I first encountered Frederick Pohl’s stories when I was young in my exploration of the local library’s SF shelves. I think it was ‘Digits And Dastards’ and a memory of an anthology where using a process, named after its inventor, called the Smith where for long space flights, the human bodies were frozen and the personalities carried in the bodies of chimpanzees so could remain active. I thought the idea novel but just saw Pohl as just another writer in passing.
With Pohl’s collaboration with CM Kornbluth with ‘The Space Merchants’, I must have felt, like a lot of people, that it was about space than a satire about the advertising industry pushed into the future. However, I got caught up in the wind-up even if I thought Kornbluth was more the leading light to see more of what he wrote before he died.
It wasn’t until the late 70s that I tried Pohl solo again. This time with ‘Man Plus’ where a human volunteer, or rather the second after the first died, is modified to live on Mars without a spacesuit for the first space flight there. This was a complete antithesis to Martin Caiden’s ‘Cyborg’ novel, largely because it was dealing with changing an uninjured man with only a vague promise that they could change him back later. Pohl got into the heart of the character and you really felt for him over what was done. I wasn’t too sure about the Mars flight nor the final twist at the end but as a character piece, it did enough for me to try him again.
It was there that I fell for the ‘Heechee’ books, starting off with ‘Gateway’ and the discovery of an asteroid containing small alien spaceships that would take you off to unknown destinations and if you survived the prolonged trip brought back the means to make you very wealthy. With these five books, I became enamoured with Pohl’s work. He wrote characters well bringing them to life on the page and when the Heechee were finally introduced, it wasn’t a letdown. Truly alien but a people you would love to meet.
Although I read other books by Fred Pohl since, the samples above are still the ones that struck me the most and made the biggest impression. His connections to the development of American Science Fiction were vast. If he wasn’t writing alone he was collaborating. He also served as book agent for other SF writers which in the Depression ensured they found work and then as an editor of several magazines before returning to story writing. From my perspective, the difference between the two eras showed the most significant development in Pohl as a writer and probably why I enjoyed his latter books more.
Now at the very grand age of 93, Frederick Pohl has joined the others great SF writers of the Golden Age, no doubt keeping a theoretical deity amused while looking down at the rest of us or studying the cosmos. One of the first and now last of the first generation of SF writers that encouraged my generation into Science Fiction. A salute to his passing.
(c) GF Willmetts 2013