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Jem by Frederik Pohl

Posted by RB Kollannur on August 5, 2012


Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 03/08/2012

Publisher – Hachette; Year of Publication – 1979; Pages – 300; Cost at the time of purchase – Rs. 350

At 92, Frederik Pohl is one of the oldest active writers on the planet. It is perhaps ironic that most of his literary works are about adventures that happen off the planet.  He is one of the noted science fiction writer of the past century with a career spanning nearly 75 years. But it was in the seventies that he produced his best works – Man Plus, Gateway and Jem.

Written during the height of the Cold War, Pohl imagines an Earth dominated by three powers. No, not US, Soviet and China, but defined by a bit more basic need – Food Bloc, Fuel Bloc and People Bloc. All three are at loggerheads with each other competing ferociously but are also dependent on each other because of their interdependencies. It is an indication of Pohl’s ability to understand the politics of that era to define a new world order based on the basic needs of humanity.

Often sci-fi novels are written as a mimic of the real world to lament on the negative aspects of the world. Jem brings back the memory of European colonialism in Asia and Africa where nationals separated from their homeland, in a way similar to astronauts on a different planet, played their home rivalries in a distant land, at the cost of local life and resources.

While the rivalry and increasing hostility of these Bloc nations are retained as an underlying theme for the book, Jem is about the exploration of a new planet inhabited by three different groups of intelligent alien beings.

Science fiction can introduce a curious reader to a palette of colourful memories of a world where no man has gone before. Pohl brings to life three different life forms of vivid yet distinct characteristics – one lives entirely in the air, another on the ground and the third burrowed underneath. He creates societies for them and identities and behavioural patterns which make for an interesting read. He nourishes the planet with flora and fauna of his own design for the planet is very different from our own. It is amusing to read about the leaves not being green because the planet’s sun sends out rays in a different shade of colour and the plants have more magnesium in their “chlorophyll” to photosynthesize better.

Unlike a fantasy novel, a science fiction novel has to keep its imagination limited by the rules of our universe. It is for the author to come up with a scientifically probable reason to explain the premise he creates. Pohl pulls this off exceedingly well and makes the book an entertaining and informative reading experience.

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One Response to “Jem by Frederik Pohl”

  1. […] 21/07/2012 20) The Day of the Barbarians by Alessandro Barbero – Published on 28/07/2012 21) Jem by Frederik Pohl – Published on […]

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