Vintage Treasures: The Best of C M Kornbluth

Vintage Treasures: The Best of C M Kornbluth

The Best of C M Kornbluth2Cyril M. Kornbluth was one of the best science fiction writers of the 1950s. Like Stanley Weinbaum and Robert E. Howard, he died in his early thirties, leaving behind a handful of stories that would gradually make him famous.

Kornbluth was an early member of The Futurians, the legendary group of young science fiction fans that included Donald A. Wollheim, Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, Robert A. W. Lowndes — and Mary Byers, who eventually became his wife.

Kornbluth might be virtually unknown today if not for the efforts of Pohl, his friend and collaborator, who became one of the most acclaimed editors and novelists of the 20th Century — and is still alive today. Kornbluth wrote nine novels, including six in collaboration with Pohl: The Space Merchants, Search the Sky, Gladiator at Law, Presidential Year, Wolfbane, and Not This August.

He also produced some of the most famous science fiction stories ever written, including “The Little Black Bag” and “The Marching Morons.”

On March 21, 1958, Kornbluth had arranged to meet with Robert P. Mills, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. An overnight storm had dumped snow in his driveway, and he had to shovel it out first. Running late, he was racing to make the train when he suffered a heart attack. He died on the train platform at the age of 34.

He left behind a body of brilliant work that included 57 short stories published between 1939 and 1958. In 1976, Pohl selected the 19 best for Lester Del Rey’s The Best of… series, collected as The Best of C M Kornbluth.

The back cover text celebrated many of his most famous stories:

The Wonder of C.M. Kornbluth

Here in one spectacular volume are the 20 most brilliant stories of the extraordinary writer who interwove imagination and humor to create science-fiction tales of breathtaking amazement and sheer delight.

“The Little Black Bag”
Medical instruments from the future had turned an old quack into a miracle worker… until his nurse joined the operation!

“The Silly Season”
When there was no news it was up to newsmen to invent it; but when the inventions went too far, there was trouble!

“Gomez”
He was a 17-year-old Puerto Rican dishwasher with a gift for atomic physics that could turn top secrets inside out!

“The Marching Morons”
An impacted wisdom tooth had led John Barlow to a state of suspended animation … and a dangerous awakening in a dumb new world!

“Friend to Man”
He was a fugitive on an alien planet, being pursued by a posse of the dead in his mind!

And 15 more memorable selections … by a man whose astounding stories have enthralled millions.

The Best of CM Kornbluth SFBC-smallYou’ll note that the cover proudly proclaims A Science Fiction Book Club Selection, which I assume was a requirement of the publishing deal they worked out with SFBC. As a marketing plot, it certainly worked — I joined the SFBC around the same time, enrolled by my friend John MacMaster, and purchased the book club hardcover editions of several Best of… collections.

I usually preferred the paperback cover art though, and that’s the case here. Not that there’s anything wrong with Gary Viskupic’s moody art for the hardcover (at right), but I was always taken with Dean Ellis’s eye-catching cover for the paperback (top), with all those press-ganged space explorers marching across the desert towards an uncertain future.

Click on either image for a bigger version.

Here’s the complete table of contents:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

An Appreciation by Frederik Pohl
“The Rocket of 1955” (Stirring Science Stories, 1939)
“The Words of Guru” (Stirring Science Stories, 1941)
“The Only Thing We Learn” (Startling Stories, 1949)
“The Adventurer” (Space Science Fiction, 1953)
“The Little Black Bag” (Astounding Science Fiction, 1950)
“The Luckiest Man in Denv” (Galaxy Science Fiction, 1952)
“The Silly Season” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1950)
“The Remorseful” (Star Science Fiction Stories No. 2, 1953)
“Gomez” (New Worlds #32, 1954)
“The Advent on Channel Twelve” (Star Science Fiction Stories No. 4, 1958)
“The Marching Morons” (Galaxy Science Fiction, 1951)
“The Last Man Left in the Bar” (Infinity Science Fiction, 1957)
“The Mindworm” (Worlds Beyond, 1950)
“With These Hands” (Galaxy Science Fiction, 1951)
“Shark Ship” (Vanguard Science Fiction, 1958)
“Friend to Man” (10 Story Fantasy, 1951)
“The Altar at Midnight” (Galaxy Science Fiction, 1952)
“Dominoes” (Star Science Fiction Stories, 1953)
“Two Dooms” (Venture Science Fiction, 1958)
About the Author (1954) by C. M. Kornbluth

The Best of C M Kornbluth was published by Ballantine Books in January, 1977. It is 338 pages, priced at $1.95.

So far we’ve covered the following volumes in the Classics of Science Fiction line (in order of publication):

The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum
The Best of Fritz Leiber
The Best of Henry Kuttner
The Best of John W. Campbell
The Best of C M Kornbluth
The Best of Philip K. Dick
The Best of Fredric Brown
The Best of Edmond Hamilton
The Best of Murray Leinster
The Best of Robert Bloch
The Best of Jack Williamson
The Best of Hal Clement
The Best of James Blish

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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markrigney

“The Marching Morons” currently serves as background muse to a play on which I’m working. Thanks for posting this, and giving Kornbluth his proper due.

emcgargle

All these years later, he remains one the finest short story writers in the SF genre; today’s readers are the poorer for not knowing his work. “The Remorseful” is still my all-time favorite “Last Man on Earth” tale.

AmyFarmer

I definitely prefer the paperback cover. Marching Morons is one of my all-time favorites. I don’t have this volume but I do have the Best of volumes for Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, CL Moore, Lester DelRey, Murray Leinster, Stanley G. Weinbaum, and L. Sprague DeCamp. All excellent volumes.

the wasp

Definitely the paperback cover. I’m still missing the Block, PK Dick and E F Russell. Such great Golden and Silver Age collections.

westkeith

Definitely the covers to the paperbacks. It may have been the impressionable age I was at when I first discovered this series (13), but there was something the paperbacks had that the SFBC editions were missing. It wasn’t just the cover art, either, although the art definitely drew me in. The story blurbs grabbed my imagination and didn’t let go. They gave just enough detail to make you want to know more. And just about every cover made you think there was a story behind the illustration. I bought most of the book club hardcovers, but the paperbacks are still my favorites. I managed years ago to collect the whole set, with duplicates of some for reading copies. They have their own shelf in my library.

Joe H.

Next time I’m at Uncle Hugo’s I need to make a serious search for as many of those Del Rey Best Ofs as I can lay my hands on.

emcgargle

If you like The Best Of collection (and really, how can you not?) it’s worth getting His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C.M. Kornbluth. It’s a hefty (600+ pages) hardcover from NESFA press. Amazon doesn’t give a huge discount, but NESFA books are really worth having. They’ve published great collections of Leigh Brackett, Fredric Brown, William Tenn, DeCamp and Pratt and on and on.

James McGlothlin

John,

Just a suggestion, but this would be helpful for us who make buying decisions off of VINTAGE TREASURES: Could you please include the ISBN along with the other book info? It would be greatly appreciated.

the wasp

John: according to the ISFD EF Russell has been pretty much out of mass-market-print for over 25 years. There was a NESFA Press omnibus and an anthology in 2000 and 2001 and a Midnight House collection of his weird tales in 2006.
Between and several other conversations this summer, I’m feeling prematurely old this summer.

emcgargle

You’re right about Brackett – I have the three Haffner press volumes, and confused them with NESFA. Still great though!

[…] with The Best of Murray Leinster, The Best of Robert Bloch, The Best of Henry Kuttner, and The Best of C M Kornbluth.) I believe it may also have been the first, since it has the earliest publication date of the […]

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[…] just in the last few weeks I commented on his successful collaborations with Jack Williamson and C. M. Kornbluth. Rich Horton, who has been examining vintage SF digests for us, recently reviewed the July 1961 […]

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James McGlothlin

Just finished this book! Great stories! I’ve never been a huge fan of SF but Kornbluth (as well as Stanley Weinbaum) is changing that.

My favorite stories were “Little Black Bag” and “Gomez.” Kornbluth is great at characterization. His characters really feel alive.

I found myself really taken or engaged in these stories. I’ll have to track down Space Merchants sometime!

[…] Stanley G. Weinbaum The Best of Fritz Leiber The Best of Henry Kuttner The Best of John W. Campbell The Best of C M Kornbluth The Best of Philip K. Dick The Best of Edmond Hamilton The Best of Murray Leinster The Best of […]

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[…] Judd is actually a pseudonym of Cyril M. Kornbluth and Judith Merril. Together, they also wrote a serialized novel titled Gunner Cade for Astounding […]

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[…] Judd is the pseudonym of Cyril M. Kornbluth and Judith Merril. They only cowrote this and Gunner Cade (which was serialized in Astounding […]

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