Frederik Pohl


By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull

Windycon 41 was a lot of fun for me this year, especially the session dedicated to Frederik Pohl and his impact on science fiction.

Some highlights: We opened with a solemn presentation to me of a polished brass plaque which appeared on a commemorative bench at Loncon this year by Helen Montgomery and Dave McCarty from the executive committee of Chicon 7 and ISFiC. I was truly touched.

Gene Wolfe, our friend who lived in nearby Barrington till just recently, joined the panel at the last minute, and set the tone for the panel and made the audience laugh when he talked about how upset he was when Fred and I got married, and I soon after stopped being one of the hosts of our local fan group, SFFNCS (a.k.a. Science Fiction Fans of the Northwest Chicago Suburbs, pronounced “Sphinx”). In my defense, being Fred’s wife took a lot more time than being his girlfriend! Not to mention that I was holding down a full-time job at Harper College and developing their Honors Program, as well as the fact that Fred and I did a lot of traveling together to some pretty interesting and exotic places around the world.

Fred’s long-time editor Jim Frenkel kept us focused on the description of the panel: Fred’s multifaceted contributions to the field. He revealed some of what it was like to work editorially with Fred, who could always recognize a good editorial suggestion when he received it. We all agreed that all of Fred’s experience as an editor both for magazines and for books had sharpened his fiction skills and the ability to self-edit, and his period of agenting had also made him very aware of how important marketability is to a writer’s career.

I admitted that Fred was already a Big Name Pro and had a lot of experiences that I knew about only second hand when I met him at the Worldcon in Kansas City in 1976. I had in fact, taught The Space Merchants in my SF class but changed to Gateway in the late ’70s.

Long-time Chicago-area fan Neil Rest talked about the sensation Fred made on local fans when he came with me to one of parties held every month at the apartment of George Price (of Advent:Publishers) —or perhaps it was at one of the weekly meetings on the North Side called “Thursday,” quite possibly at the home of Alice Bentley, who might have been still a teenager or at least wasn’t yet a bookstore owner. We did a lot better at remembering our feelings than actual details, as will happen over more than 30 years.

From his beginnings in the New York area in the ’30s, Fred never gave up fanac and his sense of being a fan when he became a pro. I told how thrilled Fred was at Foolscap in Seattle in 2000 where Fred and Ginjer Buchanan (then an editor at Ace) were co-fan guests of honor. They called the con the “Fred and Ginjer Show.” In the ’30s and ’40s, Fred told me many times, he was very fond of the beautiful and talented Ginger Rogers, who he said, had to do all the steps Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels.

Much more recently, Fred was also entirely thrilled in 2010 when he won a Hugo as Best Fan Writer at Aussiecon for his work in this blog. He was happy to give credit wherever due, and thanked his blogmeister, Leah A. Zeldes, who allowed him to concentrate on writing without having to worry about the technicalities of the Internet posting, as well as Dick Smith, who enabled Fred to use his obsolete word processor to write both fiction and non-fiction.

I must also add that Fred’s webmaster, Rich Erlich, made it easier for me to keep up with Fred’s correspondence during the period before he finally began to answer at least some of his email directly.

Fred was likewise elated in 2009 to finally receive his diploma from Brooklyn Tech, strongly supported by a fellow Brooklyn Technite, Jeffrey Haitkin, a fan of Fred’s. He was impressed that Jeffrey himself came to bestow the honor, along with Achilles Perry, the president of the Alumni Association, and Ned Steele, Tech’s press person. The presentation was made before Tech’s cameras and a photographer from the New York Times, right in our library (where I had always worked and which became Fred’s office his last five years). For Fred’s lovable sense of humor, consult the blog archives from that year.

Steven Silver and Helen Montgomery also drove out to our home to present the Hugo that was awarded for Best Fan Writer for his blog in our Library. Very satisfying!

Fred always supported reading, learning, and education, both in libraries and in schools, from pre-school through graduate school, and frequently spoke to fans of all ages in their institutions. Most recently, we both participated in a writers’ festival at our own Palatine Public Library about a year before he died.

His experience as a judge of the Sturgeons and the Writers of the Future, and in helping to lead workshops throughout the U.S. — particularly Jim Gunn’s annual teaching and writing workshops, and others around the world (think China, South America, the Middle East, etc.) was also important in continually developing Fred’s ability to help himself continue to write readable fiction that was meaningful to a broad multi-cultural audience, hence he has been translated into more than 40 languages around the globe.

Once during a dinner in London with Malcolm Edwards, then editor for Gollancz and himself having started as a fan before turning pro, Malcolm said he always eager to read a new novel or short story or article by Fred because “Fred was always a delightful surprise. While others had established a brand that fans could count on, all you knew was Fred’s latest would be fresh and unpredictable.”

In hindsight, I believe Fred learned his whole life from all he read and saw, and from people we met in World SF (founded with Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss) as well as those folks encountered while cruising or poking into scientific installations, or exploring a cave or hot springs, etc., anything geological, meteorological, or astronomical., all of which stimulated him always to come up with plans for writing about the shifting futures he anticipated. I believe it was largely what kept him writing to the end of his life.

This, of course, is not all that we said. I mentioned that the option for making a TV series of Gateway by Entertainment One is still “under development” and, as far as I know, they are still looking for a suitable show runner.

I also mentioned that next year the University of Illinois Press will release a critical biography of Frederik Pohl by Mike Page. Look for it in the spring or early summer 2015. Perhaps it will be nominated for a Hugo for Best Related Work. Isn’t it pretty to think so? If so, Fred would surely be pleased!