Cyril 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!
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.
You’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.