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Pollack, Rachel

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1945-    ) US author, resident in the Netherlands 1973-1990, subsequently in America, who published her first sf story, "Pandora's Bust" as by Richard A Pollack, with New Worlds, in New Worlds Quarterly 2 (anth 1971) edited by Michael Moorcock. Her focus as a teller of tales has moved steadily away from sf, though her first two novels were sf. The first, Golden Vanity (1980), is an ornate Space Opera whose large cast of Aliens ransacks a venal Earth in search of a female runaway. Alqua Dreams (1987) is a rather flat drama of ontology set on an alien planet; the human protagonist, an "Aristotelian" faced with the obdurate Platonism of the inhabitants, must argue Metaphysics with them in an attempt to suggest that the sensory world is sufficiently "real" for them to sell him the rare mineral he needs (see Colonization of Other Worlds). The background is voluminously drawn, including a glimpse of predecessor technologies, but the narrative is sluggish. Pollack's short Unquenchable Fire sequence possibly contains her most memorable work. Unquenchable Fire (1988), winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award for 1989, is a narrative intractable to easy generic decipherment (see Equipoise), and constructed so that a long flashback reconfigures material already delivered. In the Alternate-History America of the tale, shamanism actually works (see Magic); and a lovingly described bureaucracy of shamans, revering the Founders who brought them to power generations earlier, are actually able to ask the Earth's roots for energy (see Gaia). The protagonist of the book, finding that her unwilled pregnancy is destined to make her the mother of a new revitalizing shaman (see Messiahs), resists her role fiercely; the résumé of her life, as given in flashback, only intensifies the sense of her deep stubbornness. The sequel, Temporary Agency (1994), reconfigures some of the same material. Throughout, Pollack's portrait of a radically different but alarmingly similar USA is densely drawn, and her depiction of life in an alternate Poughkeepsie is frequently hilarious. Several stories – like "The Protector" (Summer 1986 Interzone) – depict similarly transformed universes. Godmother Night (1996) examines Gender issues through a supernatural plot.

Pollack's long professional interest in the Tarot has generated several nonfiction presentations of its underlying philosophy (and various packs); an anthology of original stories, Tarot Tales (anth 1989) with Caitlín Matthews, with each contributor using Oulipo techniques to extract story ideas from a Tarot pack; and fantasy tales assembled as The Tarot of Perfection: A Book of Tarot Tales (coll 2008 Czech Republic). From issue 64 to its demise at the end of 1994 with issue 87, she wrote Doom Patrol for DC Comics. Pollack's subject matter and manner are narrow in their extent in fictional terms, but compellingly intense in their focus on the techniques of the occult. [JC]

see also: Pseudoscience.

Rachel Grace Pollack

born New York: 17 August 1945



Unquenchable Fire

individual titles


nonfiction (selected)

works as editor

  • Tarot Tales (London: Legend, 1989) with Caitlín Matthews [anth: pb/uncredited]


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