Kornbluth, Cyril

Given the rate at which SF writers of the 1950's faded from view - Budrys, Dick, Knight, Kuttner, Walter M. Miller Jr., Sheckley, Tenn - it is surprising that so many of them simply burned out or left the field, and how few of them departed early for the best of all reasons: Dick died young, Henry Kuttner, who had been active from the 1930's, died in 1958, at the age of 53; and Cyril Kornbluth died the same year. He, too, had been active in the field for years, but he had started as a teenager, and when he died, he was 35 years old.

Into those 35 years he packed a large life:
he was an active and controversial fan before World War II, and began a life-long professional association with Frederick Pohl at the same time; he was decorated for bravery in combat; he wrote with Judith Merril - Gunner Cade remains highly readable for its satirical view of the military fraternity - and with Pohl; he wrote some scathing, pessimistic stories, and was assaulted by conventional fans and critics - in language that made it sound as though they were accusing him of being unpatriotic - for "nihilism"; he wrote solo novels.
Then he died.

It is the collaborations with Pohl that, for the moment, keep Korbluth's name alive.
The Space Merchants, which was their first novel together, remains a central satirical text of the 1950's, targeting advertising men, corrupt governments, suburbia, and self-delusion.
It is now, in a sense, also a historical novel, for the age of conformism that it mocked has passed, and life at the end of the century does not much resemble the gray, suburban desert that was envisioned by SF satirists half a century ago.
But the Space Merchants deftly brings it all back into focus again.

Wolfbane, Pohl and Kornbluth's final collaboration, is a tour de force in which aliens shift Earth from its orbit and shanghai humanity into becoming units in a vast computer.

What would Kornbluth be writing now?


(Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia, JC)