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Death of a science fiction giant

Tom Jackson • Sep 10, 2013 at 3:41 PM

A  very important literary figure died a few days ago while I was on vacation, but because he wasn't the "right" kind of writer, you might have missed it.

Frederik Pohl (1919-2013), who died Sept. 2, enjoyed perhaps the most amazing science fiction career of any author or editor.

I've been a science fiction fan since my teens. I cannot think of anyone else who was (1) famous and successful as an author but also (2) famous as an author collaborating with other authors, (3) famous as a magazine editor and (4) famous as a book editor.

Pohl collaborated on books with several authors, among them Lester Del Rey, Jack Williamson, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, but he was best known for the works he created in collaboration with Cyril Kornbluth. One of their joint efforts, "The Space Merchants," was included in the Library of America's new collection of 1950s science fiction novels.

Pohl also wrote many novels and short stories on his own. "Gateway," his best-known book, won the Hugo Award, the Nebula, the John W. Campbell Award and the Locus Award.

While the science fiction field has had famous magazine editors (such as John Campbell, who nurtured many Golden Age writers such as Asimov and Robert Heinlein) and book editors (such as Terry Carr), it's hard to think of anyone who was a big success doing both. Pohl, however, published many famous stories as the editor of If and Galaxy magazines. As a book editor, he published important and controversial books such as "The Female Man" by Joanna Russ and "Dhalgren" by Samuel R. Delany.

I could also mention that Pohl was a literary agent who sold Asimov's first novel, "Pebble in the Sky," to a publisher in 1950. He was a co-founder of The Futurians, a famous science fiction fan club in New York City that included Asimov and figures such as James Blish, Damon Knight and Judith Merril (whom Pohl later married.)

When the first world science fiction convention was held in New York City in 1939, Pohl and several others managed to get themselves banned from the event, thus setting a precedent for famous feuds in the world of science fiction. Pohl explained, "What we Futurians made very clear to the rest of New York fandom was that we thought we were better than they were. For some reason that annoyed them."

Pohl, 93 when he died, remained active as a writer until his death. His blog, The Way the Future Blogs, dishes the dirt on old friends such as Asimov and Heinlein. 

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