Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

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

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

An SFRA Review of Kornbluth

I have only now stumbled upon a review of C.M. Kornbluth that appeared in the Summer 2012 SFRA Review, No. 301, written by Patrick Casey. This and another academic review by Joe Sanders both spend quite a bit of space objecting to my depiction of Frederik Pohl——perhaps understandably, since Pohl and academia have what seems a friendly relationship. These objections seem more important for these reviewers to discuss, in their brief comments, than the many other aspects and narrative strands that make up my book, to the point that I do find myself wondering how carefully they read what I wrote——a thirty-four chapter, 240,000-word study, with 439 pages to the end of the index.

As my first major effort at writing cultural criticism, my book does have flaws, inevitably. The book is, however, so unlike other works focusing upon science fiction that I imagine some reviewers might find that it lies too far outside their own academic specialties to fully appreciate: for cultural criticism is the blending, as Barzun noted, of history, biography and criticism.

Is Casey being a bit condescending in his opening? "Picture if you can the caricature of the science fiction fan. Not the science fiction reader browsing the science fiction aisle, but the “fan”: the person as passionate about the writers’ lives as he or she is about the works themselves. If you can picture that caricature’s tone in a debate about his favorite author, you’ll have a good idea of what makes Mark Rich’s biography of Cyril Kornbluth ... so frustrating. ... Rich writes as a true fan." If Bob Madle said these words of me, I would regard it as a compliment: for Madle was, indeed, a fan, and remains one; and he possesses a memory for names and facts, and a desire for precision, that any of us might envy. Casey, it strikes me, means something less than complimentary, however. So be it. If he means to demean someone like Madle, then I feel honored to be likewise looked down upon. I hope never to be regarded as a science-fiction academic myself if it means I must then condescend to the fan.

A few notes about minor points——such as this line: "Rich's apparent dislike of Pohl constantly threatens to undermine what could have been a wonderful biography of one of the Golden Age's greatest talents." Either it "threatens to undermine a wonderful biography" or it "undermines what could have been a wonderful biography"——one or the other. Interestingly, the review misspells Pohl's first name two different ways.

Casey did like a few pages of the book: the ones about Mars Child. (Thank you, Judy!) His last paragraph begins, "In the end, too much of the story remains untold and Rich, despite his enthusiasm and years of research, doesn't reveal enough to satisfy those looking for an understanding of the man and his works." Casey apparently missed my note on the third page of text, about C.M. Kornbluth opening up new avenues for research. As I have said before, the book establishes a documented basis for additional work, presumably by others. I was, in fact, astonished that I ended up being able to tell as much of the story as I did. When I began writing it, as far as I knew, and as far as anyone would tell me, the documentation I needed simply did not exist.

Casey seems unastonished by this accomplishment, in addition to being unsatisfied. I will indulge myself, though, by remaining astonished at how the book did finally come together.

And I do think the literary biographer should be as passionately engaged with the life as with the works themselves. Do we place months and years of our lives on alters that means nothing to us?

I pity the unpassionate.

Cheers ...

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