The future died two days ago, with the passing of science-fiction giant and legend Frederick Pohl.
Pohl was the last of the original Futurians, the direct link back to Hugo Gernsback and the beginnings of American science fiction. He was part of the first sci-fi fan club. And he and his friends held the first actual science-fiction convention, in New York City. While still a teenager, Pohl was agenting stories written by his friends to the sci-fi pulp magazines. He sold Isaac Asimov’s first novel, A Pebble in the Sky. He was a fan and a professional, and his group of friends included the original royalty of science fiction: Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Damon Knight, Donald A. Wollheim, Hannes Bok, and Judith Merril.
Pohl wrote stories of dystopias and of human nature—fallible, corruptible, selfish, unmindful of history’s lessons. He wrote fiction and nonfiction; he was a great agent; he was an even better editor; and he kept up his friendships with his teenage pals, all of whom had grown up to create modern American science fiction in the first half of the 20th century.
William Gibson said not too long ago, when asked why he no longer chose to write genre books or label his work as science fiction, that “the future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.” Gibson is one of the new generation of “senior” writers in the field of science fiction, regardless of the labels applied to his work. And he’s right about the uneven distribution of technology and the access to it. His latest works explore the potential of what has already been invented.
But back in the 1920s and 1930s, the future seemed to be all ahead of us, just waiting to be molded into real form. Fred Pohl and his fellow Futurians allowed us to see visions of that future—the good, the bad, and the awful; the potential pitfalls and ultimate triumphs.
Long live the Futurians—we shall never see their like again.