Man Plus Essay - Critical Essays

Frederik Pohl


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Man Plus is only one of Pohl’s hundreds of science-fiction writings. He began publishing in the field, under a variety of pen names, in the late 1930’s. He has produced scores of books and articles in collaboration with Cyril M. Kornbluth, Judith Merril, Joseph Samachson, and Isaac Asimov, among many others. He likewise earned distinction as the founder, editor, or editor-contributor of many science-fiction magazines. Under his direction, for example, If won three Hugo Awards as the best science-fiction magazine in the mid-1960’s. As a prominent literary agent, moreover, he helped to launch the careers of several significant science-fiction and fantasy authors.

Characteristic of many Pohl works, Man Plus features a taut, fast-moving linear plot. To be sure, his main characters—Roger, Brad, Dorrie, Sulie, and Father Kayman—though interesting, never achieve well-rounded dimensions. Roger as an astronaut, for example, remains a rather stolid, conventional fellow, and Roger as a cyborg falters between two identities. There remains little room for his human character to progress on one hand, while on the other, he retains enough humanity to fail as an unforgettable monster. That fact, however, particularly for science-fiction fans, in no way impairs the interest that Man Plus solicits. What is important to Pohl are the ingenious technologies that he deploys as integral to his storytelling and the imaginative ideas, and the logic behind them, that he purveys with efficient, fast-moving prose.

When published in 1976, Man Plus was an innovative science-fiction novel, cleverly carried forward by a third-person narrator that ultimately, as in a short story’s surprise ending, is revealed to be a thinking computer. Fearful of humankind’s potential for self-destruction and therefore eager to ensure its own survival, the computer and the network to which it is linked contrive and manage a scenario that humans, believing the ideas are their own, follow through. Humans, by originally ignoring an examination of the logical premise—a false one—that led to the acceleration of their Mars project, therefore proved less logical than the computer. Like much of the best science fiction, Man Plus thus embodies predictive elements. By the end of the twentieth century, computers had become much more powerful than those of the 1970’s, and prominent physicists were proposing that using computers to clone people who are then sent aloft to seed space offered a viable form of resurrection.