Short Story Review: Frederik Pohl’s “The Hated” (1958)

The following review is the 9th post in my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

As always, feel free to join the conversation!

Previously: Philip K. Dick’s “A Little Something For Us Tempunauts” in Final Stage: The Ultimate Science Fiction Anthology, ed. Barry N. Mazlberg and Edward L. Ferman (1974) [You can borrow this anthology online in one-hour increments]

Up next: Roger Zelazny’s “Halfjack” in Omni, ed. Don Dixon (June 1979). You can read it online here.

3.75/5 (Good)

Frederik Pohl’s “The Hated” (1958) first appeared in the January 1958 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold. He wrote it under the pseudonym Paul Flehr. You can read it online here.

“The Hated” (1958) postulates that astronauts will require psychological conditioning to survive the confines of space travel to Mars. In Pohl’s future, the Mars-craft crams six men in a space the size of a Buick (51). The continuous sounds of machine and crew, the fetid taste of the air filled with sweat, the omniscient fear of crushing your oxygen line while sleeping, the free fall, the dreams of drowning, generates an intense drive to kill your crewmates. Byron, the narrator, wants a knife for Sam, to strangle Gilvey with his bear hands, gun Chowderhead with one bullet to the belly, turn a tommy gun on Wally, and cage the captain with hungry lions. The conditioning is “like a straightjacket”–Byron elaborates: “You know how to make a baby cry? Hold his hands […] What they did to us so we couldn’t kill each other, it was like being tied up, like having out hands held so we couldn’t get free” (50).

And the conditioning against violence only lasts until his return to Earth. On Earth, in order to receive a pension and a prescription, the astronauts must stay far away from their crewmates as the desire to kill remains. And on Earth everyone wants to go to Mars and every woman wants an astronaut despite their overt symptoms of PTSD –“‘Mars,‘ the girl breathed. ‘Mars‘” (49). Byron illegally hangs out in a bar outside of his zone. He knows Chowderhead will also gravitate towards the boundaries where he too might encounter another crewman and satiate his violent urges.

It might be fruitful reading “The Hated” in conjunction with Samuel R. Delany’s later, and far more radical, “Aye, and Gomorrah” (1967). Both present the spacers who return to Earth an exotic “other” who holds sexual allure despite the personal transformation–the intense trauma created by close-contact and psychological treatment in the former and the astronauts who are neutered due to radiation in space in the latter—the spacers undergo. In some ways, I found treatment of the blue-collar experience of space travel in “The Hated” similar to that of Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “Death of a Spaceman” (variant title: “Memento Homo”) (1954). The spaceship is a grimy place, the smells and close quarters of a cramped gym locker room, and as oppressive as a mineshaft. There’s a twist ending. It fits nicely.

I’ll have to read more of Pohl’s short stories to come to a firm conclusion, but the claustrophobic intensity of the story reminds me of sequences in his later Hugo- and Nebula-winning masterpiece Gateway (1977). “The Hated” is all about the effects of travel, not the destination. The most subversive element might be that we learn nothing about Mars itself. Those on Earth might dream of the destination. Those that take the trip can only fixate on the festering wound inflicted by the voyage that refuses to heal.

If brief, dark, and intensely claustrophobic visions appeal to you, track this one down.

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25 thoughts on “Short Story Review: Frederik Pohl’s “The Hated” (1958)

  1. You’ve already reviewed “Bulkhead” (damned close to perfect, that’un), so why not include a link to its review in this project? It’s hard to imagine a more scathing take-down of space agencies than that!

    • Good idea. I guess the only reason I hadn’t was I reviewed it a while back and forgot some of the details. As you know, I’ve reviewed quite a few over the last decade pus that fix (especially Malzberg).

      Maybe I should reread “Bulkhead.”

      • Maybe I should reread “Bulkhead.”

        Oh yes! I’d love to read a longer, purpose-driven review of it. I loved it enough to put it into a script that I entered into a scriptwriting contest in the 80s.

        • I’ll think about it. I reread Sladek’s brilliant “The Poets of Millgrove, Iowa” (1966) which also inspired this series but haven’t managed to rereview it yet.

          But yes, “Bulkhead” would be a fantastic premise for a SF short film.

      • Unsure what you’re basing that claim of “unrealistic” on — there had been no manned spacecraft in any form launched in 1958 other than Sputnik 2 with Laika the Dog. Why is it ridiculous thinking it would be cramped? Also, I can’t tell if you’re referencing “The Hated” or Sturgeon’s “Bulkhead.” No spacecraft of any kind had been launched when “Bulkhead” (1955) was written… Sputnik is in 1957. Of all the versions of space travel one could deploy, psychological conditioning for space travel on a small vessel seems on the low end of unrealistic. Regardless, I’m not really reading SF for realism. I’m reading SF for what it says about the author’s time and the world they imagined at that moment.

    • I have found myself obsessed with astronaut stories that entirely focuses on the voyage vs. the destination. The woman at the bar talks about all the myths and popular legends of the Mars surface — but Byron can only fixate on the journey itself. Perhaps due to his continuing psychological treatment and/or how scaring the journey actually was. But yes, I, too, enjoyed the grittiness. Considering my normal experience with Pohl’s early solo SF, this was solid!

      i wonder why he wrote it under a pseudonym (in that Galaxy issue he had another story as well — perhaps it was simply to write more for the magazine).

      • In the old days, writers often got more than one story in an issue. Using pseudonyms allowed editors to pack in their favorite authors, or even just their buddies. Evidently, Pohl was tight with Gold. And Gold was reaching the end of his reign at Galaxy, with Pohl about to take over.

          • JB: “Considering my normal experience with Pohl’s early solo SF, this was solid!”

            Pohl, sans Kornbluth, doesn’t really become a strong solo novelist till the 1970s, when he’s in his fifties. Although A PLAGUE OF PYTHONS, THE AGE OF THE PUSSYFOOT, and even DRUNKARD’S WALK in the 1960s aren’t that bad.

            He does have a number of significant short stories and novelettes without Kornbluth in the 1950s: ‘Tunnel Under the World,’ ‘The Day the Icicle Works Closed,’ and maybe some others, and then in the early 1960s I’m partial to his ‘Three Portraits and a Prayer’ and ‘The Children of Night.’

            ‘The Hated’ is a bog-standard 1950s-era Pohl short: competent at what it tries to be, with everything on the surface.

            • JB: _It is relatively well told on a theme and topic rare for the 50s. It’s pretty intense, grimy, and sinister. _

              Oh, for what it is, “The Hated” is fine. Don’t get me wrong. Still, you could lay out the plot development in a two-sentence paragraph. It’s a squib. (As many of the short stories that fill the SF magazines necessarily were and are.)

              And “relatively well told” only means that it’s up to Pohl’s usual level of craftsmanship at that time. While “intense, grimy, and sinister” and “on a theme and topic rare for the 1950s” are true enough, but doesn’t mean that that theme and mode weren’t Pohl’s standard operating mode all through the 1950s (as in stories like “The Day the Icicle Works Closed”).

              I suspect that Pohl may actually have had a darker vision of humanity and been more politically radical than Kornbluth. But the darkness in Pohl was partly alleviated by the fact that he’d seen more of the world and had more knowledge of — and interest in — the specifics of how human organizations work.

              Apropos of all this, back in 1958, Kingsley Amis — then a preeminent, hot young British mainstream novelist, with LUCKY JIM still fairly recently published — got invited to give a series of lectures at an Ivy League U.S. university one summer. Amis chose to lecture on science fiction, endorsing it as literary art blah blah blah. Perfectly acceptable position now, semi-heretical then.

              These lectures were collected in book form in NEW MAPS OF HELL (1959). The American SF community loved Amis’s endorsement and recognition of them. But they were gobsmacked by who Amis nominated as the preeminent American SF writer, ahead of Heinlein or Asimov or anybody like that. It was Frederik Pohl, for what Amis described as Pohl’s “comic inferno” mode.

              Amis probably overrated Pohl’s contributions to the great Pohl-Kornbluth novels; at that stage, Kornbluth had been the greater talent who made those novels sing. But there are a few Pohl short fictions in the 1950s and early ’60s that are up to that standard. You can just about see how Amis might, given his priors and the TransAtlantic distance, decide in 1958-59 that America’s best living SF writer was Fred Pohl.

              As for DRUNKARD’S WALK, yeah, I saw your review. Frankly, I read it at about the same age I read SPACE VIKING, so my recollection of it isn’t strong. I do remember liking it more than you did, though your review set off vague memories of the initial “worldbuilding” front half being stronger than the “plotty” second half. In other words, when I read it as a kid, I had some vague sense of a discontinuity between the two — that even though the idea/Mcguffin for all the underlying plot shenanigans (something about number theory, right?) was notionally a good one, Pohl didn’t handle it well.

  2. That remembers me a lot of childhood vacation travels to Italy. 1000km, 5 people in a tiny car plus baggage, no air conditioning (just open the window), brother farts. Ah, fond memories 😁

  3. My thoughts are mainly about craft, I suppose.

    Surprise endings can work well or fall flat. I don’t think it came off well in this story – a bit clunky, maybe? I liked some of the details about the sneezing and cough onboard the ship (the flashback around p. 51 in the story). And I think there’s some nice irony in the final line of the story. But, overall, maybe too much TELLING and not enough SHOWING?

    • I think you and other people who critiqued the story are correct on this point. It has a functionality and workmanlike quality rather than a polish. All the parts are there but how it’s told leaves a bit to be desired. And I too enjoyed some of the details — personal details like the tenor of a cough, if crammed in a small space, would drive anyone mad.

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