Frederik Pohl Essay - Critical Essays

Pohl, Frederik (Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Pohl, Frederik 1919–

Pohl is an American science fiction novelist, short story writer, poet, and science fiction magazine editor whose futuristic fiction provides social criticism of the twentieth century. Describing his work as a form of "cautionary literature," he explores the possibilities of space travel in an expanding and polluted universe. Pohl has collaborated on many of his novels with Cyril M. Kornbluth and Jack Williamson. He has received the Hugo award several times. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 61-64.)

T. A. Shippey

Once upon a time the sneer at science fiction was that all its characters, human, Martian, or bug-eyed, appeared to come from Ohio. Later authors took note and lavished much labour on creating alienness. Now Frederik Pohl, in his first science fiction novel for six years, has as his central character a man surgically adapted to Mars, with computer-assisted senses, grafted mechanical limbs, artificial skin, and all the rest (worked out in loving detail)—but beneath it all there still throbs a brain brought up in Ohio. And the question is not, can it cope with Mars, but can it cope with the traumas caused by its own alterations—above all, with the assault on its feelings of masculinity?

The result...

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J. G. Ballard

Fifteen years ago, in New Maps of Hell, Kingsley Amis described Frederik Pohl as the 'novelist of economic man' and speculated that sf as a whole would probably evolve in the direction of sociological criticism. In fact, it has moved in the opposite direction altogether, ever deeper into psychological fantasy, and Pohl, without doubt one of its most talented writers, has moved with it. There has always been a strong organic and surrealist element in Pohl's fiction, a sense of reality suddenly skewing sideways into some visceral nightmare, nowhere better shown than in his brilliant new novel Man Plus. An obsession with man/machine links runs through much of Pohl's fiction, and this novel is the story of...

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Frederik Pohl is one of the few men to make a genuine impact on the science fiction field both as a writer and an editor. Currently, he is doing more to bring back into print important works of science fiction from previous decades than any other single editor. Even as a writer he must have strong editorial impulses, for in addition to producing a group of respectable works of his own, he has been involved in two major collaborative efforts: one early in his career with C. M. Kornbluth … and one with Jack Williamson…. Pohl's independent work has been good, and the collaboration with Williamson has produced some pleasant work, but the Pohl-Kornbluth collaborations were something special. All five of the volumes...

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Patrick Parrinder

Frederik Pohl's Gateway recalls the more spartan virtues of traditional SF. This is a post Freudian epic in which, from his position on the electronic analyst's couch, the narrator Robinette Broadhead recalls his experiences as a space-pilot. Humanity has embarked on interstellar exploration thanks to the genius of the Heechee (get it?), an extinct alien race who have thoughtfully left behind a spaceport full of computer-operated starships. The novel is remarkable for its portrayal of human explorers rushing into space in a mood of abject fear and greed, in machines they cannot understand or control. Given the inglorious antics of Broadhead, this must be the most anti-heroic space adventure ever written....

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Peter Ackroyd

By placing itself in some unimaginable future, and by taking as its theme the confrontation of human beings with the unknowable, Gateway veers close towards a kind of eleventh hour myth-making. And since there are no viable literary myths left (the nearest we come to them now is in television advertising), Frederik Pohl has had to adapt and exploit all of the old plots and images which now lie scattered on the ground. Gateway is an album of silhouettes.

The mind becomes a darkened room where innumerable outlines and images flicker across—the Western myth, the myth of 'the unconscious', the idea of romantic love—and it's only by an effort of will on the reader's part that they can be...

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Frederik Pohl's memoir, The Way the Future Was,… was a book I found enjoyable from beginning to end. This is the account of Pohl's life in science fiction as ardent fan, editor, agent, and just about anything else you can name. It spans the time from Pohl's discovery of science fiction in 1930 to the present—nearly half a century.

This is the way science fiction really was, as seen through the eyes of a man who has grown with the field, but never out of it. And these are the memories of a man who has learned to be very much himself—more of himself with each passing year. There is a warmth and affection in every line of the book, and these set it completely apart from most accounts of the...

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Gerald Jonas

In his long career …, Frederik Pohl has written many different kinds of science fiction. But he is perhaps best known for his use of s.f. to poke fun at social inanities—the prime example being "The Space Merchants" (1953), a collaboration with C. M. Kornbluth that depicted a not-so-future society entirely under the thumb of rapacious advertising agencies.

"JEM" is also social satire—but without the humor. The story tells of the first encounters between humans and intelligent aliens on a distant planet; it also tells of the clash between different value systems on earth. In Mr. Pohl's dark vision of the future, nothing is what it first appears to be. Ecology-minded idealists pave the way for...

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Algis Budrys

Frederik Pohl's Jem is not as good as Gateway, better than Man Plus. What does that mean? It means few books are as good as Gateway, and rarely has an SF author immediately followed a major triumph with as major a triumph as this. What do I mean by "good?" I mean the author was in clear command of all the essential details of a worthwhile narrative. What do I mean by "major?" I mean the narrative embodies a theme of significance beyond the immediate fortunes of the characters involved, and the theme is dealt with intelligently….

[The extrasolar planet] Jem as Pohl has created it is believable and often beautiful, without being obviously just Earth in a funny hat…. With...

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Roz Kaveney

Frederik Pohl, along with the late C M Kornbluth, created a whole vein of satirical sf in the early Fifties; recently, in the award-winning Gateway, he successfully combined wit and humanity in a novel of character. [JEM: The Making of a Utopia] is a more old-fashioned type of sf with its far off star, strange planet and three races of intelligent, primitive aliens…. Pohl covers a broad canvas in minimal space and necessarily skimps a little on detailed characterisation and plotting, relying for much of the intense emotional effect of the book on the shifts of mood of his naïve male protagonist, the American xenologist Danny Dalehouse…. The characterisation is sketched in, but Pohl is sufficiently...

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Frederik Pohl's most recent novel, Jem … is a little blurred and messy. It is essentially a political allegory describing the struggle between the world's three blocs, food producing, oil producing and third, each attempting to colonise a planet which itself holds three intelligent species. The narrative is more interesting than the allegory, and there is some first-class dialogue and characterisation, notably a gung-ho American fem combat commander who I trust was not, and never could be, drawn from the life or God help us all.

Alex de Jonge, "January SF: 'Jem'," in The Spectator (© 1980 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator),...

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Spider Robinson

[Fred Pohl's sequel to Gateway] has an abominably bad title—Beyond the Blue Event Horizon—and that is absolutely the only bad thing about it. I think it's the most satisfying sequel I've ever read. (p. 169)

It should be mentioned that BtBEH does not resemble Gateway a whole lot. The latter was a first-person narrative which alternated between present and flashback and had sidebars all over the place; the sequel has no sidebars or flashbacks, but does have several different viewpoint characters, most of them third person…. I would say there's more dramatic tension in this book than in its prequel, whose drama was mostly internal.


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