, Pohl's shortcomings as a writer stem in part from his commercial instincts as an editor. Years of producing marketable fiction has "no doubt limited him at times to what he though his known audience was willing to accept. If it was narrow and provincial, so were his stories prior to 1952. When satire and social criticism were in, he still felt constrained to gild them with snappy patter, melodramatic plots and irrelevant aliens. His Hugos as editor were won for a magazine committed largely to adventure stories and essentially lightweight material." For his part, Pohl has said that he has schooled himself "to disregard criticism, or at least to discount nine-tenths of it."
Criticism notwithstanding, Pohl remains a "star among stars," according to Robert Wilcox in the St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, who added that the author has "shaped and seasoned the literature of science fiction as almost no one else has. His kaleidoscopic background has equipped him with skills and values possessed by few if any rivals." In Locus Pohl shared his thoughts on what a friend, John Rackham, once termed the 'science fiction method': "The science fiction method is dissection and reconstruction. You look at the world around you, and you take it apart into all its components. Then you take some of those components, throw them away, and plug in different ones, start it up and see what happens."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Aldiss, Brian, Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1973.
Amis, Kingsley, New Maps of Hell: A Survey of Science Fiction, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1960.
Carter, Paul A., The Creation of Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Magazine Science-Fiction, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1977.
Clareson, Thomas D., Frederik Pohl, Borgo Press (San Bernardino, CA), 1987.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 18, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI) 1981.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 8: Twentieth-Century American Science-Fiction Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI) 1981.
Platt, Charles, Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction, Berkley (New York, NY), 1980.
Pohl, Frederik, The Way the Future Was: A Memoir, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1978.
St. James Guide to Science-Fiction Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Scholes, Robert, and Eric S. Rabkin, Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1977.
Short Story Criticism, Volume 25, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI) 1997.
Vision, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1977.
Walker, Paul, Speaking of Science Fiction : The Paul Walker Interviews, Luna Press, 1978.
Analog, February, 1977; January, 1979; December, 1979; May, 1980; December, 1999, Tom Easton, review of The Far Shore of Time, p. 135.
Booklist, May 1, 1999, Roland Green, review of The SFWA Grand Masters, Volume 1, p. 1582; August, 1999, Roberta Johnson review of The Far Shore of Time, p. 2038; March 1, 2000, Roland Green, review of The SFWA Grand Masters, Volume 2, p. 1200; September 15, 2004, Frieda Murray, review of The Boy Who Would Live Forever: A Novel of Gateway, p. 216.
Books and Bookmen, November, 1979.
Christian Science Monitor, June 20, 1979.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1999, Paul M. Lamey, review of The SFWA Grand Masters, Volume 1, p. 496; June 15, 1999, Paul M. Lamey, review of The Far Shore of Time, p. 928; August 15, 2004, review of The Boy Who Would Live Forever, p. 782.
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