Monday, October 21, 2013

Another One Gone...

"Gateway" by Frderick Pohl

I love a wide variety of fiction, but I have to admit that I have a special fondness for science fiction.  In high school and during my early twenties, it was pretty much the only type of fiction I chose to read.  Thankfully, through the demands of teachers and professors during my early flirtation with college, I was forcefully exposed to other great fiction, from Shakespeare to "The Stranger," "The Old Man and the Sea," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Grapes of Wrath," "Pride and Prejudice," and many others -- and I am truly a much better person and writer for it. I've thanked the memory of those teachers and professors in retrospect many times over.

But back then, when left to my own devices I neglected the classics and all that 'dull' stuff, and instead spent the bulk of my time in a single section of the library and local bookstores -- Science Fiction.   And truthfully, some of the books I read during those years have stayed with me longest, and are still some of my favorites.

I'm sure there's a good dose of personal nostalgia involved, but even a short list of some of the books that I can recall reading in late 1970's and early 1980's would feature some of the best authors I've ever read.  Yes I realize that in many eyes, their writing would pale in comparison to the literary talents of Camus, Hemingway, Harper Lee, Steinbeck, and Jane Austen.  But I would still submit that if you define the "best" writers as those who most tightly hold your interest, who most successfully immerse you in a world, who most inspire you, and who you most want to emulate as a writer yourself, then -- for me -- Hemingway and those other hacks don't even come close.

Instead I would list authors like:

  • Larry Niven. who's 1979 "Ringworld Engineers" was a gripping sequel to 1972's "Ringworld", and who collaborated with Jerry Pournelle  to write "The Mote in God's Eye" in 1975, "Inferno" in 1976, and "Lucifer's Hammer" in 1978.
  • Robert Silverberg, who's "Lord Valentine's Castle" in 1980 had me eagerly awaiting every installation of the Marjipoor Chronicles, and who's "Dying Inside" and "The Book of Skulls" from 1973 were both devoured in a single marathon reading session.
  • Robert Heinlein, who's 1980 novel "Friday" was enjoyed immensely, although not as much as his classic "Stranger in a Strange Land," which was written back in 1961, but read by me in 1976 or so and remains one of my favorite novels of all time.
  • Isaac Asimov, who's 1982 "Foundation's Edge" was probably the best of the Foundation series.
  • Arthur C. Clarke,  who's "The Fountains of Paradise" in 1979 was a fabulous read, and who's sequel "2010: Odyssey Two" in 1983 followed the movie more than the original book.
  • Frank Herbert, who's 1976 "Children of Dune" introduced me to the Dune series including the original "Dune" from 1966 -- another all-time favorite.
  • And Frederick Pohl, who's 1977 novel "Gateway" was another all-time classic. It was first published as a serial in Galaxy magazine, and then won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1978 as a novel.  It also launched Pohl's series of work about the Heechee universe. I read it shortly after its release and loved the weird mix of a dark over-populated future, psychobabble with a robot analyst, and a cryptic unknown alien race.

Want to know something about that list of authors?  Besides the fact that they're some of the all-time-great science-fiction writers with a plethora of awards and best-selling novels among them? 

Most of them are dead. 

Larry Niven is 75 and Robert Silverberg is 78 and both are still kicking, but Herbert died in 1986 (age 65), Heinlein in 1988 (age 80), Asimov in 1992 (age 72), and Clarke in 2008 (age 90).

And today, I just discovered that Frederick Pohl has also died.  Actually, it happened over a month and a half ago -- September 2nd at the age of 93. I was looking something up related to what I was originally going to write today's blog entry about and ran across This News Article. Evidently I'd missed the news back in September.

So that means that another one of my favorite authors has passed away.  The main things this points out to me is that I am getting older myself (turning 53 next month), and that -- yet again -- there seems to be a 100% correlation between the people who are born and the people who will someday die. 

I'm not going to get all weepy and philosophical here, but if you don't mind, I will take this as a little psychic prod in the ass, and get a bit busier on writing and making music.  Each of us only has a certain number of breaths, and I think I'd like to use more of mine in the act of artistic creation.  I may never achieve any arbitrary 'goals' I might set for myself in regards to my writing or music, but I'd prefer not to have it be because I never tried hard enough to actually create any...

Rest in peace, Frederick Pohl, and thank you for the great writing.


  1. I've read most of those authors, some more completely than others (Asimov, Herbert, Pohl, Niven). I think I read all the Gateway novels - they are such a classic. I still remember 'full medical' which was costly.

    That means we need a new breed of scifi writers to take over the leads, I guess. We have lots, but who will be the ones who endure as these guys did?

  2. Love this post, Chris! I don't do a lot of science fiction reading, but have read a number of the authors listed above, particularly Frank Herbert's Dune series. It happened one summer when I just upped an grabbed some books from my husband's college stuff to read on vacation. We get to our destination (a fairly isolated spot ...) and I think, oh crap! It's science fiction! And then I read and I read and I read. That same box of college stuff is down in the basement, and I know there's some Frederick Pohl in there. Please don't think less of me because I keep perfectly good science fiction in a box. I will have to clear some shelf space.

    And yes ... I am 58 and I completely get that bit of urgency that starts to jangle the creative bell. Godspeed on all the WIPs ... literary and musical.

  3. Gateway is one of my favorites, too!

    You left Roger Zelazny off the list ... although he was more known for his Amber series and fantasy, but he had some science fiction titles too.

    As old and "grown up" as I am, I still can't get over that I am C.J. Cherryh's "friend" on Facebook. Yeah, I know she doesn't know me from the thousands of other "friends" who follow her posts, but when I see them, I still feel like a giddy high school kid.

  4. As one who is just a couple years behind you, I know what you mean. We aren't getting any younger. Everybody runs out of time eventually.
    About half of my favorite authors are still around, but after the loss of Bradbury, I realized that would soon not be the case.

  5. This was a really good post, Chris. I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to expand my response so I won't. It was just a very good post.

  6. @D.G.: Thankfully, there are many, many great "new" writers of science fiction out there. Some of my favorites off the top of my head might be John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow, Robert Charles Wilson, Neal Stephenson, and maybe that dude who wrote the "Cassa" series... And I know there are hundreds of others out there writing creative and captivating science fiction in relative anonymity, just waiting to be "discovered." While this post does mourn the passing of one of my favorite early influences, I truthfully never feel like there aren't enough great writers -- I sometimes feel more like there are too many and I'll never be able to read them all, lol!

    @R.T.: If I were to think less of you for storing books in boxes, then I will have to think less of myself, because I did it for years. ;) I used to be a hoarder of books, but have dramatically pared down over the last several years, kind of in relation to my growth in accepting e-books. I still have bookshelves full because I love the way they look, but I no longer need to hold on to books that are stored away -- they're available as downloads and it's the ideas and stories IN them that are the real value.

    @Dianne: Well, if I were to list every sci-fi writer I enjoyed over the years, this post would have been massive, lol! But the shiort list I gave were the ones that had special significance to me; the ones whose books most resonated in me and have stayed with me the longest.

    @Alex: Yeah -- everyone ages and everyone dies. It is kind of a crappy system in a lot of ways, but it does make sense -- it's true for everything in the universe, from every living thing to planets, stars, and the universe itself.

    @Suze: Thanks! Just thanks!

  7. I was the same as you - suffered through the "literature" and gobbled up Sci-fi in every spare moment (in my case, Horror, too). There's something pure about Sci-fi. It explores humanity's flaws, foibles, and virtues in ways uncluttered by the mundanity of "real life." Age and death have the opposite effect on me as on you though. I want to savor life more, and work less. Have a good weekend! :-)

  8. @Lexa: The "savor more, work less" is my normal state, lol! I just need a kick in the psyche every now and then to inspire me to work towards "leaving something behind." ;^) I hope you have a great weekend, too!


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