Frederik Pohl is one of science fiction’s most skilled novelists—but I am not writing about his novels. Other critics are on hand here to tell you about them. I want to turn my attention to his skills as an editor, because he is right up there in the editorial pantheon—right at the top.
With the exception, always, of John W. Campbell, Jr. who stands alone. John was the editor who invented modern science fiction. Period. Other editors carried on his founding labors—and leading them all is Fred Pohl.
He has had plenty of competition. In the post-war years the SF magazines boomed. Horace Gold at Galaxy printed admirable fiction dealing with the softer sciences. Tony Boucher loved good writing and saw to it that F&SF featured it whenever possible. (He also opened the door to religion, which is something, I fervently believe, SF can live without.) However Fred was equal to the best of the competition, bettering them most of the time, and certainly exceeding them when it came to longevity. He dropped out of high school at a tender age to edit his first magazine, then edited other magazines—and books—well into the twenty-first century.
As John Campbell proved, an editor can change to the world. In his case, the SF world. In Fred’s case, the parameters of this world. He both plucked winners from the slush pile—and encouraged writers to reach out and create fiction of lasting value. (The slush pile is the heap of unsolicited manuscripts submitted to the editor. Who separates the dross from the gold, extracting he few bits of bullion from the tons of refuse.) It is a wonderful feeling for an editor to discover these stories.
(One of the reasons I feel qualified to judge Fred’s editorial accomplishments is that I have enjoyed a side-career as an editor and know the Eureka! thrill of finding a publishable story among the tons of coffee-stained, paperclip-rusty mss. I have found and published the first sales of 45 writers. 43 have vanished—but I’m still proud of Tom Scortia and James Tiptree, Jr.)
I wonder how many first-sales Fred has published?
A good editor is also creative. Fred actually made the time to read fanzines—and once braced me about a piece I had written in a zine called Ansible; about weapons for use in space war. He took me to task for throwing away a good idea. I got the message. Wrote “No War or Battle’s Sound,” which Fred cheerfully bought.
He has always extended himself—and in doing so has improved our field of writing. An example; some years ago he bought and published a novel by Chip Delany titled Dhalgren. Which many loathed. Since then Chip has gone to a career in academia and his novel has been well received there. (Though still loathed by some…) Was I right or was Fred? The jury is still out.
But Fred always bent the rules to get the stories he wanted for Galaxy. I sent him my novel Bill, the Galactic Hero. Which had been bounced by many book editors. He didn’t do serials—but he did publish the novel as separate stories. And it did go on to a minor sort of literary fame.
What I am saying is that Fred is a great editor.
And his best novel is one that echoes his editorial skills.
It is The Space Merchants—or any of the other various titles that it has been published under. It is a collaboration with Cyril Kornbluth. And it is also the best novel Cyril published.
So there you have it. The best novel that Fred ever wrote—and Cyril as well.
Two for the price of one.
Harry Harrison can be found online at harryharrison.com
- What’s your Favorite Frederik Pohl novel?
- Jody Lynn Nye: Starburst
- Mike Resnick: The Way the Future Was
- 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