The Way the Future Was Critical Essays

Frederik Pohl


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 489 words.)