Friday, September 6, 2013

Frederik Pohl dies

      Science fiction author, editor, historian and pundit Frederik Pohl died Monday. I didn't learn of this until this morning. He was't the best known SF writer, nor one of my top 10 favorite writers, but I usually liked the books of his that I read, including The Space Merchants (written with C.M. Kornbluth), Man Plus, Gateway and its sequels Beyond the Blue Event Horizon and Heechee Rendezvous. I also especially liked his short story "The Day After the Day the Martians Came" from Harlan Ellison's anthology Dangerous Visions.
     He was a childhood friend of Isaac Asimov and was instrumental in getting his first SF novel published. He was involved in early SF fandom, and edited an acclaimed SF magazine and a groundbreaking SF paperback line.
     So I'm sorry he's died, and I hope some who read this will pick up his books and read them or re-read them. He was a bit of a curmudgeon, though, so I'd like to write about one of his less sterling traits.
     He thought his right to smoke was more important than a woman's right to equal protection under the law, at least as embodied by the ERA.
     Perhaps you remember or have heard of something called the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have read:

      Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this articleThis amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

     You could argue that it should read "gender," not "sex," but it doesn't sound terribly controversial. It was approved by Congress in 1972, and it only awaited approval by 38 states by 1979. Not enough did, and the ERA died. 
     Pohl was not an opponent of the ERA, but -- in a column in a 1979 SF magazine (Algol, though its name may have already been changed to Starship) -- he said it wasn't as important to him as his right to light up a cigarette wherever and whenever he wanted. (At least some airlines had recently banned smoking, and he was upset. He proposed having some smoking flights and some non-smoking flights.)
     That could be explained by his being a man, by his being a nicotine addict, by his belief that women largely had such protection without the ERA or maybe he was just a selfish pig. I don't know the precise reason, but when he wrote that, my opinion of Pohl dropped a little bit. 
     Again, I don't mean to say he was a sexist or even a jerk. You can read much more in-depth and glowing obituaries of him from Locus, Huffington Post, The New York Times and The Guardian. I acknowledge his virtues. I just felt like sharing one of his blemishes, too.


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