Frederik Pohl (1919-2013)

All of us at Gollancz and SF Gateway are saddened to learn of the death yesterday of Frederik Pohl: author, editor, literary agent and fan.

Frederik Pohl, 2008, copyright AllyUnionPohl was a member of the influential SF group The Futurians, along with such major SF figures as Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Damon Knight, C.M. Kornbluth, Judith Merril and Donald Wollheim. Throughout a long and glittering career, he collaborated with some of the (other!) great names of science fiction, including Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Lester del Rey, Jack Williamson and, notably, C.M. Kornbluth on the acclaimed The Space Merchants, among others.

He won the Hugo Award seven times (three times as editor of Galaxy, twice for short fiction, once for the novel Gateway and once as fan writer), the Nebula Award two years running – for  Man Plus and Gateway – and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award twice (in 1978 for Gateway and in 1985 for The Years of the City). He also won ten career achievement awards, including the SFWA Grand Master Award in 1993, and was inducted in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1998.

For more on one of the great figures of the field, we recommend Frederik Pohl’s entry  at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, and his blog, The Way the Future Blogs, a treasure trove of political commentary, personal reminiscences and snapshots of the history of field from one who lived through it.

We end with some thoughts from Gollancz Associate Publisher Simon Spanton:

I first encountered Fred Pohl when I was eighteen or so and read Jem. A book whose aliens I still remember now. It was the first time I was really asked to think about an alien environment and how that might effect the lifeforms that evolved within it. That might sound dry but the aliens were described so vividly that I remember being excited by the discovery. An excitement I can still feel now when I think back to it. That’s as good a test of a writer’s ability as any I can think of.

I returned to Pohl’s writing here and there in the intervening years and he always managed to make an impact with his storytelling but also to make me think. There’s a subversive edge in his writing that I only came to truly appreciate in later years. Gateway is generally considered to be his masterpiece and the subversion in that book is in its premise – that brutal game of Russian roulette that our greed and sense of adventure forces us to play. But my favourite of his books is The Space Merchants, the novel he wrote with C.M. Kornbluth. This is a savagely funny satire on consumerism – using SF to take the premise that everything is for sale to its logical madness. It’s an SF novel that stands the test of time – its predictions (about the nature of society rather than its technical details) feel more prescient by the day.

Pohl was damn clever and damn readable. He used SF properly and he used SF really well. A long life which produced so much for others to enjoy is a life to be celebrated.

Frederik Pohl (1919-2013). Rest in Peace.