I’ve been reading a book I wholly and totally despise about a person I loved a lot. The person is Cyril Kornbluth, with whom I shared so much of my early writing life, and of his. The book is succinctly called C.M. Kornbluth, and it is by a man named Mark Rich, who is described as a writer of short stories and books about toys.
I have to say at once that reading the book in itself took me back to that wonderful world when Cyril and AJ Budrys and Bob Sheckley and Lester del Rey and Jerry Bixby and Harry Harrison and all those other talented, trash-talking, wife-stealing, brilliant friends were still alive and still putting up with each other … and in the process producing a whole new science-fiction canon Reviving those memories was actually a good thing. They are touching to me.
There are, however, some things about this book that aren’t good at all. In fact, they stink.
The first is not particularly important, except that it hurts my feelings. For reasons not known to me, Mark Rich hates me. There is no other conclusion I can reach. As everyone who has written about the book has commented, his portrait of such traits, ascribed to me, of venality, dishonesty, lack of talent and from time to time defrauding of, among others, Cyril, are not borne out — well, not to that degree, anyway — by any other source.
It is quite true that I did go through some bad money troubles, which caused difficulties for my friends and clients. I have never denied this, and indeed have written about it. (And, as soon as some other priorities are dealt with, intend to do so again.)
But it is not just my financial difficulties that Mark Rich chooses to describe. It is also my deplorable lack of talent.
I do sometimes wonder how Rich thinks I managed to write, for instance, my novel Gateway, which happened some time after Cyril’s saddening death, thus leaving him unable to help me with the hard parts. According to Rich’s book, Cyril was the heavy lifter in our collaborations and indeed writing work of all kinds at every point. When, rarely, I was entrusted with an important task to do by myself, in Rich’s opinion, I really did serious harm to the work.
For example, he describes one such task in detail. That was the job of doing the final revisions for the book version of The Space Merchants.
If I may, I will first tell you what Rich says happened, and then what really occurred.
According to Rich, pages 227–230 of his deplorable book, the Ballantine book edition of The Space Merchants “was a version revised by Pohl, since that had been his agreed upon responsibility. The changes are immediately felt, with the opening chapter moving things along at a slower pace in The Space Merchants than they did in Gravy Planet. Some of this comes about by the addition of such unnecessary reminders as ‘he said,’ or even ‘he snapped.’” Rich is also disappointed in “deletions in the serialized text,” such that much of the expository material from the magazine version is missing from the book.
I’m not going to repeat it all for you. It is enough to say simply that Rich feels that my incompetent editing had damaged, among other things, Cyril’s nuanced portraits of female characters, particularly the hero’s wife, Kathy, and the genius-poet Tildy Mathis, and in general (he says), I applied to our novel the sort of pulpwood editing that Ray Palmer insisted on in his magazines.
That’s pretty much what Mark Rich says about the changes.
Now, I would like to tell you what really happened.
In the business of book publishing, it is the practice for manuscripts, at least “important” ones, to be assigned to an editor for a line-by-line, sometimes a word-by-word, reading, followed by a conference between author and editor
When, in the early 1950s, we delivered The Space Merchants to Ballantine, they wanted to get it into immediate release, and so they put it into production right away. This meant their editor gave it that immediate and careful line-by-line reading in preparation for a final story conference with the authors. Because of time pressures, however, that conference took place by phone instead of in person: I on my bedroom phone in Red Bank, Cyril on the one in my third-floor office there and the editor in the Ballantine office in New York.
The conversation was long, friendly and intelligent. I’m afraid I remember almost none of it in detail, and what I do remember is very fragmentary. We were two kids with our first big break, and about all I am sure of is that whatever changes Ballantine Books asked us for, we agreed to.
One of the scenes the editor asked us to remove was a description of the space pilot Jack O’Shea as possessing a long, rubbery tongue like a toad’s, for capturing insects — that being part of a bad idea we had taken out of most, but not all, of the ms.
I do recall one bit of conversation with Cyril after the call. The editor had really complimented us on the Chicken Little scene, and Cyril had observed, “You might have mentioned to Stanley that I wrote it,” and I said, “And you could have pointed out that I suggested the bit in the first place.”
That is truly what happened. All of the changes between the magazine version and the book were made, not by me, but by discussion among the three of us. After which, as I remember, the editor in New York penciled the corrections onto the manuscript and sent it off to the printers. I don’t believe either Cyril or I ever saw that script again. The next step was for us to receive and check the proofs of the pages, which I assume we did together, although I have no real memory of that part of the process.
So if you think those changes are as awful as you say you do, don’t tell me about it. I’m not the guy.
I will have more to say about Rich’s work of character assassination before long, but let that do for a start.