Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Frederik Pohl (1919-2013)

Frederik Pohl died yesterday. By pretty much any reasonable reckoning, he was the last of the Golden Age, Hugo Gernsbackian writers that connected the present day with the birth of modern science fiction and the pulp era. He won Hugo and Nebula Awards, and was named Grand Master by SFWA more than two decades ago. To say he was influential is a criminal understatement.

I can't claim to know the man, but I was indeed fortunate to meet him on a couple of occasions. As everyone else is reporting, he was a witty and gracious fellow, seemingly always in a good humor. My Fred Pohl story doesn't directly involve him, but it has stuck with me all these years and his passing has made it burn bright in my memory. Back at LoneStarCon 2 in 1997, I was the overwhelmed yokel/neo-pro with but a single short fiction sale to Interzone, attending my first Worldcon. The thing was vastly more huge than I'd expected, and the autograph lines seemed to stretch to infinity. I quickly abandoned most of my plans for autographs, lest I spend the entire weekend standing in line, but Fred Pohl was one of the greats that I absolutely had to get. Modest goals, for sure. But then... well, here's my email account from '97 of what next transpired:

The Fred Pohl autograph line moves incredibly slowly, since people are there with literally CARTS of books. By the time I'm in sight of the man, they limit signings to two books per person because time is running out *sigh*. I do get Gateway and Starchild Trilogy signed though (Starchild by Williamson, too!) so I was happy with that. Pohl's got an odd protrusion from his stomach, and this obnoxious collector in line beside me kept going on how Pohl must have cancer, and that's good 'cause he'll die any day now, which means all of this collector's signed first edition books will be worth lots.

I mean, this guy was a complete jerk. He kept bitching about all the morons in line that were getting paperbacks and book club editions signed. Said that was the stupidest thing anyone could do, because those won't increase in value. No one should be allowed to get autographs unless they had 1st editions to be signed. I'm a hothead sometimes, but I managed to keep from strangling this idiot--barely. Me, I couldn't care less about speculating and book values. I got my signatures and hightailed it outta there. That night it's time for the masquerade. I've heard a lot about the famous, elaborate Worldcon masquerades, so I decided to get there early to get a good seat. The Hugos didn't fill up until maybe 15 minutes beforehand, so I head over 30 minutes ahead of time, thinking that's enough. Boy, was I wrong. The line snaked back and forth about six times down the loooong hallway. I was at the end. Fortunately, there were even more people that showed up later than me, so I was able to get an OK seat maybe 25 rows back, slightly right of center stage.

Well, I'm sitting there with empty seats all around me, when I hear THIS VOICE. Remember our friend that couldn't wait for Fred Pohl to die so his signed books would go up in value? Well, he sits right next to yours truly, along with his wife/girlfriend/poor-woman-who-can't-get-away. IMMEDIATELY he opens his program, and starts going on about HOW TERRIBLE this masquerade is going to be because there's only 32 entries, when LA Con III had 164 entries. And the stage is awful. And the lighting's terrible. And everyone around here are crass amateurs. How this is the worst Worldcon he's ever been to. How the seating is terrible, and that the open section across the aisle is much better situated, but it's too far back to see the stage. I promptly get up and head over to the open section across the aisle.
And then, on the final day of the convention...

he panel I'm going to is on "Marginalized characters in SF." Which is interesting in itself, but Lois Bujold is on it. I've seen her at several cons, but have never had any of her books I own with me. She also went to high school with my affore-mentiond writer-friend Lillian, and I was determined to get the stack of books signed. Anyway, I get there early, plop down in the front row, and DUM DUM DUM! Guess who shows up? The old bad penny himself, Mr. I-Can't-Wait-For-Pohl-To-Die. This time he's going on about what a waste this entire convention has been, none of the authors know what they're talking about, and God No he's not staying for this pathetic excuse for a panel, he's just here to get so-and-so's autograph on this chromium-plated, holographic first-edition lizard-skin pages book on the off chance she might die on the way home from the convention, because that would make it REALLY worth something. I moved to the back. WAAY to the back, and sat quitely as the panel went on.
So, as you can see, Fred Pohl has precious little to do with my Fred Pohl story... except for the fact that it makes me damn happy the gentleman lived for another 16 years to make that asshole book collector squirm. If I had any say in the matter, Pohl would've lived to 112. I certainly hope he outlived the collector.

Godspeed, Fred Pohl. You lived a long and eventful life. You will be missed.

Now Playing: R.E.M. Automatic for the People
Chicken Ranch Central

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. Your encounter reminds me of comic book collectors who bag the book with no intention of reading it, no care whatsoever about the content. Probably true of many collectors.