Fred Pohl

Fred Pohl died on September 3, 2013; yesterday as I write this.

I met Fred at the October 1981 Orycon, where he was Guest of Honor. I was active in the Oregon L5 Society - we were working on a letter campaign to (NASA? Congress?) in support of something or other, and I brought in my electric typewriter (a spinwriter named "spindizzy") to write letters. Fred wrote one for us, and we talked about Launch Loop and the future. He read my December 1983 Analog article about the launch loop, and incorporated it ( as a "lofstrom loop") in his 1985 novel Heechee Rendezvous.

He broke it, by having a vehicle land on it, starting a tradition of breaking launch loops in science fiction. Later, Bob Forward (another friend) broke a neutron star launch loop in "Starquake". Dramatically demonstrating that you don't land vehicles on launch loops to save a little energy, and you design them to tolerate peak ground accelerations (extra control range in the deflection magnets). Thanks, guys. :-/

Since then, we exchanged a few letters and emails. We did not agree politically, but we both set that aside and celebrated our agreements instead. And they were many - science fiction, space travel, peace and prosperity. He liked what little writing I had in print, and he encouraged me to do more; he tried to pass on a writing assignment for the John Deere company magazine, a commissioned piece about the next 100 years. I demurred; my main passion was chip design, I write slowly, and researching and writing such an ambitious article would have netted about 25 cents an hour. Since I would have missed the genetic revolution, global climate change, and the computerization and satellite connectivity of farm equipment, I would have done a really poor job.

My last correspondence with Fred regarded "The Last Theorem", the novel he helped Arthur C. Clarke complete. "Sir Arthur" (Fred's words) never really understood the launch loop, nor did he understand many of the serious problems with space elevators, but he was determined to write another space elevator novel, and Fred was there to help. So Fred co-wrote his last novel with Sir Arthur, which dismissed the launch loop because of "friction". Fred mentioned discussing this with Sir Arthur, who was pretty firm about how he wanted the novel written. If that is what it took to produce another novel by either of these great authors, I'm glad launch loop could be of service!

Fred's last note to me was banged out on what appeared to be an old manual typewriter. He had severe arthritis; the effort must have been painful. Fred lived in Palatine, Illinois; I regret not visiting him when I spoke about Server Sky at the Chicago ISDC.

Fred put his thoughts in print, and in letters and emails to many people like me. Someday, I hope someone will collect all that material and build a Fred Pohl A.I. I hope that intelligence, and the one they build of me, using my own writings, hard disks, and cryonically preserved brain, will be friends again.

FredPohl (last edited 2013-09-04 18:05:16 by KeithLofstrom)