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.