Cyril M. Kornbluth


Cyril M. Kornbluth : biography

July 23, 1923 – March 21, 1958

"MS. Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie" (1957) is supposedly written by Kornbluth using notes by "Cecil Corwin", who has been declared insane and incarcerated, and who smuggles out in fortune cookies the ultimate secret of life. This fate is said to be Kornbluth’s response to the unauthorized publication of "Mask of Demeter" (as by "Corwin" and "Martin Pearson" (Donald A. Wollheim)) in Wollheim’s anthology Prize Science Fiction in 1953.

Biographer Mark Rich describes the 1958 story "Two Dooms" as one of several stories which are "concern[ed] with the ethics of theoretical science" and which "explore moral quandaries of the atomic age":

Many of Kornbluth’s novels were written as collaborations: either with Judith Merril (using the pseudonym Cyril Judd), or with Frederik Pohl. By far the most successful and important of these were the novels Gladiator-At-Law and The Space Merchants. The Space Merchants contributed significantly to the maturing and to the wider academic respectability of the science fiction genre, not only in America but also in Europe.See for instance: Zoran Živković, Contemporaries of the Future – Savremenici budućnosti, Belgrade, Serbia, 1983, pp. 250–261. Kornbluth also wrote several novels under his own name, the most successful being The Syndic and Not This August.


Kornbluth died at age 34 in Levittown, New York. Scheduled to meet with Bob Mills in New York City, Kornbluth had to shovel out his driveway, which left him running behind. Racing to make his train, he suffered a heart attack on the platform of the train station.

A number of short stories remained unfinished at Kornbluth’s death; these were eventually completed and published by Pohl. One of these stories, "The Meeting" (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1972), was the co-winner of the 1973 Hugo Award for Best Short Story; it tied with R. A. Lafferty’s "Eurema’s Dam." Almost all of Kornbluth’s solo SF stories have been collected as His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C. M. Kornbluth (NESFA Press, 1997).


Kornbluth was born and grew up in Inwood in New York City. As a teenager, he became a member of the Futurians, the influential group of science fiction fans and writers. While a member of the Futurians, he met and became friends with Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, Donald A. Wollheim, Robert A. W. Lowndes, and his future wife Mary Byers. He also participated in the Fantasy Amateur Press Association.

Kornbluth served in the US Army during World War II (European Theatre). He received a Bronze Star for his service in the Battle of the Bulge, where he served as a member of a heavy machine gun crew. Upon his discharge, he returned to finish his education, which had been interrupted by the war, at the University of Chicago. While living in Chicago he also worked at Trans-Radio Press, a news wire service. In 1951 he started writing full-time, returning to the East Coast where he collaborated on a number of novels with his old Futurian friends Frederik Pohl and Judith Merril.


Kornbluth’s name is mentioned in Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events as a member of V.F.D., a secret organization dedicated to the promotion of literacy, classical learning, and crime prevention.