Monday, July 1, 2013

Katherine Maclean (b. 1925) and Mary Kornbluth (1920-2007)

Katherine Maclean
Author
Born January 22, 1925, Glen Ridge, New Jersey

Mary Kornbluth
Née Mary G. Byers
Author, Editor
Born September 23, 1920, Clark County, Ohio
Died June 1, 2007, Florida

Katherine Maclean and Mary Kornbluth wrote one story for Weird Tales, "Chicken Soup" from the Winter 1973 issue under the editorship of Sam Moskowitz. Once again, I should have included Katherine Maclean in my list of "More Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction." Her first published story was "Defense Mechanism" in Astounding Science Fiction for October 1949. Katherine is a much admired writer, especially for her talent of combining so-called "soft" sciences with the hard science fiction of the 1940s and '50s.

Her collaborator, Mary Kornbluth, was the wife of science fiction writer Cyril Kornbluth (1923-1958). Kornbluth also went by the name C.M. Kornbluth. According to Frederik Pohl, the "M" was for "Mary." Mary Kornbluth was born Mary G. Byers in Clark County, Ohio, on September 23, 1920. She was orphaned or abandoned by age nine and reared by her grandparents, Timothy A. and Anna T. Chaney, in Springfield, Ohio. The Chaney household was a large one and consisted of several uncles (who will figure in her story later) and an aunt who worked as a bookbinder at a local publishing house. Mary Byers became interested in science fiction at a young age and began corresponding with other science fiction fans. According to Damon Knight in his memoir, The Futurians, Mary showed up in New York City early in January 1941, aged twenty, and met Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, John B. Michel, Donald A. Wollheim, and Robert Lowndes before being fetched back to Ohio by her uncle. Mary Byers was not one to be kept down on the farm, however. She returned to New York later that year. Although a number of the Futurians were smitten by her, she married Cyril Kornbluth in 1943.

Frederik Pohl has written several entries about Mary Kornbluth on his blog, The Way the Future Blogs. You can begin reading about her by clicking here. You will learn soon enough that Mary Kornbluth and her husband Cyril struggled with alcohol abuse and that Cyril Kornbluth died impossibly young--aged thirty-four--of heart problems. With Pohl's help, Mary Kornbluth assembled a memorial anthology for her husband. Science Fiction Showcase, published in 1959, was the result. It included stories by Damon Knight, Theodore Sturgeon, Avram Davidson, Poul Anderson, Ray Bradbury, James Blish, Jack Williamson, Murray Leinster, Philip K. Dick, and Richard Matheson, and a poem by Robert Bloch. (Most of those writers also contributed to Weird Tales.) Pohl introduced the volume with an essay called "For C.M. Kornbluth." According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, "Chicken Soup" was Mary Kornbluth's only story.

Mary G. Byers Kornbluth lived nearly half a century as a widow. She died on June 1, 2007, in Florida at age eighty-six.

For Weird Tales
"Chicken Soup" (Winter 1973)

"Incommunicado," Katherine Maclean's third published science fiction story, made the cover of Astounding Science Fiction in June 1950. The artist was Miller. If you read science fiction from the 1950s, you might think how far off writers were in their predictions. Punch cards (or punch tape, as in this illustration) are now museum pieces. No one smokes anymore. Business is not conducted on paper. I think that desire for science fiction as a predictor misses the point. Science fiction puts the man or woman of today into a universe in which futuristic science and technology hold sway. The purpose is to see how he or she reacts, how people live. Likewise, any belief that human beings will somehow be magically transformed by the future--that there will be Utopia--is hopelessly naive. 
Missing Man, "A Science fiction novel by Nebula Award winner Katherine Maclean," was published in 1975 with cover art by Richard Powers. 
Mary Kornbluth served as editor of Science Fiction Showcase, a memorial to her husband, Cyril Kornbluth.  Here is the cover of the Curtis Books edition from 1969.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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