Frederik Pohl, Alternating Currents (1956)

  • C. N. Manlove


While Asimov was composing his ever-widening epic of the future, devouring more and more of his own work in a huge fictive universe, Frederik Pohl was laying the ground for his terser, more satiric works. Pohl began his trade with conventional short stories of travel to far planets,1 but in the early 1950s discovered that his métier lay as much in this planet, in the portrayal, via fantastic metaphors, of men caught up in social and technical changes beyond their control. Pohl did continue to write (in collaboration with Jack Williamson) plain adventure stories in the form of the Undersea novels (1954, 1956, 1958), but the central thrust of his work became less ‘escapist’, more committed to visions at once comic and nightmarish, of disasters man might bring upon himself.2 Pohl’s primary output, and the one for which he is remembered, during the 1950s and 1960s is the short and satiric story; only thereafter did he turn to the writing of longer novels of vision. With his penchant for clarity, logic and neat plotting, Pohl is probably the most witty of the authors considered here. His warnings are real, and yet their science-fictional guise enables him to escape identification; no one yet has pinned Pohl down to a philosophy.


Alternate Current External World Time Machine Science Fiction Space Ship 
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  1. 6.
    The idea of resuscitating life via skeletons in a museum Pohl probably owed to A. E. Van Vogt’s ‘The Monster’ (1948), repr. inGoogle Scholar
  2. Van Vogt’s Destination: Universe! (1952).Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Pohl owed the idea for this story to a friend of the late 1940s, George R. Spoerer (see Pohl, In the Problem Pit (N.Y.: Bantam Books, 1976) p. 59). Spoerer could have developed it from a knowledge of, e.g.,Google Scholar
  4. A. Hyatt Verrill’s ‘The World of the Giant Ants’ (Amazing Stories Quarterly, Fall 1928), orGoogle Scholar
  5. John Russell Fearn’s ‘Wanderer of Time’ (Startling Stories, 1944).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Pohl, Alternating Currents (N.Y.: Ballantine, 1956), p. 85. Page references hereafter are to this edition.Google Scholar

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© C. N. Manlove 1986

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  • C. N. Manlove

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