Pollack, Rachel (Grace)
POLLACK, Rachel (Grace)
Born Richard A. Pollack, 1945
Also wrote under: Richard A. Pollack
Not much is known in print about Rachel Pollack's personal life, but she is best known as a writer in the science fiction and fantasy genres. She has additionally written extensively in the fields of tarot, arcana, and the occult. Her first science fiction story, "Pandora's Bust" was published in the British pulp magazine New Worlds in 1972 as by "Richard A. Pollack," the legal name Pollack was born under. While living in the Netherlands from 1973 to 1990, Pollack underwent a gender transformation, becoming physically female and legally changing her name to Rachel Grace Pollack. All her subsequent stories have appeared under the latter name.
Pollack's first novel, Golden Vanity (1980), was a space-opera story about aliens running roughshod over the Earth while looking for a runaway female of their own species. Featuring Cecil B. DeMille's "cast of thousands," the book is difficult to follow but makes for an enjoyable read. Alqua Dream (1978) followed, a book, as science fiction critic John Clute noted, was "a rather flat drama of ontology set on an alien planet" in which "the human protagonist, faced with the obdurate Platonism of the inhabitants, must argue metaphysics with them in an attempt to suggest that the sensory world is sufficiently 'real' for them to sell him the rare mineral he needs. The background is voluminously drawn, but the narrative is sluggish."
Pollack finally made an impact on the literary criticism world with her third novel, Unquenchable Fire (1988), which received the Arthur C. Clarke award, given for the best science fiction novel published in England. Based around a reluctant hero who is the Virgin Mary of her world and destined to give birth to the one who will change everything, the narrative is still difficult to wade through, but Pollack's alternate realities do prove to have some hilarious moments. Other Pollack stories, such as "The Protector" (1986), published in British magazine Interzone, depict similarly transformed universes.
Pollack's fourth novel was Temporary Agency (1994), in which "The Malignant One" and the narrator's cousin run a temp agency in the same fantastic America as that of Unquenchable Fire. Fellow science fiction writer Orson Scott Card described Pollack's writing in this book as "like a river in flood, resists the well-channeled ways, cutting its own channel through the fictional terrain." Godmother Night: A Novel (1996), a collaboration with Gordon Van Gelder, long-time editor at St. Martin's Press and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, followed. In yet another contemporary world-setting, two women named Laurie and Jaqe find themselves and each other, only to be separated by Mother Night, a small, elderly woman in extravagant clothes who is, literally, Death. She and her five red-haired, leather-clad bikers cruise through the lives of the lovers and their daughter, leaving behind a tale of heartbreak and humor, of loss and joy, of death and life.
In addition to her fiction writing, Pollack's interests range into the tarot and the occult, where she has penned additional works, including Salvador Dali's Tarot (1985), Teach Yourself Fortune Telling: Palmistry, the Crystal Ball, Runes, Tea Leaves, the Tarot (1986), and Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot: The Minor Arcana and Readings (1989). Her arcane interests led her to coedit with Caitlin Matthews an anthology of original stories called Tarot Tales (1989). In the anthology, each contributor used " oulipo "—short for L'Ouvroir de Litterature Potentialle, translated roughly as "workshop of possible fictions"—techniques to extract story ideas from a tarot pack. Oulipo is an extremely self-conscious, highly Modernist international literary movement founded in 1960 by French authors Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, inspired by the linguistic theories of Ferdinand de Saussurre (1857-1913), and whose proponents have included writers, mathematicians, and fabulists such as Harry Matthews, Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, Ernest Vincent Wright, James Thurber, Thomas M. Disch, and John T. Sladek.
Pollack wrote a nonfiction book with Cheryl Schwartz, The Journey Out: A Guide for and About Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Teens (1995), which gives practical advice on "coming out." Some of her short work—anthologized in Jeffrey M. Elliot's Kindred Spirits: An Anthology of Gay and Lesbian Science Fiction Stories (1984)—reflects her gender change, alternate lifestyle, and sexual world view.
Future Primitive (edited by K. S. Robinson, 1994).
Clute, J., and P. Nicholls, eds., The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993). Mallett, D. F., and R. Reginald, Reginald's Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards: A Comprehensive Guide to the Awards and Their Winners, 2nd ed. (1991), 3rd ed. (1993). Reginald, R., Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature, 1975-1991: A Bibliography of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Fiction Books and Nonfiction Monographs (1992).
—DARYL F. MALLETT