Death of a science fiction giant

Tom Jackson
Sep 10, 2013


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. 







I have a dozen or so of his books in my science fiction section. Enjoyed his stories. I only keep those I read several times. The rest, read once and either donated, sold or traded in at several used book stores... for more books to read. I rarely watch more than a couple hours of TV per week.


With his work, he found
what eludes the rest of us

Well done, Tom Jackson


@ Mr. Jackson:

Thanks for the heads-up.

I was never a great FP fan, though I've undoubtedly read some of his short stories.


I was talking to an elderly neighbor a couple weeks ago who informed me that a Kindle has him reading SF once again.

He said that he no longer watches the news or TV, and that his eyesight is poor making it difficult for him to read regular print copy.

He said that he downloads old SF stories in bulk for 99¢.

We had a nice discussion regarding the old SF writers.

Have a great day.

Tom Jackson


There is indeed a lot of very cheap SF available for Kindle, and as you note, one big advantage is that the size of the type can be adjusted to whatever you need. 


The newer paper white version is so much easier to read with the contrast they now have also.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

I actually feel a bit embarrassed I wasn't aware of this man and his (pardon the pun) storied career! It is well worth taking a look at his works. I forgot if I made a comment in your blog about it, but I certainly brought it up with my role players about your report of the death of Jack Vance since "Vancian magic" is what is used in Dungeons & Dragons and other games.


@ Mr. Jackson:

Thanks for the response.


My elderly neighbor also told me that his step father lived next door to Robt. Heinlein in AZ, who gave him signed first editions of his books to read.

I gotta get down to his house and see those!

I told him that I would like to see two of my favorites: "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" & "Stranger in a Strange Land" made into movies.

thinkagain's picture

Call me old fashioned, but I’ve found the public library meets my science fiction needs. Haven’t read it since the early 70’s, so I thought it was time to reread possibly the greatest science fiction ever. Starting at the 11,998th year of the Galactic Era.

Pterocarya frax...

I thought you would get enough fiction from reading the bible.

thinkagain's picture

In the realm of scientism, everything must have a cause, and yet those who scoff at the notion of a Prime Mover suggest that the origin of all matter and everything that exists in the universe did not have a first cause.

Pterocarya frax...

Maybe you should re read your science books.


Re: "...enough fiction from reading the bible."

Is the Bible factually true? Opinions vary.

Are there "truths" in the Bible? Without a doubt.

Pterocarya frax...

Is there fiction in the bible? Without a doubt.


Re: "Is there fiction in the bible? Without a doubt."

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." (Hamlet Act 1, scene 5,)


"Gateway" (and the entire rest of the Heechee novels, for that matter) was really good stuff. Despite having been written awhile ago, Pohl was good enough and knowledgeable enough that it's holding up really well.

There are fewer and fewer writers these days who can even begin to hold a candle to the Grand Masters, and losing another one is a sad, sad thing for every SF fan. Fantasy is all over the place these days, but decent SF? Not so much. Ah, well, perhaps I'll reread the Heechee series in remembrance...