If you’re familiar with classic sci-fi you are likely to have read, or at least know of, the works of Cyril M. Kornbluth and Judith Merril. Both were stellar authors and members of The Futurians (a sci-fi fandom organization founded in 1937, many members of which would eventually become professional writers). In addition to Kornbluth and Merril, Isaac Asimov, Damon Knight, James Blish were also members of the esteemed New York-based club.
A prolific and versatile author, Kornbluth’s first solo story, “The Rocket of 1955,” was published in 1939 in the fanzine ESCAPE. He was fifteen at the time. By 1940, Kornbluth’s work was appearing in pulps such as ASTOUNDING. He collaborated with Frederick Pohl on works including GLADIATOR-AT-LAW and THE SPACE MERCHANTS (both of which were first serialized in GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION before being published in hardcover format). Solo novels included TAKEOFF (1952) and THE SYNDIC (1953). His short story “Little Black Bag” (originally published in ASTOUNDING in 1950) has been adapted for television on three occasions (in 1952 [TALES OF TOMORROW], 1969 [OUT OF THE UNKNOWN], and 1970 [NIGHT GALLERY]). It received a posthumous Hugo Award in 2001 for Best Novelette. Kornbluth suffered from health problems including hypertension that he attempted to control with tranquilizers. The meds, however, were reported to have left him lethargic and dulled his mind. He eventually stopped using the meds. In March 1958, Kornbluth died at age 34 of a heart failure.
Born Judith Josephine Grossman in 1923, Judith Merril (a pen name adopted in the 1940s) was a writer, editor, and activist. She edited numerous sci-fi anthologies, notably the “Year’s Best…” anthology series (1956-1967) and continued to publish collections until 1985. Merril published two novels, including the post-apocalyptic political tale SHADOW ON THE HEARTH (1950). She relocated from the United States to Canada in the late 1960s and became a Canadian citizen in the 1976. During this time Merril continued to be active in sci-fi while also devoting time to memoir writing. She died in 1997 at age 74.
Under the pseudonym Cyril Judd, Kornbluth and Merril collaborated on two original novels: GUNNER CADE (originally serialized in ASTOUNDING in 1952) and OUTPOST MARS (originally serialized as MARS CHILD in GALAXY in 1951 and reprinted as SIN IN SPACE a decade later). GUNNER CADE is an interesting tale of transformation, as the Merril and Kornbluth paint a title character (Cade) who is introduced as a loyal and devoted member of interplanetary regime’s elite police force. During the novel’s arc, he experiences a classic spiritual awakening and casts aside his authoritarianism, ultimately emerging as a free-thinking rebel. A true collaboration, with each author writing sections of approximately 5,000 words each, Merril recounted that she and Kornbluth completed the work in six weeks because they were “desperately broke.”
OUTPOST MARS, as its title implies, focuses on a fictional Mars settlement in the distant future. Tensions arise between the colony and a large pharmaceutical manufacturer when a large cache of a deadly drug turns up missing. Both works are well worth your time. SPACED OUT: THREE NOVELS OF TOMORROW by Judith Merril and C. M. Kornbluth (2006) collects both works along with Merril’s solo novel, SHADOW ON THE HEARTH. One additional collaborative work, the novella SEA CHANGE (DYNAMIC SCIENCE FICTION, 1953) is not included in the collection.
One can only hypothesize that, had health issues not taken Kornbluth at such an early age, we’d have many more works from the amazing duo known as Cyril Judd.
OOTW’s Pioneers of Science-Fiction Series, an ongoing photo essay showcasing many of the major players in the early years of sci-fi, is being featured across our social channels. Be sure to check it out…