Frederik Pohl Biography

Start Your Free Trial

Download Frederik Pohl Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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, 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 studied the practice of manipulation, in this case through advertising, a theme that has continued to dominate Pohl’s later works. The success of The Space Merchants allowed him 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 and 1972, and was science-fiction editor of Bantam Books between 1973 and 1978. At a four-page-a-day pace year-round, Pohl’s writing accumulated prodigiously, including the popular Heechee series that began with Gateway in 1977 and ended with 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...

(The entire section is 1,217 words.)