Anyway, I was impressed and looked up Pohl when I got home. It turns out that he was high-school friends with Isaac Asimov and that both were early members of a group of science fiction fans called the Futurians. Checking up on what the Futurians were, I found that they were a splinter group from another New York City sci-fi fan club, and they advocated sci-fi fans to push for ideology. Inevitably, this meant communism:
At the time the Futurians were formed, Donald Wollheim was strongly attracted by communism and believed that followers of science fiction "should actively work for the realization of the scientific world-state as the only genuine justification for their activities and existence". It was to this end that Wollheim formed the Futurians, and many of its members were in some degree interested in the political applications of science fiction.
Yeesh! Nothing like the phrase "scientific world-state" to give you the creeps. Especially in the '30s.
Pohl himself was an outright member of the Communist Party, until he was expelled in '39. It was either because, as some say, the Party thought science fiction was escapist and didn't contribute to the building of the dictatorship of the proletariat or whatever, or, as Pohl says, that he rejected the Party line over the Hitler-Stalin Pact. Either way, he apparently remained a true leftist, and his writings display a satire of capitalism and advertising. Actually, I've got to say that the bit that comes through in "Tunnel" is well done and could have been written by a conservative, as well.
There's a whole weird history to this science fiction fan activity, something that I've never gotten into. I enjoy my sci fi movies, but I've rarely read any such books. Funny for an astrophysicist, right? So outside remarks by friends, I'm unaware of what all has gone on in this world. At one level, it seems so trivial (they're fan groups--not necessarily even writers, though many became such), but these guys clearly saw themselves as doing important work, and the Futurians were even claiming it was all in the service of the future "scientific world-state"!
Well, I'd intended to write more about the connections between "scientific socialism" and science fiction, but I'll just have to save it for later. I ought to close this off with the connections "Tunnel" has with other works: Simulacron-3 (1964; made into the movie "The Thirteenth Floor" in 1999) has a similar premise (I'm guessing the writer was familiar with the earlier work), and it in turn influenced "The Matrix" (1999). Interestingly, Stanislaw Lem wrote a short story in 1960 that dealt with some aspects of the same premise. Lem also wrote Solaris, which was made into the George Clooney movie a little while back. I just read the book, which is thought-provoking.