Once, a very long time ago, I drew a picture for a story in a book. Because I guess of some phantom limb effect of an otherwise long-gone nostalgia, I still have the book, a paperback made of the usual rough newsprint wrapped in an image of the kind of folks who don’t need spacesuits even in a cold black vacuum. It sits on a shelf above my desk, between John Cheever and Frank Herbert, if you can imagine such a thing. But unlike those neighboring books, I nearly never take this one down to look at it, because whenever I see that old bad drawing of mine, I get a feeling like there’s an urchin rolling around loose in my heart. It’s a feeling I could fix if I could ride a time machine back and redo the damn thing, though I suppose it’s not worth maybe jinxing all of history just for the sake of dumb old chagrin.
Anyhow, the upside is, today when I had an actual, if sad, occasion to revisit the book, I noticed it had gotten pretty fragile, with clear signs of jaundice and fractures running up and down the spine. So it (and the offending art with it) will likely soon end up in the book hospice down at the Thrift Plaza. But maybe before it does, I’ll tear out and keep the title page, which bears on it two ballpoint signatures, one by Jack Williamson and the other by Frederik Pohl. I’ll keep it not because of their fame (which was huge), and not because I enjoyed their work (which I did), but because they were both extremely nice and generous to me back when I was just a starry-eyed kid drawing bad drawings.
I mean, it wasn’t super easy being any sort of a reader in the Sargasso between kindergarten and college. And to be a secret reader of weirdo space books was the worst kind of secret to let slip. Plus for sure you had better not ever let anyone know of your affinity for the left-hand side of the genre, a fact bound to make all the little Reaganites look at you with their buckshot eyes they way they looked at deer in the woods across the river. So, you know, what I mean is, when I finally by accident had the chance to meet some of the people I’d read and revered as a child, and when I found out they were exactly as decent and genial as some of the grandparental types I knew and loved back at home, that was a huge moment for me.
Anyway, I think as soon as I can, I’ll reread Frederik Pohl’s memoir, The Way the Future Was. And then, of course, Gateway, which is probably my favorite, which I’m sure is a fairly common sentiment among Mr. Pohl’s fans. And “Day Million,” one of my top ten best-loved short stories of all time. But there won’t be any more blog posts to look forward to, no more anecdotes of friendships with other authors, no more first-person accounts of the way the future used to be. Still, his humor, insight, and righteous ire at injustice, his spirit of active engagement with the whole wide world, all that remains very much alive. Bodies go on to become other things; stories, if they are as good as Frederik Pohl’s best ones, go on and on from mind to heart to mind for lifetimes on end.