BooksOfTheMoon

The Space Merchants

By Frederik Pohl

Rating: 3 stars

Venus is being opened up for colonisation, and Fowler Schocken Associates wants to be the first, and only, advertising agency there. In this grimly plausible future that Pohl and Kornbluth have established, advertising is the be all and end all of life with the majority working in labyrinthine contracts they have no hope of breaking out of in effective slavery for life. Democracy is a parody of itself, with senators representing companies, not people and those companies are in hock to the advertising agencies. The few people still concerned about protecting the planet are dismissed as subversive “consies” (conservationists) and hunted down.

I picked this up purely because I knew the name and respect both Pohl and Kornbluth (if you’re not familiar with it, Pohl’s blog is well worth reading for anyone with an interest in SF fandom and history). I don’t like dystopias in general, although I can appreciate a well thought out one. From my limited experience, this is a good one, although I still probably wouldn’t have picked it up had I known its genre before starting it.

For a book written in 1952, it’s extremely prescient. We’re not there yet, but the future of The Space Merchants doesn’t look as implausible as it should.

Book details

Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 1952

Gateway

By Frederik Pohl

Rating: 4 stars

Gateway is an asteroid found in an odd orbit in the solar system that contains a multitude of ships left behind by the departed Heechee. The ships are easy to pilot but impossible to control. Their pilots may find things that make them rich or their remains may be barely identifiable, if they make it back at all.

Robinette Broadhead is one such pilot who has made it rich but feels the need to see an AI therapist that he calls Sigfrid von Shrink and the book is alternates between Rob’s session’s with Sigfrid and telling his story, and is sprinkled with mission reports from other pilots returning to Gateway, notes about the Heechee and classified adverts.

It’s a great story and solidly told. The flashbacks work well and Sigfrid is a great character for an AI shrink. The world is well-built with the Gateway Corporation that runs Gateway, the food mines (fossil fuels are used as substrates broken down to grow food on) and shortages and the terrible sense of a desperate search for solutions while time is running out for a world creaking under its own weight.

A deserving entry in the SF Masterworks library.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857988185
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1977

The Reefs of Space

By Frederik Pohl

Rating: 3 stars

The solar system is ruled by the tyrannical Plan of Man under the Machine, where every human has their place, and if they don’t perform as required, they’re sent to the Body Bank so that they can serve the Plan in another way. Dr Steve Ryeland is a Risk to the Plan, but the Machine needs him to work out the mathematics of a reactionless propulsion drive that will take the Plan out to the mythical Reefs of Space, where the tiny Fusorian lifeforms have created vast habitable areas beyond the orbit of Pluto.

This was a reasonably entertaining space opera in a rather unpleasant dystopian future but with a hopeful ending. The Plan or something like it has appeared in a lot of SF as a solution to a very large population and finite resources. Here, the Reefs are used as a frontier that could potentially act as a release valve for a population that has no more frontiers.

Book details

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year of publication: 1963

Rogue Star

By Frederik Pohl

Rating: 1 star

This book is set some distance in the future from Starchild, after the Plan of Man has collapsed. Humanity has entered the galactic community (although they’re still regarded as barely civilised) and many humans have joined with a group of sentient stars as parts of a group mind. Andreas Quamodian is a Monitor of the Companions of the Star – not part of the group mind, but working for it and doing what it cannot do. A call from Molly Zaldivar, the woman he loves but who has left him, brings him back to Earth to try and stop an ex-colleague from creating an artificially sentient star – one that could go rogue and try to destroy the whole solar system and beyond.

This was easily the weakest in the ‘Starchild’ trilogy with an incoherent plot, unlikeable characters and poor characterisation. Quamodian spends large chunks of the book running around being a lovestruck buffoon and throwing hissy fits whenever something gets in his way. I didn’t particularly enjoy this one.

Book details

ISBN: 9780234776315
Publisher: Dennis Dobson
Year of publication: 1969

Starchild

By Frederik Pohl

Rating: 2 stars

Set some time after The Reefs of Space, it seems that the hope expressed for the Reefs have come to nothing. The Plan of Man has tightened its grasp on the solar system and established a space-wall between it and the Reefs so that no person may escape and no ideas may enter. However, a strange and powerful entity calling itself the Starchild has arisen out there and is threatening the very Plan itself.

The Reefs of Space had a fairly hopeful ending; this novel indicates that that hope was misplaced, although it never quite goes into details about what went wrong. It also introduces new elements – the Fusorian microbes from the first book are expanded upon, and we get to see a new side to the universe: the idea that the Fusorians can also inhabit stars and make them sentient. Somewhat more convoluted than its predecessor and not so well structured, this is still a fairly entertaining book.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140031034
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 1965

In the Problem Pit

By Frederik Pohl

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of short stories a couple of essays by one of the classic writers of the 50s and 60s. I’ve not really read much Pohl before and I had hoped that this collection would give me a feel for his work. However, I found that while I enjoyed the stories and it was good SF, it perhaps didn’t have a huge amount of ‘character’. When you read a Gaiman, Asimov or Clarke story, you know you’ve read a story by one of those authors but this felt rather, um, generic.

Read it for good SF but not necessarily to get an idea of Pohl as a writer.

Book details

ISBN: 9780553088571
Publisher: Bantam
Year of publication: 1976

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