C.M. Kornbluth is similar to Charles Beaumont. Two writers with prodigious talent who had the chops to be among the best in the industry. Still young, still early in their careers, they were already publishing some of the best work their fields had ever seen. Both were taken from this world far too soon.

Cyril M. Kornbluth's work is characterized by biting satire, scathing cynicism, and ruthless intelligence. Those who knew him said that he used to read encyclopedias for fun. Kornbluth is probably best-remembered today for his collaborations with Frederik Pohl. The Space Merchants is a certified SF classic. "The Marching Morons", a satire of Swiftian proportions, is one of my very favorite science fiction stories. Another short story, "The Little Black Bag", was adapted into an episode of The Night Gallery.

Kornbluth was mostly known for his savagely witty short work, but he wrote a couple of novels in his tragically brief career. One, The Syndic, is about a future where syndicated crime has taken over the government of the United States. The other is Not This August.

Not This August is not without Kornbluth's trademark satire, but it is a surprisingly straightforward story of a Russian invasion and takeover of America. The bones of the plot seem more like something Heinlein would have written.

An artist, Billy Justin, has turned into a reluctant farmer after America has instated a "Farm or Fight" mandate. When the president announces that America has admitted defeat and the country is under rule of Communist Russia, at first things do not change so much. In time the dirty commies begin to treat Americans like slaves. Justin, once a disgruntled farmer, finds himself at the forefront of an underground resistance.

Published in 1955, Not This August certainly stands heads and shoulders above most science fiction being published in the pulps of the time. I read the novel in my teens and thought it was fantastic. Now, decades later, I have read it again. I still like the book a lot, but I see its faults.

The pulp writers were working for near-starvation wages. They had to be fast and efficient. The best of them, like Kornbluth, produced memorable fiction that deserves to be preserved for posterity. Looking at Not This August, I can see that a stronger editorial hand could have made it a truly great work of fiction. The science fiction market had some shrewd editors, but I think it was considered to be a genre of ideas and action rather than one of style and form.

Not This August was serialized in a more upscale market than the typical SF magazine, but the writing habits of years of toiling in the publishing trenches are evident. By the late nineteen-sixties and into the seventies, the magazine market had all but fallen and genre writers began getting major hardcover book deals. Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Frederik Pohl and others began doing important work and making real money. It's a damned shame Kornbluth didn't survive to see it.

On March 21, 1958 Kornbluth had an appointment with Bob Mills to interview for the position of editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He had shoveled snow from his driveway that morning, and while running to catch a train he collapsed on the platform of the station. Dead of a heart attack at age thirty-four. Fantasy and Science Fiction is the most prestigious magazine in the history of imaginative fiction. Some of the best science fiction, horror, and fantasy of all time were printed in its pages. God only knows how different things would be had Kornbluth lived to make the interview and gotten the job.

If anyone is interested in exploring the work of C.M. Kornbluth, I don't think I would recommend starting with Not This August. He shined the brightest in the short form. NESFA Press has published a beautiful edition of the best of his short stories in a volume called His Share of Glory. Go forth and witness the glory of C.M. Kornbuth. Be in awe of what he accomplished in his short life, and pine for things that might have been.

Postscript: While researching this piece I see that onetime Kornbluth collaborator Frederik Pohl revised Not This August in 1981. I'm positive I read the original edition when I was young, and I just read the same one. Had I been aware of the Pohl Cut I would have sought out a copy. Pohl was at his prime in '81, and I am sure he honed the manuscript into a tighter and more satisfying reading experience.

Written by Mark Sieber

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