Frederik Pohl


Outnumbering the Dead


An interesting enough idea to base a story on, but it didnít quite get over the line for me as a fully realised novel. Maybe better just as a short story?


But Pohl has tried to flesh out the notion of one of Ďusí mortals living in a future utopia: no death, no poverty (except the former for our hero). Unfortunately itís not really fleshed out, itís just stated: nobody dies, thereís limitless available energy. He has a bit of a go at it, but thereís nothing like the intellectual depth of Iain M. Banksí comparable Ďcultureí, or Huxleyís Brave New Word: we donít get taken somewhere else, we donít feel or sense this place as anything more than a fairly thin construct.


Apart from the lack of potency, there are irritations along the way. Itís not as overblown as in Asimovís painfully egotistical Foundation and Earth, but there is still the arrogance (or is it insecurity in this case?) of name dropping high culture (ďLook, Iíve read Oedipus,Ē) and foreign phrases (although strangely in this future thereís only a mix of European languages Ė youíd think if we all merged that thereíd be a fair bit of Mandarin in there). Also some of Asimovís (and a few other 60s SF giants) propensity for try-hard voyeurism: a teenaged outlook that embarrassingly venerates Hugh Hefner as having a mature and sophisticated understanding of sex. Itís not that heís trying particularly to titillate, more to be cool.


Pohl isnít really bad here, and you can see elements of the imagination which established him as a professional SF writer (such as the alternative means of gestation) Ė itís just that thatís not enough anymore. SF isnít a brand new genre now, and a few decent ideas arenít going to get you over the line. This book was written in 1990, but just about any of the stories, for example, in Dozois' (Ed.) The Yearís Best Science Fiction, Ninth Annual Collection (1991) leave it behind for craft and depth of character. Thereís really only one character in Pohlís book, and even he is fairly shallow.


May 2006