kyle cassidy (kylecassidy) wrote,
kyle cassidy

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Farewell Fred Pohl

I met Fred Pohl in 2009 while working on Where I Write: Fantasy and Science Fiction Authors in Their Creative Spaces. At that point I'd met a lot of science fiction writers, a lot of famous science fiction writers, but Fred Pohl was the only one that I was really nervous about meeting. There were giants and then there were titans, and Pohl was a titan. His novel Gateway was one of the most influential books of my youth. It's epic science fiction at it's best -- humans discover an enormous derelict space ship built inside a hollowed-out asteroid. In the spaceship are thousands of pods pre-programmed to travel to other worlds. You get in a pod, you push a button, the pod takes you somewhere. Sometimes it's a world filled with riches -- minerals, technology, scientific discovery, other times the pod shoots off into space and never returns. The hero, Robinette Stetley Broadhead, is a desperate miner who takes a job as a test pilot on Gateway. What will happen when he gets in that pod and pushes that button? Pohl didn't disappoint. silveringridd went with me, carrying lights and doing the talking when I got too flustered. My nervousness freaked her out. I write about the experience here.

Fred Pohl writing in 2009. Click to Enlarge.

He was extremely frail when I met him and I really thought that I might be one of the last people to see him alive. He wasn't ready to go yet, he told me, he still had three novels left that he wanted to write. I forgot a lot of the questions that I wanted to ask him, but it didn't really matter. He was used to talking to people like me, starstruck whatnots jotting things down about science fiction. He was one of the original members of the American science fiction writers community. He started the first Worldcon convention and he was the person people went to with questions about whatever.

He'd begun to lose the use of his muscles, it happened suddenly, he told me. One day he went out to get in his car and was unable to put the key in the lock, his right hand had just ceased to function and from there the degeneration continued. At the time I met him he could move a pen across a notepad but the marks that it made weren't very legible and served mostly only to give him a reminder of what he was thinking. After he wrote he'd look at the page and read back what he'd written to his wife, Dr. Betty Hull, who would type it. He had three writing rooms in his house but mostly wrote now on the sofa in the sun room, attended by his dog. We talked. Then he wrote for a while and I took photos. I stayed for most of the day. He signed my copy of his autobiography, The Way The Future Was -- "To Kyle, Fred Pohl" -- the writing was tiny and I felt guilty for taking four words out of the many he had left to write. When Fred fell asleep on the sofa his wife, Dr. Hull, took me around the house and showed me his cabinet of awards. Early Hugos, back to back Nebula's, and also tiny things home-made by fans an given out at obscure conventions, trolls, crude robots, he gave them all the same respect. They represented tens of thousands of people saying "thank you for doing this for me."

He later finished the novel he was working on, All the Lives he Led (2011) I don't know about the other two he had ideas for; but he went on to win another Hugo in 2012 for his blog.

I was with a bunch of science fiction writers when we heard Harry Harrison died in 2012. Novelist Tom Purdom said solemnly "Fred Pohl stands alone" -- he did, and now we're all alone.

Click to Enlarge

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