Novelist, science writer, editor, literary agent, lecturer, environmentalist, historian and futurist, one of the last remaining founders of science-fiction fandom and the fabled club The Futurians, Frederik Pohl died Monday, Sept. 2, at the age of 93.
“An era ends with the death of Frederik Pohl,” said Beverly Friend, emerita professor of English at Oakton Community College in Skokie, Ill., a longtime friend. “He was the gold in the Golden Age.”
Author of more than 40 novels, including such notable books as “Jem,” “Man Plus,” “Gateway” and “The Space Merchants,” (a collaboration with Cyril Kornbluth), Mr. Pohl’s distinguished career began in 1937 with the sale of a poem, “Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna,” to Amazing Stories magazine.
“It is difficult to sum up the significance of Frederik Pohl to the science fiction field in few words,” said James Frenkel, who had been Mr. Pohl’s editor since 1993. “He was instrumental to the flowering of the field in the mid-to-late twentieth century, and it is hard to dispute that the field would be much the poorer without his talent and remarkable body of work as a magazine and book editor, a collaborator and a solo author.”
Mr. Pohl edited Astonishing Stories, Super Science Stories, Galaxy and If magazines, as well as an original anthology series, Star Science Fiction, launching the careers of prominent writers such as James Blish and Larry Niven. As a book editor, his published successes included such groundbreaking novels as Samuel R. Delaney’s “Dhalgren” and Joanna Russ’s “The Female Man.” Many writers benefited from his mentoring.
“He was associated with almost everything good in science fiction that happened to me,” said James Gunn, writer, emeritus professor of English at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and founding director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction. ” I first met Fred 61 years ago, and he sold my stories, bought my stories, edited my books, shared precious moments at meetings here and abroad, answered my calls to help my fledgling science-fiction programs, and was always there for encouragement and advice.”
During his time as a literary agent, Mr. Pohl represented most of the significant science-fiction writers of the period, among them Isaac Asimov, Algis Budrys, Hal Clement, Fritz Leiber and John Wyndham.
Among the honors Mr. Pohl received during his career were the National Book Award (then called the American Book Award) for “Jem,” the annual award of the Popular Culture Association and the United Nations Society of Writers Award. For his contributions to science fiction, he was named a Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, an organization of which he was once president, and he won its Nebula Award for two of his novels. He also received Edward E. Smith and Donald A. Wollheim memorial awards, the international two John W. Campbell, Jr., Memorial awards, the French Prix Apollo, the Yugoslavian Vizija and seven Hugo Awards from the World Science Fiction Society. Mr. Pohl was the only person ever to have received the Hugo in the three categories of editor, author and fan writer.
In 2009, at the age of 89, Mr. Pohl launched a web log, “The Way the Future Blogs,” for which he won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer.
He could be stubborn, friends and family recalled. “Fred resisted the Internet until he collaborated long distance with Arthur C. Clarke on ‘The Last Theorem,'” said Dick Smith, “which got him using Google, and he discovered he liked it.” Smith, who provided computer support to Mr. Pohl for nearly 30 years, finally managed to wean the author from the antique WordStar word processor to more modern software after that 2008 novel, earning the dedication in Mr. Pohl’s most recent novel, “All the Lives He Led.”
“He still made his wife screen his e-mail, though,” said Smith, “so he’d have more time to write.” His stepdaughter, Cathy Pizarro, and blogmaster, Leah Zeldes, were also called upon to tackle what Mr. Pohl considered the chore of sending e-mail.
However, he wrote daily beginning well before his first professional sale in 1937, setting himself a quota of at least four pages every day, a practice he continued up until the day of his death. A blog post appeared that morning.
Mr. Pohl’s blog’s title was taken from his 1979 autobiography, “The Way the Future Was.” At the time of his death, Mr. Pohl was finishing a second volume of that memoir, which is expected to be published by Tor, along with an expanded version of the original book.
In his blog, Mr. Pohl wrote memoirs of his life and the science-fiction community, but also discussed science and championed progressive politics, topics in which he had a lifelong interest. Mr. Pohl was elected as a Fellow to the British Interplanetary Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
His nonfiction works include “Practical Politics,” “Chasing Science” and “Our Angry Earth” (with Isaac Asimov), a book discussing the environment, a subject about which Mr. Pohl was greatly concerned.
“Forget the awards,” said Mr. Frenkel. “He won many, but his greatest contribution was his insistent intelligence and relentless pursuit of humanity’s better self.”
“Life with Fred was complicated, but never boring,” said his wife of 29 years, Dr. Elizabeth Anne Hull, English professor emerita of William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, Ill. They met in 1976 at the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City.
Together with fellow Futurians Isaac Asimov, Donald A. Wollheim, David Kyle and others, Mr. Pohl was among the members of what came to be known among science-fiction fans as First Fandom, responsible for many of the institutions still in place today. He attended the very first science-fiction convention, a meeting of five New Yorkers and four Philadelphians in 1937.
Noting that Mr. Pohl was a founding member of the Fantasy Amateur Press Association, its current official editor, Curt Phillips, commented, “I’ll remember that for all his many accomplishments, Fred Pohl never forgot his roots in SF fandom. He was always ‘one of us,’ which has always helped make me proud to be a part of the SF subculture myself.”
Along with his wife, Mr. Pohl is survived by his daughters, Ann Pohl, Kathy Pohl and Karen Lyons; son, Frederik Pohl IV, and daughter-in-law, Meg Liberman; and stepdaughters, Catherine Pizarro and Barbara Wintczak. He also had seven grandchildren, Emily and Tobias Pohl-Weary, Julia Pohl-Miranda, Daniel Miranda, Tom Dixon and Christine and Eric Wintczak, and three great-grandchildren, Sasha and Maxwell Pohl-Weary and Jesse Miranda.