At 91, Frederik Pohl has written science fiction for 70 years and has worked as an editor, an agent and a critic who has collaborated with some of the biggest names in the genre. And yet, when we dialled him up at his home in Illinois – where he lives with his wife, sci-fi academic Elizabeth Anne Hull – and offered him congratulations on his new book, All the Lives He Led, he sounded relieved to have it out there and hear that the reviews coming in ‘were pretty good.’
‘I feel a little better about it now,’ he says. ‘It was such a dog for me to write. I began writing it about five years ago, but then Arthur Clarke asked me to write the end of his book, so I had to put it aside.’
Such is the science-fiction community’s esteem for Pohl that a luminary like Clarke would ask him to finish his final novel, The Last Theorem (2008). Pohl admits he basically had to ‘write the whole book,’ after Clarke gave him a pile of notes for where he wanted the book to go. So after years away from All the Lives He Led, he had to rewrite entire chapters to get back in the flow.
With terrorism erupting all over the globe, workers enslaved by their debt and Brad unexpectedly at the centre of it all, the world of All the Lives He Led is entertainingly bleak. ‘Everybody’s in debt, especially in the US,’ Pohl says. ‘We’ve made a religion out of it. It’s the result of a dichotomy in our government, who for 30 years have been telling us to save and remain solvent, but then want us to spend, spend, spend to make the country richer.’
Pohl says he’s now at work on another novel, but that he’s also working on a sequel to his 1979 autobiography, The Way the Future Was, which fans can see excerpted on his blog, thewaythefutureblogs.com. As a writer whose list of collaborators reads like a sci-fi hall of fame, he says the second volume will look back at the genre over the past century.
‘I’ve worked in one way or another with just about every significant writer in the field since 1939, and there is no good source of reading about many of those writers,’ he says. ‘I think this is probably the greatest service I can render to the field and its readers. After all, I was there for most of it.’ All the Lives He Led is available now at www.amazon.com