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F R E D E R I K   P O H L : Chasing Science
(excerpted from Locus Magazine, October 2000)

Frederik Pohl
    Photo by Beth Gwinn

Frederik Pohl was born November 26, 1919 in New York City. He was one of the earliest SF fans, attending the first SF convention in Philadelphia in 1936 and was one of the founders of the Futurians and the Hydra Club. He attended Brooklyn Tech, but dropped out without a high school degree. From 1939 to 1943, he worked as an editor in charge of new magazines Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories.

After serving in World War II, he became a literary agent and represented many of America's top SF writers. In the '50s, he returned to both writing and editing, producing his first novels in collaboration with C.M. Kornbluth, beginning with the early classic The Space Merchants (1953) and continuing with Search the Sky (1954), Gladiator at Law (1955), and Wolfbane (1957). He also collaborated with Jack Williamson on several books during this period, and wrote numerous solo novels and short stories. In the '50s, he edited Ballantine's original anthology series Star Science Fiction. In the '60s, he edited notable SF magazines Galaxy and If. In the '70s, he was Executive Editor at Ace and SF editor at Bantam, and served as President of the SFWA. He received his first Hugo Awards for editing the magazines (1966, 1967, 1968), and later won short fiction Hugos for "The Meeting" with C.M. Kornbluth (1973) and for "Fermi and Frost" (1986). Novel Man Plus (1976) won the Nebula Award, and the following year Gateway (1977) swept the awards, winning the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. He has averaged a novel a year for the past quarter-century, including several Gateway sequels. He was named a SFWA Grand Master in 1992. His most recent books include O Pioneers! (1998) and the latest in the "Eschaton Sequence", The Far Shore of Time (1999).

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Index to Locus Interviews

"People ask me how I do research for my science fiction. The answer is, I never do any research. I just enjoy reading the stuff, and some of it sticks in my mind and fits into the stories. Maybe that's the best way to do it. Stories where the author has known very little, but run a computer program that tells him how to construct a planet, and looked up specific things about rocketry and so on, really suck. If you don't care about science enough to be interested in it on its own, you shouldn't try to write hard science fiction. You can write like Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison as much as you want.

"A lot of science fiction is science-based, and it comes about because people notice something interesting about science and work it into a story. I don't think the scientific method and the science fictional method are really analogous. The thing about them is that neither is really practiced very much, at least not consciously. But the fact that they are methodical does relate them."


"Cosmology, nuclear physics, I do try to keep up on. They get more complex, and then some of the old theories just don't work out. I can't say I'm really up-to-the-minute on all of it. I listened to a two-hour lecture on string theory at Fermilab and could not understand more than one word in ten, and the man was being as lucid as he could possibly be.

"I'm doing a book, Chasing Science, about the pleasures of science as a spectator sport. The pleasure of going to a laboratory and seeing what they're doing, listening to the scientists talking, going to the A.A.A.S. and listening to the scientists gossip, and visiting places where scientific things are happening, like volcanoes, earthquakes, geysers, all that."


"It's clear that science and science fiction have overlapping populations. Stephen Hawking said he spent most of his first couple of years at Cambridge reading science fiction (and I believe that, because his grades weren't all that great). A lot of the cosmologists and astrophysicists clearly had been reading science fiction. Fred Hoyle, of course, was an astronomer before he began writing science fiction. Two of the three people who ran the science fiction club at the Bronx High School of Science, Shelly Glashow and Steve Weinberg, went on to get the Nobel, and the third, Gerry Feinberg, thought up tachyons! The head of Fermilab was reading Astonishing Stories when he was ten. A large fraction of the most interesting scientists, the ones on the cutting edge, have read a lot of SF at one time or another, either early enough that it may have played a part in their becoming scientists or at some later date just because they liked the ideas."


"My old English buddy, John Rackham, wrote and told me what made science fiction different from all other kinds of literature science fiction is written according to the science fiction method. Then he went and died before ever saying what the science fiction method was. But I think he was right there is a method which distinguishes SF from fantasy, though a lot of the science fiction written does not go by that method, and some fantasy (like work by Larry Niven) does.

"The science fiction method is dissection and reconstruction. You look at the world around you, and you take it apart into all its components. Then you take some of those components, throw them away, and plug in different ones, start it up and see what happens. That's the method: restructure the world we live in in some way, then see what happens. In terms of stories I would buy for a science fiction magazine, if they take place in the future, that might do it. I'm pretty catholic about what constitutes science fiction."


"I may be writing another 'Gateway' book. I've got a couple of stories already published, and a lot of connective material, but I haven't shown it to anybody because I'm not satisfied with parts of it, and some of the things I want to write conflict with things I've already written. I was thinking of writing a little foreword saying that history is, after all, based on people's recollections, which change with time."


"The big new development in my life is, when I turned 80, I decided I no longer have to do four pages a day. For me, it's like retiring. I did that for 40 years or more. I never had any writer's block. I got up in the morning, sat down at the typewriter now, computer lit up a cigarette. That's another thing not smoking seriously handicapped my writing for about a year. The way you write science fiction is: you sit down at your writing machine and you open your mind to the first thought that comes through. My first thought was always a cigarette. It still is, but I haven't cheated."

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