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His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C.M. Kornbluth

Reviewed by James M. Palmer

(Originally published in RevolutionSF)

Cyril M. Kornbluth began publishing SF when he was fifteen, and died at the ripe old age of thirty-four. This is probably why many people have never heard of him. It’s a shame too; he was a great writer. A founding member of the Futurians, a New York group of science fiction fans that would grow up to become Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, Robert Lowndes and DAW founder Donald A. Wollheim, Kornbluth wrote for the early pulps under a variety of pseudonyms. Famous for his speed as a writer, and known for his sarcasm, Kornbluth made his mark on the SF world very early on. To find all these wonderful stories in one place was impossible, until the New England Science Fiction Association Press decided to bring them out in one massive hardcover volume.

His Share of Glory collects all the short SF written solely by Kornbluth, complete with publication sources and dates, and the bylines he used. Many of the stories in here are classics, as well as personal favorites of mine, including "The Mindworm," which gives us an interesting take on vampirism, and "The Marching Morons," which tells of a future world in which a minority of geniuses maintains society for a legion of dunces. Even though this story is based on a false premise, that intelligence is genetic, it still makes a fine story and, looking around the world today, it is easy to feel that such a thing could happen. Kornbluth revisits this idea in "The Little Black Bag," in which someone from the future accidentally sends a medical bag back into the past, where a down-on-his-luck doctor finds it and follows the easy instructions to miraculously cure the sick.

Another favorite of mine is "Time Bum," in which a hustler called Harry Twenty-Third Street comes up with an unusual con. But this con backfires when Harry learns that the basis for his con was more real than he knew. And in "The Rocket of 1955," we see another con, that of a man being launched into space. This story is interesting in that it was inspired by an actual event from Kornbluth’s Futurian days: the launching of a model rocket filled with fan mail. The rocket crashed, of course, to much fanfare.

"Ms. Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie" is a great satire of writing in general and SF writing in particular. It could almost be considered recursive, since the main character is Cecil Corwin, one of Kornbluth’s nom de plums, and there are editorial asides by Kornbluth himself. In this story, Kornbluth is editing a collection of tiny messages from his friend Corwin that he found hidden inside fortune cookies. In these bizarre communiques, Corwin says that he has found, through his wide reading on a variety of topics, the answer to every question that has ever plagued mankind. In testing out The Answer, Corwin tips off other writers who have also discovered it, and want to keep it a secret. Corwin is given two choices: keep mum on the subject and rocket to the top of the bestseller lists, or be consigned to an insane asylum. There are several funny in jokes about writing in this wacky story.

In "The City in the Sofa," a billionaire hires a mercenary to stop an army of tiny aliens that live in the sofa of his gentleman’s club from taking over the Earth. And if you think that sounds wacky, you should try reading it!

I could go on describing every story in this book, but they really must be read to be believed. This collection is pure Kornbluth: acerbic, witty, and full of the things which made him such an important name in the SF field. It is a shame he died so young.

The collection also includes the publication dates for all the stories, a section of early "to spec" stories Kornbluth wrote as filler, and an introduction by Kornbluth’s friend and collaborator Frederik Pohl. If you’re a fan of Golden Age SF, you owe it to yourself to get this collection.

 

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