We’ve lost another giant—maybe the last of his generation of Golden Age science fiction. Frederik Pohl, along with Clarke, Heinlein, and Asimov, occupied a central position in my formative years as a lover of science fiction. More than any of the others, he kept growing in maturity and ambition as a writer—showing a burst of enormous creativity in his late 50s, with two of his finest books, Man Plus (1976) and Gateway (1977). I consider Gateway one of the top five books in all of science fiction, and I’m not sure what the other four would be.
I first encountered his work, I believe, in The Space Merchants, which he coauthored in 1953 with C.M. Kornbluth. (I didn’t read it in 1953; I was only four years old at the time. I started reading him in my teens.) I still have many old paperbacks of his earlier work on my shelf. Just scanning a list of his titles evokes all kinds of feelings of golden-age sense of wonder: Search the Sky, Gladiator-At-Law, Drunkard’s Walk (which I was especially fond of as a teenager because of the tastefully drawn naked woman on the cover), Starchild, Rogue Star, Turn Left at Thursday, Starburst, The Siege of Eternity, The Case Against Tomorrow….
And yes, the title of my own work in progress, The Reefs of Time, is a knowing echo of his The Reefs of Space.
Pohl did just about everything there was to do in the SF world. He was an editor (Galaxy magazine), an agent, a solo writer, a collaborative writer, a futurist, a columnist and blogger, a president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and a SFWA Grandmaster. He was also a perfect gentleman, and a fascinating speaker. I only met him once or twice, but he treated me, a fresh upstart, with graciousness and warmth.
I hope he’s enjoying a perfect view of the stars from where he is right now, perhaps sitting around a table with some of the other departed greats, in the observation lounge of a heavenly starship. Godspeed, Frederik Pohl, and thank you for all of the visions.