An Ohio farm, 1941.

Mary Byers longed to leave Ohio farm life to become a New York Futurian.

Mary Byers was a science-fiction fan who lived on a farm in Ohio with her uncle and a few other family members. Through fan talk, she heard of the New York Futurians and yearned to live that kind of life.

When the chance came, she jumped on a bus (or a train) and headed for New York City. Her uncle, though, followed after, and when he caught up with her, he brought her back. She got away a couple more times with the same result. But then Cyril Kornbluth made a more complicated escape plan, with more help, and Mary got away.

After a while, Cyril and Mary married. They lived for a time in New England, where Cyril took, and passed, a wartime government course in machine shop, after which he was considered a skilled machinist. World War II came along. Cyril got caught up in it with the consequences that ultimately killed him, and all the time he was soldiering in the ETO, Mary was alone, going through her own kind of hell in Chicago. And somewhere in this period Mary became a stone alcoholic.

An alcoholic is not just a drunk. An alcoholic is a person who, having taken the first drink, cannot stop drinking until she, or he, has become sodden.

(Read up on it or Google it. I don’t know many details, and some of what I do know I wish I didn’t.) Cyril’s attempts at dealing with it were sometimes brutal. Once, when he and I were driving somewhere, I think to the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute, Cyril took a deep breath and said, “I wish I was not so cruel.” The bad times for Mary, I know, without knowing many more facts than the ones I have told you, were very, very bad.

But not all the times were bad. When Mary was clinging to AA and resolutely not taking that first drink, I think they were quite good.

This is in itself a puzzle to me. When things were good with Mary, she seemed to be the perfect wife, he appeared to be the standard-issue Brady Bunch husband and, all in all, Cyril behaved in astonishingly unlike Cyril ways. They were — for other people — quite normal ways, but for Cyril totally unexpected ones.

He began to be a father — two boy babies, John and David — he was writing well on his own constantly improving stories and he and I put out a ton of collaboration work as novels for Ian Ballantine. Things were suddenly very conventionally good for the little Kornbluth family.

That was when my money problems began to sting.

Mary proved she was a perfectly normal sf wife by nagging Cyril to dump me as his agent.

When I lost Cyril as a client, I had lost everything. I began to make plans to close the agency down.

During this period, Cyril and I had lost contact. It wasn’t just the money. It was the fact that there were the two clients I had led the farthest and expected the most from, Cyril and Isaac Asimov, both gone.

I didn’t see him again until, completely by chance. I ran into him at, I think, Horace Gold’s apartment. I prize that chance meeting because we were easy with each other again — “What are you writing?” “Hey, that was a pretty good novelette in Galaxy last month.” Shop talk of two old friends.

The reason I prize it most was because I never saw Cyril alive again. One morning not long after that, the phone rang. Carol answered it. It was Mary, quite hysterical.

Cyril had had to go into New York for a business meeting that morning, but it had snowed during the night, so he had to shovel the driveway before he could get the car out. When he got to the Long Island Rail Road station, the train was already there and beginning to load passengers. He parked the car as fast as he could, ran for the train and dropped dead of a heart attack on the platform.

Part 2 coming up shortly.

Related posts:


  1. richard Molpus says:

    Mr. Pohl:

    do you have any other biographical details on Mary Byers Kornbluth? My mother’s primary family line is Byers – from Ohio (Springfield, in fact), and we still have a few (now remote) cousins still on the family farm.

    I enjoyed “The Way the Future Was” when I read it as a new release, and hope that you’ll re-release it, with updates, before long. Re-releasing your tome on local politics ( maybe in a dual volume with Robert Heinlein’s ‘Take back Your Country’ [that’d be the Ace Double of all time!]) would be fantastic.

    thank you;

    Richard G. Molpus

  2. Anton Sherwood says:

    “astonishingly unlike Cyril ways” — might one say un-Cyrillic ways?

  3. Douglas Robillard, Jr. says:

    Dear Mr. Pohl,

    Recently, my father and I were rereading Damon Knight’s THE FUTURIANS and got to talking about one of our favorite writers, C. M. Kornbluth. This evening I discovered your blog quite by accident, by “googling” Kornbluth. I am delighted that you have extended THE WAY THE FUTURE WAS in this format and look forward to reading more installments.

    All the best,