Buy Fred Pohl’s Worldcon GoH Acceptance Letter

A little slice of history up for auction at eBay is Fred Pohl’s letter accepting the LA bidders’ invitation to be 1972 Worldcon guest of honor if they won. (As they did. L.A.Con was the first Worldcon I ever attended.)

Writing to co-chairs Chuck Crayne and Bruce Pelz in 1969, Pohl also made a request: please shorten the speeches!

There is one thing, though. It’s not a condition, because I don’t want to try to tell you how to run the con, but it’s a heartfelt request. Having sat through, at recent cons, funny remarks by a toastmaster, protracted patter with the awarding of the Hugos, four or five brief (at least, they were supposed to be brief) announcements and other awards, a fan GOH speech and a pro GOH speech, I ask that you do something about making it shorter. Human flesh can stand just so much!

Don’t think Pohl was merely echoing the common complaint about the length of Hugos we hear nowadays, where people stroke out if the ceremonies last over a hundred minutes.

Pohl was writing less than a year after BayCon, the 1968 Worldcon, where fans had endured dinner and speeches in 95-degree heat, in an unventilated ballroom without air conditioning, for five hours and fifteen minutes before the first Hugo was even presented.

Mike Resnick recalled that night in a piece for File 770 #100:

[At 8:00 p.m.] Phil Farmer got up to give his speech…. [When] he paused for a drink of water more than 2 hours into it, we all gave him a standing ovation in hope it would convince him he was through. It didn’t. He finished after 10:30. Time for the Hugos, right? Wrong. Randy Garrett gets up, takes the microphone away from Toastmaster Bob Silverberg, and sings about 50 verses of ‘Three Brave Hearts and Three Bold Lions.’ Finally, approaching 11:15, Silverberg gets up to hand out the Hugos.

Pohl wanted to avoid any repetition of a nightmare that was still fresh in everyone’s mind.

How long did the 1972 banquet and speeches run? I don’t remember, I only know it was hours shorter than at BayCon.

L.A.Con banquet. Milt Stevens, Fred Patten, Carol Pohl, Frederik Pohl, Dian Crayne.  From the collection of Len & June Moffatt.

L.A.Con banquet. Milt Stevens, Fred Patten, Carol Pohl, Frederik Pohl, Dian Crayne. From the collection of Len & June Moffatt.

The Invisible Fanwriter Hugo

The Hugo nominating deadline is March 31. And I was wondering if, on Easter weekend when the Best Fan Writer nominees are announced, there will be the usual cuckoo in the robin’s nest – an established pro novelist?

Over the past few years the category has been won by pro writers John Scalzi, Frederik Pohl, Jim C. Hines, and Tansy Rayner Roberts, with actual fans Cheryl Morgan and Claire Brialey breaking through, too.

Every time I approach this subject lots of you write to say, “Oh no, Mike, you’re crazy — pros can be fans too!”

This is such a very important ideological axiom – to fans. Those eager to win the argument that “pros can be fans too!” never seem to recognize that it isn’t fans who are stopping this from happening, rather, that they are trying to force a kind of egalitarianism on writers that never really takes, however interested or polite the writers may be while the award is on the table.

Because once everyone’s done marching around waving their hands as confetti falls from the rafters and the brass band blows like mad and the world has once again been made safe for fannish egalitarianism, nobody pays attention to the implicit message we get back from the pros that people were so hot to give a fan Hugo —

People who are building careers as writers do not want to identify their brands with anything that hints of the amateur.

And the Fan Writer Hugo that was a big deal for six months gets swept under the rug.

You look at their bios and here’s what you find.

The “Brief biography of John Scalzi” on Whatever has this to say about his awards:

Bibliography: It’s here. New York Times best seller in fiction. Awards won include the Hugo, the Locus, the Seiun and Kurd Lasswitz. Works translated into 20 languages.

Where is it?

The late Frederik Pohl had two online bios, one at his official website and the other on his blog, and neither acknowledges the Best Fan Writer Hugo. The pro site speaks generally of winning the Hugo “six times; he was the only person ever to have won the Hugo both as writer and as editor….” The blog says of his awards: “He has received six Hugos, three Nebulas and forty or fifty other awards, some of which he has given himself.”

Six Hugos. Did you know Pohl, in fact, won seven Hugos? The seventh was his Best Fan Writer Hugo.

Now at the time he was nominated Pohl was gracious about it, clearly understood the honor he was being paid, said “I couldn’t be more pleased,” and was unquestionably qualified to compete in the category. I still thought his response was pretty much along the lines of “if you insist” – rather like Robert Silverberg’s attitude toward winning the 1950 Retro Hugo for Best Fan Writer.

Silverberg also doesn’t list his Retro Hugo on his official page, but that comes as no surprise if you remember what he wrote to File 770 the time I left him off a list —

I take umbrage at your omitting Me from your list of winners of the Best Fan Writer Hugo who have also sold pro fiction. May I remind you that I was the (totally undeserved) winner of the 1950 Retro-Hugo in that category, beating out such people as [Walt] Willis and [Bob] Tucker? Of course I would not have won the award if I hadn’t had a few stories published professionally along the way.  But I did get the Hugo.

That’s the thing. A Best Fan Writer Hugo added nothing to the career Pohl already had, and made Silverberg feel fans must be completely clueless about what he truly values.

Then, last year’s winner, Tansy Rayner Roberts, has a lengthy bio on her website that mentions three awards won by her fiction but is silent about her Best Fan Writer Hugo. The site’s landing page does call out her involvement in “the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia podcast.” Not said is that the nomination is in the Best Fancast category.

Surprisingly, Jim C. Hines bucks the trend. His bio says right in front of God and everybody

Jim is an active blogger about topics ranging from sexism and harassment to zombie-themed Christmas carols, and won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2012.

Respect to you, Jim.

Invisible little men are one of science fiction’s motifs. Invisible Best Fan Writers we can do without. Let’s do something revolutionary in 2014 – vote the award to a fan.

Last Meeting of Two Literary Lions

Bradbury and Pohl with the Red Planet. Photo by Terry Pace.

Bradbury and Pohl with the Red Planet. Photo by Terry Pace.

Frederik Pohl and Ray Bradbury met for the first time at the 1939 Worldcon when they were both teenagers. The last time they saw each other was at the 2008 Eaton Conference, as Pohl wrote in his Bradbury obituary

I saw Ray last a couple of years ago, when he and I were joint guests for the science-fiction program at UC-Riverside. He was feisty as ever, rather startlingly denouncing current science fiction as trash or worse — though it turned out that what he meant to be denouncing wasn’t print science fiction, but only the current crop of sf films. I would have liked to go into that in more detail, and to ask if he included the film Avatar. But time didn’t permit, and now I never can.

Fred Pohl, Larry Niven and Ray Bradbury at the 2008 Eaton Conference. Photo by Terry Pace.

Fred Pohl, Larry Niven and Ray Bradbury at the 2008 Eaton Conference. Photo by Terry Pace.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]

Frederik Pohl (1919-2013)

Frederik Pohl in 2008.

Frederik Pohl in 2008.

Frederik Pohl died September 2, his daughter Emily Pohl-Weary has announced on Twitter.  He was 93.

He spent the last several years of his life writing The Way the Future Blogs, fashioning the pieces from which a new volume of his memoirs might be made — in the meantime so charming the latest generation of science fiction fans with his anecdotes from the genre’s golden age that he was voted a Best Fan Writer Hugo in 2010.

Pohl himself had started out in sf as a teenaged fan – not without controversy, for he was one of the six Futurians who were thrown out of the First Worldcon in 1939. The scales of justice would balance later when he was named guest of honor at the 1972 Worldcon, L.A.Con I.

Pohl was also one of the field’s youngest prozine editors, from 1939 to 1943 running Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories.

He served in World War II as an air corps weatherman, mainly in Italy.

After the war he ran the genre’s leading literary agency – yet it was not financially successful. He closed it down in the early 1950s and went back to writing full time.

He co-founded the Hydra Club in 1947, a regular gathering of New York’s sf pros.

A satire written in collaboration with Cyril M. Kornbluth, The Space Merchants (1953), was one of his most noted works in this period. They followed in 1955 with Gladiator-at-Law.

In the 1960s Pohl became one of the field’s most important editors. His Galaxy and If won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Magazine in 1966, 1967 and 1968.

Resuming his writing career in the 1970s, he penned such renowned novels as Man Plus (1977 Nebula), Gateway (1978 Hugo and Nebula), and Jem. Beyond the Blue Event Horizon followed in the 1980s. He also won a Hugo for his 1985 short story “Fermi and Frost.”

Pohl was President of the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1974.

He earned many lifetime achievement honors  — Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1998, Living Inductee), SFWA Grand Master Award (1993), Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award (2013, distinguished service), Eaton Award (Lifetime Achievement, 2009), Forry Award (lifetime achievement, voted by LASFS, 1994), Milford Award (1995, lifetime achievement),  Prix Utopia (2000, lifetime achievement), Skylark Award (1966, given by NESFA), Writers and Illustrators of the Future (2000, lifetime achievement)


He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Anne Hull, Ph.D.

[Thanks to Lloyd Penney and Taral Wayne for the story.]

Update 09/03/2013: Corrected link to 1939 Worldcon story per comment.

Key To The Hydra Club

Frederik Pohl wrote once again about the Hydra Club on his blog the other day, reprinting a description of its origins from an old press release:

The Hydra Club was founded in 1947. A New York club, it was founded in Philadelphia, at that year’s Worldcon, when Lester del Rey said to Frederik Pohl, talking about spending time with fellow sf people, a novelty, since the recently ended war had broken up established sf groups, “This was fun. We ought to do it more often.” Back in New York, they did. They each rounded up some friends — totalling nine in all, which accounts for the name, which was borrowed from that of a legendary Greek monster with nine heads — and the club was formed.

Fandom rediscovered the Hydra Club a few years ago when Life Magazine’s photo archive went online and the enterprising Bill Higgins learned it contained a panoramic picture of pros and fans attending the banquet of the NY Science Fiction Conference in 1950 which Hydra helped organize.

Dave Kyle, in “The Legendary Hydra Club” (Mimosa 25), said the photo included both Hydras and members of the Eastern Science Fiction Association who had also been invited. Unfortunately, none of these people were named in Life’s caption.

Now there’s fresh hope for matching names to the faces. Pohl’s latest post includes a piece of artwork by Harry Harrison with caricatures of several dozen Hydras. It includes a key with all their names. This originally served as an illustration for Judith Merrill’s 1951 article about the Hyrda Club in Marvel Science Fiction. An enterprising person could use Harrison’s work to identify some of the diners in Life’s photo.

Merrill’s full article is posted at Lady, That’s My Skull. The text begins:

Article One: The name of this organization shall be the Hydra Club.

Article Two: The purpose of this organization shall be…

Puzzled silence greeted the reader as he lay down the proposed draft of a constitution, and looked hopefully at the eight other people in the room.

“The rest of it was easy,” he explained, “but we spent a whole evening trying to think of something for that.”

“Strike out that paragraph,” someone said. “We just haven’t got a purpose.”

The Better Editor?

Hugo voters thought there were plenty of years in which Frederik Pohl was a better editor than John W. Campbell, a choice necessarily based on an overall appreciation of the magazines each man edited — because when would a fan see a mano-a-mano contest of two editors’ skills? Well, now you can find a great example in Pohl’s post about agenting Hal Clement’s Mission of Gravity and how he overcame Campbell’s original rejection of this classic sf novel.

Overserved at The Drink Tank?

Two of the last three Best Fan Writer Hugos have been won by Hugo nominated novelists. Taral vents his frustration that more people don’t find this controversial in “The Way the Futurian Blogs,” an article in The Drink Tank #259 (PDF file). I’m not a fan of the accompanying graphic, an altered paperback cover of Pohl with a hole in his head — both distasteful and disrespectful.

Also not very perceptive, if the idea behind the image is to fault Pohl for winning. Pohl did not ordain this result, his victory came out of a popular movement. I understood this much better after hearing the tone in Andrew Trembley’s voice as he told fans at Westercon how much he loved reading anecdotes about the history of the sf field on Fred Pohl’s blog. At that moment I thought d’oh! I’d forgotten what it is like to hear these stories for the first time. Some I heard as a young fan from Pohl’s First Fandom contemporaries. Others I read in Pohl’s 1978 autobiography The Way the Future Was. To the latest generation of science fiction fans they are brand new. And they’re great stories. And they’re about science fiction, which (big news here) a lot of science fiction fans still find interesting.

Yes, I tried to persuade fans to go in another direction and vote for someone else. Somebody who’s not already a famous sf writer. Guess what? I lost. World ends, film at 11? No, and what’s more, I’m even allowed to like the winner.