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Sci-Fi Great Frederik Pohl Passes Away At 93

timothy posted 1 year,17 days | from the 9th-decade-is-an-achievement dept.

Sci-Fi 57

damnbunni writes "Frederik Pohl, one of the last Golden Age science fiction authors, passed away on September 2nd of respiratory distress, as reported on his blog. Pohl is perhaps best known for his Heechee Saga novels, beginning with Gateway in 1977, but his work in pulp magazines in the '30s and '40s helped give rise to science fiction fandom."

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Farewell (5, Insightful)

meerling (1487879) | 1 year,17 days | (#44746837)

I've enjoyed many of his books over the years.
Another master will be greatly missed.

Re:Farewell (1)

gweihir (88907) | 1 year,17 days | (#44753087)

Indeed.

The Cool War (4, Interesting)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | 1 year,17 days | (#44746859)

My personal favourite. Amazingly prescient.

Re:The Cool War (5, Informative)

TWiTfan (2887093) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747087)

"Outnumbering the Dead," one of the best science fiction novellas I ever read. But the guy had so many greats. He was one of the greatest modern serious science fiction writers ever, and active almost right up until the end. I don't think he ever had a slump.

Graduated with honors. (5, Insightful)

Tackhead (54550) | 1 year,17 days | (#44746915)

"That's what life is, just one learning experience after another, and when you're through with all the learning experiences you graduate and what you get for a diploma is, you die."

Thanks, Frederik, for learning so much in your time with us that you were able to teach, through your example, some of us how to write. Enjoy Heechee heaven, and if you ever figure out how their ships work, come back and see us sometime. (Thanks again. I just realized how the ships work. You pick up a book, you open it to page 1, and *poof*, you're there.)

In another universe (5, Insightful)

aitikin (909209) | 1 year,17 days | (#44746985)

He's alive and well and will live into his 120s. Meanwhile, in another universe, he never lived and no one lives on this planet. Ah The Coming of the Quantum Cats [wikipedia.org] , such a great introduction to him. He will be missed.

Re:In another universe (2)

thegameiam (671961) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747207)

I loved that book. Also The Space Merchants, and pretty much anything of his I've encountered. One of the greats.

Re:In another universe (3, Insightful)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747693)

I loved that book. Also The Space Merchants, and pretty much anything of his I've encountered. One of the greats.

I'm going to have to number The Space Merchants among the classics of SF. Lesser-known and much later came the sequel The Merchants War, which points out the problem of going to extremes and ends with the perhaps unsatisfying, but very true-to-life conclusion that there Is No Perfect Answer.

Pohl was good at keeping himself fresh. Every couple of years, long after you'd have thought he'd retired and passed on, something new would pop up on the bookstore shelves. All good things must come to an end, alas.

Re:In another universe (1)

aitikin (909209) | 1 year,17 days | (#44748063)

He could end up being like Tupac and release another book every other year for next 20 years...

Re:In another universe (2)

Eunuchswear (210685) | 1 year,17 days | (#44749173)

All of the books he co-wrote with CM Kornbluth were great -

The Space Merchants
Gladiator at Law
Wolfbane
Search the Sky (the least good IMHO)

Remember the conversation between Green, Charleworth and Mundin: ...

Charlesworth: "She wants to free the slaves, she says. Talks about Mr Lincoln!"
Green: "We Fixed Mr Lincoln's Wagon, Mr Charlesworth"
C: "We did, Mrs Green. And we will Fix Her Wagon too." ...

C: "We hate you, Mundin. You said we were not God Almighty."
G: "Atheist!"

The Man was a Plus for certain! (1)

ZonkerWilliam (953437) | 1 year,17 days | (#44746989)

I read his novels back in the 70's. He truly was one of the greats! He will be missed!

I recall reading "The Cool War" in my single... (2)

Type44Q (1233630) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747015)

I recall reading "The Cool War" in my single digits; I think it may have contained the first sex scene I ever read about. :p

Inevitable but sad still the same (2)

Instantlemming (816917) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747023)

Of course, most writers I grew up with were already 'old' when I first read their work... Frederik Pohl (and Jack Vance earlier this year) managed to reach a very respectable age, and their passing is only natural. It still saddens me though that such a mind is gone forever.

Re:Inevitable but sad still the same (2)

rubycodez (864176) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747089)

You're lucky, my first read of SF works were of writers long dead - H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Doyle (Prof. Challenger stories)

Re:Inevitable but sad still the same (5, Informative)

arth1 (260657) | 1 year,17 days | (#44748391)

Verne was a fave as a kid, but not the first - it started with Homer, and then Zeke and Johnny's sci-fi in the bible.
Verne, however, made it much easier for the reader to suspend disbelief, which is a good quality measure for fiction.

Pohl will be missed. There aren't a lot of the old style masters left now. Brian Aldiss, Gene Wolfe, Ursula K. LeGuin, Silverbob, Cherryh, Joe Haldeman, and (no matter how much he protests writing SciFi) Harlan Ellison.

The last few years have been hard:
Robert Jordan
Fred Saberhagen
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Robert A. Wilson
Robert Asprin
Arthur C. Clarke
Michael Crichton
P.J. Farmer
Phyllis Gotlieb
William Tenn
Anne McCaffrey
Harry Harrison
Ray Bradbury
Jack Vance
Iain M. Banks
Frederik Pohl

The times spent as a kid reading under the blanket with a flashlight will never be forgotten. May there be more authors of the same caliber to come, for future generations, and not just parasmut and angst books.

Re:Inevitable but sad still the same (1)

Galactic Dominator (944134) | 1 year,17 days | (#44752801)

Crichton does not merit inclusion in this list. While I did not' wish death on him, I'm glad I won't have to hear about new material from him.

A Plague of Pythons - my first from him (1)

advid.net (595837) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747085)

A Plague of Pythons (good but not his best) : I remember I've read this book picked up randomly from sci-fi collection. Nice novel I still remember well.

I'll check later for novel advice here, I surely missed the best ones he wrote.

Last of the old ones (1)

Yergle143 (848772) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747099)

Golden Ages end. With Pohl it was his skills as an editor. Pick up any issue of Galaxy Magazine in the 60's and you'll be drawn into how well the thing is put together; and how good the writing is. If you like the Sci Fi genre there really is (current tense intended) no better way to read compelling and idea laden works from new and old writers. And like others from the era, his own novels became interesting rather late. "Gateway" is pretty good. The tropes are compelling. But again, Golden ages end.

Re:Last of the old ones (1)

ackthpt (218170) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747199)

Golden Ages end. With Pohl it was his skills as an editor. Pick up any issue of Galaxy Magazine in the 60's and you'll be drawn into how well the thing is put together; and how good the writing is. If you like the Sci Fi genre there really is (current tense intended) no better way to read compelling and idea laden works from new and old writers. And like others from the era, his own novels became interesting rather late. "Gateway" is pretty good. The tropes are compelling. But again, Golden ages end.

I'm busy stuffing my bookshelves with anthologies, which I really love to go through. I've picked up a few old Sci-Fi magazines, like Galaxy, which are great reading, but slightly vexing when you come to the serials, which mean finding more of the issues. It can get spendy filling the gaps.

Re:Last of the old ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#44747425)

Yup, the same can be said about space. We sent lots of people into tin cans, some tin cans went further than others (so we could impress another bunch of tin can throwers). Then that ended. And life goes on right here.

Re:Last of the old ones (1)

chipschap (1444407) | 1 year,17 days | (#44748679)

It's something all slashdotters can agree on, Mr. Pohl was true greatness and has left a legacy that will last for generations upon generations.

Ironically (1)

Lawrence_Bird (67278) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747145)

While rearranging the top bookshelf this weekend I moved a few of his books around. Farewell but your works will always be remembered

Re:Ironically (1)

dargaud (518470) | 1 year,17 days | (#44748541)

I just gave away his anthology yesterday to make room... for a newcomer to the family. Should have kept it.

The masters fade away.. (3, Interesting)

ackthpt (218170) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747177)

To be replaced by Vampire fiction :_(

As a school library was cleaning out books I've been acquiring a lot of the works of Simak, Heinlein (early sci-fi), Bradbury, et al. There's something enjoyable about reading these things. Sometimes listening to old MP3s of Dimension-X or X-Minus-1 (which you can find on archive.org) is a lot of fun. It was a simpler age with the new sciences of atomic physics and morality to be explored.

Re:The masters fade away.. (2)

meerling (1487879) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747663)

Half of which isn't vampires, it's confused faeries.

Re:The masters fade away.. (1)

mendax (114116) | 1 year,17 days | (#44751951)

Sometimes listening to old MP3s of Dimension-X or X-Minus-1 (which you can find on archive.org) is a lot of fun. It was a simpler age with the new sciences of atomic physics and morality to be explored.

Yes! I thoroughly enjoy listening to the old Dimension X and X Minux One radio shows from the 1950 and the mid-1950's, respectively. Incidentally, Frederick Pohl's stories were featured on occasion on these shows. This should be be a surprise; so were the stories of Asimov, Heinlein, and Bradbury. In fact, radio is a terrific medium for science fiction, a "theater of the mind" even more powerful than the original written works the radio plays are based upon.

Incidentally, my favorite X Minus One episode is "Star Bright" [astraeasweb.net] by Mark Clifton [wikipedia.org] , a fine science fiction writer who died before his time.

Gold at Starbow's End (4, Interesting)

DuckDodgers (541817) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747239)

Gold at Starbow's End (also sometimes sold as Starburst) is one of my favorite science fiction novellas, or maybe science fantasy, of all time.

In typical Pohl fashion it includes lots of sex. But the basic plot is that civilization is collapsing, and someone devises a plan to send six of the world's top scientists, three men and three women, on a multi-year space journey to a planet near Alpha Centauri with nothing to do during the voyage but scientific research. With nothing else to do but research on the ship and chemicals in their food to suppress sexual desire, they hope the crew will make new breakthroughs in many fields. They do.

Unfortunately, the logical, mathematical, and scientific breakthroughs by the crew swiftly move them beyond what the humans back on earth can understand. They create their own language and mathematical notation. They redesign and reconstruct their space ship while it's in motion. They manufacture their own chemicals to nullify the mechanism that was negating their sexual desires and have all sorts of sex, and even raise children on the ship. In the end they manifest psychic powers and figure out how to live disembodied.

The story takes everything you might have liked about the movies Phenomenom, Limitless (and the book it's based upon, "The Dark Fields"), and Lawnmower Man and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Nth Degree" and takes the ideas far further. (Except for killing John Travolta, which cannot be improved upon.)

Re:Gold at Starbow's End (1)

thrich81 (1357561) | 1 year,17 days | (#44751619)

"Gold at the Starbow's End" -- one of my favorite novellas (and still is) as it was originally published in "Analog" in 1972; I have Mr. Pohl's autograph on my copy of that one. When he expanded it to book length and it was published stand alone -- I didn't like it at all; maybe I'll take another look, but I was very disappointed.

Re:Gold at Starbow's End (2)

terryk29 (2756467) | 1 year,16 days | (#44755441)

Unfortunately, the logical, mathematical, and scientific breakthroughs by the crew swiftly move them beyond what the humans back on earth can understand. They create their own language and mathematical notation.

Part of that that I remember is how they transmitted some of their discoveries encoded in a single large integer (to annoy their masters on Earth), where IIRC the intervals between it's prime factors encoded characters. Between the good parts the message would tease and ramble, all the while getting harder and harder to decode as the factors increased in size.

Gateway (1)

Hatta (162192) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747255)

Gateway inspired a couple of classic interactive fiction titles by Legend in the early 90s. These are mouse driven text adventures, with limited illustration. As text adventures go, these are a lot of fun to play. The story is obviously great, the world is portrayed well, and the puzzles are well balanced. It's hard to get stuck, which is high praise for adventures of this era. Anyway, if you liked The Dig and Planetfall, Gateway will be right up your alley.

He will be missed (2)

fnj (64210) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747323)

Fred Pohl was best known by IGNORANT PUPS for the Heechee Saga novels.

He seemed like an old timer to me when I was gobbling up science fiction voraciously in the 1950s. You could hardly open a Galaxy magazine without finding one of his stories. And indeed, though he wasn't nearly as early on the scene as the great E. E. 'Doc' Smith, he was well established by the 1950s. Then he took over editorship of BOTH Galaxy and Worlds of If at the end of the 1950s. His writing really exploded in the 1960s, and it seems like he collaborated with just about every science fiction writer. Oh, those many late late nights listening to the Long John Nebel radio show when he would have Fred as guest (also Poul Anderson so many times)!

This prolific man lived for TWENTY YEARS AFTER receiving the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, and was active all that time! He was also very hip to the internet.

Re:He will be missed (1)

dtmos (447842) | 1 year,17 days | (#44750563)

Indeed.

In the early 1960s I lived in a very small town -- but a town that had a library. Wandering through it one summer day (it was air conditioned!), I discovered the Science Fiction shelf. It was organized by author's last name. I decided to start on the right, and go to the left -- I was a contrarian even then -- and was unimpressed with the first selection of books I read (by authors the names of whom I have forgotten -- apparently the library didn't have any John Wyndham books). I decided to reverse my field, and start from the left.

Shazam! Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, . . . I was hooked for life. Heinlein and Pohl were glorious discoveries along the way. Later on, when I could afford subscriptions to Galaxy and Amazing Science Fiction, Pohl became a real favorite.

One of the very last of the greats from the Golden Era.

Re:He will be missed (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#44751195)

Thanks for the comment on his being web savvy. His webmaster is a friend. I'll pass that along.

I miss sci fi... (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#44747349)

I miss the dreams about sci fi, however, my big fear is that instead of seeing FTL drives and terraformed worlds, what we will see are ones in crowd control, imprisonment, and torture for the foreseeable future. Just like how the technology went from people like Jobs and Torvalds to corporate leaders like Damon Hininger and others.

We used to have Rama, or even Gay Deceiver. Now, we have sparkly vampires, zombies, and police states that are the topics written about.

I can understand how being a visionary is hard these days. In the 1950s, we actually had a chance of seeing something than a return to groaning, brutal serfdom, but it appears that we are going back to the days of most of the population living in shit and the only tech advances are either for fashion or for putting the pain on someone (be it a perceived enemy, or just outright torture for fun.)

*sigh* I'd give virtually everything to be a Lensman these days.

Man Plus - one of the better endings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#44747373)

I really enjoyed Man Plus. I thought that I was clever when I figured out who the narrator was fairly early on, but the last paragraph blew me away.

It was consistent and a nice surprise.

Re:Man Plus - one of the better endings... (2)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747571)

He's a self-contained eunuch. Er, Unit! I meant Unit!

Re:Man Plus - one of the better endings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#44747765)

I thought the entire subplot of his wife having an affair with his Dr. was pretty creepy and when he woke up to find his junk gone... that took it to the next level.

He's not dead (3, Funny)

Spy Handler (822350) | 1 year,17 days | (#44747427)

he got shanghaied to Venus and is working secretly as an ad copywrighter

Who will assist at the funeral? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#44747469)

Pohl bearers.

Where did he pass away to? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#44748121)

Didn't you mean to say he "died"?

Re:Where did he pass away to? (1)

Drishmung (458368) | 1 year,17 days | (#44750887)

Currently modded down to -1. Sigh.

It's a valid point. Death is a great, scary taboo. So we avert our eyes and say he "passed away", or even "passed".

Fred Pohl has died. Mincing words does not help. My sadness at this is not helped by such euphemisms. In fact, like the AC OP, I, personally, find "passed away" slightly offensive---and "passed" more so.

So, let's accept that Fred has died. Let's rejoice in the life he led, the books he wrote, the pleasure he gave to so many. Let's celebrate him living a ling life, and being productive to the very end.

I read his latest blog post, and then, the next day. saw he'd died. Way to go!

Class Act (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#44748235)

Had the opportunity as a film student to interview Pohl for a short documentary about his experience in the Golden Age of Science Fiction. He graciously welcomed me into his home, and allowed me to record an interview. Quite a memorable experience for a young writer. Was a big fan before that point, and a bigger one after. Hope there's a Heechee prayer fan out there for him.

Thanks from a fan (0)

MiniMike (234881) | 1 year,17 days | (#44748411)

One of my favorite authors. I've recommended the Heechee Saga to probably dozens of younger SciFi readers. Think I'll have to re-read it. Again. And then the rest of his books. Again...

Condolences to his family.

Re:Thanks from a fan (0)

CRCulver (715279) | 1 year,17 days | (#44749169)

I've recommended the Heechee Saga to probably dozens of younger SciFi readers.

You recommend to young people a series that starts with a novel dwelling on the protagonist's consequence-free sex with multiple partners? It's not 1977 anymore. AIDS happened, and the creepy old man sex fantasies of Pohl and other SF authors working in the 1970s seem very irresponsible in retrospective.

Re:Thanks from a fan (1)

MiniMike (234881) | 1 year,17 days | (#44750103)

I didn't say I recommended it to minors. Younger != minor. It's actually been a while since I read this book, but I don't recall that part being a major focus of the story. Maybe I mentally filtered that part of it out. Did you read to the part with the spaceships, etc? If you want "creepy old man sex fantasies" go read some Heinlein- there may be more extreme examples, but I don't want to know who.

Re:Thanks from a fan (1)

CRCulver (715279) | 1 year,17 days | (#44750271)

I read Gateway last week, as it happens. The protagonist's rolling in the hay with the female inhabitants of the station (often with inhibited judgement thanks to his fondness for grass), as well as his working out his gay sex fantasies with the computer psychologist, take up a large portion of the novel. I was very disappointed to find that the actual science-fiction, the big revelation of his tragic visit to the black hole which was long anticipated, was passed over in just 2-3 pages. I really see little difference between Pohl and Heinlein, or between Pohl and The Ringworld Throne-era Niven.

Sad to see him go (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#44748695)

In 100 years or so, his works will finally fall into the public domain and schools will use him to teach! Ah the future is full of such wonder.

Sigh (1)

Nov8tr (2007392) | 1 year,17 days | (#44748761)

Oh god no. Not another one. We've lost far too many of our greats. I've seen too many of people I consider friends pass on. We're left with a generation of whiny, self entitled, me me me me kids its scary. Kids who instead of writing great stories, shoot their classmates. It makes me sad to see him go. I enjoyed reading so many of his books over and over. I feel like I've lost family. Goodbye my friend.

Two stories taht really stick in my mind. (2)

MouseTheLuckyDog (2752443) | 1 year,17 days | (#44748841)

"The Marching Morons" where the idiots out populate the smart people and force them to come up with fool proof devices.
I just heard a drunk woman fell overboard from a cruise ship. Eventually the cruise ship turned around and picked her up 90 minutes later.
She is suing the cruise line because they took to long to rescue her. In part because they didn't have sufficient safety equipment. No infrared camera for example which would have let them see a passenger in the water at night. Sound familiar?

"The Space Merchants" where advertising pervades our whole life and often times we are being tricked or forced to watch ads. Sound familiar?

RIP Fredrick Pohl.

Re:Two stories taht really stick in my mind. (2)

Nova Express (100383) | 1 year,17 days | (#44750723)

While Pohl did frequently collaborate with C. M. Kornbluth, "The Marching Morons" is by Kornbluth alone.

Re:Two stories taht really stick in my mind. (1)

kermidge (2221646) | 1 year,17 days | (#44750983)

Thanks for mentioning "The Marching Morons" - it's been on the tip of my mind for months but couldn't recall title or author, due ravages of bad memory. Too much these days falls right in line; I see fewer and fewer people who seem to know how to do anything if they can't "Google" it. Their parents didn't teach them, their schools are afraid to, and they shun Scouts.

I paid my respects at el Reg; suffice that Mr. Pohl introduced me to more, taught me more, than few other writers came close to.

Passed Away (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#44749667)

Who did he pass? Or do you mean he died?

He was an amazing person (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#44750579)

As busy as he was I emailed him one time to inquire about a sequel to "World at the End of Time".

Shockingly.. he emailed me back and was kind enough to say he had far to many other stories in the works to work on a sequel at the time.

That royally floored me, it felt like getting an email from Einstein or Asimov

A very special human being

This has been a horrible year for science fiction (2)

Nova Express (100383) | 1 year,17 days | (#44750713)

Jack Vance
Fred Pohl
Iain Banks
Richard Matheson

I don't think we've seen this many giants in the field all pass away the same year before.

If no one else has mentioned it, read Pohl's story "Tunnel Under the World," which is still a great work.

Man Plus (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#44752907)

I'd really like to see Man Plus made into a film. However, it would have to be done in the style of The Forbin Project with flairs, mustaches and everyone continuously smoking.

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