Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Part I:

The Events Leading Down to Biography:
On Writing Kornbluth

Twenty or more years ago ... how did it feel, the haunting, at first?

I noticed nothing — except that while sitting in a Greyhound bus heading east from Wisconsin I felt a growing fascination with the intelligence and humor put into play in the short stories before my eyes — for I felt dazzled, truly, by several; delighted, by others. They amused and surprised that ambitious, impetuous, blindly self-assured, and often overly critical person which I was, and to some degree still am. I knew the writer's name well enough — for while I read books generally, I gravitated toward writings about science fiction of the so-called Golden and Silver ages that were before my time, and of the New Wave that was perpetually ebbing; and from these sources I knew that this writer struck a nerve: for if others saw opportunity to invoke his name then they did so.

I knew and admired his writing before this — or thought I did. I stood where Van Wyck Brooks's Oliver Allston did, who "had known 'all about' writers before he knew the writings of the writers themselves." I think all of us, before older and more willing to admit our limitations, believe we encompass more within our personal spheres than we do within our hemispheres. I think moreover that among those who grew up liking science fiction in the late 1960s to early '70s, as I did, such an attitude arose in an utterly natural way — or a seemingly natural way, just as aquarium fish given their color-enhancing flakes display their "natural" brilliance. I believed in my own natural colors, as other youths do of themselves; and I think I was, indeed, brilliant — not due to my literary diet but due to my diet's additives. I had taken in my flakes and grown attractively reflective. As to my knowing and admiring this writer? These were more scales.

Fifteen years before this, The Best of C.M. Kornbluth had entered my life at age 17, just I before boarded a Greyhound leaving Kansas City for college. In my bag I packed the Science Fiction Book Club edition whose official publication date was September, 1976 — the month I left home and also left the fantasy small-press scene within which I had been finding my early identity as a writer. How much and how carefully I read that Best of I have small idea. That I had the book club edition stood in the book's way — for I would learn through the years how cheapness of presentation affects how eagerly I dip into text. That it was a collection, moreover, meant I could take it in portions and perhaps never take it in whole. That it had story introductions, too, offered a minor obstacle: for I had been maturing as a reader exposed to a publishing scene upon which Harlan Ellison cast a long shadow. I had the habit already of reading through a volume's introductions; and, feeling the satisfaction of that accomplishment, only later or sometimes never would read the works introduced. The introduction-and-story model, I think, had acquired its power from television. Printed-matter editors envied the impact of the Host before the Show: for the cumulative effect of the host's recurring appearances versus the one-time-only appearance of the particular show gave the host a fixed place in memory — no matter if greater care, effort, and artistry had gone into the individual shows themselves. With collections and anthologies of the 1970s and later, if I did read a story in a collection, it almost always meant I had just finished re-reading the introduction.

It remains strangely vivid to me that during my first term at Beloit my college friend Brian Klein borrowed this book and, when returning it, quoted humorously from "The Advent on Channel Twelve." What, I asked, about the famous "The Marching Morons"? He liked that and others — and unlike me had seen a televised version of "The Little Black Bag" — but at the moment he felt taken by "Advent." I re-read that story then — and ended up re-reading that adroit, seemingly lightweight miniature more times than I did any other in the collection. Poetry and Asian philosophy interested me. I had started studying Confucius and Lao Tzu already at Ottawa University in Kansas, and appreciated small forms and expressive compression. I had no idea, since not so informed by the introduction, that "Advent" came from among the writer's last crop of stories. Nor would I learn until decades had passed that his late stories included other such miniatures. His then-agent Harry Altshuler used the word "beautiful" in reference to at least one.

Similarly, over a decade later, on that eastbound Greyhound away from Wisconsin, I had no clue that the collection in my hand, A Mile Beyond the Moon, was another product of the writer's last year. I found no information on its cover beyond general evaluations. "Here is science fiction at its peak" — generic book-cover nonsense that, to my surprise, met with my agreement. "These stories have helped to set the highest standards of modern science fiction" — these words, too, appeared there, attributed to the New York Herald Tribune.

I find it sadly amusing, now, to re-read these words. They helped decide me on buying the Manor Books paperback at a Milwaukee used-book store before setting out on the next leg of my bus trip. Anthony Boucher wrote them. The Tribune fell within his territory. I know now that Boucher's help and influence were immeasurably important in that ending period of Cyril Kornbluth's life. Boucher, in fact, had helped Cyril devise small changes in "Advent" to answer an editor's quibbles. He helped Cyril through revisions of the strange and wonderful "Ms. Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie" — and must have influenced likewise the story that first made me sit up and take serious, fascinated notice, there on the Greyhound: "The Events Leading Down to the Tragedy." Boucher must have been the force behind the act that should have saved Cyril's life — the act of giving Cyril compatible work to do at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. How eerily strange I find it now that, in that used bookstore in Milwaukee, Tony Boucher was there to reach out and open my soul just wide enough to let in a ghost.

This occurred in the late 1980s or early '90s. The delight I experienced in my Greyhound encounter turned easily into an abiding respect for the fiction.

I thought I should find an open door into the past, allowing me now to see, and to begin understanding, the man behind the words. I found only a few doors leading back, however — partially ajar, but not as if from opening. Shutting, rather.

That Cyril Kornbluth, not just his works, struck a nerve among readers became evident to me. Why, then, this sense of the closing door? For that matter, why this sense of a wall that required a door? The more I pursued my multiplying questions the more I discovered puzzles and contradictions swirling around his memory, still in motion despite his absence from our world for four decades and more. Some questions became what seemed my personal burden, by the time the '90s ended. As the next decade passed they lost none of their compelling nature and in some cases seemed more urgently pressing than ever. I committed myself, then, at last, to an effort to unravel what mysteries I could and to share my findings with readers.

End, Part One.

Part II:

The Events Leading Down to Biography:
On Writing Kornbluth

When I first discussed the idea of writing a book on Kornbluth with Mark Durr of McFarland & Co., an academic publisher, the obstacles still reared before me that had stopped my having made the attempt earlier — above all, the dearth of documentary materials that might support the writing of a life. Were I to undertake the book I could only follow the course of the writings themselves, accepting publication chronology for a narrative skeleton. This offered promise enough — for it would allow me to explore the motifs and themes in Kornbluth's fiction as they developed, and to identify alterations to his texts imposed after his death. My book would fall short of offering a full biography, and instead would point the way toward such a life being written. My book, I thought, would raise questions without putting many to rest. On the other hand it could establish a beginning factual basis for later studies, thereby commencing the work of lifting Kornbluth and his days of brilliance and sorrow above the vagaries of foggy memory and convention-corridor hearsay.

What does the C.M. Kornbluth name conjure, among those unacquainted with my book? Some know him as a writer who died at a youthful age 34 in 1958 after shoveling snow. Some know that in his teenage years he wrote with surprising maturity and was a founding member of the Futurians, an early fan group. Some know he contributed memorably to 1950s science fiction magazines. Some know he drank a lot — or believe they know this. Some know his short stories are superior to his novels — or, again, believe this to be true. If they know him at all they know him as co-author of a popular and often-reprinted 1953 novel.

Recently on the Internet I noticed someone who refers to "The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl," repeatedly. I feel safe in thinking that some readers know Kornbluth not at all.

Pohl became the famous one of the collaborative pair, especially in the 1960s after a surprise boost came from outside the field — from Kingsley Amis — and in the 1970s when his own star as a writer was rising. Kornbluth's name thereafter became subsidiary to Pohl's, in the public eye. Even today what can be gleaned from Pohl's introductory materials comprises most readers' picture of Kornbluth; and some still turn to Pohl's memoir, The Way the Future Was, hoping to find more information. Kornbluth's rare appearances in those pages, however, makes it seem he figured in Pohl's life in only some tangential way. In addition, to readers well acquainted with the field's history, some among Pohl's accounts ring oddly. In describing an event famous in fan circles, when six Futurians were barred from attending the first Worldcon, Pohl relates, "When we came to Bahai Hall, Don Wollheim, Johnny Michel, Bob Lowndes, Jack Gillespie and I were turned away." Since Pohl recalled Bahai, not Caravan Hall where the event actually took place, forgetfulness may explain his omitting the other excluded Futurian. Cyril Kornbluth's being part of that group must have made little impression on him.

Prior to 2010, readers found only a few accounts of Kornbluth's life and works in reference works dedicated to novelists in general or to science fiction ones. While of the accounts some had fair accuracy, others were sketchy, inaccurate, or skewed. Readers lacked means for judging between them. Since many in the science fiction field had come to regard Kornbluth as Pohl's particular friend, accounts that fell most in line with the surviving writer's tended to find favor.

Curious souls, however, could also turn to Damon Knight's 1977 memoir The Futurians, and find there a different Kornbluth — one who rises for the first time into the imagination as a nearly tangible character. Of all writers who knew Cyril and then wrote about him, Knight came nearest to attempting biography. As a later member of the Futurians, Knight knew the early Cyril as much by reputation as by personal acquaintance — so perhaps not well. Being younger and newer, Knight remained outside the writing-critique circle Kornbluth organized within Donald Wollheim's broader Futurian circle. By the time Knight was completing his memoir, however, he could offer a portrait none others could — for he was sole surviving Futurian who also held a place in The Five, the incredibly closely-knit group of 1956-7 writers at whose center stood Kornbluth. Three of its members rose to the first rank in science fiction in the years after his death.

That Damon as biographer would have met with Cyril's approval seems to me likely, not only because of The Five but because of the Milford conference: for when Knight helped organize it he kept Kornbluth's writing-critique circle in mind as an inspiration. Most tellingly, when Cyril chose a writer to introduce his first story collection, 1954's The Explorers, he named Knight. Somehow, between Ian Ballantine and Pohl, the honor ended up deflected to another. I learned this fact after Damon's death. Whether he ever knew that Cyril had wanted him for the task, I cannot say. I hope he knew.

Despite the sketchy facts available — even Damon's account in The Futurians tantalizes more than satisfies — prior to 2010 many readers all the same succumbed to a fascination with Kornbluth. They sought his works in their original published forms or in the occasional reprints. Signs of significant interest appeared — in 1990, when Phil Stephensen-Payne and Gordon Benson, Jr., published a careful bibliography, and in 1997, when the New England Science Fiction Association published a massive collection of Kornbluth's solo short fiction, with completist ambition. Between those dates I published a few numbers of my own fanzine, at first producing each individual copy on a dot-matrix printer — consciously hearkening back to hectograph page-by-page days of early Fandom.

In Kornblume: Kornbluthiana I aired questions, hoping the zine would turn into a panel discussion, or a group interview. Despite the zine's microscopically small circulation, the conversation that it put into motion — "Kornbluthery," Ursula Le Guin called it — inched toward answers. To my surprise it did arrive at a few. Unexpected aspects of his story emerged, as well. I learned that some individuals still cared about Cyril Kornbluth, the man, with surprising depth of feeling, nearly forty years after his death. His presence exerted such continuing force that they felt unable to share with me some aspects of their lives, or Cyril's. Virginia Kidd, one such, took her memories to the grave. To have Kornblume appear in her mailbox, however, seemed to bring her a small share of happiness, or perhaps relief.

I believe Virginia felt as I would, over time. Cyril, though gone, lived.

End, Part Two.

Part III:

The Events Leading Down to Biography:
On Writing Kornbluth

In the four or five years before the summer of 2008 I worked largely outside science fiction, writing steadily for toy- and antique-collector books and magazines, and pursuing part-time jobs that included antiquing. My partner Martha Borchardt and I also headed two central-Wisconsin rock bands, one electric and one acoustic. A car and the ability to drive it came into my life — in that order. When Martha and I used this novelty of mobility to move to Cashton, a village in the west of Wisconsin, band activity gave way to old-house maintenance. Unexpectedly, my mainstay magazines, for whom I wrote five to ten thousands of words per month, abruptly died. The Internet, whose first impact had been to open the gates for the editorial matter I supplied by the ream, now killed off print magazines at my two main publishers. Constantly looming deadlines had driven me forward for four years; and only when contracts appeared in my hands did I write my books. Having now neither deadlines nor contracts, when I began pursuing new ideas I felt skittish and uncentered, overly beset by small exigencies to labor with full concentration. Even so, in fits and starts, by 2008 I was returning to the kinds of writing that meant most to me.

That summer I drove to Denvention, the World Science Fiction Convention in Colorado. Roger Dutcher, an old friend from Beloit, town and not gown, came along to share experiences and expenses. My wallet being mostly empty, the commonplace illusion of plastic solvency buoyed me. Some hope-inspiring portents helped: for RedJack Books was launching my third story collection, Edge of Our Lives, during the event; and an ink drawing of mine that had hung at the 2007 World Fantasy Convention was a Chesley award nominee. I headed west into debts and promises, prepared to accept any writing opportunity that came my way, remunerative or not.

Something of a journey of the psyche hung over this trip. We traveled unhurriedly over two-lane highways from Iowa across Nebraska and half across Colorado. On these often empty roads the quiet, great spaces of those inner-continental states took us in, absorbing yet expanding our tiny souls. In moving westward I headed home, in a sense: for from a suburban house outside Denver as a young teenager in the early 1970s I had entered the world of the fantasy small press, and made my first, most minor launches into the publishing world. Small prairie towns, somnolent and depressed at being situated away from the mass channels of Interstates, seemed more familiar to me than Denver did, however, once we reached that destination. Except for seeing the city through Amtrak windows, I had not returned since leaving there early in my high school years. Yet the sense of return came over me all the same when walking between the far-spaced convention hotels, thanks to faint odors rising from sidewalk sewer grates. Something remained unchanged.

Bob Silverberg, the first familiar soul I encountered, had studied the program schedule already when we met, and lamented that the two main items about older science fiction were placed against one another: his Olaf Stapledon panel, and my Kornbluth. Later I encountered Alex Eisenstein, the only person I know who can spontaneously and accurately quote lines from Kornbluth's stories. He told me he was responsible for my placement as panelist. The convention organizers had no clue why Eisenstein thought I could contribute. I would have enjoyed Silverberg's panel, in part because Stapledon occupied a place in the literary firmament when Cyril was first writing. I doubt Bob would have enjoyed mine, however. It focused so heavily on story recaps, presumably for uninitiated audience members, that I found few opportunities to raise what I considered to be important issues about Kornbluth's life and works. What an interesting audience we had, on the other hand: for it included younger readers recently taken by Kornbluth, possessed by curiosities and excitements that seemed akin to mine. Their comments, when they approached me afterwards, impressed me more than our panel comments did.

I spent time before and after that panel chatting with Mark Durr about the difficulties of establishing the facts of Kornbluth's life with any certainty. I once wrote a history of two college museums, still unpublished today, in which I included nothing which I could not document: for I needed to dispel mistaken conceptions that prevailed, concerning their beginnings. Were I to tell the Kornbluth story, I said to Mark, I would approach it in the same spirit. He said he would love to be selling such a book. When afterwards I formally approached McFarland I proposed two books — a minor one on Kornbluth, to be of limited scope due to the dearth of materials, and a second, Science Fiction, Toys and Society, that was to be the more expansive effort involving historical narrative and cultural criticism. Once the contracts arrived and I began my work, however, I found the Kornbluth task nearly all-absorbing. That autumn, winter and spring I would manage to complete other work: an introduction to a Jules Verne reprint, and an introduction and editing job on a Poe collection, for Engage Books; and early work on a study of Judith Merril's fiction, for Aqueduct. A scattering of smaller writing tasks occupied me as well. Overwhelmingly, however, the Kornbluth effort took over my life and being. I was entering some of the longest months of my life, when the questions that had ridden me and haunted me for over a decade became my masters.

I possessed what seemed to me great advantages. Of the documents I so greatly desired, I had managed through the years to add a precious few to my research library: Cyril's note-card records of his early fiction submissions; and Cyril's and Judy Merril's notes and outlines for Gunner Cade. Also in hand I had a ten-thousand word exploration of Kornbluth's fiction, using the miniature work "Everybody Knows Joe" for a pivotal point of perspective. In the early aughts I had written this piece and submitted it to a 1950s-themed issue of Paradoxa; and although the manuscript reappeared in my mailbox, I retained faith in both its approach and the inter-textual connections it made. It gave me the kernel for the book's second section, focusing more upon the fiction than the life. Beyond these, I had notes and correspondence from my Kornblume days, including invaluable letters from Cyril's brother Lewis.

Despite such advantages no part of the work came easily. Assembling a chronology, even with the skeleton of listed publications, proved a task that took almost as long as the book's writing. While I knew certain important events occurred in Cyril's life, pinning down dates, places, and sequential order proved extraordinarily difficult. Since I aimed to establish a factual basis for future Kornbluth studies, I spent hours and sometimes days struggling over minor events, miniature mysteries, minuscule facts. I wanted those following in my footsteps to have advantages I lacked, during that long period of puzzling, often fruitlessly, over a long-dead man's life.

I set aside accounts by Pohl in my initial task. To all appearances he exerted proprietary control over public memory of Cyril — perhaps naturally, after having been so enriched by The Space Merchants. Yet that strong, widely propagated sense of proprietary control made me cautious about his statements: for he had motivation, consciously or subconsciously, to recall matters in ways that shined favorably upon his own situation. I rued that his influence was such that older members of the field deferred to him, and told me that, of course, my best sources of information were Pohl and The Way the Future Was. One question that pressed upon me — the question of who Cyril's friends were — existed in large part because everyone seemed to know the answer, and to point to the single man. I had doubts; and I had reasons for these doubts — such as the fact of Cyril's and Judy Merril's depiction of Fred in Gunner Cade; the fact that Pohl stood far removed from the early Wollheim magazines that proved all-important in Cyril's early development; and the fact that Pohl had a role in neither the first Milford conference nor The Five. Among other considerations, these made me decide initially to assemble a picture based on whatever other sources I could find, and only afterwards to inject Pohl's published perspective. In this way I hoped to develop an account with a more realistic balance among Cyril's sphere of friends, acquaintances, allies, and foes.

I pursued this course for months, until chance re-connected me with Canadian scholar David Ketterer. The two of us had met at a Poe event in the late 1980s, before my Kornbluth interest became so overridingly a concern. A day or two after the conference he and I shared a meal in which he spoke of his continuing interest in James Blish. The conversation may have helped nourish my sense of sympathy with the Futurians, when I began revisiting their writings a few years later. I remember no mention of Kornbluth, at this dinner; and from what I recall of Ketterer's book on Blish I believe he knew little or nothing of the friendship. If Judith Blish told him what she did me — that Jim never got over the death of his best friend Cyril — then it failed to strike the chiming note for David that it did for me.

As I recall, I had queried John Clute on some matter regarding the Dirk Wylie Literary Agency. At the time I was on pins and needles concerning Pohl's handling of the agency: for Asimov and others who mentioned it had written only vaguely on the matter, at least in published accounts. As a topic, had I had any choice in the matter, I would have skirted it altogether. My subject allowed me no such luxury, however. Clute noted that Ketterer was writing a biography of John Beynon Harris, also known as John Wyndham — who had been a Wylie client. Clute reconnected us. From David, I learned that agency correspondence relating to Wyndham resided in Syracuse University archives, in the Frederik Pohl papers. The notion that Pohl papers existed anywhere came as a tremendous surprise and relief. By happy chance, the University library had recently expanded its on-line catalog of holdings. According to this list, the archive's Frederik Pohl papers included a file bearing Kornbluth's name. The news floored me.

In 1994, in the first issue of Kornblume, I had entitled one section "Correspondence." There I asked, in reference to archives, "Are there any holdings that include CMK correspondence?" Numerous writers including Pohl received that issue. I recall asking Charles N. Brown this question, in person at a later convention. He knew of none. Before my communication with David Ketterer, I had asked Bob Madle if he had ever encountered Kornbluth correspondence in his many years of dealing with fan materials. Never, said Madle — who wondered if perhaps Cyril never wrote letters.

Ketterer's breaking of this long silence, this long expanse of blank wall, provoked a minor crisis. Only a few months remained to me before my deadline. The time had come to tighten my narrative, to focus on refreshing and extending my literary analyses, and to revise the whole. I had only partially paid off the Denver trip, and felt downcast about likely being unable to visit Syracuse. I dwelt on the matter for days, even while knowing I faced not a choice but an imperative. Martha, too, knew this, and offered to dip into emergency funds. While I refused that offer, I resolved to do exactly as much as I could. I could just squeeze onto my credit card the necessary rail travel and three hotel nights, giving me nearly four days of research — if perhaps no meals. I made my arrangements, packed food, and set out, using the long, late-winter train ride for renewing my acquaintance with a dozen old paperbacks I carried along. In Syracuse I spent every available second in the archives, without lunch breaks. Evenings I spent in the main library stacks pursuing other questions, some for the biography and some for reference-book entries for which I had contracts. Since the archives held not only Pohl's early correspondence but also Knight's papers relating to The Futurians, I had on my hands more pieces of the puzzle than I could take in fully. Yet in the slender Pohl-Kornbluth files I found considerable material for documenting a narrative whose shape I had been beginning to perceive, but which I had feared I could do no more than suggest. Aspects of the tale which I feared would end up excised, due to lack of documentation, now could remain. New elements, moreover, would now enter the manuscript. The unfolding details, as revealed by this correspondence, proved more disturbing to me than the story I had thus far reconstructed; and though I was already waking midnights with my mind full of haunted wonderings, I headed now into months of waking midnights haunted, instead, by painful knowledge.

I spent enough time with Damon's transcripts of interviews for The Futurians to make me respect his research methods, and to regret his published presentation: for I learned that much of his book consists of direct quotation from his fellow Futurians. The reader rarely knows, from paragraph to paragraph, however, when someone other than Damon is speaking. I suspect Damon pursued this course out of personal necessity, due to the difficulty he was experiencing in writing anything at all, after long blockage.

I left Syracuse with many pages of penciled notes and the promise of photocopies via mail — and with head and heart both lighter and heavier: for I nursed a transformed hope for the biography, while feeling, more fully than ever, the weight of another's life upon my shoulders. I would discover the irony of the situation much later, when looking back at my original query in Kornblume: for my 1994 question arose after learning that Richard Wilson's Transradio papers resided at Syracuse. This suggested a vague possibility: that some of Cyril's UFO releases might be found there. Although I was coming to appreciate the long and never broken friendship between Cyril and Dick Wilson, his first collaborator, the sad fact was that once I reached Syracuse, fifteen years after my 1994 question, I lacked time to pursue that avenue of inquiry.

A similar experience to the one in Syracuse developed out of a comment made by James Gunn, who told me that materials which had included Kornbluth correspondence, and which had been offered to University of Kansas, may have ended up at Northern Illinois. I received confirmation from archivist Lynne Thomas, and made that trip by car soon thereafter. I found there an unexpectedly rich vein — tiny in comparison to the Syracuse holdings, but invaluable. I had felt curious about the fact that Pohl spoke of Kornbluth in general terms in early appreciations, and then at a later point wrote as though suddenly possessed of factual information. I had no idea how much to trust these later accounts. At NIU I learned that I could trust them — for there, at NIU, reside Pohl's letters of 1981 asking Cyril's father Samuel and brother Lewis for material about Cyril, since Fred himself felt "written out" on the subject. Pohl subsequently used Samuel's and Lewis's information without, to my knowledge, any public acknowledgement. In my book I cited the letters from Kornbluth's father and brother, and left Pohl's introductions uncited.

Also at NIU I found the wonderful photograph of the youthful Cyril that graces the biography's cover. While I had hoped to find a good-quality image of Cyril as an adult, from the 1950s, this image fully answered my need for a striking cover photograph. Taken in the 1940s, it captures the serious aspect of young Cyril, with the saddened set of the eyes that fellow Futurian Johnny Michel had considered revealing and characteristic.

End, Part Three.

Part IV:

The Events Leading Down to Biography: On Writing Kornbluth

As with the horizons-expanding episodes in Syracuse and DeKalb, my conversations with Phil Klass, also known by his byline of William Tenn, came toward the end of the process. When I first sought an interview he readily accepted. When we spoke again at the arranged time, however, he started into memories in his hurried, worried manner — then immediately begged off. As he began speaking, I believe he realized how deeply into emotional territory he was heading; and, as he told me later, he needed to find out who I was, and whether my interest was genuine. He confirmed my seriousness, by unknown means — and in our next phone conversation immediately launched into his thoughts and recollections.

A new puzzle for me had arisen after exploring the Syracuse holdings: the question of what had happened to Phil's 1958 effort to collect celebrations of Cyril, the man and the writer, into a volume whose revenues would go entirely to Cyril's family. Since a long list of prominent writers in 1950s science fiction received Phil's invitation to participate, his letter will almost undoubtedly be found in archives besides those of Syracuse and the Oxford Bodleian, which has Blish's copy. A project similar to Klass's had appeared elsewhere on the horizon, as well — from Cyril's old stomping grounds in Chicago.

That these two memorial projects suffered derailment remains a source of immense regret to me, as biographer. Phil, who shared the feeling, still placed great weight upon his own aborted effort of 1958. For his project to be so taken away and reduced to an unimportant publication that failed even in its charitable mission remained obviously painful to him in 2009, in his own last days.

Too many other new questions reared their heads after my Syracuse trip — for example, about Cyril's late miniatures, the short-short stories that he regarded as finished works. Altshuler, his agent, was sending them around the slicks. These, including one entitled "The Meeting," would have made a wonderful addition to the volume Klass planned. They would, in fact, have placed the struggling heart of Cyril himself at its center: for Cyril was writing with great seriousness of intent and sincerity of heart in his last years. These stories would have helped guarantee the sale of a book intended purely to benefit Cyril's widow and children.

Phil and I never discussed those late stories. We had too much else. Cyril as a topic of conversation tended to provoke from him a pained, emotional response. While he held within himself many facts and convictions, he still at this late date fell prey to haunting worries and questions akin to the ones haunting me. If Cyril's spirit had touched mine, it had touched Phil's much earlier. The stories Phil had heard of young editor Pohl's financial dealings with Futurian writers, for instance, caused him some anxiety — partly, I believe, because Phil was so finely sensitive to injustice, and partly because he had never seen physical evidence of the sixty-forty percentages Pohl imposed in his own favor. I decided to mail Phil a copy of Cyril's submission records, in which Cyril had noted word counts and payments received. When next on the phone with me Phil's tone of voice reflected his relief. Fascinated by the index card's contents he had studied it and worked out the percentages. If ever I did a good deed during the months of working on the Kornbluth biography I felt that I had done so in that moment, in opening for Phil this small window onto the past.

In these submission records, the word "gratis" appeared on lines for other submissions; and these made Phil curious. I told him that when offered an opportunity to enter publishing, Donald Wollheim seized it to create a magazine out of nothing — for he was offered no budget for stories. Don promised his circle that if they wrote for him and if the magazines sold on newsstands he would receive a budget for future issues. Although the magazines were doomed to a short existence, due to early wartime conditions, Wollheim did begin making good on his promise before the end. This perspective on Wollheim, too, Phil seemed gratified to learn. In this conversation alone, the worried, pained, and sometimes anger-tinged tones left his voice.

End, Part Four.

Part V:

The Events Leading Down to Biography: On Writing Kornbluth

For Don Wollheim's magazines, Cyril wrote from his youthful yet strangely world-matured heart. The two Futurians enjoyed a particularly close relationship for a time, with Wollheim sometimes a mentor-father figure, sometimes an equal. In his magazines, moreover, Wollheim proved to be Cyril's greatest early booster, giving "Cecil Corwin" the minor celebrity among science-fiction pulp readers that Cyril Kornbluth, or "Cy Kornbluth," already enjoyed in the small but international science-fiction fan community. An important result of their relationship took the form of collaborations, in which Don conceived a story line for Cyril to flesh out. Some among their collaborations may have escaped biographers because of the now-reigning assumption that the Martin Pearson penname refers primarily to Wollheim. I did uncover one definite instance of this. How many others there are remains to be discovered. Since one Wollheim-Kornbluth tale saw publication in John W. Campbell, Jr.,'s celebrated Astounding, these may well be Kornbluth's most significant early collaborations.

In one of my many failings in writing Kornbluth, I left the Wollheim angle less than fully explored. Similarly the Lowndes angle — and the Johnny Michel, Knight, Algis Budrys, Blish, Jane Roberts, Larry Shaw angles ... and so on. Despite my intention otherwise, I toiled so heavily on questions related to what Pohl was leaving out of his accounts that my attention inadvertently remained turned toward him, not away. Researching in Syracuse would have freed me of this, had that event fallen earlier in the process. Working on materials from Syracuse, DeKalb, the Eaton Collection, and the Oxford Bodleian so absorbed me in the spring of 2009, however, that precious little time, let alone means, remained to pursue the new research directions opening before me.

I was also facing the real problem of having arrived at this point — the point where I knew what questions to ask — too late. In the years before Lowndes' death, I failed to fully grasp how many pertinent subject areas his memory might have touched upon. By 2009, death had removed him from the scene, as it had Merril, Kidd, Knight, Budrys, and Robert Sheckley. All were alive when I offered the world my Kornblume round table. Infirmity had removed Pohl from the scene, too, by this time: for when I called to arrange an interview, I learned he was hospitalized for an unknown length of time. Whether he would have granted me an interview I have no idea. A few years before, at a convention, he had turned down my request for an interview on the subject of Cyril. More tellingly, as had taken me fifteen years to realize, from the outset he had met my question about archived Kornbluth correspondence with silence — a silence presumably not born of ignorance.

A few among Cyril's various colleagues and contemporaries remained, fortunately — such as Klass, Silverberg, Dave and Ruth Kyle, Carol Emshwiller, Bob Madle, and Kate MacLean — who helped me put pieces of the puzzle, small and large, into place. I felt and feel immensely grateful to these generous souls.

End, Part Five.

Part VI:

The Events Leading Down to Biography: On Writing Kornbluth

When he and Judy Merril first collaborated, Cyril still lived in Chicago, not yet having cut ties to the wire service Transradio. Cyril was publishing mystery stories and had made a return to science fiction with an impressive 1950 trio: "The Little Black Bag," "The Silly Season," and "The Mindworm." Despite this, Judy's credentials made her the senior writer: for she had made her Astounding short-story debut two years before, with the impressive "That Only a Mother," and in 1950 made the leap to hardcover novelist.

For years, Fred Pohl had been trying to interest Cyril in reviving the Futurian model of collaboration: Cyril would do the actual writing, while Pohl provided outlines. In correspondence Fred struck this note repeatedly, from the war years onward. On a visit East from Chicago, Cyril did look at something Fred had started, but then asked Judy, by then married to Fred, if he could work on a fragment of hers — with the result that his "visit" consisted of holing up with a typewriter. The novel Mars Child, which the two later finished in Chicago, resulted.

When Cyril later left Chicago he was leaving journalism behind him, as well. His plans included more work with Merril: for they worked well together, being equal partners throughout the writing process. Cyril focused initially on that collaboration and on his first solo novel, although he also bowed to pressure to develop a novel taking off from "The Marching Morons." All three projects Cyril seems to have begun while still in Chicago.

At this pivotal time in Cyril's life, Fred's handling of the Dirk Wylie agency had made him a controversial figure in New York science fiction circles; and by the time Cyril and Mary Kornbluth arrived from Chicago, collapse seemed imminent for the still-new Merril-Pohl marriage. The Kornbluths moved into the Pohls' large house in Red Bank, New Jersey, where other transients and occasional visitors, including Katherine MacLean, were also staying. The household's attitudes toward Pohl must have been mixed, but undoubtedly found some reflection in the character who appeared in an early story synopsis for the second "Cyril Judd" collaboration. This character, "Fledwick the Thief," survived the outlining, writing, editing, and then publishing processes. Although the character dies in the story, Fledwick gained minor immortality through magazine and book publication of Gunner Cade.

I relate these facts to help make clear why one question so urgently pressed upon me — not just for months, but for years. This question above all needed answering were my book to move beyond being merely a book about Kornbluth, and to rise to being his biography. Until far too near the point of completion Kornbluth remained a "book about."

The question was this:

Given his plans, the success of "Cyril Judd," and the prestige of collaborating with Merril, why did Cyril turn to partnership with her husband, whose main renown in publishing, in 1951-52, derived from a faltering literary agency?

When I asked Judy this question in the 1990s, she said the reason was simple: Cyril and Fred were old friends. Judy's reply struck me as a true memory to some degree, yet also as one that may have seen unconscious modification, over the decades — decades during which Pohl published multiple tributes to partnership and friendship with Cyril. That others of her memories had altered through time would become evident to me: for Judy recalled "Fledwick" as having arisen by accident during the novel-writing process. In memory, in other words, she was dismissing any premeditated significance this fictional character might have had. In fact, the character was present, and named, in the novel's working outline. Would not an "old friend" hesitate before depicting another "old friend" in this way?

Another part of the answer to my question, I felt, related to a long argument in Red Bank, with Cyril on one side, and Merril and MacLean on the other. When Judy spoke of it to me, she said the argument centered around sexuality, with Cyril being not a prude but a staunchly traditional moralist who disbelieved in free love — unlike Merril and MacLean. Judy also told me that her divorce from Fred ended her and Cyril's collaborations. Judy's perspective on this did seem to contain some truth, since the later, drawn-out Merril-Pohl custody battle for their daughter did split the New York science fiction community in two — and did, indeed, place the Kornbluths on Pohl's side of the courtroom.

Even with these several perspectives, I felt I was missing much of the true picture. Three sources, however, finally came to my aid. Judy once told me that in writing her memoirs she was leaving the writing about Cyril to me. To our great fortune she acted otherwise, and left an account in her memoir that reveals another component of that long, heated argument in Red Bank.

In speaking with Phil Klass, and also reading his interviews with Eric Solstein, I began to comprehend the emotional impact Cyril's war experiences had on him. In studying his stories, it newly struck me how he seemed to come to grips with these memories only gradually: he gave his literally wounded heart expression indirectly, in fits and starts, through his art, through the years. So it rang true when Judy at last revealed, in her memoir, a related aspect of the around-the-house argument in Red Bank: for she and Kate had argued against the necessity of World War II, and found incomprehensible Cyril's implacable attitude toward Germany and all things German. Since Cyril would require years of ceaseless labors at his writing before finding ways to speak even indirectly about some war experiences, the two women were provoking and arguing with a man incapable of fully baring his heart — perhaps even to himself. He had served as a soldier in the war, and so was an actor in events; yet he served, too, as a witness to those events, and to the aftermath of atrocities. In this household argument, memories of a personal hell must have cast a fiery light from within upon fine points of personal, social, and political philosophy. Having unhealed wounds freshly irritated must have provoked Cyril's final, full retreat from a professional partnership that had proven to be both congenial and successful.

To me this picture, too, seemed to offer a glimpse of truth. Yet I finally learned that Cyril's step away from Judy may have had little or nothing to do with his decision to work with Pohl — for this latter decision arose not out of discord but concord with Merril and MacLean.

According to Phil Klass, Pohl came to the Red Bank house one day and literally went to his knees before Kornbluth, saying that, if anything remained of their friendship, then he needed Cyril's aid. Fred had the beginning piece of a novel that Horace Gold would serialize quite soon — if somehow it could be fleshed out to novel length. Klass, who was not present, had the scene described to him by Merril. Kate MacLean's memories fall into place with this account. According to her, the Red Bank trio agreed that they should help Pohl out of his financial predicament, which had become so dire that he faced jail. The novel for Horace Gold would bring in enough money to rescue him. Judy and Kate thought Cyril could do it. Cyril agreed with them. Since he had been dwelling already upon the fictional world controlled by advertising that he had created for "The Marching Morons" — and could draw other elements for the novel from his recent stories "The Goodly Creatures" and "The Luckiest Man in Denv" — Cyril did, indeed, do it.

A curious perspective now emerges in my mind, which failed to appear to me when struggling to understand Cyril's life. The apparent protagonist of Judy and Cyril's second novel, Gunner Cade, was Cyril himself, to some degree. As Ortega y Gasset lucidly observes, the "avoidance of certain realities" engenders metaphor. Cade — who simultaneously represents an avoidance and a full embrace of reality — a hiding and a revealing, rolled into one — impresses the reader not through character but through metaphorical force: for he is the soldier operating under social-military conditioning who is gradually awakening to his situation.

I find it striking, now, that the novel offers a symbolic premonition about the coming change in Cyril's professional life. In the novel, not through personal choice does Cade find his life enmeshed with the thief Fledwick's. In the novel it happens this way, instead:

A man strikes Cade with a truncheon and says, "All right. Put him in with Fledwick." Cade and Fledwick first meet — as jailmates. Once thrown together, Cade and Fledwick's fortunes remain intertwined, until Fledwick's death.

End, Part Six.

Part VII:

The Events Leading Down to Biography: On Writing Kornbluth

Especially in the last months, my work on the Kornbluth manuscript overwhelmed my days and overflowed into nights. When I rose in the morning I worked our hand-crank mill and brewed coffee in a slow drip cone while starting the usual breakfast of vegetables slowly cooked in an old iron pan and served over whole oats. While coffee dripped or vegetables cooked I would go to the study — sometimes impelled there by a new insight percolating upwards through my morning mind, or an older one that had made me restless in the night. Then I would hasten forth to the kitchen — then back to the study, and forth and back until I set the table. I made our old black teapot, into which I dripped coffee, overflow uncounted times, due to needing to take a thought or two to the office. After breakfast our Scottie asked for play, a request I almost always honored, whenever the mood struck her. Accepting play as a priority helped my sanity in these intensely focused months: for although Lorna demanded it, I needed it the more. Afterwards, I sequestered myself in my study until noon dinner, then again until happy hour, which was another aid to sanity: for Martha and I observed it no matter my place in the manuscript, and no matter the press of deadlines. She or I served a tray of vegetables, with cheese or sausage if we had any; and we sat in the parlor in our circa-1900 house, in old rocking chairs, with Lorna bouncing from her own rocker to floor and back, to receive bits of whatnot from one or the other of us. Her joyous energy improved every late afternoon, while I recounted the day's triumphs and frustrations, and Martha spoke of hers: for she was now part-time working as the shipper at Organic Maple Co-op. With our scotches or Rob Roys sipped, and tray emptied, I retreated to the study until supper; and I did so again after supper, and worked as long as I could. Often then from sleep I would awaken at two a.m., the haunting strongly upon me again.

Those who recall the early chapter in Moby Dick in which Melville expresses his fear of not seeing the task ahead to completion will know one source of my dread. In my work I was answering questions I believed needed answering, and telling a story I believed needed telling. I was writing of a man plagued by misfortunes, including the one of possessing a damaged heart, who wrote repeatedly of characters suffering heart problems — whose damaged hearts end their life stories, as Cyril's did his.

I myself have a heart murmur. In the first year after moving to Cashton I would listen to my heartbeat at night, and hear irregularities that must have arisen during our years in a more stressful living environment, and in all our late-night band work. The irregularities seemed to disappear, gradually, as our quieter village life moved along — only to return in these days of biographical labors and financial worries. Rather than force myself to take more rest, however, the thoughts roiling through my mind at two a.m. often made me rise, dress, and resume work until time came to make breakfast. I was working seven days a week, with my days running ten to fourteen or more hours in length, and still was running out of time. March, the month Kornbluth died and also my deadline month, loomed ahead. Ruth Kyle, who recently has passed away, had felt fond of Cyril and would not let Dave, another Transradio veteran, shovel snow. Similarly Martha now often took sidewalk duties as the snows of late winter were arriving — frequently and thickly, as they often do in this region.

March no more finished me, when it passed, than I finished the manuscript. Yet I was feeling increasingly drained and finding it harder, day by day, to extend my work. I knew I should do better in several areas — in enlarging on the post-Kornbluth careers of the remaining members of The Five, for instance, since Cyril had helped shape their attitudes toward science fiction — attitudes that then, for a few years, offered guiding lights for that struggling field of writing. For the period after Cyril's death, I had to be satisfied with accounts of Klass's planned celebratory volume and of the posthumous alterations of Kornbluth texts: sad stories with which to end a sad story. The subsequent critical portion I had little time to deepen or extend. I did arrive, however, at a final chapter that I view as intrinsic to the book, and necessary for understanding the whole: "Kornbluth, Klass, and the Moral Stance." I took weeks, then, for one full revision, and weeks again for a second — and turned in the manuscript knowing that another full revision would have been best. Mentally I lacked strength, however. Physically, perhaps, too.

Besides the uncompleted second book for McFarland, I had one small writing task on my table in the months after delivering the book. While writing Kornbluth, I had written a number of reference-work entries at the promise of a pittance. I now had a contract for one additional historical note, quite short — perhaps a few hundred words long. I could have done the work in half an hour, or half a day, at most — had I forced myself to start researching. Instead I let the assignment languish. I lacked will. My focus must have been shattered. At length I lost not only the tiny assignment — almost the smallest I ever received from this publisher — but also my connection to that minor source of revenue. Exhaustion, which I would have denied I was experiencing, had brought me to a standstill.

I learned, once the book appeared, that another had feared for its existence. He exclaimed, "You did it — you really did it! I was afraid you would suffer the curse of the Kornbluths!"

For some, it seems, Cyril operated under a curse whose name was Writing. For Cyril himself, the writing itself turned out well. Little else did.

End, Part Seven.