Monday, August 28, 2017

A Look at Frederick Pohl

Frederick Pohl's one of those names in science fiction who's frequently referenced (he's a grandmaster, after all) but whom I know virtually nothing about. Recently, I gave him a try after reading his Huge-winning short story "Day Million," the awesomeness of which motivated me to try some of his other work.

First I tried The Space Merchants, one of sf classics that Pohl co-wrote with C.M. Kornbluth. It's clearly a riff on the rising of post-WWII American advertising and consumerism, and of course I kept making unfair comparisons to Mad Men. Even without that complications, however, I can't say that the novel itself impressed me too much. It had a nice premise (i.e, in a world dominated by advertisers, one company is tasked with getting colonists up to the inhospitible planet Mars), but it had that slapdash quality that marks so much early sf. The writing in the second half in particular had that hurry-up-and-let's-get-this novel-over-with quality that reeks "sub-par."

Second, I went for Heechee Rendevous, the third book in Pohl's Heechee Saga. (I should have started with Gateway, I know, but I didn't have that one around.)  Anyway, Heechee Rendevous didn't have the same slapdash quality as The Space Merchants, and I really liked the science fiction bits -- i.e., the human race has discovered a whole bunch of left-over technology from the far-advanced Heechee, who disappeared centuries ago, and humanity's finally going to meet them in this novel. The real problem, though, are all the non-sf bits. . . . meaning, of course, the 200 pages smack dab in the middle that blather on about the main character Robinette Broadhead's personal life. It wasn't bad writing, I suppose, but Pohl's character simply didn't have anything interesting to say or show. When Broadhead finally becomes a computer program in order to avoid death, a sf-idea that unfortunately had only tangential relevance to the drama of actually meeting the Heechee, I just kept hoping that someone would reboot the computer. Basically, Heechee Rendevous wasted about 2/3rds of its length as it delayed getting to the main source of narrative interest, the actual rendevous with the Heechee.

I'll probably try Gateway at some point, but I suspect Pohl will just be one of those classic sf writers whom I never warm to personally.

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