Analysis

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489

The science-fiction genre was long held in disrepute; indeed, critics seemed to believe that if a work was science fiction it could not be worth much. By the 1970’s, however, science fiction was becoming respectable and beginning to influence at least part of the literary establishment. The early work in the field, even the pulps and fantastic tales of writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, was reevaluated and found to have valuable speculative and imaginative elements. In addition, readers struggling with the arcane jumble of modern literature began to find that there were some outstanding stories in the genre.

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The growth in the genre’s popularity led to increasing interest in what drew writers and readers to it. In The Way the Future Was, Pohl has attempted to analyze his own attraction to the field and to generalize from his experience. The portrayal of the bright, youthful misfit drawn by a sense of wonder to the fantasies of early science fiction is poignant, though sometimes uneven. Pohl also shows some insight into the teenager’s desire to be part of a group. His description of the growth of fan organizations is not only a personal tale of a young man seeking the security of belonging but also a variant of the American dream. Pohl helped create a society into which he fit and turned that effort into a very successful career.

Like films in the 1930’s, the pulps were an escape from the unpleasant realities of economic difficulties, and fan organizations were a cheap way to socialize. Pohl’s memoir is a useful description of growing up in New York during the Depression. As the Depression ended, Pohl and his genre matured and began to reflect the increasing sophistication of technology. Pohl’s book Man Plus (1976), a tale of humans being physically prepared to live on Mars told from an unexpected point of view, is an excellent example of this change. The Way the Future Was is a chronicle of the maturing of Pohl, science fiction, and modern American society. It will be of value to both literary critics and historians.

Throughout the book, Pohl emphasizes the sense of wonder that sets science fiction writers and fans apart from the rest of society. He seems to regard it as axiomatic that every fan is an aspiring writer, and every working author is a part of “fandom.” Certainly in the early days it was true—Pohl was one of nine who attended the first convention held in Philadelphia in 1936—and the cognoscenti encouraged it by developing their own jargon and traditions. Those not involved were called, with a touch of scorn, “mundanes.” Although Pohl never yields his sense of being the outsider, by the time The Way the Future Was was written, science fiction, if still a genre, was extremely popular and profitable. Pohl, like many of his fellows, cherishes the “us-against-them” sense of his youth and clings to it.

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Critical Context