Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Kind Man Departs


By now you've heard that Frederik Pohl is dead.  I believe he's the last great writer of his generation to go, and I cannot help remembering the eulogy that the minister gave my father-in-law when he died, comparing him to one of the Cedars of Lebanon and saying, "Now he's fallen, and how different the horizon looks!"

Fred was a man of many substantive achievements -- as writer, as editor, and in many other roles as well.  But I won't talk about any of them here.  Instead, I think back to 1990 or 1991, when I won my first major award, the Theodore Sturgeon. 

It was a strange and alienating experience for me.  I flew from Philadelphia to Kansas City.  Pat Cadigan picked me up at the airport and drove me to whatever university the award symposium was held at.  It was tornado weather and I remember her saying, "If the sky turns green, I'll slam the car to the side and you jump in a ditch and pray!"  I was given a room in an empty dorm, where I was the only inhabitant that night.  The next day I found myself participating in several symposiums for which I was completely unprepared. 

At one point, I found myself alone with Fred.  "You look a little tense," he commented and I admitted that I was.  Then he said I forget what.  Nothing profound, I suspect.  Just a few kind words.  But they came at the right moment.  He put me at ease, and the rest of the weekend was a lot more pleasant for me.

The thing is that that was typical.  Whenever I spent any time with Fred, I noticed he was doing things for others . . . Trying to find a position for a stranded foreign academic. Giving a short impromptu speech in Roanoke, where he said the kind of upbeat nonsense that the mayor and the press were hoping for.  Giving advice to unpublished writers.  Dealing politely but firmly with recalcitrant publishers for SFWA.  Quietly making things better for others in ways that brought him nothing.

The last time I saw him was last year when I was in Chicago for Gene Wolfe's induction into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.  David Hartwell called me up to ask if I wanted to help them go through a few thousand of J. K. Klein's old photographs, looking for pictures he could use in a reissue or else update, I forget which, of his memoir, The Way the Future Was.

So I spent a few hours with David and Fred, sitting around the kitchen table, talking and sorting.  Fred was a lot weaker than he had been a couple of decades earlier, but his mind was as sharp as ever and his sense of humor was unchanged.  So I was happy.  And, I might add, the envy of all my friends afterward.

That's the last I saw of Fred and how I'll remember him:  Always doing, doing, doing, and oftentimes for the benefit of others, rather than himself.  He was a fine writer and his books are an important part of our history.  He was brilliant and he was hard-working.  But he was also very kind. 

Kindness may be the most important virtue.  Sometimes I think it's the rarest.  But Frederik Pohl had it in spades.

Goodbye, Fred.  Thanks for everything. 

You can read the Locus Online obituary here.

My apologies for not getting a blog post out yesterday.  I spent the day traveling and by the time I got home I was so exhausted I collapsed.  I'll do my bet not to let it happen again. 


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