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Summary Article: Pohl, Frederik G. (1919-)
From Encyclopedia of the Environment in American Literature

Pohl was born in 1919 to Frederik George Pohl, Sr. and Anna Jane Pohl. While still a teenager Pohl helped found the Futurians, a science-fiction fan group based in New York City that included Damon Knight, Isaac Asimov and other writers. Pohl also joined the Youth Communist League in 1936, and though he left the organization in 1939 after the Stalin-Hitler pact, the ideas of socialism continued to influence his work, in particular his critique of capitalism as a political and ecological disaster.

Pohl's writing career began in the late 1930s, though for the first 15 years he wrote under a pseudonym. He was a prolific writer and important science fiction editor who helped shape the field as it emerged from the pulps. From 1959 to 1969 he edited Galaxy and if magazine. Apart from winning three Hugo Awards for his editorial skills, he also received three Hugos and multiple Nebula Awards for his writing.

Much has been made of Pohl's brief involvement after the war with the Madison Avenue agency Thwill and Altman, an involvement he describes negatively in The Way the Future Was (1978). Thomas Clareson, for example, argues that Pohl's experience in the firm gave him a lifelong distaste for contemporary management practices and business strategies (14). This distaste finds its most acute embodiment in The Space Merchants (1953), a dystopian satire about a world ruled by advertising agencies. Written collaboratively with C.M. Kornbluth, The Space Merchants represented the high point of what David Samuelson calls Pohl's “consumer cycle,” (81) a series of disconnected stories and novels he wrote in the 1950s that examine American consumption patterns and their potentially negative impact on the environment. In The Space Merchants unfettered consumption has exhausted the Earth's resources, leading capitalists and conservationists alike to vie for Venus as a second chance. Other noted texts from the consumer cycle include “The Midas Plague” (1954) and “The Census Takers” (1956).

Even after the consumer cycle ended in the 1960s, however, Pohl's work continued to engage with questions of environmental degradation. Indeed, the theme of overpopulation and depleted resources reappears in many of Pohl's later works, for example Jem (1980), in which humans must again leave a ravaged Earth to seek out a new world for colonization.

While Pohl's primary outlet for environmental critique was fiction, he also co-wrote the non-fiction handbook Our Angry Earth (1991) with fellow science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. Discussing topics such as environmental homeostasis and the Gaia hypothesis, Pohl returns again and again to the idea that humans can save the environment only by “making considerable social, economic and political changes in the world. These changes go far beyond anything we can accomplish as individuals” (x). Both Pohl's fiction and non-fiction, while lauding individuals for making green choices at the personal level, ultimately emphasize transforming large-scale economic and political systems. For Pohl, science fiction, with its frequently inter-planetary perspective, proved the best method for teaching readers to both think and act globally.

  • Clareson, Thomas. Frederik Pohl. Starmont Reader's Guide 39. Starmont House Mercer Island WA, 1987.
  • Pohl, Frederik. The Way the Future Was: A Memoir. Ballantine New York, 1978.
  • Pohl, Frederik. Our Angry Earth. Tor New York, 1991.
  • Pohl, Frederik; C M. Kornbluth. The Space Merchants. St. Martin's Press New York, 1987 (1952).
  • Samuelson, David. “Critical Mass: The SF of Frederik Pohl.” Science Fiction Studies. 7: 1 (March 1980), 80-95.
  • James Landau
    © 2013 Geoff Hamilton and Brian Jones

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