Pohl: Man Plus
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Although Frederick Pohl is not as well known as Asimov or Heinlein, his roots in science fiction go back just as far. Like Asimov he was involved in the Futurians, an early group of science fiction fans in the 1930s. From the early 1940s to the late 1960s he worked primarily as an editor and agent, while publishing a number of stories and (usually in collaboration) novels. He edited Galaxy magazine through the 1960s. Only in the 1970s did he devote his main energies to novel writing, becoming one of the decadesí most important SF writers. Pohl is still alive and has continued to publish books into his 80s.

Man Plus is one of his finest novels. By the late 1960s, many science fiction writers had lost interest in realistic depictions of near-future space flight, as the Apollo program appeared to move it out of the realm of imaginative speculation. Pohl mixes the reality of an Apollo-style program with a hearty dose of late-1970s disillusionment, while retain something on the old thrill of space colonization. It also stands as something of a turning point in the history of the future. On one hand, it deals with space travel and colonization of alien planets -- a concern of science fiction since its earliest days.  On the other hand, its powerful use of the idea of the cyborg, its cynical tone and the importance of computer technology to its plot prefigure the cyberpunk literature of the 1980s. (It can also be seen as a parallel to then-popular TV shows such as the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman -- "We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better . . . stronger . . . faster.").

Discussion Questions

  1. What echoes of the mid-1970s do you see in the future as presented in this book? How is its tone different from those of the earlier novels.
  2. How does Pohl treat science and technology?
  3. What attitudes does the story reflect toward the US space program? How accurate do you find its depiction of the astronaut experience?
  4. How is America faring in this particular cold war future? Look particularly at the treatment of the President and the military.
  5. How are computers treated in this book, and how does this compare to the other stories (particularly the Asimov ones).
  6. Unlike any of the other authors we read, Pohl attempts a realistic depiction of a marriage. How are Torraway's wife and the other female characters treated? What does this tell us about shifting attitudes during the era?

Resources

bulletPohl writes elegantly and insightfully about the early days of science fiction, and its connection to a childhood in the Depression and a youth of communist politics, in his memoir The Way the Future Was, a copy of which is in the Colby library.
bulletPohl's early novel, The Space Merchants (1953) was an effective satire of a future dominated by corporate advertising.  Many of Pohl's novels of the 1970s and 80s explore the cold war, often in the context of space travel. The best of these is Jem: The Making of a Utopia (1979) -- a still more cynical account of interstellar colonization. His most popular novel was the 1977 Gateway (winner of both Hugo and Nebula awards), set in a more distant future in which people explore the universe in spaceships left behind by a mysterious alien race.
bulletPlans to film the book appear to have foundered. On-line gossip suggests that film studio politics edged out plans for a faithful adaptation in favor of scenarios in with either (a) a good cyborg battles a bad cyborg or (b) everybody battles a race of intelligent Martians. This may be why most futuristic films are so bad.

Page created by Thomas Haigh. Last edited  01/12/2002.