Friday Forgotten Book – The Way the Future Was

Frederik Pohl, © 1978, Ballantine 1978 hardcover,  autobiography

It’s funny how books find a person. I stop by Fred Pohl’s blog every now and then, and he has the cover of this book up as a permanent header. Then one day Steve Davidson, on his blog The Crotchety Old Fan, posted something about SF (or sci-fi, or science fiction, take your pick) fandom and that led me some other comments which led me back to this book.

The Way the Future Was cvr sml

I decided I wanted to read it. It wasn’t easy finding a (free) copy, as the local library had one in the catalog but they couldn’t locate it. I was able to get it via inter-library loan.

Once in my hands, I read it in a day or so, which is pretty quick for me, being a Slow Reader and all. The books begins with Pohl’s early interest in science fiction, beginning, as it did for so many, with a comic book. Later came the pulps and he was hooked. I know the feeling, I loved the Winston science fiction library books, but it was Astounding Science Fiction that really got me hooked.

Most of the book focuses on Pohl’s memories of becoming a fan, then the creation of fan groups, early efforts at writing, his first job as an editor and his career as SF writer and magazine editor, the latter mostly at Galaxy and If during the 1960’s. I found it all fascinating.

Then as the events in the book approach the time he was writing it (1976), he begins to wander into various editorial asides on such topics as cryogenics, UFOs, politics, handicapped children and other topics that are obviously close to his heart – or were at the time – but were of little interest to this reader. I skimmed the last fifty pages with little feeling that I was missing anything. There is much of interest here for the science fiction fan, but much that strays from what most will want to read.

This review is my 10th entry in a series of Friday Forgotten Books.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more FFB reviews at her own blog, along with a complete list of today’s participating blogs. This week the summing up of books chosen will be sometime next week when she returns from Bouchercon in Indianapolis.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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21 Responses to Friday Forgotten Book – The Way the Future Was

  1. Patti Abbott says:

    I love the cover and see why he used it. It sums him up pretty well.

  2. Drongo says:

    Read this one as a kid. I liked Pohl’s description of New York back in the day

    This was my first introduction to that quirky group of fans known as The Futurians. A while later I came upon a copy of Damon Knight’s THE FUTURIANS, which covers much the same territory from a different perspective.

  3. Richard says:

    I wish I’d liked the last quarter of the book better, but the first 3/4 was fascinating to me. I haven’t seen the Knight book, but he is in and plays a prominent role in this book. I gather Knight was pretty hard to get along with.

  4. Bill Crider says:

    I rad this when it first came out in paper, and I loved it. I also enjoy Pohl’s blog.

  5. Richard says:

    I like his blog too, and have just added it to the blogroll. it’s absence there, I assure you, was merely an oversight.

  6. Drongo says:

    If THE FUTURIANS is accurate, a lot of people in that group were hard to get along with.

    I met Knight, briefly, long ago. He was a bit distant, which was okay with me, since I was a pretty shy kid.

  7. Todd Mason says:

    As Bill notes, Pohl is in the process of readying a new edition of TWTFW, and has established a blog, http://www.thewaythefutureblogs.com/ , THE WAY THE FUTURE BLOGS, to run alonside and publicize that. The Pohl, and Damon Knight’s THE FUTURIANS, published just before the Pohl, were both hugely influential on me and children of Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss’s 1975 anthology of short memoirs, HELL’S CARTOGRAPHERS, which included essays by its editors and by Pohl, Knight, Robert Silverberg and Alfred Bester. Part of what makes the last bit of the Pohl a bit nebulous is that apparently he was going through a relatively tough divorce proceeding with Carol Pohl at the time of writing, and probably preferred to deal with anything but that (if there’s a common criticism of the Pohl, it’s that it avoids digging into the emotional life of Pohl, and if there’s one of THE FUTURIANS, it’s that it goes to the opposite extreme).

    As Pohl is quick to note, MOST of the Futurians were hard to get along with, particulaly en masse. I can relate. Or not relate, as the case might be.

  8. Todd Mason says:

    Though I hasten to add, I didn’t dislike the last quarter of the book…just found it even more cautious than the earlier chapters. (And I echo Drongo in part because her/his second comment wasn’t up as I was typing.)

  9. Todd Mason says:

    And, as I note on George’s blog in response to your question, Richard, Mike Mignola [in and around his HELLBOY comics] is explicit in his credit to Robert Bloch and both Bloch’s Lovecraftian and more mature work.

  10. Richard says:

    Drongo – Was this meeting at a convention, or elsewhere? Just curious.

  11. Richard says:

    Todd – In the book, he talks quite a lot about his other marriages, but no comments about one in the works with Carol. Reading the book, I thought that marriage was healthy. Yet there’s no doubt Pohl was difficult, both to work with and live with, I’m sure. Yet he was a pretty successful editor. Not as successful as JW Campbell, but that could just be a personal opinion since I was an Astounding reader, and rarely read Galaxy.

  12. Richard says:

    That’s pretty interesting. I’ve read most of the Hellboy comics and/or collections, but I guess I didn’t remember his debt to Bloch, though it’s perfectly understandable.

  13. Drongo says:

    Although some would consider me a somewhat unimpressive example, I am, in fact, a man.

    Rick, I ran into Knight at a bookstore in Oregon. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the store.

    Had no idea a famous science fiction writer was gonna be there.

  14. Todd Mason says:

    Pohl is one of the few figures in sf whose influence rivals that of Campbell, actually…while Campbell was revolutionizing the field in the late ’30s and early ’40s, he was pretty spent by the latter ’50s, even if there was some good material in magazine up till his end (including at least a story or two from Knight), while Pohl, initially in part in opposition to as much as in elaboration on what Campbell was doing, as editor and agent as well as writer, helped shape the sf field in a number of ways…initially in the highest-profile Futurian magazines (though Robert Lowndes at Columbia [SCIENCE FICTION, FUTURE and their stablemates] was nearly as dogged as Campbell in longevity…if we add his term at Health Knowledge [MAGAZINE OF HORROR, FAMOUS SCIENCE FICTION and their stablemates] and Airmont Books, it was very nearly as long), but more importantly through his agenting, editing STAR SCIENCE FICTION and other anthologies, being one of the primary contributors then ghost-editor of Gold’s GALAXY, then GALAXY group editor himself, and the guy at Bantam who bought such novels as DAHLGREN and THE FEMALE MAN. Yeah, I suspect it seemed prudent in every way to avoid discussing the divorce from Carol. Pohl and Elizabeth Hull seem, from my remove of barely being acquainted with Pohl, meeting him briefly once, rather compatible…but the stress of parenting, particularly with a kid with special needs, on a freelancer’s up and down salary probably didn’t help the Carol and Frederik Pohl marriage one bit.

    Sorry, Drango…but that handle by itself doesn’t compel a gender ID. (My friend Keiko was once on LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, and DL assumed that any name ending with an O must be male…not so much in Japanese, where “-ko” as suffix in a name means “child” and most “-ko” names are traditionally female (Fumiko, Junko, Raeko, etc.).

  15. Todd Mason says:

    And…Mignola asked Bloch for an introduction to the first HELLBOY collection in book form. The first HELLBOY film begins with a quotation from Bloch’s NECRONOMICON story-McGuffin equivalent, MYSTERIES OF THE WORM…

  16. Drongo says:

    No problem.

  17. Richard says:

    Drongo – I wonder if by ANY chance that bookstore could have been Robert’s Books in LIncoln? It’s an incredible used book store, mostly paperbacks. The owner, Robert, has a ton of original mystery, SF and fantasy art work in the place too. If you’re on the coast, it’s not to be missed.

  18. Richard says:

    Todd – an excellent summing up of Pohl’s editing and agenting career. I knew many people who thought GALAXY was the best of the bunch, and I thought things webt into decline for Astounding / Analog about two years into Analog, with it’s trials of different formats and so on. I was – am – a huge Kelly Freas fan, and I think he did most, if not all, of his work for Campbell. Then when John Schoenherr illustrated DUNE I became a fan of his, too.

  19. Drongo says:

    Ah, no. The bookstore was in Eugene.

  20. Todd Mason says:

    Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm were fixtures on the Eugene arts & culture scene until his death…I imagine she remains as such.

  21. Thanks for the mention.

    Fred was also fairly heavily involved with the World Future Society and with his writing for Britannica at the time he did this autobio (if I remember correctly). A year after publication I corralled him for a speech at a WFS get together at my university.

    So far as editoriship goes, I actually think that the balance of “influence” goes in Fred’s direction. He read very widely (fanzines, semi-pro) and provided a market to many soon-to-be big names. He also edited numerous publications other than Galaxy and has given us a fairly extensive collection of anthologies to boot.

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