Genre fiction Grand Master Frederik Pohl was born on November 26, 1919. Sadly, he died in September of this year. Rather than remember the sorrow, we thought we’d focus on the joy we, and others, received from reading his work. To that end, we’ve delved into our newsletter archives, to July of 2010, and the publication of Gateways. We asked Pohl’s wife, Elizabeth Anne Hull, to discuss the tribute to her husband, from authors who have been influenced by his work. Happy birthday, Frederik Pohl, and know that we miss you! In the meantime, enjoy this blast from the past, and be sure to check back on our usual every other Thursday for more.
By Elizabeth Anne Hull
To celebrate my husband’s 90th orbit of the sun, I’m proud to have persuaded eighteen of the top writers in science fiction to contribute a story, and then to write an afterword, for this special anthology. Moreover, there are nine other appreciations of Fred, and these non-fiction pieces are exciting for me and for any serious fan who wants to know more about how we got where we are today in this literary movement Trufans call SF. For example, the memoirs by Bob Silverberg, Jim Gunn, Gardner Dozois, and Harry Harrison—themselves highly influential people who helped make the genre more respectable around the world—tell as much about the field and the way it was cultivated as they do about Fred and the way he encouraged each of them personally.
The main event here, of course, is the science fiction. Joe Haldeman, Mike Resnick, Frank Robinson, Harry Harrison, and Jody Lynn Nye each wrote a superb new tale. Many of the stories are inspired, either directly or indirectly, by Fred’s own fiction, most commonly by Fred’s favorite tale—the one he claims he is willing to have engraved on his monument when he dies—“Day Million.” I was delighted to realize that Gene Wolfe wrote that kind of singularity story, set in a world in an unspecified time—presumably our future—when humans had changed so much that their very nature has to be explained, or in Gene’s case, demonstrated by his first-person narrator.
The title of Cory Doctorow’s novella leaves no doubt that he was influenced by The Space Merchants, but what he has done with the concept is entirely fresh and original, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that fifty years from now “Chicken Little” will have become a classic in its own right.
In Jim Gunn’s remarkable four first-person narratives of intelligent alien races, he lets the aliens reveal themselves by what they say and how they say it, and by what they each choose to tell us about themselves. I believe Jim was influenced not only by Fred’s many novels and stories in which he created original alien species but also by the many summers he and Fred spent critiquing young writers in the workshops at the University of Kansas.
Then there are some stories that are…well, Fred Pohl-ish stories, like Vernor Vinge’s piece. I was tickled to see Vernor write a story that I think Fred would be proud to have written himself.
Sometimes Fred’s influence was as an editor, when he put a writer’s work before the public. I believe Sheri Tepper’s satiric gifts were encouraged by Fred, and Ben Bova shows in his story that he understands that the sense of humor is just as important as the “sensawunda.”
This project has been a labor of love, not just for me, but also, judging from the fact that all the super-busy contributors found time to send their new works—Neil Gaiman’s coming all the way from China!—for everyone involved.
Oh, and one other thing I must mention: Fred has been nominated for a Hugo for Best Fan Writer—for thewaythefutureblogs.com. Be sure to check it out. The Master is still happily writing every day, and is currently putting some finishing touches on his newest novel, All the Lives He Led, scheduled for next spring from Tor.