THE EARLY POHL (1976) by Frederik Pohl

The Early Pohl (1976)-03

This time out, I’m going to take a look at a collection of very early stories by one of my favourite SF writers, who also happened to be one of the best editors in the SF industry, and one of the true titans of the SF world, Frederik Pohl. The eight stories and single poem span the years 1937-1944, and there is also a nice introduction and further introductory piece, The Early Pohl, both written by the man himself.

TITLE: THE EARLY POHL
AUTHOR: Frederik Pohl
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Single-Author Collection
FORMAT: Hardback (with dustjacket), US 1st Edition, New York, 1976, 183 pages
PUBLISHER: Doubleday & Co. Inc., New York.

Contents (8 stories, 1 poem):

  • Introduction by Frederik Pohl
  • The Early Pohl by Frederik Pohl
  • “Elegy to a Dead Planet: Luna”, originally published as “Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna” under the pseudonym “Elton Andrews”, (poem, Amazing, October 1937)
  • “The Dweller in the Ice”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh” (short story, Super Science Stories, January 1941)
  • “The King’s Eye”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (short story, Astonishing Stories, February 1941)
  • “It’s a Young World”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (novelette, Astonishing Stories, April 1941)
  • “Daughters of Eternity”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh” (short story, Astonishing Stories, March 1942)
  • “Earth, Farewell!”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (novelette, Astonishing Stories, February 1943)
  • “Conspiracy on Callisto”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (short story, Planet Stories, Winter 1943)
  • “Highwayman of the Void”, originally published under the pseudonym “Dirk Wylie”, (novelette, Planet Stories, Fall 1944)
  • “Double-Cross”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (short story, Planet Stories, Winter 1944)

Aside from the poem, “Elegy to a Dead Planet: Luna”, which was Pohl’s first published work, I haven’t read any of these stories before. The first two Pohl stories that I did read, way back in my early and mid-teens, were also early ones from the same era as these stories, both appearing under the same “James MacCreigh” pseudonym as most of the stories in this collection.

“Wings of the Lightning Land” was a novelette which first appeared in the November 1941 edition of Astonishing Stories, and was the very first Pohl/MacCreigh story that I ever read, in the classic anthology Science Fiction: The Great Years, edited by Carol & Frederik Pohl (who else?). The other one that I read shortly afterwards was “Let the Ants Try”, a short story that first appeared in the Winter 1949 edition of Planet Stories, and which I read in another SF anthology (can’t remember which) back in my mid-teens. Both of these stories had a huge effect on me at that early age, and have remained firm favourites ever since I first read them over forty years ago. They are among a select group of SF stories that have stuck firmly in my mind virtually my entire life.

I’m actually very surprised that both of these stories were not included in this collection, as they’re two of Pohl’s best early stories from this era, and they really should’ve been in this book. They would’ve been a perfect fit for this one. Ah, well, I have them in other anthologies anyway. As I’m a big fan of Pohl’s work, and I always love stories from this time period, I really should enjoy these stories. I think I’ll be in for a real treat with this collection.

THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY STARR by Paul French (Isaac Asimov)

Several posts ago, I listed some of the SF novels that I’d picked up recently, among them two of Isaac Asimov’s Lucky Starr juvies that he wrote back in the 1950’s under his Paul French pseudonym. Well, that set me to searching for the only single-volume omnibus of all six Lucky Starr novels, which I found on Amazon. It’s quite hard to come by, being out-of-print, and quite expensive. But I took the plunge and bought it, and it arrived by mail in double-quick time.

So what’ve we got? Let’s look at the details:

TITLE: THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY STARR
AUTHOR: Paul French (Isaac Asimov)
CATEGORY: Novel
SUB-CATEGORY: Omnibus
FORMAT: Hardback, 701 pages
PUBLISHER: Science Fiction Book Club, in association with Doubleday & Co. Inc, New York, 2001
ISBN: 0-7394-1941-2

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction to the Adventures of Lucky Starr
  • Introduction to the Further Adventures of Lucky Starr
  • David Starr – Space Ranger (1952)
  • Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953)
  • Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (1954)
  • Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury (1956)
  • Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter (1957)
  • Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn (1958)

The reason for the two introductions is that the books were released in two volumes back in 1985, with a different introduction for each volume. So both introductions have been republished in this single volume. The introductions alone are very interesting, and give some nice insights into Asimov’s thoughts on his old juvies from a vantage point of thirty years later.

Asimov spends much of both introductions, explaining, almost apologizing for how wrong he got the planetary science in his novels. I found all of this very entertaining, but, in effect, totally unnecessary. He wrote those books according to the knowledge that science had in the early 1950’s, from telescopic observations of the planets, before the radar imaging and planetary probes of the 1960’s and 1970’s made that old knowledge totally obsolete.

Sure, the planetary science is in those books is wrong and way out of date. Hey, so what? All planetary science before the Mariner space probes and those that followed is hopelessly out of date. There are no oceans on Venus, and it is a boiling, poisonous, high-pressure inferno to outdo any religious visions of hell. There has never been any advanced life or civilizations on Mars, no canals, and only an extremely thin, cold atmosphere. Mercury does not keep one side only to the Sun, Saturn’s rings are radically more complex, and the lunar families of both Jupiter and Saturn are much larger than they ever suspected back then, and the lunar ecologies of both planets much more complex than they could ever have imagined.

But you know what? I don’t give a hoot. That kind of thing has never bothered me too much, any more than the “wrong” planetary science in the books of earlier “greats”. I just shunt these Lucky Starr stories into the same alternate solar system where all the mythical planets of great earlier writers reside. Asimov is in some great company there: Stanley G. Weinbaum, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, Edwin Lester Arnold, C. S. Lewis, Raymond Z. Gallun, P. Schuyler Miller, Ray Bradbury, Clifford D. Simak, James Blish, Clark Ashton Smith, John Wyndham, Frederik Pohl, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert A. Heinlein and many, many other giants of the genre. These earlier solar system tales exist in their own little continuum, untouched by cold, hard, modern scientific facts. Nor should they be.

I first read most of these novels (all except Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus and Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury) way back in my early teens, usually on loan from local libraries. These were the classic NEL (New English Library) UK paperback editions, with those beautiful covers. Even now that I have the hardback omnibus, I still want to pick up those paperbacks in good condition, just for the covers.

I’ve been reading a little of the first novel in the series, and the writing holds up surprisingly well today. I think I’m going to really enjoy reacquainting myself with David “Lucky” Starr, Bigman and the rest in these fun books.

BUG-EYED MONSTERS edited by Anthony Cheetham

This is a nice little anthology, containing ten stories (more accurately NINE stories and one radio play adaptation) spanning thirty years 1938-1968. It is edited by Anthony Cheetham, with whom I am totally unfamiliar.

TITLE: BUG-EYED MONSTERS
EDITED BY: Anthony Cheetham
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 280 pages
PUBLISHER: Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1972.
ISBN: 0 283 97864 3

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Anthony Cheetham
  • “Invasion from Mars” by Howard Koch (with Orson Welles) – 1938 radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, CBS, October 30, 1938
  • “Not Only Dead Men” by A. E. Van Vogt (1942) (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1942)
  • “Arena” by Fredric Brown (1944) (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1944)
  • “Surface Tension” by James Blish (Galaxy, August 1952)
  • “The Deserter” by William Tenn (1953) (reprinted from Star Science Fiction Stories, edited by Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, February 1953)
  • “Mother” by Philip José Farmer (1953) (Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1953)
  • “Stranger Station” by Damon Knight (1956) (Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1956)
  • “Greenslaves” by Frank Herbert (1965) (Amazing Stories, March 1965)
  • “Balanced Ecology” by James H. Schmitz (1967) (Analog, March 1965)
  • “The Dance of the Changer & Three” by Terry Carr (1968) (reprinted from The Farthest Reaches, edited by Joseph Elder, Trident 1968)

According to Cheetham’s interesting little introduction, the title of the book is a gentle, fun jibe at the old, stereotypical “bug-eyed monster” of the pulps. However the ten stories in the anthology are of an altogether higher quality than those old yarns in the pulps, almost a “rehabilitation” of the old bug-eyed monster.

There’s quite a mix in this anthology. We start off with one which is very apt, given the title of the anthology. Howard Koch’s (and Orson Welles’s) classic 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s seminal 1898 interplanetary invasion novel War of the Worlds. It first appeared in book form in the anthology Invasion from Mars), edited by Orson Welles (Dell, 1949). The Martian invaders are probably the original archetype for all the B.E.M.s that came afterwards, so this one is as good a place to start as any. I’ve read it before in a number of publications, and it’s always nice to revisit it.

As for the other nine stories, as usual, there are a few that I’m familiar with, and a few that I’m not. Fredric Brown’s classic Arena and James Blish’s Surface Tension are the two that I remember best. Both have always been favourites of mine. Frank Herbert’s Greenslaves is another one that I recall liking, although my memory is a bit fuzzier on the details of that one. I have very vague memories about encountering the Van Vogt, Knight, Tenn and Carr stories at some point in the distant past, but don’t recall anything about them except the briefest details. I don’t recall ever reading either the Farmer or Schmitz stories before.

I may not know (or recall) a few of the stories, but with the exception of Koch, the other nine authors in the anthology are all VERY familiar to me. No obscure writers here, although I must admit that I’m much more familiar with Terry Carr as one of my favourite anthologists, rather than as an author. Overall, this looks like a good one. With those names in it, how could it not be? I think I’m going to really enjoy reading BUG-EYED MONSTERS. 🙂

Remembering Frederik Pohl (1919-2013)

Back in June, this blog marked the first anniversary of the sad and untimely death of one of my favourite SF authors, Iain M. Banks, who we lost to cancer last year at the age of only 59. This month marks the first anniversary of the death of yet another of my favourite SF authors, this time one of the old greats, Science Fiction Grand Master and one of the true titans of the genre Frederik Pohl, who died on September 2nd last year, at the age of 93.

Fred Pohl had been with us seemingly forever, since the dawn of time, or, more accurately, since before the Golden Age of Science Fiction began, way back at the end of the 1930s – his first published work was the poem “Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna” (under the pseudonym “Elton Andrews”), in the October 1937 issue of Amazing Stories. I’m one of those many people who felt almost as though he was always going to be with us, although that was sadly obviously never going to happen.

The previous year or two had been very unkind to the world of SF, with the loss of a number of great authors. Ray Bradbury (91) died in June 2012, and Harry Harrison (87) in August 2012. Jack Vance (96) and movie special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen (91) both passed away in May 2013. And then Banks (59) in June 2013 and Pohl (93) in September 2013. True, with the exception of Banks, all of these authors were “greats” from an earlier era, and all lived to a grand old age (Harrison was the youngest to pass on, at “only” 87). But they were all giants of the genre, and their passing was a great loss to all of SF.

I’ve been a huge fan of Pohl’s writing since I first encountered him in my early teens (way back in the early-to-mid 1970s), and he was a huge figure in my formative years as an SF reader. His SF novels were some of my favourites, among them GATEWAY and the other Heechee books, MAN PLUS, THE SPACE MERCHANTS (with Cyril M. Kornbluth), SEARCH THE SKY (with Kornbluth), GLADIATOR-AT-LAW (with Kornbluth), WOLFBANE (with Kornbluth), MINING THE OORT, JEM, SYZYGY, STARBURST, THE AGE OF THE PUSSYFOOT, DRUNKARD’S WALK and many, many other classics. These still grace my bookshelves to this day, although most of them are long overdue for a re-read.

But as much as I like his novels, I’m an even bigger fan of his short fiction. As a matter of fact, the irony is very first Pohl story that I recall reading, “Wings of the Lightning Land”, was one that I didn’t even know was written by Pohl, as it came from that period during the Golden Age of SF the 1940s, when he wrote much of his short stories under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”. I still remember “Wings of the Lightning Land” with great fondness, and it’s one of those old stories which hit me between the eyes at an early age, and has stayed with me ever since.

It’s now amusing for me to recall that, for quite a while after I read that story, I had absolutely no idea that this “James MacCreigh” dude and Frederik Pohl were one and the same person. And it’s even more amusing to recall that the classic old anthology, in which I first read “Wings of the Lightning Land”, was SCIENCE FICTION: THE GREAT YEARS, edited by none other than a certain Carol & Frederik Pohl! It was ironic (and very creepy) that, last year, after not having read that story for many, many years, I just happened to come upon that old anthology again, and re-read “Wings of the Lightning Land”, the very week before Frederik Pohl died. How weird is that? 🙂

So this year, to mark the first anniversary of his death, I once again opened up SCIENCE FICTION: THE GREAT YEARS, and re-read “Wings of the Lightning Land”, in memory of Frederik Pohl and his alter ego, “James MacCreigh”. And to add another one for good measure, I also dug out a really good collection of Pohl’s earliest short fiction, THE EARLY POHL (1976), which contains a bunch of his Golden Age stories, all written under his “James MacCreigh” pseudonym. Great stuff!

Of the short fiction that Pohl wrote under his own name, I think that the first one that I read (and one that has also stuck in my mind all these years) is “Let the Ants Try” (1949). Fantastic tale, and the ending of that story still sends chills up my spine, even now, forty years after I first read it. But he also wrote so many other memorable short stories. “Day Million”, “The Tunnel under the World”, “The Midas Plague”, “The Man Who Ate the World”, “Critical Mass”, “The Abominable Earthman”, “The Gold at the Starbow’s End”, “In the Problem Pit” and so, so many others.

Fred Pohl was an awesome, awesome writer. But he was also hugely influential in SF as an editor throughout the 1960s, on classic SF magazines Galaxy and its sister publication If. And over the decades he has also edited far too many great SF anthologies to even start listing them here.

I’ve also been following his blog, The Way the Future Blogs, assiduously over the past couple of years. I’ve been really loving his recollections about the past history of SF, and I’m going to miss the writings of this great man, but he’s left a huge body of work out there for all of us to enjoy. He should be compulsory reading for all SF fans, old and young.

In Memory of Frederik Pohl, Science Fiction Grand Master.

Remembering Frederik Pohl (1919-2013)

Back in June, this blog marked the first anniversary of the sad and untimely death of one of my favourite SF authors, Iain M. Banks, who we lost to cancer last year at the age of only 59. This month marks the first anniversary of the death of yet another of my favourite SF authors, this time one of the old greats, Science Fiction Grand Master and one of the true titans of the genre Frederik Pohl, who died on September 2nd last year, at the age of 93.

Fred Pohl had been with us seemingly forever, since the dawn of time, or, more accurately, since before the Golden Age of Science Fiction began, way back at the end of the 1930s – his first published work was the poem “Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna” (under the pseudonym “Elton Andrews”), in the October 1937 issue of Amazing Stories. I’m one of those many people who felt almost as though he was always going to be with us, although that was sadly obviously never going to happen.

The previous year or two had been very unkind to the world of SF, with the loss of a number of great authors. Ray Bradbury (91) died in June 2012, and Harry Harrison (87) in August 2012. Jack Vance (96) and movie special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen (91) both passed away in May 2013. And then Banks (59) in June 2013 and Pohl (93) in September 2013. True, with the exception of Banks, all of these authors were “greats” from an earlier era, and all lived to a grand old age (Harrison was the youngest to pass on, at “only” 87). But they were all giants of the genre, and their passing was a great loss to all of SF.

I’ve been a huge fan of Pohl’s writing since I first encountered him in my early teens (way back in the early-to-mid 1970s), and he was a huge figure in my formative years as an SF reader. His SF novels were some of my favourites, among them GATEWAY and the other Heechee books, MAN PLUS, THE SPACE MERCHANTS (with Cyril M. Kornbluth), SEARCH THE SKY (with Kornbluth), GLADIATOR-AT-LAW (with Kornbluth), WOLFBANE (with Kornbluth), MINING THE OORT, JEM, SYZYGY, STARBURST, THE AGE OF THE PUSSYFOOT, DRUNKARD’S WALK and many, many other classics. These still grace my bookshelves to this day, although most of them are long overdue for a re-read.

But as much as I like his novels, I’m an even bigger fan of his short fiction. As a matter of fact, the irony is very first Pohl story that I recall reading, “Wings of the Lightning Land”, was one that I didn’t even know was written by Pohl, as it came from that period during the Golden Age of SF the 1940s, when he wrote much of his short stories under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”. I still remember “Wings of the Lightning Land” with great fondness, and it’s one of those old stories which hit me between the eyes at an early age, and has stayed with me ever since.

It’s now amusing for me to recall that, for quite a while after I read that story, I had absolutely no idea that this “James MacCreigh” dude and Frederik Pohl were one and the same person. And it’s even more amusing to recall that the classic old anthology, in which I first read “Wings of the Lightning Land”, was SCIENCE FICTION: THE GREAT YEARS, edited by none other than a certain Carol & Frederik Pohl! It was ironic (and very creepy) that, last year, after not having read that story for many, many years, I just happened to come upon that old anthology again, and re-read “Wings of the Lightning Land”, the very week before Frederik Pohl died. How weird is that? 🙂

So this year, to mark the first anniversary of his death, I once again opened up SCIENCE FICTION: THE GREAT YEARS, and re-read “Wings of the Lightning Land”, in memory of Frederik Pohl and his alter ego, “James MacCreigh”. And to add another one for good measure, I also dug out a really good collection of Pohl’s earliest short fiction, THE EARLY POHL (1976), which contains a bunch of his Golden Age stories, all written under his “James MacCreigh” pseudonym. Great stuff!

Of the short fiction that Pohl wrote under his own name, I think that the first one that I read (and one that has also stuck in my mind all these years) is “Let the Ants Try” (1949). Fantastic tale, and the ending of that story still sends chills up my spine, even now, forty years after I first read it. But he also wrote so many other memorable short stories. “Day Million”, “The Tunnel under the World”, “The Midas Plague”, “The Man Who Ate the World”, “Critical Mass”, “The Abominable Earthman”, “The Gold at the Starbow’s End”, “In the Problem Pit” and so, so many others.

Fred Pohl was an awesome, awesome writer. But he was also hugely influential in SF as an editor throughout the 1960s, on classic SF magazines Galaxy and its sister publication If. And over the decades he has also edited far too many great SF anthologies to even start listing them here.

I’ve also been following his blog, The Way the Future Blogs, assiduously over the past couple of years. I’ve been really loving his recollections about the past history of SF, and I’m going to miss the writings of this great man, but he’s left a huge body of work out there for all of us to enjoy. He should be compulsory reading for all SF fans, old and young.

In Memory of Frederik Pohl, Science Fiction Grand Master.

Reading Science Fiction

Reading Science Fiction literature has always been one of my main interests in life, and I’ve been reading “proper” science fiction since I first signed out H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine from the local library at the tender age of about eight or nine years old (circa 1969-1970).

I usually prefer older (classic) SF, pre-“New Wave”, with a particular fondness for the vintage SF of the “Golden Age” and the SF “Pulps”. Any list of my favourites classic SF authors would contain some very familiar and famous names:

H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Jack Williamson, Robert A. Heinlein, John W. Campbell Jr, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Henry Kuttner, Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, C. L. Moore, Frederik Pohl, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Philip K. Dick, Poul Anderson, Brian W. Aldiss, Harry Harrison, H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Alfred Bester, Algis Budrys… and many, many others (I’d be here all night listing them).

Although I’m mainly a reader of older SF, there are a few types of modern SF that I do like to read, in particular New Space Opera, Hard SF, and good old Classic Space Opera, which never seems to go out of fashion, no matter how hard the literary wannabes among the SF writing and reading fraternity have tried to kill it off over the years. Some of the modern SF authors that I’m a huge fan of would include:

Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Peter F. Hamilton, Greg Bear, Greg Egan, Linda Nagata, Iain M. Banks, Ken MacLeod, Wil McCarthy, Peter Watts, Ian R. MacLeod, Paul J. McAuley, Iain MacDonald and a few others.

Although I do still like the occasional good SF novel by my favourite old and modern authors, the volume of novels that I read has declined sharply over the years. I used to read a lot more novels when I was younger, particularly during my teens (the 1970s), but that started to drop off sharply from about 1978 onwards, as the increasingly intensive study commitments during my A-Levels and university years totally wiped out most of my previously plentiful free reading time.

Once I finished university (1983, at the age of twenty-two), started work, discovered a social life (I didn’t even know what a social life WAS back in my teens, no going out, no drinking, no women – it’s really no wonder that I’d had so much reading time), and with the many trials and tribulations of adult life kicking in, any free time that I may have had left for reading disappeared as quickly as Roadrunner with Wile E. Coyote on his tail. So the number of novels that I read declined sharply during those years, and has never recovered to its former levels, even now, thirty years later.

I also loved reading short story collections and anthologies back in my teens. At that time, it was pretty much 50-50 between novels and short fiction, but as the number of novels that I read declined sharply during the late-1970s and early-1980s, the balance swung sharply towards short fiction, which began to take up more and more of what reading time I did have remaining. I’ve always considered short fiction to be the bedrock of the science fiction genre anyway, and, if you add to that the fact that it’s simply much easier to fit the occasional short story into a hectic lifestyle, particularly in these days of monstrously bloated and padded novels, nine times out of ten, you’ll find me reading a good anthology or author collection, rather than a novel.

I do NOT like (and never have liked) reading a novel piecemeal, a few chapters at a time, and prefer to do it all in one go. But that pretty much became impossible once the size of the average SF novel went above four hundred pages or so. I can usually manage about 300-350 pages max before I want to call it a day. That was okay with most classic SF novels, which usually came in at about 250-300 pages, and which I can read in one sitting. I can’t do that with these bloated modern bricks. I have to read a few chapters at a time, but I often find it very hard to go back and just pick up where I left off. My train of thought and enjoyment of the story has been broken, and before I start on new chapters of the novel I almost always have to go back and do a recap, and re-read the earlier chapters again (certainly if it’s been days, maybe weeks even, since I’d read the previous chapters), because I’ve forgotten details of the story.

I do still sometimes long for the days when a good SF novel was a mere 250-300 pages, and I could finish it in one sitting. If that were still the case, I’d probably have gotten back into reading SF novels, and I’d be reading a lot more of them today. But I find myself looking at these eight hundred page bricks and thinking “Nah, can’t be bothered”. It’s simply too much time and effort to put into reading a single story, when I can read twenty short stories in a similar-sized anthology much more easily. With a short story collection or anthology, I can read one story at a time, one over lunch, another when I visit the bathroom, another before I go to bed. I can leave the book down for days, weeks even, and start on a completely new story when I lift it up again, without missing out on anything, or having to go back and recap.

While I may be much more a fan of short fiction these days, the real truth is that reading short fiction has become habitual for me over the past thirty years, whereas I seem to have lost the knack (and the patience) for reading novels. I’ve become much more accustomed to reading short fiction in recent decades, and while I can still tackle the much shorter, older classic SF novels easily enough, reading one of those overly-padded modern monsters is a real effort, and one that I’m rarely willing to make, unless it’s one of my favourite modern authors (someone like Alastair Reynolds or one of the others mentioned above).

Maybe I can re-train myself to read these big novels. And maybe this blog can help me focus, get back into the groove, and give me a reason to start into reading novels on a regular basis. Fingers crossed.

Frederik Pohl (1919-2013)

Back in June of this year, I made a blog posting about the tragically sad and untimely passing of one of my favourite SF authors, Iain M. Banks, who we lost to cancer at the far, far too young age of 59. He was merely the latest in a long line of all-too frequent announcements of the passing of yet another top SF author.

This past year or so has been particularly unkind to the world of SF, with the loss of far, far too many great authors. We lost Ray Bradbury (91) in June 2012, and Harry Harrison (87) in August 2012. Most recently, we also lost Jack Vance (96) and movie special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen (91), both in May 2013. True, unlike Iain Banks, these other “greats” were from an earlier era, and all lived to a grand old age (totalling a combined age of 365), with Harry Harrison being the “youngest” to die (if I manage to live till I’m 87, I’ll be more than happy). But they were all giants of the genre, and their passing diminishes and saddens all of us.

And only last night, I come online to find out that we’ve lost yet another one. Science Fiction Grand Master and one of the true titans of the genre Frederik Pohl passed away yesterday, September 2nd, 2013, at the grand old age of 93. Fred Pohl had been with us seemingly since the dawn of time, or, more accurately, since before the Golden Age of Science Fiction began, way back at the end of the 1930s (his first published work was the 1937 poem “Elegy to a Dead Satellite”). I’m one of those many people who felt almost as though he was going to be with us forever, although that was sadly never going to happen. But it still hurts that he’s now gone.

When I first read the news last night, on a Google+ status update by SF author David Brin, all I could do was stare at the computer monitor with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Even though he was so old, and we’ve been expecting this to happen for some time now, it still came as a complete shock. I’m absolutely, absolutely gutted by this terribly sad news.

Isn’t it strange how we can get so upset about the passing of someone that we’ve never even met in person? But Fred Pohl (and his writing) was more real, more vivid, and more important to me than any of the thousands of faceless Joes and Josephines that I see walking the streets of my home town every single day. I’m fifty-two years old now, and I’ve been reading SF since I was about eight years old. I’ve been a huge fan of Pohl’s writing since I first encountered him in my early teens. He’s like an old friend, and I’m so, so sad to see him leave us, even if he was just a shade over six years off his 100th birthday.

I love the writing of many SF greats, but Frederik Pohl was a particular favourite of mine, and was a huge part of my overall life as an SF reader, as I’ve been a fan of his writing since way back in the early-to-mid 1970s. His SF novels were some of my favourites, among them GATEWAY and the other Heechee books, MAN PLUS, THE SPACE MERCHANTS (with Cyril M. Kornbluth), SEARCH THE SKY (with Kornbluth), GLADIATOR-AT-LAW (with Kornbluth), WOLFBANE (with Kornbluth), MINING THE OORT, JEM, SYZYGY, STARBURST, THE AGE OF THE PUSSYFOOT, DRUNKARD’S WALK and many, many other classics. These still grace my bookshelves to this day, and all are long overdue for a re-read.

I’ve also always been a huge fan of his short fiction, going right back to the Golden Age of the 1940s, when he wrote much of his fiction under the pseudonym James MacCreigh. I still remember “Wings of the Lightning Land” with fondness, one of the earliest Pohl stories that I read (although for many years I never realized that James MacCreigh and Frederik Pohl were one and the same). A fantastic Pohl collection to read for this early stuff is THE EARLY POHL (1976), which contains a bunch of his James MacCreigh stories. Great stuff!

Of the short fiction that he wrote under his own name, one of the earliest that I read, and one that has stuck in my mind all these years, is “Let the Ants Try” (1949). The ending of that story still sends chills up my spine, even now, forty years after I first read it. But he also wrote so many other memorable short stories. “Day Million”, “The Tunnel under the World”, “The Midas Plague”, “The Man Who Ate the World”, “Critical Mass”, “The Abominable Earthman”, “The Gold at the Starbow’s End”, “In the Problem Pit” and so, so many others. What an awesome, awesome writer.

He was also hugely influential in SF as an editor throughout the 1960s, on classic SF magazines Galaxy and its sister publication If. And over the decades he has edited so many of my favourite SF anthologies that I wont even start listing them, or I’ll be here all evening. In an eerily weird stroke of synchronicity, just a few days ago I was re-reading one of my very favourite classic anthologies, SCIENCE FICTION: THE GREAT YEARS, edited by a certain Frederik Pohl and his then-wife Carol, and in that anthology was “Wings of the Lightning Land”, by some dude called James MacCreigh. I hadn’t read that book and story in many, many years, and I just had to pick the week that Frederik Pohl dies to read it again. Wow! How creepy is that? 🙂

I’ve also been following his blog, The Way the Future Blogs, assiduously over the past couple of years. I’ve been really loving his recollections about the past history of SF, and I am just so, so gutted that he’s gone, and we’ll never see another one of those charming, fascinating blog posts ever again. Tragic.

I’m going to miss the writings of this great man, but he’s left a huge body of work out there for all of us to enjoy. He should be compulsory reading for all SF fans, old and young.

RIP Fred. You done well.

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

The start of our teenage years is the sweet spot for the vast majority of us, particularly geeks, the beginning of what is probably the most fondly remembered period of our lives.

It’s long enough ago that most of our memories are fond, rosy ones, but it’s also the first time in our lives from which we retain reasonably accurate and continuous recollections of events (unlike our earlier childhood – most memories from our first decade are pretty vague and fragmented). And it is also during these years that many of us have the most fun and freedom to do what we want (after we finish our homework, of course), before adulthood arrives and the bland banalities, responsibilities and worries of “grown-up” life start to descend upon us.

I mentioned in my previous posting that my childhood was a far from happy one. Things got even worse when I was eleven years old, when my parents separated, leaving my father to raise five kids on his own. He was forced to leave his job, and our descent into poverty became even more severe. To top it all off, my father’s health began to decline sharply after my mother left, and, as the “oldest”, I was shoehorned into the role of “surrogate mother” from this very tender age, taking over the extremely heavy responsibilities of not only looking after my father, but also the other four kids, one of whom was also very severely disabled.

To be blunt, I was a very unhappy young boy as a teenager, one who sought refuge in a world of make-believe. Any kind of an escape from this dreary and depressing reality was a welcome one, and I immersed myself in an alternate world of comics, sci-fi worlds on television, in films, and in great SF literature. I also became very preoccupied with drawing and writing.

To refer to these interests as mere “hobbies” would be a complete understatement. They were obsessions, a vital lifeline for me, and I depended on them utterly to keep me sane, when everything around me was so gloomy and depressing. Since childhood, and throughout my entire life, these “obsessions” have been entrenched as fundamental pillars of my personality and way of thinking, and I simply cannot imagine my life without them.

I may already have been a proto-geek from a much earlier period in my life, but the beginning of my teens marks the time from which I can seriously start referring to myself as a true, hardcore geek. Things may not have been rosy on the domestic and personal front, but my hobbies and obsessions certainly first started to kick into overdrive in a very big way at this age, almost certainly to compensate for my miserable “Real Life”. I was also now growing old enough to be much more sophisticated, systematic and discerning when it came to what I was “into”. And what I was into, and I mean REALLY into, was the Holy Trinity of SF literature, Sci-Fi on television and in films, and Comics.

All through the 1970’s, up until around 1977-78, was a “Golden Age” for me, from a geek perspective anyway, the completely opposing mirror image of my crappy “real life”. All during my teens there was a steady procession of classic sci-fi TV shows and films on local television, and although I had my favourites – Doctor Who, Star Trek, UFO, The Time Tunnel – I loved them all to a lesser or greater extent.

By this stage of my life I was also a totally obsessive reader of both comics (particularly the Marvel UK reprint comics) and SF literature. I’d started off initially in my pre-teens with Wells and Verne, then moving onto Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and anything else that I could read. By my early teens, the whole world of SF literature was my oyster. I was discovering great new (to me, anyway) authors like H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Alfred Bester, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith and many, many others.

By my mid-teens, I was neck-deep in my alternate geek world, spending every available second on my hobbies. I just couldn’t get enough of the whole Sci-Fi/Comics/SF Literature thing, and it seemed like the good days would never end.

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

The start of our teenage years is the sweet spot for the vast majority of us, particularly geeks, the beginning of what is probably the most fondly remembered period of our lives.

It’s long enough ago that most of our memories are fond, rosy ones, but it’s also the first time in our lives from which we retain reasonably accurate and continuous recollections of events (unlike our earlier childhood – most memories from our first decade are pretty vague and fragmented). And it is also during these years that many of us have the most fun and freedom to do what we want (after we finish our homework, of course), before adulthood arrives and the bland banalities, responsibilities and worries of “grown-up” life start to descend upon us.

I mentioned in my previous posting that my childhood was a far from happy one. Things got even worse when I was eleven years old, when my parents separated, leaving my father to raise five kids on his own. He was forced to leave his job, and our descent into poverty became even more severe. To top it all off, my father’s health began to decline sharply after my mother left, and, as the “oldest”, I was shoehorned into the role of “surrogate mother” from this very tender age, taking over the extremely heavy responsibilities of not only looking after my father, but also the other four kids, one of whom was also very severely disabled.

To be blunt, I was a very unhappy young boy as a teenager, one who sought refuge in a world of make-believe. Any kind of an escape from this dreary and depressing reality was a welcome one, and I immersed myself in an alternate world of comics, sci-fi worlds on television, in films, and in great SF literature. I also became very preoccupied with drawing and writing.

To refer to these interests as mere “hobbies” would be a complete understatement. They were obsessions, a vital lifeline for me, and I depended on them utterly to keep me sane, when everything around me was so gloomy and depressing. Since childhood, and throughout my entire life, these “obsessions” have been entrenched as fundamental pillars of my personality and way of thinking, and I simply cannot imagine my life without them.

I may already have been a proto-geek from a much earlier period in my life, but the beginning of my teens marks the time from which I can seriously start referring to myself as a true, hardcore geek. Things may not have been rosy on the domestic and personal front, but my hobbies and obsessions certainly first started to kick into overdrive in a very big way at this age, almost certainly to compensate for my miserable “Real Life”. I was also now growing old enough to be much more sophisticated, systematic and discerning when it came to what I was “into”. And what I was into, and I mean REALLY into, was the Holy Trinity of SF literature, Sci-Fi on television and in films, and Comics.

All through the 1970’s, up until around 1977-78, was a “Golden Age” for me, from a geek perspective anyway, the completely opposing mirror image of my crappy “real life”. All during my teens there was a steady procession of classic sci-fi TV shows and films on local television, and although I had my favourites – Doctor Who, Star Trek, UFO, The Time Tunnel – I loved them all to a lesser or greater extent.

By this stage of my life I was also a totally obsessive reader of both comics (particularly the Marvel UK reprint comics) and SF literature. I’d started off initially in my pre-teens with Wells and Verne, then moving onto Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and anything else that I could read. By my early teens, the whole world of SF literature was my oyster. I was discovering great new (to me, anyway) authors like H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Alfred Bester, Henry Huttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith and many, many others.

By my mid-teens, I was neck-deep in my alternate geek world, spending every available second on my hobbies. I just couldn’t get enough of the whole Sci-Fi/Comics/SF Literature thing, and it seemed like the good days would never end.

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…

Some New Books

I’ve built up a new stash of recently acquired books to add to my ever-growing “To Read” pile. If I can acquire a couple of extra lifetimes, I might even get to read a few of them.

First up is a large hardback anthology, Machines That Think, edited by Isaac Asimov, Patricia S. Warwick and Martin H. Greenberg. This one contains twenty-nine stories about robots and computers. Next up is The Year’s Best Fantasy, Second Annual Collection, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. I’m not nearly as big a fan of fantasy as I am of SF, but these two ladies always put together a decent anthology.

Third on our list is 18 Greatest Science Fiction Stories, edited by Laurence M. Janifer, followed by Not the Only Planet – Science Fiction Travel Stories, edited by Damien Broderick. And last up are two novels, which is a rarity for me these days (I tend to read a lot more short fiction than I do novels). The hardback of Mining the Oort, by Frederik Pohl looks very interesting indeed. And the final book is a novel by Edward Eager, The Time Garden, a kid’s/YA fantasy novel written back in 1958. Looks a bit of an oddity, but interesting.

Also, I must get another chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows under my belt. I’m about six chapters into it, and enjoying it so far.

Lots of good reading ahead…