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Frederik Pohl: Good-bye to one of science fiction's greatest

Pohl,center, in 1938 with colleagues Don Wollheim and John Michel
Pohl,center, in 1938 with colleagues Don Wollheim and John Michel

The great Frederik Pohl has died. He was 93. Pohl probably deserved his title of "Science Fiction Grand Master" more than any other of the genre. That's because he was far more than just a writer of stellar science fiction; he was an extremely influential editor. But even before that, Pohl was a "super fan."

Pohl was intimately involved in the early development of the emerging science fiction scene and culture among the magazine and pulp publishing industry centered in New York City. He formed clubs, developed conventions, published obscure newsletters and fanzines -- he did it all. He was immersed within and passionate about science fiction.

As a result, Pohl knew practically everyone there was to know in the business, and not just the great writers and editors. He knew the obscure and the wannabes. He discovered new writers. It would be difficult to name any other man who had a greater effect on the way science fiction came to be what it was, and what it is today. Pohl's influence was probably greater than that of famed editor John W. Campbell.

I still remember years ago reading the book considered Pohl's masterpiece -- Gateway -- and being swept away by this marvelous and innovative piece of fiction. The same goes for another of his books, JEM. It's a masterful work.

I also had a chance to meet Pohl once at the World Science Fiction Convention in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Imagine my delight!

The year was 1994. I was strolling down a hall of the convention center. Coming toward me from the other direction I espied two very old men -- one with a balding head of ashy gray hair. The other guy was shiny bald with a fringe of snow white. They looked like a couple of escapees from a nursing home -- yet there was a bounce in their step, a gleam in their eyes. They seemed so spry and happy -- an aura of enthusiasm surrounded them.

I immediately recognized the bald man with a pronounced limp as Frederik Pohl. I was star-struck! I didn't recognize the geezer who was walking beside him, but as they come closer, I saw they were wearing name tags. The tag of Pohl's companion identified him as none other than Hal Clement! Wow! Clement was the 17th man to earn the honor of being named Science Fiction Grand Master. His real name was Harry Stubbs.

I later had a chance to chat with Pohl briefly. I hardly remember what was said. I was reduced to a blathering fanboy who suddenly found himself face-to-face with a legend. I do remember that Pohl was polite, talkative and down to earth. It remains a marvelous memory for me today.

Pohl's death comes just a few months after that of another science fiction mega-great, Jack Vance, who died at age 96. (See my review of Vance's last book, his autobiography here: JACK VANCE.)

Ken Korczak is the author of the science fiction novella BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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