My favorite Fred Pohl book is neither a solo novel nor one of the collaborations with Cyril Kornbluth. Nope, my favorite—and I re-read it every few years—is The Way The Future Was. It covers Fred’s life up to 1978, which is why it is fortunate that the subtitle is “A Memoir” and not “An Autobiography”.
It is, of course, an extremely readable book, as all of his books are. But more to the point, it is an important book, for in truth only Fred and Damon Knight have written about the Futurians in depth, and it’s important to know who they were and what they were like, because except for John Campbell’s stable, they were science fiction. That bunch of kids and young men, most of them social maladroits, did more to shape science fiction and fandom than any other group.
Who were they? Just some youngsters who wanted to take over the field, and except for Don Wollheim and Isaac Asimov and Cyril Kornbluth and Robert A. W. Lowndes and Judith Merril and James Blish and Virginia Kidd and Damon Knight and of course Frederik Pohl, why, most of them never amounted to all that much as science fiction writers and editors.
Fred was the multi-talented one. Wollheim and Lowndes scribbled a few stories, but they were primarily editors. Asimov and Kornbluth and Blish were primarily writers. Merril was a writer and an anthologist. Kidd was a writer and an agent. Knight was a writer and an anthologist. As for Fred, he was and is an award-winning writer, an award-winning magazine editor, the editor of the first-ever series of original anthologies, and yes, even an agent.
So we see not only the inner workings of the Futurians, but the inner workings of the entire science fiction field through Fred’s experience as a writer, pulp editor, a digest editor, a collaborator with such diverse writers as Kornbluth and Jack Williamson, and a book editor. (And, when times got hard and he needed a little steady income, as the guy with the electric prod who “encourages” the winning racehorse to donate a urine specimen to make sure he’s dope-free.)
And finally, totally secure as both a writer and editor, Fred explains how he developed his 4-pages-a-day practice, which he kept up for years, at home, on the road, everywhere. It doesn’t seem like much, just four pages, but with no days off, that’s a trio of 100,000-word novels and ten short stories every year.
It’s through his eyes that we see the science fiction field evolve, from a quarter-of-a-cent-per-word hobby to the point where dozens of writers could actually make a living at it. There’s a lot of humor in this volume, and a lot of history, and, because he is an honest man, what you’ll mostly find is a lot of truth.
If you want to see how we got from where we were to where we are, told with wit and insight, this is the book for you. (And when I had to emcee a Fred Pohl roast some years back, this book was all the source material I needed. Like I say: funny and honest.)
Mike Resnick can be found online at fortunecity.com/tattooine/farmer/2/
- What’s your Favorite Frederik Pohl novel?
- Jody Lynn Nye: Starburst
- Harry Harrison: The Space Merchants
- Vernor Vinge: Slave Ship
- Joe Haldeman: The Space Merchants
- Neil Gaiman: The Age of the Pussyfoot
- Cory Doctorow: The Space Merchants
- David Brin: Wolfbane
- James E. Gunn: Gateway and The Space Merchants
- Gregory Benford & Elisabeth Malatre: Man Plus
- Larry Niven: The Age of the Pussyfoot
- Ben Bova: The Space Merchants
- Phyllis Eisenstein: The Space Merchants