Midas World Critical Essays

Frederik Pohl


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Both as an author and as an editor of science fiction, Pohl pioneered in developing a “new wave” of science fiction that opened new avenues of creative expression. Instead of confining themselves to speculations about the possible future of humanity under the domination of science and technology, authors like Pohl began using the traditional apparatus of science fiction—including rocket ships, time machines, robots, and extraterrestrials—to comment on the present. Midas World is an example of how science fiction can be used for social commentary. Pohl does not expect his stories to be taken literally; he uses science fiction to satirize real contemporary problems.

“The Midas Plague” satirizes modern consumption-oriented “yuppies” who find themselves caught up in a rat race that brings an abundance of material possessions and social activities but little real happiness. “The Lord of the Skies” satirizes the phenomenon of the retreat of the affluent white middle class to the suburbs and the resulting neglect of the inner cities and their inhabitants. “The New Neighbors” is a reverse view, depicting the ghetto life of robots that bear a strong resemblance to contemporary African Americans living in inner cities. “The Farmer on the Dole” is a clever satire on the condition of modern farm families who are being forced off the land by increasing mechanization of agriculture.

Behind the novel is Pohl’s belief that modern American society has become insane and is destined for self-destruction because it operates for the benefit of only a minority of greedy people, and even they are not truly happy. To prevent the system from collapsing, throwing millions out of work and creating political chaos, it is necessary to encourage consumption of goods and services and to invent new products to attract consumer dollars. Consumers must be persuaded that these superfluities are necessities. The alternative would be for people to work shorter hours, give up neurotic and exhibitionist consumption, and spend leisure time cultivating their minds; this, however, would be unprofitable to the special interests that dominate society through such means as advertising, lobbying, manipulation of the mass media, and financial control of scientific investigation.