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Posts Tagged ‘Frederik Pohl’

A Review of The Day the Martians Came

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 29, 2013

The Day the Martians CameThe Day the Martians Came by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I like Frederik Pohl, on average, but this book is below average. It’s not even much of an attempt at sci fi — just loosely related to it. It starts out rather promisingly, with some crashed astronauts finding an underground Martian “Macy’s” and ultimately some real Martians. These Martians end up being a little disappointing though, as they’re merely seals with legs. At this point, the novel loses any credibility it had to begin with. Although we’re never told how this transpires, the next thing we know is that the astronauts have somehow communicated with the Martians and have convinced them to get on their spaceship so they can return to Earth together. Um, how did this happen Mr. Pohl? Seems to me this would be pretty major to the plot, but again, it’s never described. What then happens in this novel is a series of virtual stand alone short stories are related about people who are anticipating the arrival of the Martians several months from now, all in their own ways. Very loosely tied together. I guess some of the stories are moderately interesting, but aside from the rare mention of Martians, none are actually sci fi — just generalized stories about humanity in its different forms. You have a Russian tour guide who wants to get to America, a brainwashed cult member trying to get handouts for his cult, a Hollywood screenwriter, etc. The only other time the Martians are really brought into the book is at the end of the “novel” upon their impending landing on Earth, when all of a sudden, we’re given the Martians’ point of view — they refer to us as “humans.” How would they know to do this? They don’t speak; they touch each other for communal language. How did they ever learn to call us humans? I have no idea. With the whole planet watching, they land, then everyone leaves to go back to their lives and Pohl tries to bring the characters from the shorts into play here to tie everything together, but it seems like a really weak effort and thus the book fails. It’s really not very good, and as far as sci fi goes, it seems a failure to me. I love Pohl’s short stories and some of his novels, but I can’t recommend this one.

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A Review of The Merchants’ War

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 15, 2013

The Merchants' WarThe Merchants’ War by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this sequel to The Space Merchants, written decades earlier. Pohl’s wit and satire are on full display through the entire novel. This is a futuristic world which is run by advertisers and advertising with protesters having migrated to Venus to escape. There are armies that “attack” aborigines to get them addicted to advertised products. It’s pretty funny. Tennison Tarb is a senior ad exec stuck on Venus, but due to go home to an earth that’s polluted and run over with billions of people. He has a love interest and there are numerous plot twists and his career goes up and down throughout the novel. He almost immediately falls victim to a new kind of advertising on his return to earth and starts drinking Moke-Koke, a seriously addictive beverage that’s a combination of chocolate, coffee, and cocaine. As this book was published in 1984, you can bet Pohl is aware of the powerful pull of cocaine at the time, so when Tarb becomes a Moke Head, he kind of beats it into you, but it still fits the story. Toward the end of the novel, Tarb discovers a Venusian plot to beat earth at its own game and essentially keep Venus advertising-free. The plot is at the highest levels of the advertising world, but he agrees to help them (to save his own skin), going against everything he believes in. By the time the rather abrupt ending rolled around, I found it very surprising and somewhat hard to believe, but I still give Pohl credit for a fairly original book and awfully good writing. Not everyone will like this because it’s not hard sci fi, but if you like some wicked humor mixed with futuristic worlds, you might enjoy this book. It’s a fun read.

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A Review of The Other End of Time

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 31, 2013

The Other End of TimeThe Other End of Time by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Frederik Pohl’s The Other End of Time is a mediocre book with some promise, some potential, but it never seems to reach it. It’s like one long drawn out scene book-ended by the beginning and end of the book, and after awhile it gets boring.

Dan Dannerman, the main character, is a secret agent for some national organization, although the United States appears to have been broken up into individual countries. Florida is its own country now, for instance. However, Dannerman’s background and behavior certainly don’t indicate that he possesses any significant training to serve as a CIA-type. He’s always lost in thought about how to best do something. He seems to be a man of minimal action. Another character, Chinese astronaut Jimmy Lin, is an oversexed horn dog whose constant horniness gets old VERY quickly. Another primary character, Pat, is a rich cousin of Dan (by marriage) who ends up falling for him during the book. They make love toward the end of the book, and I tried not to be too grossed out by it.

Dan, Pat, Jimmy and several others go up to a deserted space station thinking some extraterrestrial presence has found its way aboard, and they’re hoping to make a ton of money from this discovery. Turns out they’re right, but they’re taken captive and the main part of the book then begins: their imprisonment. At first they’re all naked and they have to urinate and defecate in front of the others on the floor of their prison (which swallows it up and makes the stuff disappear). I couldn’t buy Pat just dropping her pants and taking a crap on the floor in front of a bunch of other people. I found it extremely hard to believe. They’re visited regularly by Dopey, an alien, and other speechless ETs, who work for some Beloved Leaders while warring with the “evil” Horch. But we’re never sure that the Horch are evil. Turns out the Beloved Leaders torch planets whose citizens don’t bend to their will. These lucky people are sent to a type of heaven where everyone and everything eventually ends up.

Toward the end of the book, Dan and the others escape their prison because the attacking Horch have torched the power and allowed them to leave. Dopey and the other aliens catch up to them bearing the humans’ weapons, asking them to fight the Horch because they can’t. I’m not going to give away the end of the book, but it reads like a plug for a sequel, and naturally, there is one. (I think this is part of a trilogy.) I have the next book, but I’m not going to read it right away because I fear it might be as boring as this one. One thing, however, that was interesting was that the aliens can copy each other and the humans, so horny Jimmy is presented with two copies of Pat for “breeding” purposes, the irony being that neither will have anything to do with him. That was moderately interesting, but not enough to save the book. Frankly, I tend to like Pohl and think he’s written some fine stuff. I particularly like his short stories, but this book was dull and I think he’s capable of better. I don’t think I would recommend this book.

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A Review of The Best of Frederik Pohl

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 9, 2012

The Best of Frederik PohlThe Best of Frederik Pohl by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another book of short stories by Frederik Pohl that I’ve read and he really doesn’t disappoint. I like his short stories much better than his novels, to be honest. “The Tunnel Under The World” was published in the mid-50s, but reads like The Truman Show. It’s quite interesting. “The Children of Night” is disturbing and spooky. Actually, there are several disturbing pieces in this book. “The Midas Plague,” however, is not one of them. In this story, there’s rampant over-consumption throughout the world and the poorer you are, the more you have while the wealthier you are, the less you have. The goal is to get the least amount possible. You see, robots are out of control making things like crazy and society has to consume or be overwhelmed. It’s an interesting concept. Pohl takes his usual skewering of advertising and PR to new heights in several of these stories, including the aforementioned “The Children of Night.” What won’t an advertising campaign buy, right? “The Census Takers” is ahead of its time in dealing with pollution and overpopulation. Really, there aren’t many weak pieces in this book. It’s a good collection, and it’s all comprised of stuff written from his first 50 years. (I think he’s close to 100 now.) So no newer stuff. That’s OK though. These stories stand the test of time and don’t feel dated. I strongly recommend this book if you like sci fi with some social commentary and humor, as well as some possibly disturbing ideas mixed in. It’s a good read.

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A Review of Pohl’s Gateway

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 14, 2012

GatewayGateway by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Frederik Pohl’s Gateway is a sci fi classic, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards, as well as others. I’ve been looking forward to reading it for some time. And I’ve got to say that upon finishing it, I have some mixed feelings. I think the book, on the whole, was decent, a good read, etc., but there were some very unlikeable things about the book as well.

I’ll start with the protagonist, Robinette Broadhead. “Bob” is a first class, egocentric, shallow, oversexed, wussie jerk/asshole and it was really hard for me to like him. He spends the novel being a pansy for fear of flying out on dangerous missions from Gateway, a place formerly colonized by a long-gone alien species called the Heechee. (Who came up with that name anyway? It’s never explained, and that bugged me throughout the novel.) He has a crap job on earth, wins the lottery, goes to Gateway to find his fortune, as “prospectors” flying leftover Heechee ships that no one knows how they work go out to various locales to try and hit it big by finding Heechee materials and winning large cash awards from the Corporation in charge. Broadhead goes there, gets flight training, but doesn’t go out. He’s too scared. Instead he spends his time wandering around, getting drunk, high, and laid (this book is from the ’70s), until he starts running out of cash and is forced to go out on a mission, which is a failure. He develops a relationship with Klara, which doesn’t stop him from having sex with everyone else, but their fights are borderline stupid, and they’re both too scared to go out on missions. OK, missions are dangerous, but isn’t that why you are on Gateway — to face dangers in the hope of striking it rich?

The format of the book is interesting. Every other chapter is of a current day Broadhead session with his AI shrink, Sigfrid. During these sessions, Bob pouts, screams, shouts, insults the computer, tries to manipulate his shrink, doesn’t relay important facts, and is an unlikeable character altogether. The good part of these scenes is they are very instrumental toward the end to unraveling a couple of major secrets the book is building toward in its climax. And I would have to say the climax is partially good. There are a couple of surprises — big ones — that make it worth reading the book through. That said, there are quite a few dry patches in the book, just boring pages following each other into more boredom. I could have used a little more space missions and a little less gratuitous sex. (The other chapters are the tale leading up to his psychological sessions told in chronological order.)

Parts of the book feel a little dated too, although that’s surely a curse for most sci fi books. The psychotherapy, especially, that Broadhead undergoes feels dated. And the science component of the book, dealing with light speed and light years and all that, doesn’t feel quite right. But Pohl’s not a scientist and I’m not either, so I’ll not quibble about that.

I’d have to say I cautiously recommend this book, in large part due to its giant reputation. I’m glad I finally read it and even though it took me forever to make it through its 313 pages due to my growing bored repeatedly, I’m glad I did. That said, I doubt I’ll ever read it again, and I’m reluctant to pick up one of the Heechee sequels. I’m giving this book four out of five stars — barely.

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A Review of The Cool War

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 12, 2012

The Cool WarThe Cool War by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like Frederik Pohl, but by his standards, this book was pretty lightweight. It’s set in the not-too-distant future where there is a “cool war” between East and West. In it, the spies merely try to irritate each other in order to sow chaos. Amusing, but just barely.

Hornswell Hake, a Unitarian minister referred to as “Horny” throughout the book, is recruited by the Team, the post-CIA spy agency, to unwittingly create chaotic events throughout the world in travels they send him on. Sadly, he’s a bit of a bumbling fool, constantly being played by either the Team or their enemies, who also try to recruit him to their side to fight the Team. There’s a great bit of irony in the book and some good laughs too, but there are just some head scratching moments. Case in point: Horny and a parishioner named Alys (who is married to two men and a woman) are searching the Middle East for one of Horny’s opposites, a woman he’s got a thing for named Leota, who has been taken captive by a Mid East sheik to be in his harem. Horny and Alys travel through the desert to this sheik’s place and spot Leota outside. There, instead of grabbing her and fleeing, Alys decides to exchange places with Leota, apparently because she thinks it a bit romantic, as well as the fact that she thinks she’s better with men. Huh? They changed clothes with each other and then Horny and Leota take off while Alys stays. Pretty hard to believe, even if it is a sci fi novel.

I won’t give away the ending, but Horny suffers through all sorts of personal turmoil to get to the end of the novel, only to have it “tied up” nicely by Pohl in just a few short pages, and frankly, rather unsatisfyingly to me. It seemed like he phoned that part of the book in. Weak ending. Still, I did generally enjoy reading it; I’m glad I did. I just can’t recommend this book as a good representation of Pohl or even good sci fi. It’s inventive, but rather mediocre.

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A Review of The Space Merchants

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 11, 2012

The Space MerchantsThe Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this cynical and satirical sci fi novel. It’s about Mitchell Courtenay, a high ranking ad exec in a futuristic American society dominated by advertising. Indeed, it’s virtually un-patriotic to not adhere to advertising’s role in society. Mitch is given the assignment of leading his firm’s intention of colonizing Venus, even though it’s not remotely habitable, by making American suckers go there based on his expertise in advertising. The book starts taking some bizarre twists at that stage, leading to his being essentially kidnapped and put to work as a “crumb,” a common consumer, his escape, his workings with the Consies, or conservations, a Greenpeace-like group which attempts to overcome America’s fixation with rampant consumerism and its negative impact on the world, and more.

This book was written 60 years ago, but it was seriously ahead of its time. To quote another Goodreads member, Nancy Oakes wrote:

“Awesome book! Hard to believe this was written like 50+ years ago, because it is so incredibly relevant to our modern times. For example: it takes a look at the dangers of imperialistic corporations & greed, the plight of workers and the ungodly conditions under which some of them have to work, the clear and unmistakeable division of class in society, the total lack of concern for the environment and the treatment of those who care about it and want change.”

This book is frighteningly applicable to our current times. Pohl (the book was co-written with CM Kornbluth) was a true visionary. The satire is witty and funny. One scene that had me laughing was Mitch’s dissing of Moby Dick due to its lack of advertising. LOL! My only complaint, and the reason I’m only giving it four out of five stars, is that the scene transitions are often lacking. You’re in a scene and then, boom, something happens in the course of a sentence to radically change the plot and you’re left picking up the pieces, trying to figure out what just happened. This occurs several times in the book and I found it very distracting. Nonetheless, it was a good, quick read and I heartily recommend this book.

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A Review of Platinum Pohl

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 30, 2012

Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best StoriesPlatinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an excellent collection of short science fiction stories. I’d read some of Pohl’s work and knew he was prolific, but I don’t think I had the appreciation for him that I now have. This is some kick ass work, encompassing decades of writing. Philip K. Dick is probably my favorite sci fi writer because he can do some truly amazing things, but I’d have to say Pohl is probably now my second favorite. Some of the stories which stood out for me were “The Day the Icicle Works Closed,” “The Gold at the Starbow’s End,” “The Day the Martians Came,” “Day Million,” and “Fermi and Frost,” which won a Hugo when it was published. I was worried that such a large collection of short stories might ultimately bore me and become redundant, but that never happened. The material stayed fresh and the editor did a fantastic job at picking out the stories to include in this book. As I’ve learned, Pohl is truly a giant in sci fi circles, and now I know why. Read this book!

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