I’ve just enjoyed reading Frederik Pohl’s 1979 novel “Jem”.
Pohl was a prolific author- first published in 1937, with a final novel (‘All the Lives He Led’, 2011), and a collection of essays in 2012 – he died in 2013. I’ve been reading SF for about forty years and was aware of Pohl but never really go into his writing. I think I was simply too young when I first encountered his books because, as a winner of four Hugo and three Nebula awards, he clearly had a lot to say. I returned to his writing a couple of years ago and enjoyed reading ‘Gateway’ (from 1977, the opening book in his ‘Heechee saga’), ‘Man Plus’ (1976) and his 1955 short-story called ‘The Tunnel Under the World’.
In ‘Jem’ Pohl presents a dystopian future world, set roughly around 2024 (based on the reference to Carl Sagan being a ‘… a spry octogenarian instead of whatever incredible age he really was…’). International politics has settled into three competing power blocs:
The Fuel Bloc – known as the ‘Greasies’, they have control of much of the world’s fossil fuel reserves and are leading lives of profligate energy consumption,
The Food Bloc – known as the ‘Fats’, they control much of the world’s food growing lands, and
The People Bloc – known as the ‘Peeps’, they represent the countries with large populations but much less access to Food and Fuels.
Competition for resources is fierce between the blocs. There has been a significant proliferation of nuclear weapons and the threat of a planet-destroying confrontation has become a daily norm. The discovery of a habitable planet called ‘Jem’ creates the opportunity for humanity to spread outwards. However, rather than cooperating, the three blocs compete for advantage and control of this new world. They draw in Jem’s three sentient species into their fight and create new rivalries that had not existed on the planet before – rivalries that will have terrible consequences for the Balloonists, the Krinpit and the Creepies.
In some respects ‘Jem’ has not aged well and its message can feel a bit naively obvious today. Read in the context of being a late Cold War era novel, it retains an entertaining contemporary relevance.