Rocket Man: The Isham Street Futurian

During the Great Depression an Uptown boy dreamed of rockets. He helped create the genre of Science Fiction.

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The Best of C. M. Kornbluth
The Best of C. M. Kornbluth

As the rest of city slogged through the Great Depression, a young boy in the Inwood section of northern Manhattan dreamed of space travel and life on other worlds.   

This child, the Jewish son of a second-generation Polish-American tailor, would, alongside Isaac Asimov, and others, create the genre of modern Science Fiction.

Cyril Kornbluth was born in 1923. He learned to read at the age of three.   By seven he was penning his own stories.

The Inwood section of northern Manhattan, 1926. View from Isham Street looking west to Broadway. (NYHS)
The Inwood section of northern Manhattan, 1926. View from Isham Street looking west to Broadway. (NYHS)

Kornbluth’s parents, Samuel and Deborah, lived in a rented apartment at 573 Isham Street, in the 1920s, before moving to 506 West 213th Street.  (Source: 1925 NYS Census & 1930 Federal Census)

After graduating from high school at the age of 13, Kornbluth joined a group of Science Fiction writers and fans called the Futurians.    

Members lived together, made up songs and games, and often collaborated on one another’s works. 

Futurians.  Left to right: Cyril Kornbluth, Chester Cohen, John Michel, Robert A.W. Lowndes, Donald A. Wollheim. Photo Credit: Jack Robins (1939)
Futurians. Left to right: Cyril Kornbluth, Chester Cohen, John Michel, Robert A.W. Lowndes, Donald A. Wollheim. Photo Credit: Jack Robins (1939)

Other Futurians included Damon Knight, Frederik Pohl, Arthur W. Saha, Donald A. Wolheim, and, most famously, Isaac Asimov.

Cyril M. Kornbluth

Kornbluth produced an impressive body of work during his relatively short life—his writing interrupted only by war.  (Kornbluth was awarded the Bronze Star for his Army service manning a 50-caliber machine gun during the Battle of the Bulge.)

Galaxy Science Fiction, 1957.
Galaxy Science Fiction, 1957.

He is known to have written at least 56 stories, though more may exist because Kornbluth often used pen names on his works.   Known pseudonyms include: Arthur Cooke, Cecil Corwin, Walter C. Davis, Kenneth Falconer, Paul Dennis Lavond and Scott Mariner.

Not This August, 1956.

His best-known works, according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, include:  ‘“The Little Black Bag,” (1950) about the misuse of a medical bag time-slipped from the future, and the controversial satire “The Marching Morons” (1951), about a future where the practice of birth control by the intelligentsia has had a spectacularly dysgenic effect.”

The Syndic, 1955.
The Syndic, 1955.

Later works included  “Shark Ship,” (1958) an “early alarmist fantasy about overpopulation and pollution” and “The Two Dooms,” which presents an alternate reality in which the Nazis won WWII. (Encyclopedia of Science Fiction)

Cyril Kornbluth, circa 1955.
Cyril Kornbluth, circa 1955.

Kornbluth died suddenly in 1958 at the age of 34. 

The writer had a heart attack while sprinting to catch a commuter train in Levittown, New York. 

He was on his way to interview for the position editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction at the time of his death.

His young widow, Mary G. Byers, would live another 49 years without her Futurian by her side.   She died in 2007. 

Who knows what might have been had the boy from Inwood who dreamed of rockets lived a bit longer?

Sci-Fi fun fact:  Kornbluth had no middle name, according to colleagues the initial M. stood for Mary, his wife.  

1 COMMENT

  1. I subscribed to Fantasy and Science-Fiction and Galaxy magazines in 1957 at the time of the cover illustration above. I had a very strange event happen to me regarding that. My subscription to F&SF began in the middle of a serialization they were running of a novel called The Door Into Summer by Robert Heinlein. Since it started in middle of the serial I never did get around to reading it until many years later when I had purchased a used paperback copy of the book. It was the year 2001 and I was camping next to Carlsbad Caverns New Mexico and visiting the cavern during the day. I was a caver and very interested in caves. The strange thing is that the book, written in 1957, took place in the future – and it actually took place in Carlsbad Caverns! And the future date was given, and the date was the precise date that I read it in 2001 by Carlsbad Caverns!

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