The Best of Frederik Pohl

Frederik Pohl
The Best of Frederik Pohl Cover

The Best of Frederik Pohl


The Best of Frederik Pohl, edited by Lester Del Rey, collects nineteen stories written during the first half century of Pohl's life.

Tunnel Under the World - Why does Guy Burckhardt keep living June 15th over and over again? Pohl mixes one of his favorite themes, the use and abuse of advertising, with Cold War paranoia and keeps ratcheting up the tension until the triple-twisting climax. One of the best stories in the collection.

Punch - A quick little story about an alien who comes to earth and freely offers technological, medical, and financial secrets that propel humanity into a new golden age. But what's in it for him? Like many of the stories in this collection, the real point of the story is the shocking twist at the end. It works well here, but sometimes you get the impression that the story exists just to set up the twist, and the tale is wagging the dog.

Three Portraits and a Prayer - Pohl has a real gift for characterization, and he's not afraid to tell this and several other stories through the viewpoint of a rather unpleasant person, in this case, an arrogant doctor. The characterization of the narrator is the main attraction here, not the plot. But I do like this line: "If gravity itself grows old and thin, so that the straggling galaxies themselves weaken as they clutch each other, it seems somehow a much lesser thing that we too should grow feeble."

Day Million - Pohl describes a love affair in 2737 A.D. This is the most experimental story in this collection, one you'll probably love or hate.

Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus - Pohl explores his fascination with consumerism run wild against the backdrop of Christmas. The scary thing is, some of the ideas about Christmas commercialism that Pohl obviously intends to be absurd extremes are not too far from what actually happens today. For instance, Sept. 8th is considered part of the Christmas season in this story. But this year I saw Christmas merchandise in the stores on Sept. 28th!

We Never Mention Aunt Nora - Several women are romanced by a mysterious man who gets them pregnant and abruptly disappears. Who is he, and why does he do this? We never find out! So what's the point? (This story might be thematically connected to "Grandy Devil," which I also disliked. Surely not one of Pohl's best.

Father to the Stars - Ninety year old Norman Marchand has spent his life and his fortune trying to realize the dream of colonizing extra-solar planets. And then someone invents FTL travel and renders his life's work obsolete over night. A surprisingly moving tale about what, if anything, our lives will mean after we're gone.

In this story, astronauts have their minds "smithed" to expendable chimpanzee bodies while their own bodies lie in cryostasis. Pohl seems fascinated by the idea of a human consciousness occupying the body of an animal or an drastically altered man or a machine. It's a concept he would explore in greater depth in his novels.

The Day After The Day The Martians Came - A quick story about one way the arrival of extraterrestials might change our society. I remember reading an adaptation of this story in the first issue of Marvel Comics' Worlds Unknown back in 1973. It was a pretty good adaptation, as it turns out.

The Midas Plague - A satire about overconsumption in which the poor people have all the material wealth and the rich people have few possessions. In other words, the have-nots have everything. Pohl tells us that Horace Gold, editor of Galaxy Magazine, pestered him (and every other Galaxy regular) to write this story for a year or so, but he declined "because I don't for one second believe any such world could exist." Well, Mr. Pohl, neither do I. You were right the first time. If you can swallow that unbelievable premise, "The Midas Plague" is a funny story, although too long, but ultimately, I just don't buy it.

The Snowmen - An odd little story about the willful ignorance of ecological disaster, set against the framework of -- well, how shall I put this? A booty call!

How To Count On Your Fingers - This is a non-fiction article about the advantages of base 2 over base 10. Pohl makes an interesting case, but I'm not persuaded. As he admits in the afterword, the binary numbers look "hideous," at least if you haven't grown up using them, and I don't think most people will find it easy or desireable to replace "seven" with "ditditdahditdit."

Grandy Devil - A dimwitted young man discovers that his family has a quality that sets them apart from the rest of humanity. This is really more of a fable than science fiction. The least deserving story in the collection, if you ask me.

Speed Trap - A scientist gets fed up with wasting so much of his time making the rounds of conventions, delivering papers and networking. He comes up with a method of getting all that work out of the way in a quarter of the time -- but why can't he ever get it done? You can see the twist in the end coming a mile away.

The Richest Man in Levittown: If you suddenly inherited a fortune, how would you spend your money? If someone offers to sell you a drug that gives total recall, say no.

The Hated - A dark tale that strips away all the romance from being an astronaut. Interplanetary travel is not a romantic adventure, but a harrowing ordeal that leaves astronauts so psychologically scarred that they're obsessed with murdering each other once they return to Earth.

The Martian in the Attic - No sympathetic characters in this story. An unpleasant man schemes to blackmail the richest businessman in the world, having deduced the source of all his inventions. But he might not have figured out all the angles...

The Day The Icicle Works Closed - When Altair 9's economy collapses, people are forced to rent out their bodies to visiting tourists. But what happens to your own minds while someone else is using your body? The answer is the most vivid scene in the collection. A fascinating story.

The Census Taker - A story told from the POV of a harried census taker, but it turns out that census taking means something very different to him than it does to us.

The Children of the Night - A slick PR executive represents his most challenging client: an alien race that performed sadistic experiments on children during their recent war against Earth. Another standout, a smooth and cynical story that goes down like a dry martini.