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The Way the Future Was: A Memoir

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Award-winning writer, whiz-kid editor, wide-eyed fan, pioneering anthologist and demon literary agent—Frederik Pohl's been all over the science-fiction field, including a stretch as President of The Science Fiction Writers of America. Here is his story of how he got to all those places and what it was like getting there. In it you will find . . . * What Isaac Asimov was like Award-winning writer, whiz-kid editor, wide-eyed fan, pioneering anthologist and demon literary agent—Frederik Pohl's been all over the science-fiction field, including a stretch as President of The Science Fiction Writers of America. Here is his story of how he got to all those places and what it was like getting there. In it you will find . . . * What Isaac Asimov was like at 19. * The truth behind the great World SF Convention War of 1939. * How a teenager became a mover and shaker in the bizarre world of the pulp magazines. * The strange mating rites of the sf community. * How to represent most of the best sf writers and go broke. * The dreams of new worlds and universes behind a body of completely original writing that has enlarged the horizons of three generations of readers . . . and netted the writers ½¢ to 3¢ a word. From the moment he attended the first meeting of the Brooklyn chapter of the Science Fiction League, Fred Pohl was hooked. He and his friends founded and disbanded fan clubs with dizzying speed, then organized the fabled Futurians. At 19, he became editor of Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories, and, except for the war and a brief fling in the advertising business, has been almost totally involved in science fiction ever since. As an agent, he created the market for hardcover sf; as editor of Galaxy in the 60s, he shaped the field for most of a decade; his Star Science Fiction series pioneered the concept of original anthologies; and along with all that he produced a number of truly outstanding works of sf, including: The Space Merchants (with Cyril Kornbluth) and, most recently Man Plus and Gateway, voted the Best Novels of 1976 and 1977, respectively. It's been a long road, from the scruffy Ivory Tower where the Futurians denned to a time when much that was science fiction is now reality—and Fred Pohl retraces it with candor, wit, and abiding love.


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Award-winning writer, whiz-kid editor, wide-eyed fan, pioneering anthologist and demon literary agent—Frederik Pohl's been all over the science-fiction field, including a stretch as President of The Science Fiction Writers of America. Here is his story of how he got to all those places and what it was like getting there. In it you will find . . . * What Isaac Asimov was like Award-winning writer, whiz-kid editor, wide-eyed fan, pioneering anthologist and demon literary agent—Frederik Pohl's been all over the science-fiction field, including a stretch as President of The Science Fiction Writers of America. Here is his story of how he got to all those places and what it was like getting there. In it you will find . . . * What Isaac Asimov was like at 19. * The truth behind the great World SF Convention War of 1939. * How a teenager became a mover and shaker in the bizarre world of the pulp magazines. * The strange mating rites of the sf community. * How to represent most of the best sf writers and go broke. * The dreams of new worlds and universes behind a body of completely original writing that has enlarged the horizons of three generations of readers . . . and netted the writers ½¢ to 3¢ a word. From the moment he attended the first meeting of the Brooklyn chapter of the Science Fiction League, Fred Pohl was hooked. He and his friends founded and disbanded fan clubs with dizzying speed, then organized the fabled Futurians. At 19, he became editor of Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories, and, except for the war and a brief fling in the advertising business, has been almost totally involved in science fiction ever since. As an agent, he created the market for hardcover sf; as editor of Galaxy in the 60s, he shaped the field for most of a decade; his Star Science Fiction series pioneered the concept of original anthologies; and along with all that he produced a number of truly outstanding works of sf, including: The Space Merchants (with Cyril Kornbluth) and, most recently Man Plus and Gateway, voted the Best Novels of 1976 and 1977, respectively. It's been a long road, from the scruffy Ivory Tower where the Futurians denned to a time when much that was science fiction is now reality—and Fred Pohl retraces it with candor, wit, and abiding love.

30 review for The Way the Future Was: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Craig

    Pohl was inarguably one of the most famous and influential figures in the science fiction field for many, many years, as a fan, a writer, an editor, and as an agent. This autobiography appeared at about the same time as Gateway, his best-remembered novel, and he would go on to produce many more high-caliber works after it appeared before his death in 2013. His writing style is quite warm and familiar, with a friendly quality than sounds as if he's addressing the reader individually. He recounts Pohl was inarguably one of the most famous and influential figures in the science fiction field for many, many years, as a fan, a writer, an editor, and as an agent. This autobiography appeared at about the same time as Gateway, his best-remembered novel, and he would go on to produce many more high-caliber works after it appeared before his death in 2013. His writing style is quite warm and familiar, with a friendly quality than sounds as if he's addressing the reader individually. He recounts his experiences with the giants of the field and his early years with surprising candor, and paints a fascinating picture of the world of fandom as it began and grew. I found it particularly interesting to compare his accounts of some of the early events of the genre with the versions other participants and observers like Sam Moskowitz, Damon Knight, and Isaac Asimov published. I believe it tells an interesting story even for those who may not be aware of his place in the history of the literature.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael O'Donnell

    The late Fred Pohl was undoubtedly one of the most influential people in the world of science fiction. As an author, literary agent, editor, and even as a public speaker, he experienced the genre from all sides. In this memoir, written in 1977, he looks back on his life in the genre, from his founding of the Futurians fan group in the late thirties (whose members included such SF luminaries as Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Damon Knight, Cyril Kornbluth, Judith Merril and Donald Wollheim), through hi The late Fred Pohl was undoubtedly one of the most influential people in the world of science fiction. As an author, literary agent, editor, and even as a public speaker, he experienced the genre from all sides. In this memoir, written in 1977, he looks back on his life in the genre, from his founding of the Futurians fan group in the late thirties (whose members included such SF luminaries as Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Damon Knight, Cyril Kornbluth, Judith Merril and Donald Wollheim), through his post-war career as a literary agent, to his time editing Galaxy and If magazines in the Sixties. The author gives us insights into the semi-incestuous personal lives of the SF writers of the time — there seemed to be endless divorces and remarriages among them — and the struggle to make a living writing for the low-paying pulp magazines, as well as some fascinating facts about his own extraordinary life, such as how he came to edit not one but two pulp magazines at the tender age of nineteen, and how he once held a job as a horse-urine collector at racetracks, which he apparently quite enjoyed. A section on the author’s war service is followed by his life as a literary agent which, despite representing the majority of SF writers at the time and supplying the bulk of the stories to the pulps, he managed to end in debt to the tune of thirty-thousand Dollars. This is followed by his time editing Galaxy and If magazines in the Sixties and his constant battle with the publisher to increase both the budget and publishing frequency of the magazines. Despite this battle, he succeeded in winning three Hugo Awards for If as best magazine between 1966 and 1968. Following a period when his personal life took a downturn in the early Seventies, the book concludes with the author restating his love for the SF genre, and “…I will go on doing it as long as I live.” Unbeknownst to him at the time, this would turn out to be for another thirty-six years, during which he won a further two Nebula Awards and two Hugo Awards, for his novels, Gateway and Man Plus, and for his fan-writing at his blog, The Way The Future Blogs. This memoir is rightly considered to be one of the must-read books for those interested in SF history, and as such is highly recommended. Oh, and a final fascinating fact from the book: Fred wrote the Encyclopedia Britannica article on the Emperor Tiberius — it’s still there in the online Britannica. Go look it up.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Denis

    It so happens that Frederik Pohl passed away during the time I read "The Way The Future Was"... He was a great man. And it was a great book. I have been reading his novels and stories and following his blog as well for a few years now and must now considered this review more a as a memorial or tribute. Pohl's blog, I have considered to be his current work, at this time in his life. I decided to finally read my copy of "The Way he Future Was" after just recently reading Jack Williamson's bio "Wonde It so happens that Frederik Pohl passed away during the time I read "The Way The Future Was"... He was a great man. And it was a great book. I have been reading his novels and stories and following his blog as well for a few years now and must now considered this review more a as a memorial or tribute. Pohl's blog, I have considered to be his current work, at this time in his life. I decided to finally read my copy of "The Way he Future Was" after just recently reading Jack Williamson's bio "Wonder Child" - in a way they make perfect bookends, as these two had collaborated so much over a fifty year period. There is no doubt that besides Campbell Jr., Pohl was responsible for the development or the shape that the Scifi genre has become today. As an editor, he inspired and chose a bulk of what was published during the late forties, fifties, sixties, and well into the seventies. Of many of the authors that we all love, we can can thank Frederik Pohl for putting their work into print by way of magazine or anthology and so on, publishers trusted his opinion, and in the process, making them into the classics they are today. He was even responsible for encouraging (somewhat) retired authors A.E. van Vogt and Robert Silverberg back into the field. Also, what is important to note, was that Pohl was a great writer in his own right. Shorts and novels - collaborated or solo - he was one of the best. But what he was mostly, was a true fan of the genre. Until a few days ago, I really believed he was immortal. Through his work, I suppose he is. He will be missed.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Williwaw

    I was delighted by this book. It gave me the sense that Fred Pohl is a generous, kind, and delightful person. You might not find the book so delightful if you are not interested in science fiction. Even if you are interested in science fiction, you might not find the book so delightful if you are not familiar with at least some of the great and delightful sf works that were written and published during the 1950's and 1960's. Those were the decades when sf began to develop some sophistication, an I was delighted by this book. It gave me the sense that Fred Pohl is a generous, kind, and delightful person. You might not find the book so delightful if you are not interested in science fiction. Even if you are interested in science fiction, you might not find the book so delightful if you are not familiar with at least some of the great and delightful sf works that were written and published during the 1950's and 1960's. Those were the decades when sf began to develop some sophistication, and a fair amount of it began to rise above its pulp origins. It would not be too far-fetched to say that Pohl is the Colossus of 20th Century SF. Not only has he won several Hugos and Nebulae, but he also won the National Book Award. As Pohl points out in this memoir, he published about 70% of the fiction that appears in "The Hugo Winners, Vol. 3." The period covered by Vol. 3 coincides with the period during which Pohl edited one of the best science fiction magazines ever produced: Galaxy. So Pohl is a giant not only as a writer, but also as an editor. Pohl was born around 1920, and grew up in Brooklyn. (He's still writing today! I just discovered that he has a blog, which you can probably find without much trouble.) He fell in love with science fiction early, when he read a copy of Amazing Stories in an attic on his uncle's farm one summer (Pennsylvania, if I remember correctly). He joined a science fiction fan club and published a fanzine. He dropped out of high school, and by the time he was 19 he was editing a science fiction magazine. Pohl has done just about everything that a literary person can do: he has written copious stories, novels, and non-fiction; he has edited magazines; he has been a literary agent; and he loves speaking engagements and conventions. His memoir provides a clear sense of the tension that exists between writers and editors; and of the camaraderie and competitiveness that arises between writers. There is plenty of humor here. For example, the time Pohl and another editor got a chance to edit a story by Horace Gold. Gold, a former editor himself, had a bad reputation for meddling deeply with writers' stories. So Pohl paid Gold back, big time by sending Gold back a grossly over-edited copy of his story! Or how about the time that Pohl waited for a Hugo Award he expected to receive for a certain story, but the award went to LeGuin instead. Asimov and another author seated at Pohl's convention table got their awards, and Pohl felt absolutely crushed. Then, it was suddenly announced that Pohl had earned a Hugo for another eligible story, which he had finished from a fragment left behind by his deceased collaborator, Cyril Kornbluth. Pohl came back to Asimov's table, and Asimov unhappily asked why Pohl got two Hugos (Pohl's and Cyril's posthumous award), but Asimov only had one! Another of my favorite anecdotes comes from a section of the book where Pohl discusses his skepticism about ESP and UFO's. (Pohl is a close friend of James Randi, a famous and extremely clever psychic debunker.) Apparently, if you edit a science fiction magazine, a fair number of crazy people will seek you out. At one point a lady came to Pohl's office with a convoluted story about how some black men were invading her mind telepathically and "listening in" on her secret sexual thoughts. Unable to convince her that perhaps she was imagining all this, and unable to deal with her sobbing histrionics, Pohl finally came up with a strategy to get rid of her: he told her "she had actually made a wise decision in coming to an editor of a science fiction magazine to tell her problem to. The only mistake she had made," said Pohl, "was in choosing the wrong editor." So he "sent her up to John Campbell's office." To understand why this is so funny, you need to know that Campbell was the editor of Astounding, which was Galaxy's main competitor. And you also need to know that Campbell, despite his reputation as the dean of "hard sf," had a serious weakness for ESP (he called it "psionics," to make it sound more scientific). In sum, this memoir provides a well-rounded picture of Pohl's life, including his quotidian trials and tribulations (e.g., a few divorces, a baby that died, and a daughter who was disabled) up through the early 1970's. He ends almost on a sour note, when he describes a few years after he gave up the editorship of Galaxy and decided to be a freelance writer again. He went into a slump and lived off royalties for a while. He gives a clear sense of the uncertainty and even boredom that can drag a writer down. But he also shows the satisfactions and perks that come with being a successful writer, not the least of which are opportunities to travel the world and to meet some very interesting people. Seek this book out if you are interested in what a successful writer's life might be like. And especially seek it out if you are interested in science fiction and the giants who grew up during the Golden Age and then prospered during the "magnolious*" '50s and '60s. *"magnolious" is a word that Pohl uses a few too many times; I had to look it up: it's an obsolete merger of two words: magnificent and glorious.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I was at a science fiction convention in Chicago ten years ago or so--and someone in the crowd was pointed out to me--that someone was Fred Pohl. So I at least got to see him, one of SF's greats, going back to the 30s... This book by Pohl is his memoir, published in 1978, and covers, of course, the earlier part of his life, and I enjoyed that. But, he pretty much skips over the 70s when he did some of his best writing ("Gateway") and, also, we don't see Pohl in his later years--as one of the la I was at a science fiction convention in Chicago ten years ago or so--and someone in the crowd was pointed out to me--that someone was Fred Pohl. So I at least got to see him, one of SF's greats, going back to the 30s... This book by Pohl is his memoir, published in 1978, and covers, of course, the earlier part of his life, and I enjoyed that. But, he pretty much skips over the 70s when he did some of his best writing ("Gateway") and, also, we don't see Pohl in his later years--as one of the last surviving giants of science fiction. I had to check online for more info and found out that he remarried in '84--to Elizabeth Anne Hull, and moved to Palatine, IL, where he passed away in 2013 at the age of 93. What we get in the '78 memoir is fascinating enough. Fred was born in 1919 and grew up mainly in Brooklyn, where he became a science fiction fan--and determined to become a writer. He first got published as a teen in 1937. I particularly enjoyed reading about his reaching out to other fans and co-founding The Futurians. After his service in the Army in WWII where he was an air corps weatherman based mainly in Italy, he got completely involved in his great love--science fiction. Besides being an active fan, he became a literary agent, a book and magazine editor, a teacher and lecturer, and of course, a writer. He won just about every award in the field. And he tells all about it in an engaging narrative, with humor, and I would say definitely a mix of pride and humility that he was involved as he was in it all...

  6. 5 out of 5

    David H.

    The only other memoirs I remember reading from SF writers were Asimov's I. Asimov and Kate Wilhelm's Storyteller (though Wilhelm's was more focused on Clarion Writers Workshop than herself). I'd read Asimov's at least 20 years ago, but I was also a big fan of his; Frederik Pohl, I don't know as well (I did appreciate Gateway, but aspects of it annoyed me). However, Pohl's memoir is often held up as a good source of fan history, and I definitely enjoyed the book in that sense, as Pohl was an early The only other memoirs I remember reading from SF writers were Asimov's I. Asimov and Kate Wilhelm's Storyteller (though Wilhelm's was more focused on Clarion Writers Workshop than herself). I'd read Asimov's at least 20 years ago, but I was also a big fan of his; Frederik Pohl, I don't know as well (I did appreciate Gateway, but aspects of it annoyed me). However, Pohl's memoir is often held up as a good source of fan history, and I definitely enjoyed the book in that sense, as Pohl was an early member of science fiction clubs in the 1930s and a bit of a rabble-rouser, along with the rest of the Futurians. Especially since he was growing up in New York City, it also seemed to make him very, very well connected to other rising and prominent stars in the SF field at the time, and he took on a variety of roles: writer, editor, literary agent (also advertising copywriter, Air Force weatherman, and so on). I really did like the look at the publishing industry from the 1930s-70s, though, especially with the rise of SF novels (thanks, Ballantine!) and the peak and crash of SF/pulp magazines (partly due to the liquidation of the biggest distributor in the country), as well as some of the early conventions he'd attended. He's full of thoughts and musings, but he's self-conscious enough to not ramble anymore than he thinks his readers want in this book. I was also amused a bit to realize certain facts--for one, he's 58 when he wrote this book and lived for another 35 years, and for another he's at the end of his relationship to his fourth wife (his next wife, Elizabeth Anne Hull, he marries in the '80s, a relationship that lasted until his death at the age of 93 in 2013). He mentions and praises Robert Silverberg a bit, but my main connection to Silverberg is his Majipoor series, of which the first book isn't out for a couple more years. Early on, Pohl mentions George R.R. Martin in passing as a recent rising star, which shocked me until I remembered that Martin had some early success in the '70s; A Game of Thrones wouldn't be published for another 20 years. Anyway, if you can find a copy of it, it's an interesting snapshot in time. The stories aren't all SF writing/fan-related, but even the ones that aren't are interesting (I found his time in WWII and in the advertising firm to be kinda fun in a way).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Whitehead

    I’ve been sitting here trying to write a review for this book and I keep typing small inanities and facts about Frederik Pohl. The simple truth is that he was an amazing, flawed, powerful human being — much like all of us. If you want to know more about him the internet has more information than you probably want to know. We have an interesting relationship with death and dying here in Western culture. When a famous person dies it can feel very personal to people who have never met the deceased. I’ve been sitting here trying to write a review for this book and I keep typing small inanities and facts about Frederik Pohl. The simple truth is that he was an amazing, flawed, powerful human being — much like all of us. If you want to know more about him the internet has more information than you probably want to know. We have an interesting relationship with death and dying here in Western culture. When a famous person dies it can feel very personal to people who have never met the deceased. The recent death of Robin Williams is only one example of this where millions of people mourned for a man they did not know. I have had this same experience on occasion where people who I admired or respected passed away and I found suddenly that they meant more to me than I had known. The passing or Robert Jordan — even though I had not read any of his books in nearly ten years because of sheer exasperation — left me feeling cold and saddened. I’ve documented here on this blog how I felt when Steve Jobs left the world. These experiences are fascinating to me because of the depth of emotion tied to a person I have not met. Frederik Pohl was one of these. I have only ever read two of his novel and none of his short fiction that I remember. I did not care for his writing, particularly. I read his blog a great deal a few years ago when he was writing about his experiences with other great legends of science fiction but stopped when he moved onto political commentary. Then in 2013, during the weekend of the Hugo Award announcements he passed away. It wasn’t particularly surprising — he was well over ninety and had smoked constantly for decades — but it left me wondering about this man who had such a profound effect on much of the science fiction that we take for granted now. I actually felt saddened by his passing, like there was a hole in the universe. People always become big fans of the work of deceased artist, it’s like a cultural reflex of respect. It doesn’t last, people have short memories. I’m still not a fan of Pohl’s fiction. I’m not even interested in reading much of it — though I admit some of it sounds interesting. I am a fan of Pohl as an editor (he brought us so many authors who would be complete unknowns if not for him) and as a lifelong fan of a field that has changed so much since it’s inception that it is almost unrecognizable. When Pohl started editing science fiction stories iPads and ebook readers weren’t even imaginable devices and now they are almost ubiquitous with our society. I read The Way the Future Was because Frederik Pohl had just passed away and I felt saddened by the fact that I had missed the opportunity to meet this powerful figure. I finished the book because Pohl tells an honest account of his past, the good and the bad, and he does it with such ease that he becomes an approachable councillor, a wizard explaining his mistakes and foibles and his powerful successes for a younger generation. The book is a little outdated, it was written in the seventies when Pohl had only lived half of his life, but it feels relevant because he is writing about the past. At the end he says that the best place to end a story is with a wedding or a funeral but he doesn’t have either one; it feels almost bittersweet to know that he would live another forty years but also to know that now he is gone and his story is done. This is a good book, if you can find it, for anybody who is interested in a tiny sub-culture of American history.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Buhs

    Fine. Probably this was more revelatory when it came out, almost forty years ago. Now, with the wave of nostalgia for old-timey science fiction that rolled across the culture at least since the 1980s, there's nothing particularly remarkable here. It's a quick read, focused mostly on Pohl's younger and middle life. He grew up in Brooklyn, alternating poor and rich because his father was something of a schemer who eventually left the family. He found science fiction around age 10--1930--and it helpe Fine. Probably this was more revelatory when it came out, almost forty years ago. Now, with the wave of nostalgia for old-timey science fiction that rolled across the culture at least since the 1980s, there's nothing particularly remarkable here. It's a quick read, focused mostly on Pohl's younger and middle life. He grew up in Brooklyn, alternating poor and rich because his father was something of a schemer who eventually left the family. He found science fiction around age 10--1930--and it helped him through the Depression. He hooked up with the group that would become the Futurians, and thus is at the center of science fiction history-as-it-is-written. He details some of the various personality conflicts, but in no great detail. He spends a bit of time on his interest in communism. At 19, he became an editor with Popular Publications, and the position would prove emblematic of his science fiction career: he tacked between fan, writer, editor, even agent. Pohl did time in World War II, and afterwards went into advertising, as research for his most famous book, written with Cyril Kornbluth, "The Space Merchants." Then more flipping between writing, reading, and editing science fiction--he succeeded Horace Gold as editor of Galaxy, this after the great winnowing of science fiction magazines in the mid-1950s. His later years were spent, also, lecturing, and appearing on Long John Nebel's late-night radio show: not that he really agreed with the thrust of the show, which promoted paranormal thinking. Pohl dismissed ESP and UFOs--after consideration--and a relatively long section at the end of the book spends times on these matters. He also obliquely refers to time he has spent vacationing with famous science fiction types, but he refuses to pull back the curtain on personal lives, for the most part. That's true of even his own. We get some sense why his first marriage ended, but the ones after that kind of blur. The reason the book still works is Pohl's voice. He's a smooth enough writer, but his voice carries the story. Pohl was in his late fifties when this was published, and he could to a sympathetic, open view of the world by that point. He could acknowledge that he was an arrogant bastard as an adolescent, without berating himself too much. He was positive on civil rights developments, and even recognized that feminism could help him: that patriarchy hurts men, too. (Though he is surprisingly mean-spirited toward homosexual in two short, but charged, snippets.) He has his heroes, but sees their faults--Pohl of course love John W. Campbell, but recognized he was not always paying much attention to his own editing, and could be quite credulous. He honored Horace Gold, but noted his misses, too. He is a bit cranky toward the way World War II left some of his friends in a bad way. Not a communist by any means, he is also cranky about the then-current economic establishment. (Which has only gotten much, much worse.) He has those he dislikes, too, but is open to them being humans, possibly as confused as himself. He wonders if born in Germany instead of America he may have become associated with the Nazis, as he did with the communists in America--never a killer, he didn't think, but still. And he even leaves the door open to rapprochement with flying saucer enthusiasts and ESP proponents, though not those he considers truly kooky. Overall, it's a fine and easy read but if you know even the vague outlines of the history of science fiction in America during the 20th century, you probably won't learn much.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    I had not read much of Frederik Pohl's own fiction, but I'm sure I read fiction that he agented or edited. This memoir was a fascinating look at the life of a giant of the glory years of SF. As an author, Pohl will likely be regarded as second-tier, but he could certainly recognize a good story when he read it, and a promising new author when he came across one. In that respect, he reminds me a little of the Salieri character in the movie Amadeus. Fascinating, isn't it, how many great writers ca I had not read much of Frederik Pohl's own fiction, but I'm sure I read fiction that he agented or edited. This memoir was a fascinating look at the life of a giant of the glory years of SF. As an author, Pohl will likely be regarded as second-tier, but he could certainly recognize a good story when he read it, and a promising new author when he came across one. In that respect, he reminds me a little of the Salieri character in the movie Amadeus. Fascinating, isn't it, how many great writers came out of the melting pot of 1920s/1930s New York City? Asimov and Pohl come to mind, but Pohl mentions several others in his book. Another thing interesting about the book is the glimpse into a time (unimaginable now) when science fiction was new, rare, and looked down on. It was only available in cheap newsstand magazines. Very few book-length stories, and almost no movies. SF conventions were unheard of. How delightful it must have been to come across just one other soul who shared your interest! Especially at a time when the search for kindred spirits had to take place pre-Internet. As a writer myself, I look at the publishing process solely from a writer's point of view. But Pohl opened my eyes to what it must be like (or must have been like, anyway) to be an agent and editor. All in all, it's a very nice, often humorous, (and cleverly-titled) autobiography. Well worth reading.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Scotese

    I found this book very interesting. Frederik Pohl was a science fiction writer and editor. He died recently, but wrote this memoir in the late seventies. It has a very bizarrely dated feel due to it being written 35 years ago and beginning around 35 years prior to that. This book begins with what life was like growing up in a world just before WWII and describing Pohl's part in the early days of science fiction fandom. As the book continues it seemed to lose its broader focus and deal specificall I found this book very interesting. Frederik Pohl was a science fiction writer and editor. He died recently, but wrote this memoir in the late seventies. It has a very bizarrely dated feel due to it being written 35 years ago and beginning around 35 years prior to that. This book begins with what life was like growing up in a world just before WWII and describing Pohl's part in the early days of science fiction fandom. As the book continues it seemed to lose its broader focus and deal specifically with the science fiction publishing world. I felt like I missed out on a lot of the later content, there are a few points where it feels like he is telling his side of a story that I should already be familiar with, but it was too far before my time. I think I only knew about half of the names he dropped and only knew specific details about half of those. That said it was still an interesting peek into the early days of science fiction. He says some ignorant and insulting things about gay people. To me his comments seemed more ignorant than bigoted, but it still bothered me. I do not know for a fact that his views have changed in the 35 years after he wrote this, but I've read he was on a first name basis with and collaborated with Arthur C. Clarke, so I assume he got better.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Betty Cross

    A highly entertaining autobiography of Fred Pohl, science-fiction writer and editor from the great old days. A member of the World War II generation, he experienced the Great Depression as a child, the rise of the Communist Party (in the greater New York area, at least) as a major center of protest against the suffering of the time, and seismic changes in the publishing field that resulted in the near-extinction of magazine Sci-Fi. For me, one of the most interesting parts of this memoir is Pohl' A highly entertaining autobiography of Fred Pohl, science-fiction writer and editor from the great old days. A member of the World War II generation, he experienced the Great Depression as a child, the rise of the Communist Party (in the greater New York area, at least) as a major center of protest against the suffering of the time, and seismic changes in the publishing field that resulted in the near-extinction of magazine Sci-Fi. For me, one of the most interesting parts of this memoir is Pohl's brief membership in the Communist Party USA. Like many, Pohl came in as a result of the economic suffering he had seen all around him. However, after Stalin and Hitler became allies, one of his comrades came up to Fred's Brooklyn apartment and proposed a toast to the Nazi forces which had just captured Paris. After all, Hitler was now Uncle Joe Stalin's ally. How bad could he be? Fred called it quits after that. He should never have joined to begin with, I would agree, but when he left, he never looked back. Okay, I'm off my political soapbox now. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the Sci-Fi of the Golden Age, and is curious to know what sort of milieu produced it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    In a fractional rating system, I'd give this 4.2 stars. This was another "grabbed randomly from the shelf" book, and when I saw it in my hand I almost put it back. It's the autobiography of classic science fiction writer and editor Fredric Pohl, as well as a history of the early days and Golden Age of science fiction. I hadn't read it in so long that I'd forgotten if it was any good. But then I figured that it would still be better than reading nothing, so I kept it. And you know, it's actually ver In a fractional rating system, I'd give this 4.2 stars. This was another "grabbed randomly from the shelf" book, and when I saw it in my hand I almost put it back. It's the autobiography of classic science fiction writer and editor Fredric Pohl, as well as a history of the early days and Golden Age of science fiction. I hadn't read it in so long that I'd forgotten if it was any good. But then I figured that it would still be better than reading nothing, so I kept it. And you know, it's actually very good so far! I'd forgotten that Pohl was another of the Brooklyn cabal of early science fiction writers. And he's a damned good one, to boot. I never lived in Brooklyn, and I was born long after the Great Depression, but I have friends in Brooklyn. I almost wish I had lived in Brooklyn in those days. Pohl makes it sound great. He doesn't pretty it up, but still, it sounds exciting and just plain fun. This book is very much worth reading for any science fiction fan.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Josephine

    Are memoirs biased? Yes. Was the author of this memoir an at least decent writer? I'd like to think so. Did his career last for nearly as long a span after this book's publication as it had prior to the book's publication? Yes. He was involved in/with science fiction for longer than the majority of science fiction fans have been alive. He knew, personally or professionally, more of the Big Names, the New Names, the Old Names the Behind-The-Scenes Talents than pretty much anyone alive today. He al Are memoirs biased? Yes. Was the author of this memoir an at least decent writer? I'd like to think so. Did his career last for nearly as long a span after this book's publication as it had prior to the book's publication? Yes. He was involved in/with science fiction for longer than the majority of science fiction fans have been alive. He knew, personally or professionally, more of the Big Names, the New Names, the Old Names the Behind-The-Scenes Talents than pretty much anyone alive today. He also did pretty much every job and/or function in science fiction: fan, reader, writer, editor, Con organizer...just don't ask him about the agent part. I'm glad I found this at a local library.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Keith Davis

    Frederik Pohl is one of the leading lights of the second generation of SF writers, the writers who grew up reading the earliest Science Fiction and had a hand in the creation of fandom. This autobiography covers his friendship with Henry Kuttner, his early flirtation with socialism and eventual disenchantment with same. A great read for anyone interested in the processes that create a writer of speculative fiction.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Aitkens

    While I didn't read much of Pohl's sci-fi, I really enjoyed his tell-all about the rest of the giants of the genre. His characterizations of big names like John Campbell, Isaac Asimov and Judith Merril made me smile, while his insights into the birth of the fan club and the transition from fans into writers opened my eyes to the small and exclusive club of Americans who dominated the sci-fi genre for decades. While I didn't read much of Pohl's sci-fi, I really enjoyed his tell-all about the rest of the giants of the genre. His characterizations of big names like John Campbell, Isaac Asimov and Judith Merril made me smile, while his insights into the birth of the fan club and the transition from fans into writers opened my eyes to the small and exclusive club of Americans who dominated the sci-fi genre for decades.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Farseer

    I enjoyed it a lot. It's the story of a life heavily influenced by his love for science fiction. As a kid, a copy of one of the very early pulp magazines (Hugo Gernsback's Wonder Stories, IIRC) got into his hands, and his mind was blown away. From then on, he was hopelessly hooked. We see him as a young fan in the 30's getting involved in the first attempts of fandom to establish contact and organize itself (remember, no internet then!). Fans actually first got in contact with each other through I enjoyed it a lot. It's the story of a life heavily influenced by his love for science fiction. As a kid, a copy of one of the very early pulp magazines (Hugo Gernsback's Wonder Stories, IIRC) got into his hands, and his mind was blown away. From then on, he was hopelessly hooked. We see him as a young fan in the 30's getting involved in the first attempts of fandom to establish contact and organize itself (remember, no internet then!). Fans actually first got in contact with each other through mail thanks to Hugo's magazine, since it printed a letter section that included the writers' addresses, and later it was Hugo Gernsback who, in an attempt to consolidate his audience, got the idea to encourage and organize fans through his magazine to form science fiction clubs (what he called the Science Fiction League). Young Fred Pohl took to that like a fish takes to water, and soon he became heavily involved in New York's nascent fandom. Eventually, he and some other like-minded youngsters created their own club, the Futurians, many of whom became well-known SF writers and editors. It's all a rather fascinating look at how fandom started, and Pohl was usually at the best place to experience it all. Still very young, he got a job as editor of a minor SF pulp magazine, and we get to see how that world worked too. Then he served in the army in WWII (by the time he was sent to Europe the war was finishing, so he didn't see combat). Later he became an agent for many of the most famous SF writers, and managed to get broke. Then he became a big-shot editor, editing for example the prestigious SF magazines Galaxy and If... All the time he was also writing when he could, and occasionally having some other jobs to pay the bills, and socializing with numerous famous people in science fiction. Unfortunately, the book was published right before what probably was his most successful time as a writer, when he published big classics like Man Plus and Gateway. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating opportunity for anyone with an interest in the history of science fiction to hear from someone who was heavily involved and made many contributions. Pohl is not as funny when he tells anecdotes as Asimov, but he has his own gruff, self-deprecating humor and tells things in an entertaining manner.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    I’ve always known that science fiction was an important aspect of my life, but I didn’t know how important until I read The Way the Future Was by Frederik Pohl, a memoir he wrote back in 1977 about his life in science fiction. This book isn’t in print, you’ll have to order it used, but the first three chapters are available online at Baen Books. I got to spend a couple hours with Fred Pohl in the early 1970s. I wish I had known everything that was in his book then because I would have pestered hi I’ve always known that science fiction was an important aspect of my life, but I didn’t know how important until I read The Way the Future Was by Frederik Pohl, a memoir he wrote back in 1977 about his life in science fiction. This book isn’t in print, you’ll have to order it used, but the first three chapters are available online at Baen Books. I got to spend a couple hours with Fred Pohl in the early 1970s. I wish I had known everything that was in his book then because I would have pestered him with a thousand questions. At the time I only knew him as the co-author of The Space Merchants with C. M. Kornbluth. I knew he had written several novels with Kornbluth and also with Jack Williamson. This was well before his famous books Man Plus (1976) and Gateway (1977). I think I had read his solo novel The Age of the Pussyfoot and owned a copy of A Plague of Pythons. I probably knew he had once edited Galaxy and If, a couple of my favorite magazines. Back when I met Pohl, along with James Gunn and John Brunner after they appeared at a conference at my university, my college roommate Greg Bridges and I got to sit with them at lunch. I knew Fred Pohl was fairly famous in science fiction, but I had no idea just how famous. I now understand why Brunner and Gunn question Pohl so intently. Years later, I was more impressed with Pohl for Gateway and his later novels, but he was never a big favorite of mine. He is now. Read the rest of the review at my blog: https://auxiliarymemory.com/2019/07/2...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    The face on the cover says it all 😁! Oh man I really, really enjoyed reading this. I knew Pohl was an influential figure in shaping modern sci-fi (writing, editing, publishing, marketing, everything!) but reading this book really exemplified his contributions and centrality in the mid century sci-fi boom. As the genre teetered between pulps and literary novels, Pohl was there on the stage AND behind the scenes to bring the public their rockets and aliens. This dude was such a hard worker, and to The face on the cover says it all 😁! Oh man I really, really enjoyed reading this. I knew Pohl was an influential figure in shaping modern sci-fi (writing, editing, publishing, marketing, everything!) but reading this book really exemplified his contributions and centrality in the mid century sci-fi boom. As the genre teetered between pulps and literary novels, Pohl was there on the stage AND behind the scenes to bring the public their rockets and aliens. This dude was such a hard worker, and to be so involved in sci-fi you gotta be, since this passion don’t pay more than 3.5 cents per word! And I was just tickled to hear all the little anecdotes featuring some of our fave SF darlings - Isaac Asimov, John Campbell, Arthur Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, “Alfie” 😂 Bester, Theodore Sturgeon, Lester del Rey, etc etc these guys worked, played, and created together - I mean jeez will we ever have the kind of writers community like they did in the 60s? I ate it up. I knocked one star off the rating because I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who isn’t already a fan. Otherwise I loved Pohl’s storytelling, he hits just the right amount of detail. And if you couldn’t tell by the cover smile, he is just a super wholesome goofy dude who really knows how to put his lighthearted yet focused narrative voice on paper. BTW HE WROTE THIS ONE YEAR BEFORE HIS HUGO BEST NOVEL WINNER “GATEWAY” 🤯 that is all.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jerry

    Pohl began his affair with Science Fiction in 1930 and has worked in the field as fan, writer, editor, and agent since he was ten years old. He has known, in some capacity, most of the other great science fiction writers, fans, and editors. The Way the Future Was is a story about growing up as a writer at the same time that science fiction was carving a place for itself in the literary world. Pohl began his affair with Science Fiction in 1930 and has worked in the field as fan, writer, editor, and agent since he was ten years old. He has known, in some capacity, most of the other great science fiction writers, fans, and editors. The Way the Future Was is a story about growing up as a writer at the same time that science fiction was carving a place for itself in the literary world.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I rarely read biographies, but I have read one or two and this is a facinating tale of one one of the masters of science fiction. From the early 30s all the eway through the mid 70s. Not only was Pohl an author, but magazine editor and agent. He knew most of the big names of the golden age. I really wanted to read more I hope one day he bring it up to date.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    Frederick Pohl was not one of my favorite authors, but he presents a GREAT history about the early days of Science Fiction and the beginning of the things we call SciFi Conventions. A great nostalgic read - especially about some of today's giants in the SF field, back when they were nobodies! Frederick Pohl was not one of my favorite authors, but he presents a GREAT history about the early days of Science Fiction and the beginning of the things we call SciFi Conventions. A great nostalgic read - especially about some of today's giants in the SF field, back when they were nobodies!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sean Hoade

    Absolutely charming and extremely rewarding for anyone to read who is a writer, editor, science fiction fan, Mad Men '50s office fan ... actually, really most humans would find this memoir invaluable from beginning to end. Absolutely charming and extremely rewarding for anyone to read who is a writer, editor, science fiction fan, Mad Men '50s office fan ... actually, really most humans would find this memoir invaluable from beginning to end.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Scott Golden

    This is a well-written and essential book for fans of 20th-Century science fiction. Pohl, the man that did it all (writer, collaborator, agent, editor, anthologizer) recounts his life in a straightforward, sober, but never boring manner. A delight.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Vlad

    Somebody recommended this book to me, when I asked around to find something similar to Isaac Asimov's great and hefty autobiographies (In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt). Of course, I know Frederik Pohl, having read "Gateway", although I was not aware of his work in my childhood (having been born behind the Iron Curtain in late 70s, I read a lot of Asimov, Simak, Heinlein, Sheckley, etc. but for some reason no Pohl). But as Pohl is Asimov's and Heinlein's contemporary and as I knew from Somebody recommended this book to me, when I asked around to find something similar to Isaac Asimov's great and hefty autobiographies (In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt). Of course, I know Frederik Pohl, having read "Gateway", although I was not aware of his work in my childhood (having been born behind the Iron Curtain in late 70s, I read a lot of Asimov, Simak, Heinlein, Sheckley, etc. but for some reason no Pohl). But as Pohl is Asimov's and Heinlein's contemporary and as I knew from the mentioned Asimov's bio, Pohl's being quite close to Isaac and actually worked as his literary agent for a considerable period of time, I thought it might be an interesting read. It starts out energetically enough, even though Pohl's prose lacks that magic quality of Asimov's, when you just have to read "just another page", until you finish the whole two books of 1500 pages in total. But his description of childhood years is lucid and vivid, with some passages on the Great Depression genuinely interesting. However, I am afraid that it all goes downhill from there. It seems that Pohl is struggling to keep his own interest up and the story has a strongly uneven character, where interesting bits are not expanded on and the dullest moment drone on and on. There are some gems in there, but too few to warrant a reading even by a genuine fan of the era. There are no great insights into the way Pohl worked on his stories, no insights into the bigger names in the field. One thing that was surprising to me was the fact that Pohl was an editor / agent first and writer second, having written a major part of his books as a co-author. Given what I read, I had to conclude that maybe Pohl was not really in the top echelon of the Golden Age writers, and got into the writing just because he was reading and editing a lot of sci-fi. It seems that he half-heartedly concludes so himself, but again, there is never enough introspection and self-irony - qualities that usually make writers likeable and, well, great. His love life, while clearly more eventful than what much geekier Asimov ever had, does not get any serious treatment/analysis either. The last 20 or so pages, with Pohl in his fifties, is a change of tone towards depression and the sadness of oncoming old age, so you don't even get an upbeat ending. Recommend to read the "Gateway" instead, which has its own faults, but is light years better and more interesting. If you want to get the taste of the era, read Asimov's biographies instead, they are great, great fun!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Melanie R

    I thought I would pick through this book looking for specific references to the early days of Science Fiction Fandom. Instead, I read it all the way through and surprisingly, enjoyed it! There was little of the 60s - 70s Sci Fi convention lore that I was looking for, but I loved the in depth look of (1) growing up in Brooklyn during the depression (a very Tree Goes in Brooklyn feel) and (2) all the behind the scenes look at the heyday and the demise of the world of Pulp Fiction.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ralph Carlson

    Just as good a read this time as it was the first time I read it when it was first published.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Richie

    Just read few chapters. This book talks about early days of science fiction fandom. Kind of fun, but I don't have time to read it now. Just read few chapters. This book talks about early days of science fiction fandom. Kind of fun, but I don't have time to read it now.

  28. 5 out of 5

    David Raffin

    If you're interested in science fiction of the 50's and 60's, pick up this book. If you're interested in science fiction of the 50's and 60's, pick up this book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    Excellent autobiographical view of the sf scene, esp. around NYC.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Branden

    except for a weird stretch of expounding on UFOs and cryogenics and the occult, this is one of the best and most affirming autobiographies by a writer i've ever read. except for a weird stretch of expounding on UFOs and cryogenics and the occult, this is one of the best and most affirming autobiographies by a writer i've ever read.

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