Hitler Victorious

The reading continues to outpace the writing, so you get another retro review. This one’s from June 21, 2008 …

I suppose I should apologize for more Nazis. But I’m not going to.

Review: Hitler Victorious, eds. Gregory Benford and Martin Harry Greenberg, 1986.Hitler Victorious

The weakest stories in this anthology think they can just evoke that modern totem of evil, the twisted cross of the swastika, mix it with some vengeance and moral retribution insufficiently provided by our universe, and have an affecting story. Sometimes, in an ostensible collection of alternate histories, the actual historical speculation is pretty sparse..

The worst of the lot is from the normally reliable Greg Bear. His “Through No Road Whither” has SS officers from an alternate 1985 Germany get their just deserts after crossing the path of a Gypsy woman. There is almost no explanation for this alternate timeline, no exploration of its details. The ghosts of fetuses experimented on by a death camp doctor come back to wreck justice in Howard Goldsmith’s “Do Ye Hear the Children Weeping?”, but it’s not as moving as it wants to be and we learn little about this world except that Nazi genocide proceeded apace and, somehow, America fell under Nazi rule. Editor Gregory Benford at least provides something of an interesting alternative in “Valhalla” which has the Third Reich only surviving till 1947 — but that’s long enough to complete its plans of racial extermination. But the inhabitants of another timeline asserting their jurisdiction over Hitler and his pending judgement are little more than empty wish fulfillment. Continue reading “Hitler Victorious”

The Best of Frederik Pohl

Fred Pohl and Me

I met Pohl once. It’s actually a pretty short story.

In November 1988, I attended a talk by Pohl at the University of Minnesota. After the talk, whose subject I have totally forgotten, I handed him my slightly battered, old second hand copy of The Age of the Pussyfoot. Not only did I have the indecency to have him sign such a book. It wasn’t even something he considered one of his better works. Sign it he did, though, and he also answered a question from my callow 25-year-old mouth. I asked him why he had chosen to write a biography of the Roman emperor Tiberius, to me the most interesting of the lot, and do it under the pen name Ernst Mason. The answer to why went something like “I wanted to write about someone who had all that power and still led a miserable life.” As to the pen name, he said he came from a poor background and a name (his mother’s maiden name was Mason) was the only inheritance he had.

In my case, Pohl certainly lived up to his reputation as a gentleman.img054

Frederik Pohl is an author I’ve been aware of and reading on and off for a long time. Looking through the reference works The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction in my early days of reading the genre, he was there.  In my hometown’s Ben Franklin store and drug store I remember seeing his Jem, its paperback cover a stark red with the title embossed in gold. (Some kind soul donated old issues of Galaxy magazine to our high school library including an issue that serialized the first part of that novel. It wasn’t until 2007 that I actually read the whole book.) I also was aware of his famous Gateway when it came out though I still haven’t read it.

It wasn’t until the early eighties that I actually read some Pohl. I have fond memories of reading, on a bus trip back to college, his Demon in the Skull aka A Plague of Pythons, a minor, but enjoyable, novel of possession. A few years later I read Midas Worlda collection of his work which included “The Midas Plague” which I’ll get to. Next was The Coming of the Quantum Cats, a memorable alternate realities farce.  I followed that with the excellent novel The Years of the City which, as I’ve noted elsewhere, is sort of a modern, very readable utopian work.

I found Man Plus superb and deserving of its acclaim, a work combining 1970s pessimism with an earlier anticipation of the cybersphere we have now as well as being a pioneer transhumanist work. I found the sequel, Mars Plus, co-written with Thomas T. Thomas, less compelling. Next was Pohl’s most famous work, the justly celebrated The Space Merchants (first edition, not the updated version done a few years before his death) co-written with C. M. Kornbluth and The Merchant’s War, both of which I’ve commented on.

In all those years I’ve read a fair amount of Pohl’s stories, but there’s a lot of his work, including some of his most famous work, that I haven’t read yet. And the influence of Pohl as a fan and editor flows through a fair chunk of significant science fiction history. He brought back Robert Silverberg back into the science fiction writing fold in 1962. After the crash of the science fiction market occasioned by the bankruptcy of magazine distributor American News Company, the market for Silverberg’s fiction greatly contracted. In 1961, after Horace Gold left the editorship of Galaxy magazine, Pohl took over. Aggravated by Silverberg’s hack work and thinking him capable of better, Pohl agreed to buy all Silverberg’s short fiction — even if he didn’t publish it — and only require, at most, one rewrite.

In later years, as a book editor, Pohl discovered new talent including Joanna Russ and Samuel R. Delany. It was, in fact, Pohl who pushed Bantam Books into publishing Dhalgren. I think it a lapse of judgment and taste. Others disagree.

After looking at the Pohl tributes in the October 2013 Locus, I decided to — finally — finish The Best of Frederik Pohl. I started it in November 1988 shortly after finishing Pohl’s The Age of the Pussyfoot.

Thus I have an answer to a question in a recent SF Signal posting: how long do you have a book before you read it?  The answer in this case, at least, is 9,354 days. Continue reading “The Best of Frederik Pohl”

After the End

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The well-done post-apocalypse story is a literary post-mortem on civilization. At its best, it looks at the wreckage of society to examine not only the workings of its physical infrastructure but the architecture of the human mind and soul.

Once upon a time, I read a fair number of these, but I sort of drifted away from it. In the last couple of years, by accident, I’ve read more than usual in the sub-genre.

Oh there’s still a lot of these stories published. But zombies have taken over the genre. Many self-published works seem to be survivalist manuals — not that anything is wrong with that.  Some of Dean Ing’s works fit in that category as does, to some extant, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer. However, who knows how many of these are badly written political screeds or how to manuals?

And I have little interest in YA novels. Even when I was the target age, I usually didn’t care for teenaged protagonists.

So, hoping to see what had been going on with the theme recently, I requested Paula Guran’s After the End: Recent Apocalypses. Continue reading “After the End”