Posts tagged ‘Hydra Club’

 

Detail: Cover by Ean Taylor for 'The Way the Future Was' (1983 Granada edition)

 

Fred’s death was reported and mourned all over the world. Here are excerpts from just a small selection of the remembrances from fans, friends and the media.

  • “Grand master passes through the final Gateway.” —Simon Sharwood, The Register.

  • “On Monday, September 2nd, 2013, one of the last remaining great figures in the science fiction genre passed away. Frederik Pohl was 93 years old, with a long and distinguished career writing, selling and editing science-fiction stories.” —Andrew Liptak, Kirkus Reviews.

  • “Like some magnificent sequoia, he was both a vibrant, majestic, respirating presence and a token of a distant, almost unimaginable past. He was given a Grandmaster Award by the Science Fiction Writers of America twenty years ago, but that tribute hardly begins to do justice to his immense accomplishments.” —Paul Di Filippo, Barnes and Noble Review.

  • “Frederik George Pohl, Jr. (Nov. 26, 1919 – Sept. 2, 2013) was almost a living artifact of a bygone era in science fiction, as well as one of the genre’s most fertile and perennially refreshed talents. Born in the immediate aftermath of World War I, he died in the epoch of Google Glass and the Large Hadron Collider, without ever losing his imaginative spontaneity or intellectual curiosity, or his ability to upset and disturb the genre consensus.” —Paul St John Mackintosh, TeleRead.

  • “弗雷德里克·波尔是为数不多的可以担当起“科幻小说大师”头衔的科幻作家.” —The Beijing News.

  • “Frederik Pohl was a science-fiction author of extraordinary longevity and accomplishment. In hundreds of stories between 1940 and 2010, and dozens of longer works from 1953, he became the sharpest and most precise satirist in the science-fiction world. Kurt Vonnegut may have created greater myths of the awfulness of America, and Philip K Dick may have had a profounder understanding of the human costs of living in a unreal world; but Pohl — from experience garnered in the field of advertising — knew exactly how to describe the consumerist world that began to come into being after the Second World War.” —John Clute, The Independent (UK).

  • “In all, he published more than 60 novels. His most lauded effort was Jem: The Making of a Utopia (1979), which remains the only science fiction title to have won the National Book Award.” —The Independent (Eire).

  • “La ciencia ficción tiene nombres que cualquier que se diga fanático tiene que saber. Uno de ellos es Frederik Pohl, y si su nombre no te suena, en este artículo te contamos por qué este hombre que acaba de pasar a la inmortalidad a los 93 años contribuyó a que cientos de miles se hagan fanáticos de este género.” —Nico Varonas, Neoteo.

  • “Described as prickly and stubborn (he was married five times and divorced four), Pohl resisted the Internet for years, according to family and friends, but in 2009 launched a blog called ‘The Way the Future Blogs.’ Like much of his writing throughout his life, it was funny, skeptical and perceptive and it won a Hugo Award.” —Ben Steelman, Star News Online.

  • “科幻黄金时代硕果仅存的科幻大师之一的Frederik Pohl于9月2日因呼吸困难(respiratory distress)去世,享年93岁。Frederik Pohl以科幻期刊编辑和作家的双重身份闻名,他在60年代作为科幻期刊的编辑连续多年获得雨果奖,之后又以作家身份获得了多次雨果奖和星云奖。” —Chinese Writers Network.

  • “A stickler for detail, Pohl was determined to get as much science correct as possible in his books. His research took him all over the world and he was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2004, when he published the final novel in the Heechee saga, he apologised to his readers for having suggested, in Gateway, that aliens might have taken refuge in a black hole. With the physics of black holes having been more fully understood in the intervening years, Pohl acknowledged that nothing and no one could exist within a black hole.” —The Telegraph.

  • “Avec un coup d’avance et l’humour noir qui caractérise son style, son œuvre dé voile , pour l’humanité, un avenir inquiétant en partie advenu: omniprésence de l’informatique, montée du terrorisme, raréfaction des ressources, pollution, surpopulation, crise du logement, fanatisme religieux. . . . Après Jack Vance et Richard Matheson , c’est la troisième figure majeure de la SF américaine qui s’éteint cette année.” —Macha Séry, Le Monde.

  • “Despite being 93, he worked to ‘Safeguard Humanity’ to the end.” —Eric Klien, Lifeboat Foundation.

  • Continue reading ‘Obituaries and Tributes to Frederik Pohl’ »

The Hydra Club

In earlier posts I’ve mentioned the Hydra Club, but haven’t given many details. Well, I’ve just turned up an old press release that explained Hydra. Here’s what it said:

The Hydra Club was founded in 1947. A New York club, it was founded in Philadelphia, at that year’s Worldcon, when Lester del Rey said to Frederik Pohl, talking about spending time with fellow sf people, a novelty, since the recently ended war had broken up established sf groups, “This was fun. We ought to do it more often.” Back in New York, they did. They each rounded up some friends — totalling nine in all, which accounts for the name, which was borrowed from that of a legendary Greek monster with nine heads — and the club was formed.

With the Eastern Science Fiction Association, the Hydra Club put on the Eastern Science Fiction Conference of 1959, which may have inspired the custom of having local American cons when the Worldcon was remote from American fan centers. Its members and guests have at one time or another included the majority of the best-known writers, editors, critics and other people professionally active in science fiction. Its public meetings were ordinarily held at the Lotos Club, private ones at the homes of members. An exception was the Christmas Party, most recently held in the ballroom of the Gramercy Park Hotel. Membership is by invitation, usually, though not necessarily, extended to individuals professionally active in science fiction. At the time of this writing there were 56 members.

Marmoset.

Marmoset.

What postwar New York had lacked was a gathering point for the area’s sf brethren (and sistren), so Lester del Rey and I created one. I invited a few of my sf friends to come and discuss the subject at my apartment at 28 Grove Street in the Village, Lester showed up with some of his, and we constituted ourselves a sort of roving gentlemen’s (and ladies’) club for people interested in science fiction, especially if professionally.

There were nine of us. The mythological Hydra was said to have nine heads. That was good enough, so we called it The Hydra Club and began beating the brush for members. In the process of inviting all the area’s sf writers and editors whose addresses we could locate, Fletcher Pratt was one of the first we reeled in.

He was a key recruit. We original nine of course knew all the book and magazine editors, and most of the writers, in the area. Fletcher knew everybody else — Basil Davenport, editor (and later judge) for the Book-of-the-Month Club; Bernard De Voto, authority on my personal hero, Mark Twain, whilom editor of The Saturday Review of Literature and eternally the author of its most popular regular column, “The Easy Chair”; Hans Stefan Santesson, editor of a couple of small book clubs which now and then did science-fiction books and so on.

The cut was between the people who primarily did science-fiction, all of whom we knew, and the people who did all kinds of works, but sometime did or sometimes might do a little science fiction as well. And those latter were the ones with whom Fletcher was our strongest link.
 

I have to admit that at first I wasn’t entirely easy with the idea of Fletcher Pratt, considered as friendship material for me. There was a generation gap. I didn’t have any other friends anywhere near that old. Fletcher was pushing fifty, and almost all my other friends were within at least approximate lying distance of my own age, which was then in my late twenties. Even Jack Williamson’s age was not much more than halfway to Fletcher’s. Fletcher was also famous — that is, famous in wider circles than just those of science fiction.

On the other hand, Fletcher did now and then definitely write science fiction himself, which betokened a certain youthfulness of outlook. Anyway, how could anyone be stuffy, stodgy or staid when he was known to spend at least one hour of every day hand-feeding live mealworms to his pack of pet marmosets?

Fletcher owned about a dozen of the little South American monkeys, kept in three or four large cages in a corner of his huge sitting room. They were sweet-looking little beasts, with a fringe of white beard all around their little faces, with their chronic expression of concern.

The census of the pack was not a fixed number. Fletcher encouraged the little animals to breed — not so much because the surplus was always well received by pet dealers, whose payments to the Pratts for those they didn’t keep just about covered the mealworm bill, as, I think, because Fletcher wanted his marmosets to be happy.. He had, of course, given them all names, mostly taken from New York’s literary establishment. The head marmoset, and Fletcher’s personal favorite, was Benny De Voto.

That same room was a great asset to us all. It was spacious, it was conveniently located, and Fletcher and his wife, Inga, were gracious hosts who enjoyed company, When a couple of Hollywood types came to New York with a proposal for a sort of syndicate of science-fiction writers to market their works to film and TV producers the Pratts provided them with a place where they could describe their plan to twenty or so of the area’s leading sf writers. (It came to nothing. The Hollywood duo had nothing tangible to offer the writers.)

Then when many of those same writers wanted to get together to discuss creating an organization of sf writers along lines similar to the Authors League, the Pratts once again offered a venue for the discussion. (And that, too, came to nothing at that time because half the writers declined to join anything that was structured like a trade union, and the other half rejected anything that wasn’t. When SFWA — the Science Fiction Writers of America — at last did come into existence, it was because two writers, Damon Knight and Lloyd Biggle, Jr., declared that they had created it and urged all the other writers whose addresses they could find to send in checks for some $25, upon which they would become members. This was an immediate success.)

Even more important, when such seldom seen heavy hitters as W. Olaf Stapledon, author of Last and First Men, Odd John and many others of science fiction’s early classics, made a trip to New York for other reasons, the Pratts made that room available for a reception. That was a wonderful break for those of us lucky enough to be invited to meet him, and actually a welcome one for Stapledon himself.

He had been invited to New York to participate in a meeting to urge peace in international affairs. Like many respectable European intellectuals, Stapledon found it hard to decline such invitations, but when he got to the Waldorf-Astoria, he found it encircled by a howling mass of anti-communists, perhaps rather like today’s Tea Party hordes, and he welcomed the chance for some quiet conversation.
 

But the Pratts’ appetite for company wasn’t satisfied by what could be accomplished in one — after all — rather small New York apartment. Without telling anyone what they were doing, they went shopping for a more impressive place.

They found what they wanted in Highlands, New Jersey, a wonderfully huge structure that sat on a bluff over the sea, and for the next half-dozen or so years it was, for many of us, our favorite weekend resort.

To be continued.

 
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Plant life at The High Line in New York City. (Photo by Ryan Somma.)

Plant life at The High Line in New York City. (Photo by Ryan Somma.)

The Hydra Club’s Free Private Park That Could Have Been

Way back in the day, by which I mean in the years around 1950, the place to go in New York City, if you wanted to meet science fiction authors, was the Hydra Club. (One of these times I’m going to try to write a little piece about the Hydra Club. This, however, is not yet that time.)

Anyway, the club didn’t have a home of its own. Our members-only gatherings were usually in someone’s apartment; for more elaborate events, we rented space from a hotel or from one of the city’s membership clubs. A few of our members were unhappy with that arrangement, wishing we had a permanent home to call our own, so we could keep things in it. What kind of things? Oh, maybe furniture. Or books. Anyway, things. And at one of the members-only gatherings somebody — if I remember correctly, which is not guaranteed, it may have been Charley Dye, Katherine MacLean’s husband — came up with a suggestion. He knew of a neighborhood where there were a whole bunch of apartments for rent for practically nothing, so if we wanted to sing, or if Fletcher Pratt wanted to give us a drum recital, around some midnight, we wouldn’t be disturbing anybody, because nobody lived there to disturb.

We checked it out and found it was true. So we rented one of the apartments, I believe a three-roomer, for something (memory says) under $20 a month. And we found out why they were so cheap, and so vacant. The apartments lined both sides of an avenue running somewhere south of 14th Street. Down the middle of that avenue, though, ran a one-way stretch of elevated railway line, and along that line, at odd hours of the day and night, now and then ran a locomotive pulling a few refrigerated freight cars full of beef and pork carcasses connecting the butchering headquarters of the city, south of Canal Street, with the nation’s rail network at about where Lincoln Center is now.

Deterred by the noise, and the dirt, and the general ugliness of the thing, not to mention the problems in driving and parking on that avenue, nobody wanted to live there, and hardly anybody did.

I cannot imagine why some billionaire developer didn’t see the possibilities and make a few billion more. For that matter, I can’t see why none of us did; surely there was a way to make quite a lot of money out of the situation. But we didn’t. We stayed there for a few months, and then the nay-sayers among us won out. The apartment was hard to get to. It got dirty between meetings, from that soot and ash that inhabits big-city air, and no one wanted to clean it. And, perhaps most telling point of all, after a meeting broke up at somewhere around midnight, nobody really enjoyed walking through those dirty, dark and apparently unpoliced streets. So we gave up our little home from home and returned to the life of gypsies.

And time passed.

 
Time passed, and the city wove its magic. You might not expect much from that magic, because the major ingredients it had to work with were only soot, fly ash and bird poop. But they were enough.

There were no trains on that elevated railway any more. Much of the railway itself was gone because smaller-minded developers had seen the possibilities here, or at least small fractions of them, and most of the elevated structure north of somewhere around 23rd Street was torn down, the outgoing animal carcasses, and the returning chops and steaks, then transported by trucks.

Okay now, it’s quiz time.

Q. What happens to any flat surface left exposed to the air in New York?

A. It gets dirty.

Q. What happens to that dirty layer if you don’t clean it up?

A. It accumulates more layers of dirt.

Q. What happens to those accumulated layers?

A. Birds flying overhead poop onto them.

Q. What constituent of bird poop has evolved to make that a way of reproducing itself?

A. Plant seeds.

And so it was. The plant seeds, well supplied with fertilizer, watered by the next rain that comes along, grow. That’s just about inevitable, but nobody seems to have anticipated it.

What did happen was that the City Council at last decided to get rid of that remaining stretch of elevated railway, so they sent people to those apartments to give the very few tenants who lived there the good news that they were going to tear it down. And the word the people sent back was, “Like hell you are! We’re hiring a lawyer.”

And then the emissaries climbed up to the top of the structure, and what they saw took their breath away. A riot of wildflowers twenty blocks long, where the seeds transported in bird intestines had germinated and grown into the absolute best wildflower display in North America. It had been the little secret of the people who lived along that stretch of roadway, and they were not going to let it be destroyed. And it hasn’t been.

 
Well, it’s been changed some now. The city fathers weren’t going to ruin this self-starting wonder. They weren’t going to preserve it for just a few local families and their most trusted friends alone, either. They’ve civilized it. There’s a broad footpath that runs the length of it now, with drinking fountains and Porta-Potties and exhibits of quite nice local art and all that sort of thing, all kept spanking clean, and what they’re now calling The High Line has become one of the city’s tourist attractions most relished by the cognoscenti. And nobody built it. It built itself.

And ain’t nature grand, if you just leave it alone to do what it does best?

 
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Lester and Judy-Lynn del Rey

 

Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet)
Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet)

Quite a few years ago —well, about seventy of them, to be exact —I was the teen-age editor of two professional science-fiction magazines for the giant pulp firm of Popular Publications. I didn’t pay much for the stories that went into my magazines but I did pay something, and so most of the science-fiction writers of that era dropped by from time to time to see if I would care to relieve them of some of their stack of Astounding rejects.

People like hoary old Ray Cummings and bright-minted new stars like L. Sprague de Camp came by my little office at the end of 42d Street, just where it stops dead at the East River, and one day our switchboard girl, Ethel Klock, informed me that I had a new visitor named Lester del Rey.

Though I’d never met the man, I knew the name; I had seen it, enviously, any number of times on the Astounding contents page. “Shoot him right in!” I commanded, hoping that he would come bearing manuscripts, and a couple of minutes later there he was, short, angel-faced, no more than a couple of years older than myself — and, yes, with two short-story manuscripts in his hands!

There is an established procedure for such events. It doesn’t allow the editor to snatch the typescripts from the author’s hands, or the author to throw them in from the doorway without a word. There has to be a little chatting back and forth first, so I had to wait until Lester was back in the elevator to start reading. The stories were short. I finished them both in a quarter of an hour.

Then I rejected them both.

What was wrong with them? I don’t remember. What were they about? I don’t remember that, either. And not only did I bounce them, so did every other editor Lester showed them to. Years later I asked him what had become of them. He said he had no idea, didn’t remember anything about them, and hoped I would never ask him such an embarrassing question again.

So that was my unpromising start to knowing Lester del Rey. Fortunately, later on things got better.

 
Later on things did, but it took a few years. John Campbell got over his nasty habit of rejecting any of Lester’s stories, so Lester had nothing to sell me; and then the Air Force invited me to join them for World War II so I had no magazine to buy them for, anyway. Then, postwar, Lester and I ran into each other now and then at various gatherings, and then in 1947 we ran into a big one. That was the ’47 World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia.

We were both there. When it was over we were having a cup of coffee together somewhere when we got to thinking. We had had such a great time mingling again with our nearest and dearest (as well as some of our farthest and dislikedest) from the world of science fiction that we decided we really ought to organize some sort of local sf group so we could do more of it. So Lester commandeered a couple of his friends and brought them to my Greenwich Village apartment, where I had collected a few of mine, and we sat down and created the Hydra Club. (Why Hydra? Because there were nine of us there, and the mythological Hydra had had nine heads.)

This was a definite public service, because for years thereafter the Hydra Club had become the place where sf writers from out of town visited when they came to New York in order to find people they could talk to. (Out of town sometimes meant very out of town — in the case of Arthur Clarke or W. Olaf Stapledon, the United Kingdom; in the case of A. Bertram Chandler, from about as far away as you could get without leaving our planet entirely, namely Australia.)

Nor was Hydra merely a place where you could exchange trade gossip with colleagues. Lester and I both found wives there, and we two couples made a habit of going to cons together. What made that easy was that after a while Lester and Evelyn del Rey came out to visit with Carol and me and our growing number of children in our big old house in Red Bank, New Jersey. The del Reys’ intention was to spend a weekend. They wound up staying seventeen years — well, seventeen years in the neighborhood, anyway, since after a while they bought a house of their own down the street. It might have been longer, but one day, driving to a small vacation in Florida, their car got entangled in the wake of an eighteen-wheeler and was sent spinning off the road. Evelyn was thrown clear, but then the car rolled over on her and she was killed.

After that Lester could not stay in their house. He sold it for a pitiful amount —furniture, books, wine cellar and all — to the first person who thought to make him an offer, and moved back to the city.

 
For all those years we had been keeping busy, Lester writing, me doing some of that but also fooling around with editing and other diversions. After putting together a string of anthologies for Ian Ballantine, I wound up as editor of a couple of science-fiction magazines, Galaxy and If. It was not a well-paying job but I loved it. It gave some welcome perks, including a full-time assistant.

When I needed to hire a new one I interviewed a recent Barnard graduate named Judy-Lynn Benjamin, who seemed to be bright and energetic enough for the job, but presented two worrisome problems. One was that her specialty was the works of James Joyce and she knew nothing at all about science fiction. That, I figured, could be handled; I would not ask her to make any buy-or-bounce decisions, and everything else I could easily teach her.

The other struck me as tougher. Judy-Lynn was an achondroplastic dwarf, not much over three feet tall, and I didn’t know how she would manage to reach the top drawers of the filing cabinets. But I took a chance, and actually she worked out rather well, turning out to be capable of managing anything at all. After I left the magazines, Judy-Lynn went to work for Ballantine Books, winding up running the enterprise, which is why its current avatar, Del Rey Books, was named after her.

Lester entered the picture when my publisher, Bob Guinn, urged me to add a fantasy magazine to my group. I had nothing against fantasy, but I didn’t have a great deal of interest in it, and anyway I didn’t want to add to my work load. So I persuaded Lester, now a widower for some years, to come aboard as its editor. He did well, and the three of us got along well, too, in fact better than I realized until I got a phone call from Lester to say that he and Judy-Lynn were getting married, and would I care to be his best man?

I would. They did it. And after a while, he joined Judy-Lynn at Ballantine, and — no surprise to anyone who knew them — with Lester handling the fantasy side of the operation while Judy-Lynn continued with the sf, they were fabulously successful, leading the field in the number of their books that wound up on the New York Times bestseller list.

What made Judy-Lynn successful? The answer to that is simply that she worked with (and/or married) three of the best editors around, studied what they did attentively and learned from all of them. (I know that makes me sound immodest, but I learned from the best there was, namely J. W. Campbell.)

Lester had a whole other style. Lester took as his model some of the historically great editors of the past and, like them, questioned every phrase and comma in every manuscript he accepted and made the authors rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. It paid off — once when I was having lunch with Lester’s boss he told me that he believed Lester was the most profitable editor in the publishing industry — but it was arduous. Some authors dumped the man who had made them bestsellers in favor of some other editor who might give them a less stressful life.

So the del Reys were riding high, but it came to an end. One of the penalties of being an achondroplastic dwarf is the likelihood of a short life span. After some very good years, Judy-Lynn had a massive stroke and then died of it, and a few years later Lester followed her.

Other husband-wife editorial teams in science fiction and fantasy — Ian and Betty Ballantine, Donald and Elsie Wollheim — have done wonderfully well, but in making that Times list, no one has done better than the del Reys, and I don’t really think anyone ever will.

Arthur C. Clarke, photo by Amy Marash, www.marash.tv

Sir Arthur C. Clarke at home in Sri Lanka, 2005. Photo by Amy Marash.

I first met Arthur C. Clarke in the 1950s, on the occasion of his first cross-Atlantic visit to New York City By then Arthur had established himself as a first-rate science-fiction writer and he did what sf writers do in a strange city: He looked for other sf writers to talk to.

He found them in the rather amorphously shaped group that called itself the Hydra Club, where I was one of the nine heads that had been its founders. We became friends. We stayed that way for all of the half century that remained of Arthur’s life. We met when chance arranged it — at a film festival in Rio de Janeiro, at an occasional scientific meeting, at assorted “cons” — sf-speak for science-fiction gatherings — in many places at many times.

In the early days Arthur spent a lot of time visiting New York, usually staying at the Chelsea Hotel on West 23d Street, and when possible I would join him for dinner or a drink — that was all expense-account money and happily paid for by my publisher, because I was an editor in those days and eager to publish as much Clarke as I could get my hands on. But by the turn of the millennium our friendship had reduced itself to a desultory correspondence and the odd phone conversation. I had given up editing to concentrate on my own writing. What Arthur had given up was ever leaving his island home in Sri Lanka, where I had never been. (Although I visited a number of other countries, Sri Lanka wasn’t one of them.)

Then, in one of his letters in the early part of 2006, Arthur rather offhandedly mentioned that, a couple of years earlier, in a fit of exuberance, he had signed publishing contracts for several books that, he was now convinced, he would never be able to write himself. Most of them he had arranged for some other writer to finish, but there was one, called The Last Theorem, for which he needed a collaborator.

Continue reading ‘Sir Arthur and I’ »