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Pollack, Rachel

Entry updated 21 August 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1945-2023) US author, resident in the Netherlands 1973-1990, subsequently in America, who began to publish work of genre interest with "Pandora's Bust" as by Richard A Pollack in New Worlds Quarterly 2 (anth 1971 ) edited by Michael Moorcock (see also New Worlds). Her focus as a teller of tales moved steadily away from Genre SF, though her first novel, Golden Vanity (1980), is an ornate Space Opera whose large cast of Aliens ransacks a venal Earth in search of the female runaway named Golden Vanity. Alqua Dreams (1987), on the other hand, is a 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.

The short Unquenchable Fire sequence possibly contains Pollack's 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, and won a World Fantasy Award as best novel; The Child Eater (2014) is fantasy; Jack Shade, in The Fissure King: A Novel in Five Stories (fixup 2017), travels through various Alternate Worlds, including at least one Western venue.

Pollack's long professional interest in the Tarot generated several nonfiction presentations of its underlying philosophy (and various packs). She edited 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 later subject matter and manner were often narrowly focused as fiction, but compellingly intense in their loving anatomy of the techniques of the occult. The Beatrix Gates [for subtitle see Checklist below] (coll 2019) provides a conspectus of her sharp-minded witty take on her decades of work, and on the world she vividly occupied. [JC]

see also: Pseudoscience.

Rachel Grace Pollack

born New York: 17 August 1945

died Rhinebeck, New York: 7 April 2023



Unquenchable Fire

individual titles


nonfiction (selected)

works as editor

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


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