Pohl was the son of Frederik George Pohl (a salesman of Germanic descent) and Anna Jane Mason. Pohl Sr. held various jobs, and the Pohls lived in such wide-flung locations as Texas, California, New Mexico and the Panama Canal Zone. The family settled in Brooklyn when Pohl was around seven. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School, and dropped out at 17. In 2009, he was awarded an honorary diploma from Brooklyn Tech.
While a teenager, he co-founded the New York–based Futurians fan group, and began lifelong friendships with Donald Wollheim, Isaac Asimov and others who would become important writers and editors. Pohl later said that other “friends came and went and were gone, [but] many of the ones I met through fandom were friends all their lives — Isaac, Damon Knight, Cyril Kornbluth, Dirk Wylie, Dick Wilson. In fact, there are one or two — Jack Robins, Dave Kyle — whom I still count as friends, seventy-odd years later….” He published a science fiction fanzine called Mind of Man.
During 1936, Pohl joined the Young Communist League because of its positions for unions and against racial prejudice, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. He became president of the local Flatbush III Branch of the YCL in Brooklyn. Pohl has said that after the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, the party line changed and he could no longer support it, at which point he left. Pohl served in the United States Army from April 1943 until November 1945, rising to sergeant as an air corps weatherman. After training in Illinois, Oklahoma, and Colorado, he was mainly stationed in Italy with the 456th Bombardment Group.
Pohl was married five times. His first wife, Leslie Perri, was another Futurian; they were married in August 1940, and divorced in 1944. He then married Dorothy LesTina in Paris in August 1945 while both were serving in the military in Europe; the marriage ended in 1947. During 1948, he married Judith Merril; they had a daughter, Ann. Pohl and Merril divorced in 1952. In 1953, he married Carol M. Ulf Stanton, with whom he had three children and collaborated on several books; they separated in 1977 and were divorced in 1983. From 1984 until his death, Pohl was married to science-fiction expert and academic Elizabeth Anne Hull, PhD. He fathered four children — Ann (m. Walter Weary), Frederik III (deceased), Frederik IV and Kathy. Grandchildren include Canadian writer Emily Pohl-Weary and chef Tobias Pohl-Weary. From 1984 on, he lived in Palatine, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. He was previously a resident of Middletown, New Jersey.
From 1939 to 1943, Pohl was the editor of two pulp magazines, Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories. Stories by Pohl often appeared in these science fiction magazine, but never under his own name. Work written in collaboration with Cyril M. Kornbluth was credited to S. D. Gottesman or Scott Mariner; other collaborative work (with any combination of Kornbluth, Dirk Wylie or Robert A. W. Lownes) was credited to Paul Dennis Lavond. For Pohl’s solo work, stories were credited to James MacCreigh (or, for one story only, Warren F. Howard.) Works by “Gottesman”, “Lavond”, and “MacCreigh” continued to appear in various science fiction pulp magazines throughout the 1940s.
In his autobiography, Pohl said that he stopped editing the two magazines at roughly the time of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Pohl started a career as a literary agent in 1937, but it was a sideline for him until after World War II, when he began doing it full-time. He ended up “representing more than half the successful writers in science fiction”: For a short time, he was the only agent Isaac Asimov ever had, though his agency did not succeed financially, and he closed it down in the early 1950s. Pohl co-founded the Hydra Club, a loose collection of science fiction professionals and fans which met during the late 1940s and 1950s.
From the late 1950s until 1969, Pohl served as editor of Galaxy Science Fiction and Worlds of if magazines, taking over at some point from the ailing H. L. Gold. Under his leadership, if won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Magazine for 1966, 1967 and 1968. Pohl hired Judy-Lynn del Rey as his assistant editor at Galaxy and if. He also served as editor of Worlds of Tomorrow from its first issue in 1963 until it was merged into if in 1967. In the mid-1970s, Pohl acquired and edited novels for Bantam Books, published as “Frederik Pohl Selections”; notable were Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man. He also edited a number of science fiction anthologies.
After World War II, Pohl worked as an advertising copywriter and then as a copywriter and book editor for Popular Science. Following the war, Pohl began publishing material under his own name, much in collaboration with his fellow Futurian, Cyril Kornbluth.
Though the pen-names of “Gottesman”, “Lavond” and “MacCreigh” were retired by the early 1950s, Pohl still occasionally used pseudonyms, even after he began to publish work under his real name. These occasional pseudonyms, all of which date from the early 1950s to the early 1960s, included Charles Satterfield, Paul Flehr, Ernst Mason, Jordan Park (two collaborative novels with Kornbluth) and Edson McCann (one collaborative novel with Lester del Rey).
In the 1970s, Pohl reemerged as a novel writer in his own right, with books such as Man Plus and the Heechee series. He won back-to-back Nebula Awards with Man Plus in 1976 and Gateway, the first Heechee novel, in 1977. In 1978, Gateway swept the other two major novel honors, also winning the Hugo Award for Best Novel and John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the best science-fiction novel. Two of his stories have also earned him Hugo Awards: “The Meeting” (with Kornbluth) tied in 1973 and “Fermi and Frost” won in 1986. Another award-winning novel is Jem (1980), winner of the National Book Award.
His works include not only science fiction, but also articles for Playboy and Family Circle magazines and nonfiction books. For a time, he was the official authority for Encyclopædia Britannica on the subject of Emperor Tiberius. (He wrote a book on the subject of Tiberius, as “Ernst Mason”.) Some of his short stories take a satirical look at consumerism and advertising in the 1950s and 1960s: “The Wizards of Pung’s Corners”, where flashy, over-complex military hardware proved useless against farmers with shotguns, and “The Tunnel Under the World”, where an entire community of seeming-humans is held captive by advertising researchers. (“The Wizards of Pung’s Corners” was freely translated into Chinese and then freely translated back into English as “The Wizard-Masters of Peng-Shi Angle” in the first edition of Pohlstars (1984)). Pohl’s Law is either “No one is ever ready for anything” or “Nothing is so good that somebody, somewhere will not hate it”. He was a frequent guest on Long John Nebel’s radio show from the 1950s to the early 1970s, and an international lecturer.
Starting in 1995, when the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award became a juried award, Pohl served first with James Gunn and Judith Merril, and since then with several others until retiring in 2013. Pohl was associated with Gunn since the 1940s, becoming involved in 1975 with what later became Gunn’s Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas. There he presented many talks, recorded a discussion about “The Ideas in Science Fiction” in 1973 for the Literature of Science Fiction Lecture Series, and served the Intensive Institute on Science Fiction and Science Fiction Writing Workshop.
Pohl received the second annual J. W. Eaton Lifetime Achievement Award in Science Fiction from the University of California, Riverside Libraries at the 2009 Eaton Science Fiction Conference, “Extraordinary Voyages: Jules Verne and Beyond”. Pohl’s work has been an influence on a wide variety of other science fiction writers, some of whom appear in the 2010 anthology, Gateways: Original New Stories Inspired by Frederik Pohl, edited by Elizabeth Anne Hull. Pohl’s last novel, All the Lives He Led, was released on April 12, 2011. By the time of his death, he was working to finish a second volume of his autobiography The Way the Future Was (1979), along with an expanded version of the latter.
In addition to his solo writings, Pohl was also well known for his collaborations, beginning with his first published story. Before and following the war, Pohl did a series of collaborations with his friend Cyril Kornbluth, including a large number of short stories and several novels, among them The Space Merchants, a dystopian satire of a world ruled by the advertising agencies.
In the mid-1950s he began a long-running collaboration with Jack Williamson, eventually resulting in ten collaborative novels over five decades. Other collaborations included a novel with Lester Del Rey, Preferred Risk (1955). This novel was solicited for a contest by Galaxy–Simon & Schuster when the judges did not think any of the contest submissions were good enough to win their contest, it was published under the joint pseudonym Edson McCann. He also collaborated with Thomas T. Thomas on a sequel to his award-winning novel Man Plus. He finished a novel begun by Arthur C. Clarke, The Last Theorem, which was published on August 5, 2008.
- November, 26, 1919
- New York, New York
- September, 02, 2013
- Palatine, Illinois