The great SF writer Frederik Pohl is dead

Frederick Pohl, the great science fiction writer, died earlier this month at the age of 93.  He was politically aware, scientifically literate and a fine storyteller.  His stories are imbued with a hopeful cynicism—a knowingness about how the world actually works and the possibility it can be made better.

I have read and admired Pohl’s work for 60 years, since as a teenager in 1952, I read “Gravy Planet,” a serialized novel in Galaxy magazine by Pohl and his friend Cyril M. Kornbluth about a future United States ruled by advertising agencies and corporations.  Pohl’s imagined future society has no tolerance for subversives known as the “Consies”—conservationists, or what we’d now call environmentalists, who oppose unlimited consumption.  One of the characters says that these fears were unfounded.  When the world’s oil and gas was used up, “science invented the pedi-cab.”

waythefuturewasThe serial was published the following year in book form as The Space Merchants, which critics consider to be one of Pohl’s two greatest novels, along with Gateway, published in 1977.  If you have any liking for grown-up science-fiction—as distinguished from science fiction as wish-fulfillment fantasy [1]—I’d recommend one of these two novels or Slave Ship, The Age of the Pussyfoot, Man Plus, Jem or The World at the End of Time.

Pohl  also was a fine short-story writer.  Some of his best were “The Midas Plague,” “The Gold at Starbow’s End,” “The Merchants of Venus” and “The Tunnel Under the World”—the latter a Philip K. Dick-type story written before Philip K. Dick was ever heard of.

He was a Unitarian-Universalist, like me, and UUs will be amused by the Unitarian minister protagonist in The Cool War and the Unitarian exorcism performed in A Plague of Pythons.  

While nothing Pohl wrote was completely without interest, some of his works—especially sequels to his most popular works—were not as good as his best.  If you’re curious about Pohl and not familiar with his work, I’d recommend you keep your eye open for the titles I mentioned the next time you’re in a used-book store or the stacks of your public library.  They’re better than 99 percent of what you’ll see in the SF section of Barnes & Noble.


Click on the following links for more.

Frederik Pohl, Nov. 26, 1919 – Sept. 2, 2013, his formal obituary, which was the final entry on his web log, The Way the Future Blogs.

RIP Frederik Pohl, the man who transformed science fiction [2] by Annalee Newitz for io9.

Science fiction titan Frederik Pohl dies, age 93 [3] by Simon Sharwood for the UK’s SciTech Register.

Frederik Pohl, 1919-2013, an appreciation of Pohl’s later work by a younger [4] reader.  [added 9/7/13]

The Tunnel Under the World, the text of a Pohl short story.

[1] Not that there’s anything wrong with escape literature.  I’m fond of escape literature.  But what Pohl wrote was based on speculation grounded in reality.

[2] For the record, “Gravy Planet” was a novel-length serial, not a short story.

[3] For the record, The World at the End of Time was not space opera, by which is meant an adventure story set against a standard SF background.  It is, in fact, a meditation on aging and mortality.  The protagonist (as a result of several long hibernations) lives nearly to the end of the life of the universe, but still has to hand over his uncompleted projects to the next generation.

[4] Younger compared to me.

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3 Responses to “The great SF writer Frederik Pohl is dead”

  1. robstroud Says:

    Phil, I have read elsewhere that Pohl was Unitarian Universalist, but can’t track down an original source reference (e.g. in his own words). Could you help me with my quest?


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