Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Frederik Pohl

I'm currently trying to finish off an article on Fred Pohl for the online Literary Encyclopaedia. Pohl is a classic American post-war sf writer, whose satirical dystopia The Space Merchants (co-authored by Cyril Kornbluth and published in 1953)skewers advertising and consumerism, its protagonist a Mad Ave (Madison Avenue - see 'Mad Men') high-flyer who falls and is exposed to the corrupt system, thereby becoming alienated. Pohl was one of the Futurians, a left-ish New York group of sf writers (also including Kornbluth and Asimov), and was always critical of post-war American capitalism and power. He spent most of the 1960s as editor of the massively important sf magazines Galaxy and Worlds of If, then returned to writing sf (on giving up these editorships at the end of the 1960s) and won consecutive Nebula awards with Gateway and Man Plus in 1975 and 1976.
Pohl is still around. I don't think he writes much nowadays, but the thing about him that strikes you on re-reading his work is the consistency of his voice. From early stories such as 'The Tunnel Under the World', through 'Day Million' in the 70s, to the novella Outnumbering the Dead in 1990, you hear that cynical, critical, slightly chauvinist voice of post-war America. His male leads are often wiseacres and I wonder whether he may be too: he did marry five times, which might suggest a masculine personality hard to quite get along with. Pohl alters his work along with the tenor of the times, in terms of the politics of gender and sexuality, but I always feel, when reading his stories, in the company of American Man of the 50s: tough, abrasive and highly successful.

Time for a change

Just as my course in Science Fiction at Lancaster University, ENGL365, comes to an end, I begin this new blog. It is meant to run alongside a few book projects - one on science fiction criticism, one on 'Visions of Orpheus', one on Mike Moorcock, British sf and the end of empire. I will post my impressions here, of what I'm reading, what I'm watching, what I'm envisioning.