Saddened yesterday to hear of the passing of Fred Pohl, one of the true greats of the science fiction genre, and one of the most easily readable authors I’ve ever encountered.
Like almost everyone else, I have a Pohl anecdote: one that, to me, highlights the grace of the man. I met him in 2002 at the Writers of the Future workshops then being held in Los Angeles. As part of the awards ceremony, the winners had dinner with some of the judges, and my table was picked to host Mr Pohl and his wife Elizabeth. Even then, in his eighties, he was frail and very hard of hearing, but in a week where I was surrounded by authors– both established and aspiring– making as much noise as possible in order to prove themselves larger than life (a behaviour in which I was an active participant), what struck me most about him was his calm and sense of quiet. Part of that was undoubtedly down to his hearing, but it also struck me that here was a man who didn’t need to make noise to attract admiration. This was Fred Pohl. If you didn’t know who he was and what he’d done, it was you who had the lack.
Sometime during the dinner, Pohl was ‘taken on’ by one of my fellow winners, over a subject I don’t remember. As my colleague pontificated with many a pointed finger and wave of his fork I watched Pohl: he sat calmly, listening intently, as my colleague outlined all the ways Pohl was wrong in the way he approached his writing. At the end, he nodded, and thanked my colleague– some 50-plus years younger and about a million achievements to the shy– and said he appreciated the outlook of someone at the heart of the new way of doing things. he could have crushed his young protagonist. He knew it. I knew it. I’m pretty sure everyone at the table apart from my colleague knew it. This was a guy who’d published his first work in the 30s; had done everything, knew everyone, won it all and was still going, still working at the highest level possible. There was no ‘wrong’ in the way this man worked. He could have squashed my colleague like a bug, in about three words flat. Instead, he’d shown humility, companionship, and respect towards an equal.
The conversation moved on, both participants turned to contribute in other threads, and I was left more impressed by that one response than by anything else I experienced on the night.
Class, dignity, and assurance. I’ve rarely reached that height of behaviour myself, but I damn well know I’ve seen it.
There was only one Fred Pohl. We have lost a giant.