Authors: Frederik Pohl

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

American science-fiction novelist and short-story writer.

November 26, 1919

New York, New York

September 2, 2013

Palatine, Illinois

Biography

Frederik Pohl was one of the best-known and most prolific American writers of science fiction. He was born in New York City on November 26, 1919, the only child of Anna Jane Mason and Fred George Pohl. His father was a machinist whose work brought him and his family from New York to Panama, Texas, and California before they returned to New York. As a result of this peripatetic life, the young Frederik attended a number of public schools, although he preferred to remain at home and learn from his mother. In 1930 his father left the family, and his mother went to work to support them. Pohl was left to his own devices, and he spent much of his free time in museums and motion-picture theaters. He did attend public school, but Pohl’s formal education, by his own estimation, was less than nine years. He never finished high school, dropping out at age seventeen. His favorite subjects in school were music and science.

Frederik Pohl.

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Outside the classroom, Pohl was a voracious reader; the Brooklyn Public Library was a favorite haunt. He preferred fiction, reading in all genres. In the 1930s he discovered science fiction and began writing short stories for publication in the various fan magazines, or fanzines, published in New York City. Pohl also joined numerous science-fiction clubs, the most important of which was the Futurian Society of New York, a club whose members included future science-fiction greats such as Isaac Asimov, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Judith Merril, and James Blish. Pohl considered this decade critical to his personal development, as his main interests—writing, politics, science, and music—developed during the period.

During World War II, Pohl volunteered for the Army and was assigned to the US Army Air Force. He served in a weather squadron in the European theater of operations and received seven battle stars. At the end of the war, he returned to New York City and became an advertising copywriter for the advertising agency of Thwing and Altman. He then moved to Popular Science magazine, working in the circulation and promotion departments, before becoming a copywriter and book editor. Four years later, he became a literary agent, specializing in science-fiction authors such as Asimov, Robert Sheckley, and Fritz Leiber Jr. Although he was successful in working with authors, there was not enough money to be made in representing them, and Pohl decided to write for himself.

His first major success was a serialized work called Gravy Planet (1952), coauthored with Kornbluth. Published first in Galaxy, the leading science-fiction magazine of the time, the work was renamed The Space Merchants and released as a book in 1953. An immediate best-seller, it has remained in print in English and in more than twenty translations. The work also established a Pohl formula: extrapolating trend into satire. In The Space Merchants Pohl and Kornbluth study the practice of manipulation, in this case through advertising, a theme that continued to dominate Pohl’s later works.

The success of The Space Merchants allowed Pohl to become a full-time writer. In the following three decades he wrote more than three dozen novels (some coauthored), edited numerous anthologies, and wrote dozens of short stories, most of which were published several times. He also edited Galaxy magazine from 1961 to 1969, served as executive editor of Ace Books in 1971–72, and was science-fiction editor of Bantam Books between 1973 and 1978. At a year-round pace of four pages per day, Pohl’s writing accumulated prodigiously, including the popular Heechee series that began with Gateway in 1976 (published in book form in 1977) and ended with the short-story collection The Gateway Trip in 1990.

As Pohl’s popularity grew, so did demands on his time. He had long enjoyed travel, but fortuitous articles in Business Week and the New York Times Sunday Magazine showcased his speaking talents, resulting in numerous speaking engagements at business meetings and conventions. He became a much-sought-after speaker, lecturing at over two hundred colleges around the world and appearing on hundreds of radio and television programs. Pohl became, for several decades, an articulate spokesman not only for science fiction but also for various causes and issues, such as the Democratic Party and world peace, which he espoused. He served as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) from 1974 to 1976. He also produced works in science, technology, and history, even becoming Encyclopedia Britannica’s authority on the Roman emperor Tiberius. Pohl himself conceded that the demands on his time of his writing and traveling contributed to his lack of marital success; he was married five times, to fellow Futurian Leslie Perri (1940–44), Dorothy LesTina (1945–47), Judith Merril (1948–52), Carol M. Ulf Stanton (1953–83), and Elizabeth Anne Hull (from 1984 until his death in 2013). He had four children, one with Merril and three with Stanton.

Pohl’s contribution to the development of the genre of science fiction is substantial. While the quantity of his output is enormous, the quality of his work is evidenced by the awards he received. He won six International Science Fiction Achievement Awards (now Hugo Awards), three as editor (1966, 1967, 1968) and three as author (1973, 1978, 1986). He has also received several other prestigious awards for his writing, including the 1966 Edward E. Smith Memorial Award; two John W. Campbell Awards for best science-fiction novel, for Gateway and The Years of the City (1984); and two Nebula Awards (voted by active members of the SFWA), for Man Plus (1976) and Gateway. In 1993 he received the Grand Master Nebula Award. Just as significantly, Pohl was directly responsible for the success of many other science-fiction writers, both older and younger generations, for his talents as editor and agent molded many writing careers.

Pohl’s greatest contribution to his genre may simply have been himself. As an ambassador of and spokesman for science fiction, he has had few peers. It is no overstatement to say that he, along with a very limited number of other writers, made science fiction popular. As the genre metamorphosed from mere wish fulfillment to respectable fiction, Pohl played a major role in all aspects of that transformation. Moreover, he was personally responsible for organizing and developing the major organizations of science-fiction writers. Thus Pohl must be ranked as one of the most outstanding persons in the field of science fiction.

Author Works Long Fiction: The Space Merchants, 1952 (serial, as Gravy Planet), 1953 (book; with C. M. Kornbluth) Danger Moon, 1953 (novella; also known as Red Moon of Danger, 1982) Gladiator-at-Law, 1954 (serial), 1955 (book; with C. M. Kornbluth) Search the Sky, 1954 (with C. M. Kornbluth) Undersea Quest, 1954 (with Jack Williamson) Preferred Risk, 1955 (with Lester del Rey) A Town Is Drowning, 1955 (with C. M. Kornbluth) The God of Channel 1, 1956 Presidential Year, 1956 (with C. M. Kornbluth) Slave Ship, 1956 (serial), 1957 (book) Sorority House, 1956 (with C. M. Kornbluth) Turn the Tigers Loose, 1956 (uncredited; with Walter Lasly) Undersea Fleet, 1956 (with Jack Williamson) The Case against Tomorrow, 1957 Edge of the City, 1957 Wolfbane, 1957 (serial), 1959 (book; with C. M. Kornbluth) The Man of Cold Rages, 1958 (with C. M. Kornbluth) Undersea City, 1958 (with Jack Williamson) Tomorrow Times Seven, 1959 Drunkard’s Walk, 1960 A Plague of Pythons, 1962 (serial), 1965 (book; also known as Demon in the Skull, 1984) The Reefs of Space, 1963 (serial), 1964 (book; with Jack Williamson) Starchild, 1965 (with Jack Williamson) The Age of the Pussyfoot, 1965 (serial), 1969 (book) Rogue Star, 1968 (serial), 1969 (book; with Jack Williamson) Farthest Star: The Saga of Cuckoo, 1975 (with Jack Williamson) Man Plus, 1976 Gateway, 1976 (serial), 1977 (book) The Starchild Trilogy, 1977 (with Jack Williamson; contains The Reefs of Space, Starchild, and Rogue Star) Jem, 1978–80 (serial), 1979 (book) Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, 1980 The Cool War, 1981 BiPohl: Two Complete Novels, 1982 (contains The Age of the Pussyfoot and Drunkard’s Walk) Planets Three, 1982 (novellas) Starburst, 1982 Syzygy, 1982 Wall around a Star, 1983 (with Jack Williamson) The Saga of Cuckoo, 1983 (with Jack Williamson; contains Farthest Star and Wall around a Star) Heechee Rendezvous, 1984 The Merchants’ War, 1984 The Years of the City, 1984 (novellas) Black Star Rising, 1985 Venus, Inc., 1985 (with C. M. Kornbluth; contains The Space Merchants and The Merchants’ War) The Coming of the Quantum Cats, 1986 Terror, 1986 The Annals of the Heechee, 1987 Chernobyl, 1987 The Day the Martians Came, 1988 (incorporates earlier short stories) Land’s End, 1988 (with Jack Williamson) Narabedla Ltd., 1988 Homegoing, 1989 Outnumbering the Dead, 1990 (novella) The World at the End of Time, 1990 The Singers of Time, 1991 (with Jack Williamson) Mining the Oort, 1992 Stopping at Slowyear, 1992 (novella) The Undersea Trilogy, 1992 (with Jack Williamson; contains Undersea Quest, Undersea Fleet, and Undersea City) Mars Plus, 1994 (with Thomas T. Thomas) The Voices of Heaven, 1994 The Other End of Time, 1996 The Siege of Eternity, 1997 O Pioneer!, 1997 (serial), 1998 (book) The Far Shore of Time, 1999 The Eschaton Sequence, 1999 (contains The Other End of Time, The Siege of Eternity, and The Far Shore of Time) The Boy Who Would Live Forever, 2004 The Last Theorem, 2008 (with Arthur C. Clarke) All the Lives He Led, 2011 Short Fiction: Alternating Currents, 1956 The Case against Tomorrow, 1957 Tomorrow Times Seven: Science Fiction Stories, 1959 The Man Who Ate the World, 1960 Turn Left at Thursday, 1961 The Wonder Effect, 1962 (with C. M. Kornbluth) The Abominable Earthman, 1963 Digits and Dastards, 1966 The Frederik Pohl Omnibus, 1966 Day Million, 1970 The Gold at the Starbow’s End, 1972 The Best of Frederik Pohl, 1975 (Lester del Rey, editor) The Early Pohl, 1976 In the Problem Pit, 1976 Critical Mass, 1977 (with C. M. Kornbluth) Survival Kit, 1979 Before the Universe, and Other Stories, 1980 (with C. M. Kornbluth) Midas World, 1983 Pohlstars, 1984 Our Best: The Best of Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, 1987 (with C. M. Kornbluth) The Gateway Trip: Tales and Vignettes of the Heechee, 1990 Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories, 2005 Nonfiction: Tiberius, 1960 (as Ernst Mason) Practical Politics, 1972, 1971 The Way the Future Was: A Memoir, 1978 Science Fiction: Studies in Film, 1981 (with Frederik Pohl IV) Our Angry Earth, 1991 (with Isaac Asimov) Chasing Science: Science as Spectator Sport, 2000 Edited Texts: Beyond the End of Time, 1952 Assignment in Tomorrow: An Anthology, 1954 Star Short Novels, 1954 Star of Stars, 1960 (also known as Star Fourteen, 1966) The Expert Dreamers, 1962 Time Waits for Winthrop, and Four Other Short Novels from Galaxy, 1962 The Seventh Galaxy Reader, 1964 The Eighth Galaxy Reader, 1965 (also known as Final Encounter, 1970) The If Reader of Science Fiction, 1966 The Ninth Galaxy Reader, 1966 The Tenth Galaxy Reader, 1967 (also known as Door to Anywhere, 1970) The Second If Reader of Science Fiction, 1968 The Eleventh Galaxy Reader, 1969 Nightmare Age, 1970 Best Science Fiction for 1972, 1972 Jupiter, 1973 (with Carol Pohl) Science Fiction: The Great Years, 1973–76 (2 volumes; with Carol Pohl) The Science Fiction Roll of Honor: An Anthology of Fiction and Nonfiction by Guests of Honor at World Science Fiction Conventions, 1975 The Best of C. M. Kornbluth, 1976 Science Fiction Discoveries, 1976 (with Carol Pohl) Science Fiction of the Forties, 1978 (with Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph Olander) Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction, 1980 (with Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph Olander) The Great Science Fiction Series: Stories from the Best of the Series from 1944 to 1980 by Twenty All-Time Favorite Writers, 1980 (with Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph Olander) Nebula Winners Fourteen, 1980 Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Favorite Stories from Forty Years as a Science Fiction Editor, 1982 Tales from the Planet Earth, 1986 (with Elizabeth Anne Hull) Worlds of If: A Retrospective Anthology, 1986 (with Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph Olander) Future Quartet: Earth in the Year 2042; A Four-Part Invention, 1994 (with Ben Bova, Jerry Pournelle, and Charles Sheffield) The SFWA Grand Masters, 1999–2001 (3 volumes) Bibliography Aldiss, Brian. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. Atheneum, 1986. Includes insights into Pohl’s writing. Barron, Neil, editor. Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction. 5th ed., Libraries Unlimited, 2004. Includes an analysis of Pohl’s work. Clareson, Thomas D. Frederik Pohl. Starmont House, 1987. A book-length study. Clareson, Thomas D. Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction: The Formative Period, 1926–1970. U of South Carolina P, 1990. Analyzes Pohl’s influence on science fiction in mid-twentieth-century America. Hassler, Donald M. “Swift, Pohl, and Kornbluth: Publicists Anatomize Newness.” Extrapolation, vol. 34, no. 3, 1993, pp. 245–50. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9311194270&site=ehost-live. Accessed 10 Aug. 2017. Describes the influence of Jonathan Swift’s political satire on Pohl and Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants. Knight, Damon. The Futurians: The Story of the Science Fiction “Family” of the ’30s That Produced Today's Top SF Writers and Editors. John Day, 1977. A history of the group that spawned many of the best American science-fiction writers of the twentieth century. McClintock, Michael W. “The Problem of Stopping at Slowyear.” Extrapolation, vol. 38, no. 4, 1997, pp. 304–17. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=147644&site=ehost-live. Accessed 10 Aug. 2017. Compares Pohl’s novel with the work of novelist E. M. Forster.

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