Frederik Pohl Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Frederik Pohl is 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 Fred George and Anna Jane (Mason) Pohl. His father was a machinist who, with his family, left New York to work in Panama, Texas, and California before returning 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.

Outside the classroom Pohl was, however, a voracious reader; the Brooklyn Public Library was a favorite haunt. He preferred fiction, reading in all genres. In the 1930’s he discovered science fiction and began writing short stories for publication in the various “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 which had as members future science-fiction greats such as Isaac Asimov, Cyril (C. 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 U.S. 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, then moved to Popular Science, working in the circulation and promotion departments, then 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 other science-fiction authors. Pohl decided to write for himself.

His first major success was a serialized work called Gravy Planet, coauthored with a former Futurian, Cyril Kornbluth. Published first in Galaxy,...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Aldiss, Brian. Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973. Includes insights into Pohl’s writing.

Barron, Neil, ed. Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction. 4th ed. New Providence, N.J.: R. R. Bowker, 1995. Includes an analysis of Pohl’s work.

Clareson, Thomas. Frederik Pohl. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont House, 1987. A book-length study.

Clareson, Thomas. Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction: The Formative Period, 1926-1970. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. Analyzes Pohl’s influence on science fiction in mid-twentieth century America.

Hassler, Donald. “Swift, Pohl, and Kornbluth: Publicists Anatomize Newness.” Extrapolation 34 (Fall, 1993). Describes the influence of Jonathan Swift’s political satire on Pohl and Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants.

Knight, Damon. The Futurians. New York: John Day, 1977. A history of the group that spawned many of the best American science-fiction writers of the twentieth century.

McClintock, Michael. “The Problem of Stopping at Slowyear.” Extrapolation 38 (Winter, 1997). Compares Pohl’s novel with the work of novelist E. M. Forster.