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On the Death of Frederic Pohl, Science Fiction Grandmaster

The last of a great generation of visionary writers departs.

by
Sarah Hoyt

Bio

September 8, 2013 - 6:00 pm

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Frederic Pohl died this week.  He was the last of the authors I grew up reading.  I won’t lie and say he was my favorite, but I have one poignant memory of him.

It was 2000 and I’d just sold my first series, the Magical Shakespeare trilogy.  I wasn’t incredibly young, at thirty eight, but I was relatively young for a published author.  (As Charlie mentions in Book Plug Friday, it used to be a long slog to even break in to publishing.)

There was a large “newly published” class who had just broken in. We were ebullient; we thought we were headed to success, and we hung out in a large, noisy group, hitting all the parties together.

At one of the parties, we were all making jokes and laughing, and I looked over and realized that Frederic Pohl was sitting alone in a corner looking at picture someone had tacked up on the wall of all the greats together: Heinlein, Asimov, Pol Anderson and, yes, Frederic Pohl. I went over and he gestured to the picture and told me “they’re all gone.  All of them.”

It was moment of reminder of the cycles of science fiction: the young authors who come in, should they live long enough, will be the last ones standing from their generation.

Thirteen years later, most of my friends who broke in with me are sidelined, and can no longer get published, or gave up writing altogether.  And Frederic Pohl has gone forth hopefully to where his old friends gave him an uproarious welcome.

The Telegraph eulogized him as a man who shattered utopias:

Mr. Pohl was involved in publishing since he was a teenager, when he served as a literary agent for his science fiction-writing young friends. He went on to edit magazines and books before finding renown as a writer, often with collaborators.

Perhaps the most famous of his anti-utopian novels was “The Space Merchants,” a prescient satire that Mr. Pohl wrote in the early 1950s with Cyril M. Kornbluth. More than a decade before the surgeon general’s report on smoking and health, the authors imagined a future dominated by advertising executives who compete to hook consumers on interlocking chains of addictive products. One such chain is started by a few mouthfuls of Crunchies.

While I didn’t see eye to eye with Frederic Pohl on politics, later on at a dinner, in that 2000 World Con, he told me that Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, arguably my favorite novel was “the best novel ever written.” For which clear sighted vision he’ll always have my admiration.

Sarah Hoyt lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons and too many cats. She has published Darkship Thieves and 16 other novels, and over 100 short stories. Writing non-fiction is a new, daunting endeavor. For more on Sarah and samples of her writing, look around at Sarah A. Hoyt.com or check out her writing and life blog at According to Hoyt.com.

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All Comments   (3)
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The Space merchants is the best novel ever written, in my opinion.
Pohl was the a great leader of science fiction, in addition to being a writer He was in the futurians, the first science fiction fan club, and as editor and writer.
I still remember when he moved to Palatine, Ill. This is a small suburb west of Chicago. It was like a god descended from Mt. Olympious.
Lately, I have readin some of Cynbruth's writings.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A wonderful tribute.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In terms of his influence on the genre, Pohl is perhaps the most underrated of the genre's figures. His influence was sometimes hands on, as in the case of Larry Niven's early short work about Known Space.

Pohl wrote what is for me, one of SF's greatest mystery novels, Beyond the Blue Event Horizon. Normally Pohl's work had a yeoman-like, always reliable feel to them that rarely hit the heights of pure artistry others did. Nevertheless, without Pohl, an awful lot of good stuff would be missing from SF.

I regard Niven's Tales of Known Space and Neutron Star 2 of the greatest single author SF anthologies ever. Without Pohl I don't think they would exist.

Niven in turn co-authored arguably as good an SF novel as has ever been written, The Mote in God's Eye, which had a heavy and crucial hand of editorial help from Heinlein.
1 year ago
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