Cyril M. Kornbluth

"Kenneth Falconer" redirects here. For the British mathematician, see Kenneth Falconer (mathematician).
Cyril M. Kornbluth

Cyril Kornbluth c. 1955
Born (1923-07-02)July 2, 1923
New York City, United States
Died March 21, 1958(1958-03-21) (aged 34)
Levittown, New York, United States
Pen name Cecil Corwin
S.D. Gottesman
Edward J. Bellin
Kenneth Falconer
Walter C. Davies
Simon Eisner
Jordan Park
Occupation Novelist, short story author, Editor
Nationality United States
Alma mater University of Chicago
Genre Science fiction
Spouse Mary Byers
An early Kornbluth novelette, "The Core", was the cover story for the April 1942 issue of Future. It carried the "S. D. Gottesman" byline, a pseudonym Kornbluth used mainly for collaborations with Frederik Pohl or Robert A. W. Lowndes
The opening installment of Mars Child, by Kornbluth and Judith Merril, took the cover of the May 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction
A year later, the first installment of Gravy Planet (The Space Merchants), by Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl, was also cover-featured on Galaxy
Another Kornbluth-Merril collaboration, the novelette "Sea-Change", was the cover story for the second issue of Dynamic Science Fiction in 1953. It has apparently never been reprinted.
Another Kornbluth-Pohl collaboration, Gladiator-at-Law, took the cover of the June 1954 Galaxy Science Fiction in 1954, illustrated by Ed Emshwiller
The last Kornbluth-Pohl sf novel, "Wolfbane", was serialized in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1957, with a cover illustration by Wally Wood.

Cyril M. Kornbluth (July 2, 1923[1] – March 21, 1958) was an American science fiction author and a 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, Jordan Park, Arthur Cooke, Paul Dennis Lavond and Scott Mariner.[2] The "M" in Kornbluth's name may have been in tribute to his wife, Mary Byers;[3] Kornbluth's colleague and collaborator Frederik Pohl confirmed Kornbluth's lack of any actual middle name in at least one interview.[4]


Kornbluth was born and grew up in the uptown Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, in New York City,[5] He was of Polish Jewish descent.[6] the son of a "second-generation [American] Jew" who ran his own tailor shop. According to his widow, Kornbluth was a "precocious child", learning to read by the age of three and writing his own stories by the time he was seven. He graduated high school at thirteen, received a CCNY scholarship at fourteen, and was "thrown out for leading a student strike" before graduating.[7]

As a teenager, he became a member of the Futurians, an 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. He also participated in the Fantasy Amateur Press Association.

Kornbluth served in the US Army during World War II (European 'Theatre').[8] He received a Bronze Star for his service in the Battle of the Bulge, where he served as a member of a heavy machine gun crew. Upon his discharge, he returned to finish his education, which had been interrupted by the war, at the University of Chicago.[8] While living in Chicago he also worked at Trans-Radio Press, a news wire service. In 1951 he started writing full-time,[7] returning to the East Coast where he collaborated on novels with his old Futurian friends Frederik Pohl and Judith Merril.


Kornbluth began writing at 15. His first solo story, "The Rocket of 1955", was published in Richard Wilson's fanzine Escape (Vol. 1, No 2, August 1939); his first 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 first adapted for television live on the television show Tales of Tomorrow on May 30, 1952. It was later 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. William Fall, who had long lost his doctor's license and become a homeless alcoholic. He finds a bag containing advanced medical technology from the future (2098), which, after an unsuccessful attempt to pawn it, he uses benevolently.

"The Marching Morons" is a 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. In his introduction to The Best of C.M. Kornbluth, Pohl states 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". A future Earth similar to "The Marching Morons" – a civilisation of morons protected by a small minority of hidden geniuses – is used again in the final stages of Kornbluth & Pohl's Search the Sky.[9]

"MS. Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie" (1957) is supposedly written by Kornbluth using notes by "Cecil Corwin", who has been declared insane and incarcerated, and who smuggles out in fortune cookies the ultimate secret of life. This fate is said to be Kornbluth's response to the unauthorized publication of "Mask of Demeter" (as by "Corwin" and "Martin Pearson" (Donald A. Wollheim)) in Wollheim's anthology Prize Science Fiction in 1953.[10]

Biographer Mark Rich describes the 1958 story "Two Dooms" as one of several stories which are "concern[ed] with the ethics of theoretical science" and which "explore moral quandaries of the atomic age":

"Two Dooms" follows atomic physicist Edward Royland on his accidental journey into an alternative universe where the Nazis and Japanese rule a divided United States. In his own world, Royland debated whether to delay progress at the Los Alamos nuclear research site or to help the atomic bomb achieve its terrifying result. Encountering both a slave village and a concentration camp in the alternative America, he comes to grips with the idea of life under bondage.[9]

Many of Kornbluth's novels were written as collaborations: either with Judith Merril (using the pseudonym Cyril Judd), or with Frederik Pohl. These include Gladiator-At-Law and The Space Merchants.[11] 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.[12] Kornbluth also wrote several novels under his own name, including The Syndic and Not This August.


Kornbluth died at age 34 in Levittown, New York. Scheduled to meet with Bob Mills in New York City to interview for the position of editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,[13] Kornbluth had to shovel out his driveway, which left him running behind. Racing to make his train, he suffered a heart attack on the platform of the train station.[8]

A number of short stories remained unfinished at Kornbluth's death; these were eventually completed and published by Pohl. One of these stories, "The Meeting" (The Magazine of Fantasy & 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."[14] Almost all of Kornbluth's solo SF stories have been collected as His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C. M. Kornbluth (NESFA Press, 1997).

Personality and habits

Frederik Pohl, in his autobiography The Way the Future Was, Damon Knight, in his memoir The Futurians, and Isaac Asimov, in his memoirs In Memory Yet Green and I. Asimov: A Memoir, all give descriptions of Kornbluth as a man of odd personal habits and eccentricities.

Kornbluth, for example, 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 ballista, an Ancient Roman weapon, Pohl knew that Kornbluth had finished the A's and had started on the B's.

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.




Anthony Boucher praised the collection, saying "Kornbluth's sharp observation is everywhere present, and in most of the stories his bitter insight."[15] P. Schuyler Miller reviewed the collection favorably for Astounding Science Fiction.[16]

Spider Robinson praised this collection, saying "I haven't enjoyed a book so much in years."[17] Mark Rich wrote, "Critics judging Kornbluth by this anthology, edited by Pohl, have seen a growing bitterness in his later stories. This reflects editorial choice more than reality, because Kornbluth also wrote delightful humor in his last years, in stories not collected here. These tales demonstrate Kornbluth's effective use of everyday individuals from a variety of ethnic backgrounds as well as his well-tuned ear for dialect."[9]

Non-science fiction

Uncollected short stories

Collected and uncollected articles


Kornbluth's name is mentioned in Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events as a member of V.F.D., a secret organization dedicated to the promotion of literacy, classical learning, and crime prevention.


  1. Rich, p. 16 et passim.
  2. 1 2 Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter (1995). "Kornbluth, C.M.". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St Martin's Griffin. p. 677. ISBN 0-312-09618-6.
  3. Rich, Mark (2009). C. M. Kornbluth. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. pp. 127–8. ISBN 978-0-7864-4393-2.
  4. Webster, Bud. Cyril With an M (or, I'm As Kornbluth as Kansas in August). Baen's Universe, February 5, 2009
  5. Rich, Mark (2009). C. M. Kornbluth. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-7864-4393-2.
  7. 1 2 Charles Platt, "C. M. Kornbluth: A Study Of His Work and Interview With His Widow", Foundation 17, September 1979, pp.57-63
  8. 1 2 3
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Rich, Mark (2002). "The Best of C. M. Kornbluth". In Fiona Kelleghan. Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, Volume 1: AegyptMake Room! Make Room!. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press. pp. 45–47. ISBN 1-58765-051-7.
  10. Rich, Mark (2009). C. M. Kornbluth. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. pp. 222–223. According to Kornbluth's friend Blish, "The belated appearance of this antique collaboration so upset C.M. Kornbluth...that he wrote a story explaining that the hapless Corwin had been confined in a mental hospital under LSD-25 since around 1950. The story also contains an attack on the agent who sold the collaboration without Kornbluth's permission."
  11. Coats, Daryl R (2002). "The Space Merchants and The Merchants' War". In Fiona Kelleghan. Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, Volume 2: The Man in the High CastleZothique. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press. pp. 485–488. ISBN 1-58765-052-5. The Space Merchants remains the best-known of his satirical works, and its influence can be seen in a number of subsequent works forecasting futures in which a particular group or institution dominates society.
  12. See for instance: Zoran Živković, Contemporaries of the Future – Savremenici budućnosti, Belgrade, Serbia, 1983, pp. 250–261.
  13. Rich, Mark, C. M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary (McFarland & Co., 2010) p. 337
  15. "Recommended Reading," F&SF, December 1954, p.91.
  16. "The Reference Library," Astounding Science Fiction, March 1954, pp.160
  17. "Galaxy Bookshelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1977, p. 143.


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