Birthday Reviews: Frederik Pohl’s “Bialystok Stronghead and the Mermen”
Cover by Frank R. Paul
Frederik Pohl was born on November 26, 1919 and died on September 2, 2013.
Pohl won the Hugo Award seven times. He won for Best Professional Magazine from 1966-1968 for If, each time beating himself for his work on Galaxy. In 1973, he won his first fiction Hugo for the short story “The Meeting,” in collaboration with the late C.M. Kornbluth. The story tied with R.A. Lafferty’s “Eurema’s Dam.” He won the Hugo for Best Novel in 1978 for Gateway and a second short story Hugo in 1986 for “Fermi and Frost.” In 2010 he won his last Hugo, for Best Fan Writer. Pohl won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in consecutive years for Man Plus and Gateway. His novels Gateway and The Years of the City both won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Gateway also won the Prix Apollo and Jem won the American Book Award. In 1996, Pohl won the Clareson Award from the Science Fiction Research Association.
Pohl received the first Skylark Award from NESFA in 1966. In 1989, he was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame. He was named a Grand Master by the SFWA in 1993, received the Forry Award from LASFS in 1994, and the Milford Award in 1995. In 1998 he received the Gallun Award from I-Con and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. He received Lifetime Achievement Awards from Writers and Illustrators of the Future and from the Prix Utopia in 2000. In 2009, he was awarded the Eaton Award and in 2013 was recognized for Distinguished Service by the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. He was a Guest of Honor at LACon I, the 30th Worldcon, held in Los Angeles in 1972.
“Bialystok Stronghead and the Mermen” was written for the bid to host the 2012 Worldcon in Chicago. It was the first of several stories commissioned by the bid from a variety of authors for promotional purposes and was given out at various conventions. Pohl’s story was the first to appear and has not been reprinted. Pohl, and later authors, were asked to write a story which featured a lantern-jawed super-scientist with the initials B.S., his brilliant girlfriend Elaine (Pohl supplied the last name, used throughout the series), and the arch villain Dr. D. Vice.
Pohl opens with Bialystok Stronghead using his rocket to nudge a comet into the Earth’s atmosphere to provide much needed rain to Texas and California. Eventually connecting with Elaine, they find themselves in Deep Chicago to look into a group of shape-shifting water dwellers and come face to face with Dr. D. Vice’s minions, who try to separate them the defeat them, although their plot is no match for Stronghead and he easily sees through their subterfuge, reuniting with Elaine and saving the day.
The story is supposed to capture the feel of the pulps, channeling the writing of E.E. Smith, who was the guest of honor at the first Chicon in 1940, and Pohl manages to capture the feel of superscience with the all-powerful hero and his gorgeous love interest. As described Elaine is fully the equal of Bialystok, beautiful, competent, and intelligent. Nevertheless she is given little to do in the story, in keeping with the model Pohl was using for his story.
Reviewed in its only appearance in the chapbook Confounding SF, edited by Steven H Silver, Chicago in 2012, August 2008.
Steven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.