FREDERIK POHL HAS DONE
just about everything that one can do in the field of science fiction. When he was still a teenager he began to edit science fiction magazines; he started getting his stories published when he was even younger. He has won all the major awards—the Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell for best novel; he has been lauded as a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America; he’s written an enormous number of very good short stories; and he has collaborated on both short stories and novels, both with great success.
If this weren’t enough, he has also edited anthologies, including the groundbreaking Star Science Fiction anthologies of original stories. In addition, he’s edited lines of SF books for Bantam and Ace, at different times. He has been an agent; he has been president of the SFWA.
He has achieved other notable feats in the field as well, but I think you can get an idea. This man is one of the giants in the field.
Editing this volume of his collected best stories was both a joy and a nightmare. In the course of his career so far, he has written hundreds of stories. Some were originally published under pseudonyms, others were collaborations with other authors. (Still others were pseudonymous collaborations!) When you count up the stories and the total wordage, he has produced more than a million words of short fiction—this in addition to his many novels.
The thirty stories that follow represent fiction from as early as the 1940s and as recent as just a few years ago. Our goal in this collection is to present the best short stories, novelettes, and novellas of Frederik Pohl’s career to date. He’s still writing, of course, but we had to stop somewhere … though we reserve the right to include new stories in a subsequent edition of this book. There are some exclusions. Some of Pohl’s short stories have been incorporated into his novels, and we have not included stories that he later used in creating longer works. Nonetheless, we have included stories from two books that could easily be considered novels:
The Day the Martians Came
The Years of the City.
In both these books, the stories are identifiable as discrete stories, but also exist as elements in a longer narrative.
Frederik Pohl started writing science fiction when he was very young, when the field itself was pretty young, too. In many of the stories reprinted here one can clearly see what many call the “sense of wonder” that inspired Pohl and his young contemporaries—authors such as Isaac Asimov, Damon Knight, Richard Wilson, Donald A. Wollheim, and others—when they were starting to write and publish stories in the 1930s, and that still inspires science fiction writers—and editors and readers—today.
Many young people have that sense of wonder—a curiosity about what lies outside the bounds of our world or in the future. However, most people lose that curiosity—the need to explore, to play in realms outside their experience—as they get older. One of
the many pleasures of this collection is seeing the persistence of Pohl’s sense of wonder in stories penned over more than a half century.
In a very real way, these stories are twentieth-century fiction, marked by the events and reflecting sociopolitical currents of the century. Yet like any really good literature, they also transcend their time, because of their profound humanity, the universality of their themes, and overarching concerns.
We’ve included some stories that put the reader in a specific place and time that Pohl captures with unerring accuracy—in some cases the time of the story’s creation, in others a time or a scenario perhaps yet to come. Pohl is gifted with a very sharp eye for human behavior and with a great ear for dialogue, and these talents hold him in very good stead when he is evoking the
—whether in a contemporary setting or an entirely alien one.
He also has a fine grasp of politics and for the workings of legislative bodies, the courts, and other human institutions. To be sure, his models tend to be United States institutions, but he does excellent research, and when he’s writing about someplace other than the United States, you can depend on his observations of those places being accurate; like many auhors, Pohl has traveled widely, and he brings to stories set overseas his careful first-person observations.
Readers who did not experience much of the twentieth century will find among these stories a considerable amount of cultural and social history expertly masked in the guise of necessary background, for Pohl, like generations of savvy observers, has always made society a big part of the story. Sociopolitical issues such as the threat of global nuclear war, overpopulation, pollution, and dependence on fossil fuels, to name but a few, are key elements in some of the stories. So are issues of social justice, about which Pohl is passionate.
Yet the issues that run through many of these stories never overwhelm the stories themselves. Pohl’s characters just won’t let them. Those characters are a varied and fascinating bunch—young and old, male and female, nasty and nice—they’re all people who engage your interest, whether or not you agree with what they say and do. That, perhaps, is Pohl’s greatest achievement. Creating characters that come to seem vividly alive and real may not sound very difficult, but there are many writers who fail to create such characters despite possessing other formidable skills. And his stories move. No matter what the tale, there is invariably something intriguing going on, something that engages your interest and won’t let you stop reading.
Some of these stories are very serious, while others are just fun. Long hours were spent by this editor trying to decide which stories to keep and which to exclude, and there were dozens of very entertaining stories that had to be left out, because this book could not be a thousand pages long.
When all was said and done, we ended up with stories that showcase the enormous range of tone and texture, concepts and themes, plots and characters that Frederik Pohl has brought to life in his fiction. Early in this introduction I wrote it had been a joy and a nightmare to edit this collection, but that’s not really true. Though deciding what should stay and what must go was terribly difficult, it was also an enormous amount of fun, because it gave me a chance to experience the richness of the stories.
May you enjoy these choices as much as I have.