I didn’t know Frederik Pohl personally, but several of my authors did. I met him briefly at the 1987 Worldcon in Brighton, England, and he was kind and cordial while he listened to me gush for five minutes. (Those who did know him tell me this graciousness was typical.) I was grateful for his own work, particularly THE SPACE MERCHANTS – written with frequent collaborator C. M. Kornbluth and the most cutting satirical novel about advertising; Pohl himself spent a few desultory years in the business before leaving in bemusement and disgust – and GATEWAY and MAN PLUS, which still bestride the science fiction field like the colossae they are. But he really guided me through this thrilling genre by serving as editor of Galaxy and If magazines in the Sixties, when I was just graduating from Robert A. Heinlein and Andre Norton “juvies” into something more provocative. I couldn’t walk away without thanking him for that.
Great, award-winning author that he was (his admirers included no less than Kingsley Amis), Pohl’s most lasting effects on the genre were probably his achievements as an editor. Besides his terrific run at Galaxy Publications (he took over its flagship from the equally legendary H. L. Gold and immediately made it his own), his STAR SCIENCE FICTION series introduced the concept of book-length anthologies of original stories. He raised Bantam Books to prominence during his stint there, culminating with the purchase of Samuel R. Delany’s brilliant novel DHALGREN. Pohl insisted on attending the sales conference for that book (he muscled his way in; editors weren’t normally invited), and told the reps that this was Delany’s masterpiece, they should just get their accounts to stock it and get out of the way, and he was right. Bantam repeatedly went back to press on this long, challenging read, and it was a jewel of their backlist for many years.
Way before that, Pohl was one of the earliest science fiction fans to seek out other like souls; he was a founding member of the pioneering Futurians. In a sense, he helped lay the groundwork for organized science fiction fandom, and, along with a notable number of others, went from its glorious obsession – that’s how he could tolerate a gusher like me; he used to be one himself – all the way to the highest rank of professional. His splendid memoir THE WAY THE FUTURE WAS tells the story of that arc in American culture better than anyone else ever has.
One day he walked past my office at Bantam, probably on his way to see Ian Ballantine, his longtime publisher, who was a few doors down. I guess I should have jumped up and said something, but I was still very new, green enough so that my mind just timidly flashed, Oh my God, that was Frederik Pohl! I won’t ever have that chance again, because he passed away yesterday afternoon of respiratory failure at 93. Fan, author, agent, editor, critic, even blogger, one of our last remaining links to the birth of modern science fiction, he was a man who changed his own world – and thanks to his talent and influence, made it our world too.
12/5/13: The directors of SFWA, the sf/fantasy writers’ organization, announced that its Grand Master Award — the highest honor for a lifetime of work — will be bestowed on Samuel R. Delany at the next Nebula Awards ceremony. I wish Mr. Pohl could have lived long enough to see this, for DHALGREN is still considered by many to be Chip’s masterpiece.