Cyril Michael Kornbluth (July 23, 1923–March 21, 1958) was an American science fiction author and a notable member of the Futurians. He used a variety of pen-names, including Cecil Corwin, S.D. Gottesman, Edward J. Bellin, Kenneth Falconer, Walter C. Davies, Simon Eisner, and Jordan Park.
Kornbluth was born in New York City
. He was a member of the Futurians
, the influential group of science fiction fans and writers. While a member of the Futurians, he met and became friends with Isaac Asimov
, Frederik Pohl
, Donald A. Wollheim
, Robert A. W. Lowndes
, and his future wife Mary Byers.
Kornbluth served in the US Army during World War II (European Theatre). He received a Bronze Star for his service in the Battle of the Bulge. After his discharge, he returned to finish his education, which had been interrupted by the war, at the University of Chicago.
Kornbluth died at age thirty-four of a heart attack in Waverly, New York. He had lived primarily in Chicago, Illinois.
Kornbluth began writing at fifteen. His first solo work, "King Cole of Pluto," was published in May 1940 and appeared in Super Science Stories.
An earlier collaboration, "Stepsons of Mars," written with Richard Wilson and published under the name "Ivar Towers", appeared in the April 1940 Astonishing
. His other short fiction includes "The Little Black Bag
," "The Marching Morons
," "The Altar at Midnight," "Ms. Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie," "Gomez," and "The Advent on Channel 12."
"The Little Black Bag" was adapted for television by the BBC in 1969 for its Out of the Unknown series. In 1970, the same story was adapted by Rod Serling for an episode of his Night Gallery series. This dramatization starred Burgess Meredith as the alcoholic Dr. Full, who has lost his license and become a derelict. He finds a bag containing advanced medical technology from the future, which, after an unsuccessful attempt to pawn it, he uses benevolently — reclaiming his career and redeeming his soul ... but not that of the guttersnipe he takes in as his receptionist/assistant.
"The Marching Morons" was one of Kornbluth's most famous short stories; it is a satirical look at a far future in which the world's population consists of five billion idiots and a few million geniuses — the precarious minority of the "elite" working desperately to keep things running behind the scenes. Part of its appeal is that readers identify with the beleaguered geniuses (which is entirely compatible with science fiction fans' broadly held opinion of their relationship with the mundane majority). Some believe that "The Marching Morons" is a direct sequel to "The Little Black Bag": it is easy to miss this, as "Bag" is set in the contemporary present while "Morons" takes place several centuries from now, and there is no character who appears in both stories. The titular black bag in the first story is actually an artifact from the time period of "The Marching Morons": a medical kit filled with self-driven instruments enabling a far-future moron to "play doctor."
Many of Kornbluth's novels were written as collaborations: either with Judith Merril (using the pseudonym Cyril Judd), or with Frederik Pohl. By far the most successful and important of these were the novels Gladiator-At-Law and The Space Merchants. The Space Merchants contributed significantly to the maturing and to the wider academic respectability of the science fiction genre, not only in America but also in Europe. (See for instance: in Wikipedia: Zoran Živković, writer, the book Contemporaries of the Future - Savremenici budućnosti, Belgrade, Serbia, 1983, pp. 250-261). Kornbluth also wrote several novels under his own name, the most successful being The Syndic and Not This August.
A number of short stories remained unfinished at Kornbluth's death; these were eventually completed and published by Pohl. On of these stories, "The Meeting" (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1972), was the co-winner of the 1973 Hugo Award for Best Short Story; it tied with R. A. Lafferty's "Eurema's Dam. All of Kornbluth's short stories have been collected as His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C. M. Kornbluth (NESFA Press, 1997).
Kornbluth's name is mentioned in Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events as a member of V.F.D.
Personality and habits
Frederik Pohl (in his autobiography The Way the Future Was
) and Damon Knight
(in his memoir The Futurians
) both give vivid and affectionate descriptions of Kornbluth as a man of odd personal habits and vivid eccentricities. Among the traits which they describe:
- Kornbluth decided to educate himself by reading his way through an entire encyclopedia from A to Z; in the course of this effort, he acquired a great deal of esoteric knowledge that found its way into his stories ... in alphabetical order by subject. When Kornbluth wrote a story that mentioned the ancient Roman weapon ballista, Pohl knew that Kornbluth had finished the "A" volume and had started the "B".
- According to Pohl, Kornbluth never brushed his teeth, and they were literally green. Deeply embarrassed by this, Kornbluth developed the habit of holding his hand in front of his mouth when speaking.
- Kornbluth disliked black coffee, but felt obliged to acquire a taste for it because he believed that professional authors were "supposed to" drink black coffee. He trained himself by putting gradually less cream into each cup of coffee he drank, until he eventually "weaned himself" (Knight's description) and switched to black coffee.
- Outpost Mars (with Judith Merril, writing as Cyril Judd), first published as a Galaxy serial entitled Mars Child and reprinted in Galaxy novel #46 as Sin in Space in 1961.
- The Space Merchants (with Frederik Pohl), first published as a Galaxy serial entitled Gravy Planet, 1952
- Gunner Cade (with Judith Merril, writing as Cyril Judd, first published as an Astounding Science Fiction serial in 1952)
- Takeoff (1952)
- The Syndic (1953)
- Gladiator at Law (with Frederik Pohl, first published as a Galaxy serial, 1954)
- Search the Sky (with Frederik Pohl, 1954)
- Wolfbane (with Frederik Pohl) (first published as a Galaxy serial, 1954)
- Not This August (AKA Christmas Eve, 1955)
- The Naked Storm (1952, as Simon Eisner)
- Valerie (1953, as Jordan Park), a novel about a girl accused of witchcraft
- Half (1953, as Jordan Park), a novel about an intersex person
- A Town is Drowning (1955, with Frederik Pohl)
- Presidential Year (1956, with Frederik Pohl)
- Sorority House (1956, with Frederik Pohl, as Jordan Park), a lesbian pulp novel
- A Man of Cold Rages (1958, as Jordan Park), a novel about an ex-dictator
- Asimov, Isaac. In Memory Yet Green (Doubleday, 1979)
- Knight, Damon. The Futurians (John Day, 1977)
- Pohl, Frederik. The Way The Future Was: A Memoir (Gollancz, 1978)