His Share of Glory

The Complete Short Science Fiction of C M Kornbluth

A collection of stories by C M Kornbluth


by Frederik Pohl

In the late 1930s a bunch of us New York City fans, tiring of being members of other people's fan clubs, decided to start our own. We called it 'the Futurians.' As nearly as I can remember the prime perpetrators were Don Wollheim, Johnny Michel, Bob Lowndes and myself, but we quickly acquired a couple of dozen other like-minded actifans and writer wannabees, and among them was a pudgy, acerbic fourteen-year-old from the far northern reaches of Manhattan whose name was Cyril Kornbluth.

All the Futurians had an attitude; it was what made us so universally loved by other New York fans. Even so, Cyril was special. He had a quick and abrasive wit, and he exercised it on anyone within reach. What he also had, though, was a boundless talent. Even at fourteen, Cyril knew how to use the English language. I think he was born with the gift of writing in coherent, pointed, colorful sentences, and, although I don't think any of his very earliest writing survives, some of the stories in this book were written when he was no more than sixteen.

Most of what Cyril wrote (what all of us Futurians wrote, assiduously and often) was science fiction, but he also had a streak of the poet in him. Cyril possessed a copy of a textbook—written, I think, by one of his high-school teachers —which described all the traditional forms of verse, from haiku to chant royale, and it was his ambition to write one of each. I don't think he made it. I do remember that he did a villanelle and several sonnets, both Shakespearean and Petrarchan, but I don't remember the poems themselves. All I do remember of Cyril's verse is a fragment from the beginning of a long, erotic poem called Elephanta'—

How long, my love, shall I behold this wall

Between our gardens, yours the rose

And mine the swooning lily?

—and a short piece called 'Calisthenics': One, two, three, four,

Flap your arms and prance

In stinky shirt and stinky socks

And stinky little pants.

By 1939 a few of the Futurians had begun making an occasional sale to the prozines. Then the gates of Heaven opened. In October of that year I fell into a job editing two science-fiction magazines for the great pulp house of Popular Publications; a few months later Don Wollheim persuaded Albing Publications to give him a similar deal, while Bob Lowndes got the call to take over Louis Silberkleit's magazines. These were not major markets. None of us had much to spend in the way of story budgets—Donald essentially had no budget at all—and we were at a disadvantage in competing with magazines like Amazing, Astounding and Thrilling Wonder for the work of the established pros. What we did have, though, was each other, and all the rest of the Futurians.

I think Cyril's first published story was a collaboration with Dick Wilson, 'Stepson of Space,' published under the pseudonym of 'Ivar Towers' (the Futurian headquarters apartment was called 'the Ivory Tower') in my magazine, Astonishing Stories. He and I also collaborated on a batch of not very good stories for my own magazines, mostly bylined 'S. D. Gottesman' at Cyril's prompting—I think he was getting back at a hated math teacher of that name—but his solo work, under one pen-name or another, generally appeared in Don Wollheim's Stirring and Cosmic. Most of them are herein.

Then the war came along.

Cyril, who had worked now and then as a machinist, got into uniform as an artillery maintenance man, working in a machine shop far behind the lines to keep the guns going. He probably could have survived the war in relative comfort there, except that the Army had an inspiration.

In its wisdom it imagined that the war would go on for a good long time, that it would need educated officers beyond the apparently available supply toward its final stages and that it would be a good idea to send some of its brighter soldiers to school ahead of time. The program was called 'ASTP,' and Cyril signed up for it at once. It was a very good deal.

Cyril went back to school at the Army's expense quite happily …until the Army noticed that the war was moving toward a close faster than they had expected, with some very big battles yet to be fought. The need was not for future officers but for present combat troops. They met it by canceling ASTP overnight and throwing all its members into the infantry, and so Cyril wound up lugging a 50-caliber machine gun through the snows of the Battle of the Bulge.

The war did finally end. We all got back to civilian life again, and Cyril moved to Chicago to go back to school, at the University of Chicago, on the G.I. Bill. Meanwhile Dick Wilson had also wound up there as a reporter for the news wire service Trans-Radio Press; he was their bureau chief for the city, and when he needed to hire another reporter he gave the job to Cyril. For a couple of years Cyril divided his time between the news bureau and the university, somehow finding enough spare hours to write an occasional short story for the magazines (all of them herein).

Then he came east on a visit. He stayed at our house just outside of Red Bank, New Jersey, for a while, and I was glad to see him because I needed help on a project.

The project was a novel I had begun about the future of the advertising business. I had been working on it desultorily for a year or so and succeeded in getting about the first third of it on paper. I showed that much to Horace Gold, then the editor of Galaxy, and Horace said, 'Fine.

I'll print it as soon as I finish the current serial.' 'But it isn't finished,' I said. 'So go home and finish it,' said Horace.

I didn't see how that was possible in the time allowed, and so Cyril's arrival was a godsend. When I showed what I had to him and suggested we try collaborating again he agreed instantly; he wrote the next third by himself, and the two of us collaborated, turn and about, on the final section. After some polishing and cleaning up of loose ends we turned it in and Horace ran it as 'Gravy Planet'; a little later Ian Ballantine published it in book form as The Space Merchants and so it has remained, in many editions and several dozen translations, ever since.

Working with Cyril Kornbluth was one of the great privileges of my life.

First to last, we wrote seven novels together: The Space Merchants, Gladiator-at-Law, Search the Sky and Wolfbane in the field of science fiction, plus our three 'mainstream' novels, Presidential Year, A Town Is Drowning and Sorority House (that last one published under the pseudonym of 'Jordan Park'). I can't say that we never quarreled about anything—after all, we were both graduates of the feisty Futurians—but the writing always, always went quickly and well. As editor, agent and collaborator I have worked with literally hundreds of writers over the years, in one degree or another of intimacy, but never with one more competent and talented than Cyril. Even when we were not actually collaborating we would now and then help each other out. Once when Cyril complained that he wanted to write a story but couldn't seem to come up with an attractive idea, I reminded him that he had once mentioned to me that he'd like to write a story about medical instruments from the future somehow appearing today; 'The Little Black Bag' was the result. And after that was published I urged him to do more with the future background from which those instruments had come, and that turned into 'The Marching Morons.' And I am indebted to him for any number of details, plot twists and bits of business in my own stories of the time.

All the while we were writing together, of course, he had other irons in the fire. With Judy Merril he wrote two novels, Marschild and Gunner Cade; he continued to pour out his own wonderful shorter pieces, and he wrote half a dozen novels all his own. Some of them were mainstream—Valerie, The Naked Storm and Man of Cold Rages—but three were science fiction. They were, of course, brilliant. They are also, however, sadly, somewhat dated; Takeoff was all about the first spaceflight, Not This August about the results of the anticipated Russian-American World War III, which in his story the Russians had won. By 1958 he had larger plans, with two novels in the works. Neither was science fiction; both were historical. One was to be about the life of St. Dacius, and that is all I know about it; if any part of it was ever on paper it has long since been lost. The other was to be about the battle of the

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