Frederik Pohl Has Died

by Henry Farrell on September 3, 2013

Via “Kevin Drum”: who has a good appreciation. Like Coase, he was intellectually active (and “blogging”: up to his death at the age of 93. As everyone says, _The Space Merchants_ is just wonderful – politically lively (I believe Pohl was a Trotskyist at the time), and very, very funny. _Gladiator-At-Law_, his other collaboration with Kornbluth, gets less attention, but is also excellent. Many of his short stories are also very fine, and have much to say about economics and politics – “The Midas Plague,” for example, is a lovely illustration of themes explored in more rarified prose by both Veblen and J.K. Galbraith. His satire of advertising and politics, “The Tunnel Under the World,” which is its own thing, but also foreshadows Dick’s generalized paranoia, is “available for free online”: If you haven’t read it, you should.



Shatterface 09.03.13 at 6:44 pm

My favourite is probably Gateway, a perfect blend of space exploration and psychology.



JakeB 09.03.13 at 6:59 pm

Just last week I was thinking about “In the Problem Pit”, even though I haven’t read that story in 30 or more years. Another great one gone.


herr doktor bimler 09.03.13 at 7:40 pm

Gladiator-At-Law, his other collaboration with Kornbluth, gets less attention

Evidently “Wolfsbane” gets even less.


JimV 09.03.13 at 8:39 pm

I must have a half-dozen better (and worse) Pohl novels, but my first thought after “The Space Merchants” is “Stopping at Slowyear”. Slowyear was a barely-habitable planet which could hardly support its colony, so the people there couldn’t afford the resources to maintain prisons for criminals. They had one form of penalty for all crimes: after being judged guilty, the convict got to chose a pill from a bottle of 1000, and swallow it. For murder, all but one or two of the pills would be poison; for breaking some minor regulation, only ten or fewer might be.


The Raven 09.03.13 at 9:18 pm

Wolfsbane is actually my favorite. There was also Search the Sky, but not the best work of either author.


herr doktor bimler 09.03.13 at 10:12 pm

Wolfsbane is actually my favorite

A Good Thing or a Bad Thing that no-one has tried to film it? Discuss.
(I suspect that Wolfsbane’s Pyramids were the inspiration for the Tet in “Oblivion”, but I can’t be arsed checking this theory)


The Raven 09.03.13 at 10:20 pm

Some of its apparent attitudes have dated badly; one has to get all the way through the book to realize that the authors are standing them on their head. That makes for a hard story to tell as it stands.

But, hmmm, I think it could be filmed. It might end up as an art film, rather than a blockbuster. I wonder what a director would do to deal with the fairly large explanatory lumps in the book.


herr doktor bimler 09.03.13 at 10:46 pm

I suppose the upside-downy plot element of “human beings used as computer components” was recycled in Matrix.
It also turned up in a 1968 short story, “We Fused Ones”. I see from ISFDB that this was published in If magazine, with Pohl as editor… an example of his magnanimity towards other writers borrowing his ideas.


David 09.04.13 at 3:44 am

Not to be overlooked are Man Plusand Age of the Pussyfoot.


bad Jim 09.04.13 at 6:13 am

Synthetic hamburger recalls, of course, the Chicken Little of The Space Merchants. We’re not living in Pohl’s world, yet, but we’re making progress.

As much as I enjoyed some of his novels, I think we ought to regard Pohl as not just an artist but also an inventor and entrepreneur. His ideas are perhaps better than his characters, and his publishing may have been as consequential as his writing.


Adam Roberts 09.04.13 at 7:22 am

I met Pohl once, at a SF Con a few years back, in the authors’ room, or green room, or whatever it was called. He was very old even then, a touch doddery, but nice and with impressive energy. His minder was introducing him to everyone in the room, and he was nodding at our names and shaking our hands, although there was not going to be any point for him in remembering who all these mayfly young writers were. His line, which I thought was fairly clever in the circumstances, was to listen to his interlocutor with every appearance of attention, shake the proffered hand and then say ‘keep reading!‘ in an earnest voice. He said it to us all. Good advice, really.


Monte Davis 09.04.13 at 10:08 am

I’m 63 and began SF addiction early, so fifty years ago I identified Pohl with the P&K collaborations. Liked them a lot, but — to the limited extent I could see the field as a whole — would have put him on the second tier below Heinlein , Clarke, Asimov, you know the drill.

But I was also reading every Galaxy and If… and most of the anthologies he edited, smarter if less numerous than those of Conklin, Merrill, Carr et al… and most of the new writers he was bringing along as agent and editor. Adding those in, along with the freshness and imagination of the Heechee series (which matched anything 20-somethings were doing) I now see his over-all impact c. 1950-1985 as second to none. RIP.

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