The Way The Future Was by Frederik Pohl
The late Fred Pohl was undoubtedly one of the most influential people in the world of science fiction. As an author, literary agent, editor, and even as a public speaker, he experienced the genre from all sides.
In this memoir, written in 1977, he looks back on his life in the genre, from his founding of the Futurians fan group in the late thirties (whose members included such SF luminaries as Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Damon Knight, Cyril Kornbluth, Judith Merril and Donald Wollheim), through his post-war career as a literary agent, to his time editing Galaxy and If magazines in the Sixties.
The author gives us insights into the semi-incestuous personal lives of the SF writers of the time — there seemed to be endless divorces and remarriages among them — and the struggle to make a living writing for the low-paying pulp magazines, as well as some fascinating facts about his own extraordinary life, such as how he came to edit not one but two pulp magazines at the tender age of nineteen, and how he once held a job as a horse-urine collector at racetracks, which he apparently quite enjoyed.
A section on the author’s war service is followed by his life as a literary agent which, despite representing the majority of SF writers at the time and supplying the bulk of the stories to the pulps, he managed to end in debt to the tune of thirty-thousand Dollars. This is followed by his time editing Galaxy and If magazines in the Sixties and his constant battle with the publisher to increase both the budget and publishing frequency of the magazines. Despite this battle, he succeeded in winning three Hugo Awards for If as best magazine between 1966 and 1968.
Following a period when his personal life took a downturn in the early Seventies, the book concludes with the author restating his love for the SF genre, and “…I will go on doing it as long as I live.” Unbeknownst to him at the time, this would turn out to be for another thirty-six years, during which he won a further two Nebula Awards and two Hugo Awards, for his novels, Gateway and Man Plus, and for his fan-writing at his blog, The Way The Future Blogs.
This memoir is rightly considered to be one of the must-read books for those interested in SF history, and as such is highly recommended.
Oh, and a final fascinating fact from the book: Fred wrote the Encyclopedia Britannica article on the Emperor Tiberius — it’s still there in the online Britannica. Go look it up.