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Creator / Frederik Pohl

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"The future depicted in a good SF story ought to be in fact possible, or at least plausible. That means that the writer should be able to convince the reader (and himself) that the wonders he is describing really can come true... and that gets tricky when you take a good, hard look at the world around you."

Frederik George Pohl Jr. (November 26, 1919 September 2, 2013) was an American science fiction writer and editor. His first professional publication was in 1937; his last novel, All the Lives He Led, was published in April 2011. He also started a blog, which earned him the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. This was his seventh Hugo, joining one for Best Novel, two for Best Short Story, and three for Best Professional Magazine. He is the only person to have won Hugos both for writing and editing. He has also won two Nebula Awards for Best Novel. He was declared a Grand Master of Science Fiction in 1992.

His best known solo works are probably the multiple-award-winning Gateway (the first novel of the Heechee Saga), Jem (winner of the National Book Award), and Man Plus. He regularly collaborated with Jack Williamson—the two wrote nearly a dozen novels together, including the Starchild series and The Undersea Trilogy. He also wrote several works with Cyril M. Kornbluth, including the very famous satire, The Space Merchants.

He was a founder of the famous SF fan group, The Futurians, which also included such future authors as Isaac Asimov and Damon Knight. He served as the editor of Galaxy and If magazines throughout the 1960s. He also worked as a literary agent, with a client list that included Isaac Asimov (again).

Works by Frederik Pohl include:

Works by Frederik Pohl provide examples of:

  • Advert-Overloaded Future: This trope is a major focus of the satirical novels The Space Merchants, The Merchants' War and The Merchants of Venus. The first, in particular, featured advertisers competing to come up with new—and usually horrific—ways to promote their clients' goods.
  • Alien Catnip: In "The Abominable Earthman", an Alien Invasion by a technologically superior species of insectoid aliens fails after they discover a new addictive intoxicant that wasn't found on their home planet but is abundant on Earth — the exhalation gases of mammals.
  • All Just a Dream: Justified in "The Hated", in which the protagonist plots to murder a former co-worker, but before he can, he's awakened by a psychiatrist from an induced dream. The protagonist and his co-workers were astronauts on a lengthy voyage during which they developed a profound, murderous hatred for each other. The psychiatrist was working with all of them to enable them to control their rage. It's made clear at the end that at least in the protagonist's case, it wasn't working.
  • Allohistorical Allusion: In "Waiting For The Olympians" a science-romance author in a world where Rome never fell imagines what the world would be like if Tiberius had been Emperor.
  • Alternate History:
    • "Waiting For The Olympians" is set in a world where Rome never fell.
    • "The Mile High Club" is set in a world where the US won World War II with biological instead of nuclear research, leading to a number of medical breakthroughs. All of the characters are members of the famed SF society the Futurians, including Pohl himself, who have had alternate careers in this world.
    • The Coming of the Quantum Cats features a whole plethora of alternates. The one we see the most of has a United States that is culturally dominated by the Arabs and in which Ronald Reagan is a liberal activist (more likely than you might think).
  • Apocalypse How: "Worlds in Exile" is a sonnet about how entropy will lead to universal total extinction.
    [...]Other forms knew life than men
    On their broad bosoms; other forms that scorned
    Man's puny will . . . . And e'en their Titan spark
    Of years is through, nor may we comprehend
    The Cyclopean meaning of the end.
  • Artificial Meat: The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth has tumour meat cultures called "Chicken Little".
  • China Takes Over the World: Black Star Rising had China and India being the major powers after the US and the Soviets nuked each other to smithereens. Hilarity Ensues after aliens arrive, demanding to speak to the US president... and China has to come up with one, since they control North America.
  • Christmas Creep: In "Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus", the Christmas season runs almost all year, with the peak starting in September. The devout Christian Hargrave family are very uncomfortable with this (the main character's attempts to help get them into the Commercialized Christmas spirit only make this worse).
  • Cloning Blues: A duology of novels, Farthest Star and Wall Around A Star (written with Jack Williamson), feature a form of teleportation that sends a copy of you elsewhere but leaves the original intact. The copy can be modified en route, since all you're transmitting is information. Interestingly, this is how most physicists figure real-life teleportation might work.
  • Covers Always Lie: The Italian cover of Homegoing features an odd shark-shaped starship which does not appear in the book (compare it with the original cover). Furthermore, the tagline reads: "They're the Hakh'hli. They're aliens. They feed on human flesh". Purchasers fancying a sci-fi-horror story were utterly disappointed, as the aliens in the book do NOT feed on human flesh (they breed their own alien animals).
  • Erotic Eating: Black Star Rising takes a rather unusual approach to this trope. "Comrade, do you have a fascination with eating bananas, carrots, and juicy red sausages? Then comrade, you can be certain that to your work and study regimen we will be adding plenty of cold showers."
  • Future Food Is Artificial: In The Space Merchants, there's a giant growing fleshy lump called "Chicken Little" (it was originally a piece of chicken heart tissue) that they carve slices off: the working man's "meat". Better yet, it's fed by hundreds of tubes carrying raw yeast in from a multi-story yeast farm above it, tended by hordes of perpetually abused sweatshop workers. This is actually based on a real-life experiment; Dr. Alexis Carrel, an early-20th-century biologist, kept a culture of cells from an embryonic chicken heart alive for over 20 years. Unfortunately, after Carrel died, the culture was destroyed for unknown reasons, and nobody has been able to replicate the experiment since.
  • Generation Ships: Generation ships (called longliners) are used to carry messages and trade between planets in Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth's Search the Sky.
  • Giving Radio to the Romans: In "The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass", in the title character gives the Romans modern medicine and agriculture... but not birth control. Oops.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: In The Tunnel Under the World, Guy Burckhardt lives in a town where June 15th is repeated every day, but the inhabitants don't realize it.
  • Human Popsicle: Charles Forrester in The Age of the Pussyfoot.
  • Lemony Narrator: The narrator of "Day Million" has a general dislike of 20-21st century humans. He obviously thinks the readers are homophobic luddites and frequently accuses them of thinking he's lying.
  • Meet Cute: In "Day Million", Don and Dora are explicitly said to have "met cute".
  • Mind Hive: The protagonists of Black Star Rising include a scientist known as Manyface, who once nearly died from brain damage that was treated by replacing the lost sections with pieces from the brain of a dead boy. When asked if he could remember his name, he gave it, then gave the dead boy's name a second later. The two realized that their joined knowledge was a great aid to the scientist's research, and by the start of the story they've collected so many brains they've had to undergo experimental skull-enlargement surgery to fit them all in.
  • Modern Stasis: "Day Million" seems to have been written purely to mock this trope, pointing out that within a few centuries, society will have changed in fundamental ways that we can't even imagine now.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Joneses in Search the Sky allow only one phenotype per gender, and have a Secret Police.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: The Space Merchants (published 1953) by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth.
  • Poisoned Weapons: Man Plus has the U.S. Secret Service require women meeting the president to soak their hands in a solution first, in case their fingernails have a biochemical poison on them.
  • Richard Nixon, the Used Car Salesman:
    • The Coming of the Quantum Cats takes place in several alternate universes. Ronald Reagan is still an actor (and still married to Jane Wyman) in a Muslim-dominated Earth, while in another Nancy Reagan is President and Reagan is First Gentleman. In that timeline, John F. Kennedy was never elected President, and is still a Senator in the 1980s (instead of Ted, who died at Chappquidick). Pohl also includes a joking reference to his old friend Isaac Asimov; in an alternate timeline where Russia never became the USSR, Asimov's family stayed in Russia, where he became a famous surgeon. In reality, Asimov briefly considered becoming a medical doctor, but chose biochemistry instead.
    • "The Mile High Club", a short story for an Isaac Asimov tribute book, featured all the members of the famous SF club the Futurians, still alive in the 1990s. In this timeline, Asimov had convinced FDR to focus on biological research instead of atomic weapons. The post-WWII research boom resulted in a number of medical breakthroughs, and Asimov became more famous than Einstein (who is mentioned in the story as an obscure physicist from Princeton).
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation:
    • In The Age of the Pussyfoot, Charles Forrester is revived from cryopreservation in the year 2527 with a quarter of a million dollars from his insurance and interest. He thinks he is rich. It takes him a while to find out he isn't. It's handled quite well as the main source of inflation is rising health care costs.
    • In The Other End of Time, inflation is averaging between two and three percent per day, and rents and wages are paid daily. One of the main characters has a wall full of collectibles that he uses as inflation hedges.
  • Science Marches On: In Search the Sky, Azor's sun is described as having "an unpleasant bluish cast". This means it's a small-end A star. However, Ross's contact at Cavallo speaks of a man who came seventy-five years earlier, and who is later revealed to have died just the previous week. It is now known that the Goldilocks belt of an A star is much too far out for a world to have a year comparable to Earth's.
  • Screw Yourself: In The Coming of the Quantum Cats, similar characters from a mulititude of timelines mix & match during a cross-time war. When a slightly more advanced timeline decides to quarantine the others to avoid eddies in the space time continuum, a lot of editions get dumped on an uninhabited Earth, where multiple copies of a particularly unsavory mook decide to set up house together.
  • Settling the Frontier: The Undersea Trilogy, by Pohl and Jack Williamson, was one of the first in-depth (if you'll pardon the pun) explorations of the notion of colonizing the bottom of the sea.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: The novel Narabedla, Inc. takes its name from the star Aldeberan.
  • Solar CPR: In Wolfbane by Pohl and Kornbluth, Earth's moon is turned into an artificial sun to keep the Earth livable since it was stolen from the solar system by aliens. The moon needs to be reignited periodically.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Farthest Star and Wall Around A Star, written with Jack Williamson, feature a form of teleportation that sends a copy of you elsewhere but leaves the original intact. The copy can be modified en route, since all you're transmitting is information. Interestingly, this is how most physicists figure real-life teleportation might work.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: In "The Tunnel Under the World", the main character becomes convinced that some sinister conspiracy is keeping the citizens of his town stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop by erasing their memories every night. He eventually learns that he and everyone else in the town were killed in an explosion, and their consciousnesses have been installed into tiny androids in a scale model town where they repeat their final day over and over while researchers use them to test the effectiveness of advertising jingles and political slogans.
  • Under the Sea: The setting for the Undersea Trilogy (by Pohl & Jack Williamson), unsurprisingly.
  • Venus Is Wet: In The Space Merchants, Venus is portrayed as a world of "verdant valleys, crystal lakes, brilliant mountain vistas"... in Fowler Schocken advertising artists' impressions of what it might look like after decades of terraforming. In the present, Venus is devoid of water or a breathable atmosphere.
  • Viewers Are Morons: Invoked in the short story "Day Million", as an omniscient narrator who's describing life in the 28th century grows increasingly angry with what he assumes to be the present day reader's ignorant disbelief.
  • Wetware CPU: Wolfbane, co-written with Kornbluth, has aliens kidnapping suitable humans for this purpose — possibly one of the earliest appearances of the trope. The human "Components" have their consciousnesses suppressed; when one awakens, plot happens.
  • We Will Have Euthanasia in the Future: In the short story "Spending a Day at the Lottery Fair," an overpopulated U.S. where both abortion and contraception are outlawed implements a form of population control using euthanasia by chance. "Lottery fairs" are held periodically at which fair goers "pay" for rides, concessions, raffles (including several for jobs), etc. by inserting their arms into a cuff that offers a small but real chance of delivering a lethal injection.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: The narrator of "Day Million" is aware that his listeners are from around "the six or seven hundred thousandth day since Christ." He then identifies Day Million as "ten thousand years from now." Even assuming that his earliest estimate is correct (which would be well before the story's 1966 publication), that makes only forty days to a year. Granted, it could be just the impatient Lemony Narrator's carelessness, but you would think at least that fellow author and praising commentator Robert Silverberg would have something to say about it.
  • You Can Always Tell a Liar: In The Space Merchants, the protagonist Mitch Courtenay and his estranged wife, Kathy, each know the other's "Tell". This is a hint about how much they know and love each other.

Alternative Title(s): James Mac Creigh, Elton V Andrews