Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Frederik Pohl, 93, Writer Who Vaporized Utopias

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Frederik Pohl, 93, Writer Who Vaporized Utopias

Article excerpt

His passion for science fiction while growing up in Brooklyn led to a distinguished career as one of its most literate and politically sophisticated practitioners.

Frederik Pohl, whose passion for science fiction while growing up in Brooklyn led to a distinguished career as one of its most literate and politically sophisticated practitioners, though one who was skeptical about attempts to perfect society through scientific means, died on Monday. He was 93.

Mr. Pohl, who lived in Palatine, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, died in a nearby hospital, according to his agent, Mitchell Waters, who confirmed the death.

Mr. Pohl was involved in publishing since he was a teenager, when he served as a literary agent for his science fiction-writing young friends. He went on to edit magazines and books before finding renown as a writer, often with collaborators.

Perhaps the most famous of his anti-utopian novels was "The Space Merchants," a prescient satire that Mr. Pohl wrote in the early 1950s with Cyril M. Kornbluth. More than a decade before the surgeon general's report on smoking and health, the authors imagined a future dominated by advertising executives who compete to hook consumers on interlocking chains of addictive products. One such chain is started by a few mouthfuls of Crunchies.

"The Crunchies kicked off withdrawal symptoms that could be quelled only by another two squirts of Popsie from the fountain," the authors wrote. "And Popsie kicked off withdrawal symptoms that could only be quelled by smoking Starr Cigarettes, which made you hungry for Crunchies."

"The Space Merchants" has been translated into more than 25 languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide.

Mr. Pohl's grasp of science was impressive; although entirely self-taught, he was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1982. He was also in demand as a so- called futurist, speaking to business executives and other audiences about the shape of things to come in a science-dominated future -- and about the unreliability of even short-range predictions.

His view of a high-tech tomorrow was always darkened by doubts about the social consequences of scientific advances. In his grim 1979 novel, "Jem: The Making of a Utopia," high-minded colonists to a distant planet end up making the same mistakes that have already doomed civilization on Earth. The novel won a National Book Award (then known as the American Book Award) in 1980, the only year either award had a science fiction category.

Mr. Pohl was born in New York City on Nov. 26, 1919, and spent most of his childhood in Brooklyn. An early reader, he developed a taste for the science fiction magazines of the day, known as pulps for their poor-quality paper. His love of books encompassed everything from Tolstoy to the French Symbolists, but did not carry over to formal education; he dropped out of high school at 17 -- "as soon as it was legal," he said.

With a handful of like-minded young men, including Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Damon Knight and Mr. Kornbluth, Mr. Pohl threw himself into the burgeoning phenomenon of science fiction fandom. In 1936 he and a dozen other enthusiasts gathered in the back room of a bar in Philadelphia for what many regard as the world's first science fiction "convention."

Mr. Pohl's ambition, like that of his friends, was to be a professional writer. Toward this end he became a literary agent and an editor, both before he was 20. As an agent he represented the work of his friends to the established science fiction magazines; he also published many of their stories, and some of his own, in two new pulp magazines, Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories, which he edited from 1940 through the summer of 1941.

After serving as an Army weatherman in Italy during World War II, he wrote advertising copy for a mail order publisher. Then he became a literary agent again. In the late 1940s science fiction was becoming respectable, and Mr. …

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