Quite a while ago a friend of mine donated a number of books to my collection, he had read very few of them, and most were new. Drunkard’s Walk was one of these books, however, this is a battered copy, obviously having been read a number of times in its personal history. Despite being a fan of sci-fi I’m not necessarily a student of sci-fi, thus I do not know any thing about Frederik Pohl – so here is a quick history:
Pohl was an American sci-fi editor, writer and publisher who won a number of awards for his writing. He founded the New York based Futurians Fan Group; which also included Isaac Asimov. Pohl edited at least two science fiction magazines in his life, Galaxy and If. He was committed to left-wing politics, at one point being a member of the American Communist Party. He was married 5 times; four of his wives had connections to the literary world, and one of his grandchildren is a science fiction writer in her own right.
Drunkard’s Walk was written in 1960, in the middle of Pohl’s career. It is an intriguing novel regarding the future of the world. Pohl predicted some of the things that now happen in the modern world such as the broadcast of lectures but this novel seems to be a warning about knowledge being restricted to a few, and the disparity between the educated and uneducated. Pohl describes a university in California that is highly selective, in fact, most of the people attending university were born in the university hospital to people who worked in the university. There is a sense that this university is an elitist organisation that is ruled with an almost iron fist.
The story is based around one university professor, Master Cornut, who has recently tried multiple times to commit suicide. As he attempts to understand why he has been doing this, he discovers that this has happened to other professors. As the novel goes on Cornut uncovers a conspiracy to keep the human race under the control of a superior race who have settled on Earth.
Despite being well written and very clever, I found this novel extremely simplistic. Pohl’s description of the university and of life in the 22nd century is amazing, yet the actual story is slightly lacking. I feel this has the basis for an excellent short story, it is a short novel, or could be beefed up to make an excellent novel, but as it is it is slightly underwhelming.