Science Fiction: Ten Explorations

By C. N. Manlove | Go to book overview

3

Frederik Pohl, Alternating
Currents (1956)

While Asimov was composing his ever-widening epic of the future, devouring more and more of his own work in a huge fictive universe, Frederik Pohl was laying the ground for his terser, more satiric works. Pohl began his trade with conventional short stories of travel to far planets, 1 but in the early 1950s discovered that his métier lay as much in this planet, in the portrayal, via fantastic metaphors, of men caught up in social and technical changes beyond their control. Pohl did continue to write (in collaboration with Jack Williamson) plain adventure stories in the form of the Undersea novels (1954, 1956, 1958), but the central thrust of his work became less 'escapist', more committed to visions at once comic and nightmarish, of disasters man might bring upon himself. 2 Pohl's primary output, and the one for which he is remembered, during the 1950s and 1960s is the short and satiric story; only thereafter did he turn to the writing of longer novels of vision. With his penchant for clarity, logic and neat plotting, Pohl is probably the most witty of the authors considered here. His warnings are real, and yet their science-fictional guise enables him to escape identification; no one yet has pinned Pohl down to a philosophy. He prefers to see himself as just one of the race of science fiction writers, whom he characterises as imbued with 'an unwillingness to accept conventional wisdom, Arnold's "divine discontent" '. 3 Of all his fourteen collections of short stories, 4 Alternating Currents is arguably the finest and most integrated. 5

The stories in Alternating Currents seem at first sight very diverse. In 'The Tunnel Under the World' (1954), a whole town which has been accidentally destroyed by an explosion is recreated in miniature with human simulacra by an advertising company so that the company can test methods of selling their products. In 'Target One' (1955), the earth has been largely destroyed in atomic warfare, and one of the few remaining scientists has

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