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Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 643

Growing up in a poor family in the 1920’s and 1930’s meant that Frederik Pohl had to find entertainment in his surroundings—most of his youth was spent in Brooklyn—and in vicarious adventure. Pohl learned to read at an early age and soon discovered the pulp magazines of the period. These offered a wide variety of adventure and romance and, despite some atrocious writing, occasionally had good stories by capable writers. Secondhand copies, sold for a nickel or dime in used-book stores, were often within boys’ budgets, and a chance encounter with Science Wonder Stories Quarterly was the beginning of Pohl’s lifelong infatuation.

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The catholicity of his interests did not translate into scholarly success, and he left Brooklyn Technical High School without graduating. He had, however, found that there were other science-fiction fans. His best friend, Dirk Wylie, provided more reading material and the idea that there might be others who shared their fascination. Their search for such people led them into the early organizations of science-fiction fans. The Science Fiction League, organized by Hugo Gernsback, editor of such magazines as Amazing Stories and Wonder Stories, was started to improve circulation; fan organizations grew by the mid-1970’s to include tens of thousands of people in a nationwide network.

Pohl was an eager member of the league from its beginning, but along with some other fans—notably Donald A. Wollheim, who was to become a major figure in the genre—he was quick to organize new groups. These clubs published amateur magazines (called “fanzines” by the cognoscenti), which provided Pohl with his first opportunities in publishing and editing. The most famous of the clubs which Pohl helped to organize, the Futurians, was founded in 1937. In addition to Pohl and Wollheim, the original Futurians included Cyril M. Kornbluth and Isaac Asimov. Later, Damon Knight became part of the group. These five were among the shapers of science fiction throughout the mid-twentieth century.

At nineteen Pohl was supporting himself by editing Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories. Although these cheaply produced pulps did not last long, a career broken only by service in World War II was begun. After the war Pohl set himself up as a literary agent, and he handled the work of most of the major writers of science fiction. Less exploitative than most agents, he went broke.

Pohl was always a prolific writer; although slowed somewhat by the demands of his career as an agent, during the three decades after World War II he wrote many popular and critically acclaimed novels and stories. The best known, The Space Merchants (1953), written with his close friend and frequent collaborator, Cyril M. Kornbluth, is generally regarded as a classic. Pohl was also a very successful editor, both presenting original material and reprinting significant stories that had gone out of print—the latter activity was an important contribution for the growing audience attracted to science fiction. Pohl won four Hugos—the highest award given to science-fiction authors—before the publication of his memoirs: in 1966, 1967, and 1968 as best editor and in 1973 for the best short story for “The Meeting,” also written with Kornbluth.

The Way the Future Was is organized chronologically from the author’s birth in 1919 to 1977, but, perhaps reflecting his background in fiction, Pohl felt free to digress. The result, combined with the lack of an index, makes the book difficult to use as a reference tool. Personal anecdotes concerning the author’s loves and adventures, illustrated with photographs of Pohl and his family and friends, are woven into the biographical frame. The two central themes are Pohl’s literary career and the growth of fan organizations from the early clubs in New York and the first formal convention, which drew nine people, to the later meetings, which draw several hundred to several thousand and occur regularly all over the industrialized world.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 79

Aldiss, Brian W., and Harry Harrison, eds. Hell’s Cartographers: Some Personal Histories of Science Fiction Writers, 1976.

Aldiss, Brian W., and David Wingrove. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, 1986.

Knight, Damon. In Search of Wonder: Essays on Modern Science Fiction, 1967.

Platt, Charles. Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction, 1980.

Rose, Mark. Alien Encounters: Anatomy of Science Fiction, 1982.

Smith, Nicholas D., ed. Philosophers Look at Science Fiction, 1982.

Wollheim, Donald A. The Universe Makers: Science Fiction Today, 1971.

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