Frederik Pohl has died. If you’re reading this and wonder why this is important, there’s a clue or two here. Pohl started publishing in 1937, attended the first Worldcon in 1939, and was part of pretty much everything interesting in science fiction for the next 60 years.
As a writer he co-wrote some of the best satire the field has seen with C.M. Kornbluth, and one of the greatest space adventures too. His fiction was sharp and smart and dark and sometimes sly. There’s a taste of what he could do in his short fiction. He was also an incredible editor, editing Galaxy and If magazines, the influential Star anthology series and novels like Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man. He was instrumental in publishing Cordwainer Smith, R.A. Lafferty and many others. Pohl was an influential literary agent, a Hugo Award winning blogger, and even wrote for the Encyclopedia Brittanica back when that really meant something.
I had a chance to talk to Pohl once. I was at the launch for Scot Edelman’s SF Age at the 1993 WorldCon in San Francisco. The event was held in a large room with big circular ottomans that people were sitting on. I was sitting on one with Jeremy Byrne, when I noticed an elderly couple sitting on the other side of the ottoman (about six or eight feet away). It was Pohl. I was so overcome I couldn’t say anything. I remember whispering in an awed voice to Jeremy “that’s Fred Pohl!”. I couldn’t imagine actually talking to him. I wish I had, because then I could have thanked him for the many hours of pleasure his work gave me, how much I’d loved The Space Merchants and Gateway and Man Plus and The Years of the City. It’s a mistake I won’t make again.
My old friend Charles Brown said the thing that made Fred Pohl so impressive was that he constantly interested in and engaged by the world. He travelled extensively, often with Charles, and that was reflected in his work. With his passing, I think the first great Golden Age of Science Fiction has finally ended. Vale.