Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Zebrowski's Essay on the Kornbluth Biography

During my lengthy silence here at "Vines, Wines and Lines," a few reviews of C.M. Kornbluth continued appearing. Among them is what may be the single weightiest thus far: "A Sense of Something in Him," by George Zebrowski, in the October-November, 2011, Free Inquiry.

For its title, Zebrowski borrowed a phrase from the likewise thoughtful and emotionally engaged F&SF review by James Sallis.

Zebrowski's quiet, reflective tone suits his expansive approach to his subject. Given a readership at Free Inquiry that might be unfamiliar with Kornbluth's name, and that might be foggily aware, at best, that the practice of writing science fiction may have led to the production of works of art, Zebrowski's approach seems calculated to inform and interest intelligent readers of any stripe. "A Sense of Something in Him" is as much an essay written in defense of science fiction as an examination of the book.

Zebrowski seems to mention more of the thematic strands in the biography than do previous reviewers -- or at least different ones. I was especially pleased that he recognizes the importance of the book's final chapter.

In writing the book, my own realization -- my own ability to embrace the ideas in that last chapter -- came actually too slowly. The understanding I exhibit by the end, as a result, makes little appearance in some earlier chapters, such as in those tracing the split-personality thematic element in Kornbluth's works. Those chapters I wrote at a time when I had meager biographical knowledge of the man.

I am pleased, too, by an observation Zebrowski makes, which some would-be detractors may not want to hear, but should: "Notes covering the vast sourcing of this book fill the oversized pages 383-439," Zebrowski writes. "Pohl's material is drawn from his own papers and letters at the Special Collections Research Center of the Syracuse University Library."

Zebrowski brings to this essay-review a personal note that I, at least, appreciate. This and the Sallis essay-review both seem to validate an observation in my book -- which, as it happens, Zebrowski quotes: "An impassioned curiosity takes hold of readers when they encounter Kornbluth's work." I was moved to assert this after meeting some readers who were deeply intrigued by Kornbluth because of the power of his stories. Being of a later generation than he was, their aesthetic appreciation was not based on commonality of cultural experience. Their life experiences were immeasurably different from his.

There remains much about Kornbluth that may remain forever unknown to us ... thus my "immeasurably." We tap into some of it in a passage I quote late in the book -- one from Algis Budrys, written in the 1970s, looking back and remembering a searingly emotional session of The Five.

Budrys understood completely. What a complex, beautiful human being Cyril Kornbluth was! I am grateful for essayists and reviewers like Zebrowski who have come to recognize this, too.

Cheers ...

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