Posts tagged ‘Adolf Hitler’

Cyril Begins to Blossom

His Share of Glory by C.M. Kornbluth

When Cyril’s bad luck dumped him into the Infantry just when Hitler caught the American Army with their pants down in the Battle of the Bulge, he became a machine-gunner. What happened with him in that worrisome period before Patton, plus thousands of fresh reserves, kicked Hitler’s troops back into Germany I don’t know, because Cyril refused to talk about it. The end result, though, was that he got two things from that period of service. One was a Bronze Star. The other was a bad case of what they called severe essential hypertension, which was Army talk for heart trouble.

For a time after the war Cyril dealt with that situation by ignoring it. At some point he had married Mary G. Byers, the Ohio femmefan he had smuggled into New York City over the efforts of the uncle who, as her guardian, had done everything he could to prevent it. When Cyril’s draft number came up (I believe from things Cyril said), they were married.

While Cyril was serving in Europe, Mary was (again, I understand) alone, and not doing well. I believe that was when her drinking problem first surfaced; but when Cyril came home, he entered the University of Chicago on the G.I. Bill and, at least for a time, things went well for both of them, especially after he took on a part-time job working for the newswire service, Transradio Press.

That job he got by invitation of our mutual old Futurian friend, Dick Wilson, who got there a little earlier than Cyril and had already become head of Transradio’s Chicago Bureau. (I must write something about Transradio some time, because it loved hiring Futurians, including, occasionally, me. But not now.)

Cyril had stopped by New York before moving on to Chicago, and he and I had kept in contact. I was then operating the Dirk Wylie Literary Agency, helping Dirk to make it a career (his own war injuries having made it impossible for him to hold a normal job.) When Cyril began writing, and selling, an occasional postwar sf story again, I coaxed him to do more.

He ultimately gave in, quit Transradio (and quit the university too) and moved back east. I think, again from things Cyril said, that part of the reason for leaving Chicago was because Mary was involved in some drinking there. I know (from Mary herself) that Cyril tried really hard to help her quit, including some pretty harsh measures.

He and Mary set up housekeeping near where I was living with my family in Red Bank, New Jersey. For the next few years Cyril-the-writer was not only vastly productive but getting better and better at it, almost by the day. That’s when he was producing such winners as “The Luckiest Man in Denv,” “The Silly Season,” “The Little Black Bag” and many more. Cyril had a nearly in-born gift for graceful writing and excellent spot-on characterization. His only real weakness was in plotting. By then he had taught himself — maybe with a little help from those Futurian writing orgies — plot structure for short stories and, soon thereafter, novelettes and novellas. Some of his work from that period I would match against almost anybody’s best stories ever, including “The Marching Morons,” “Two Dooms” and a good many others. (The intelligent folks at NESFA have put all those stories in a single volume, entitled His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C.M. Kornbluth.) None of them won any Hugos or Nebulae. The reason was just some of Cyril’s bad luck. The awards hadn’t been invented yet.

Apart from the writing, Cyril’s life was unusually ordinary — that is to say, mostly quite apparently happy in those years. He and Mary shared many interests, not least the two sons, John and David, that Mary gave him in those years. Fatherhood, I must say, revealed a side of Cyril that I had not suspected to exist. He was an archetypal proud papa, he worried seriously when John developed some problems that none of their doctors seemed able to cope with (but which, apparently, the boy ultimately outgrew). From outside, even a quite close outside, the ultimate cynic seemed to have transmuted himself into a perfectly normal young married.

There was one small puzzle. One time when he and I were in my car, on the way to the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute, our conversation got much more than usually personal. And when, leaping from earlier remarks between us, I asked Cyril what he would most like to change about himself, he clenched his teeth and, “I wish I were less cruel.”

I didn’t ask him any questions about that remark, but I did give it a lot of thought for a long time.

More coming along as soon as I find time to write it.

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On His Way to Being the Very Best Writer I Have Ever Known

C.M. Kornbluth

C.M. Kornbluth

I think Cyril Kornbluth knew he wanted to be a writer at about the same age as most of the rest of us, which was generally early to middle teens. What he didn’t know was what kind of writer he wanted to be. His goal wasn’t, at first, science fiction. Cyril was a fan, like all of us, but what writing he did at first was mostly poetry, some of it plaintively sexual, like the scant few lines I remember of one of his early ones: “How long, my love, shall I behold this wall / Between our gardens, yours the rose, and mine / The shrinking lily.”

He possessed a manual of poetry, a book purporting to describe every poetic form ever invented and written, I think, by one of his high-school teachers. He and I tried writing as many different forms as we could, including a pair of matched sonnets, both Shakespearean and Petrarchan, but we gave up after an over-ambitious attempt at a chant royal. At that time, I think, Cyril was maybe 14, and I three or four years older. Then he began creating tiny storiettes, like “The Rocket of 1955.”

When I, closely followed by Don Wollheim, and Bob Lowndes, became a professional sf editor, most of the Futurian writing neos began concentrating on trying to write at least marginally publishable sf stories for these unexpectedly friendly new markets. Cyril went with the flow. Most of his work for the next few years was science fiction, some of it in collaboration with me. The stories were all pretty mediocre, or worse, but they mostly did see print in one or another of our friendly prozines. None of the actual stories get more than a C-minus, though some of Cyril’s 250-worders survive.

But that situation didn’t last long. The Second World War revised everyone’s plans, especially for Cyril, who had a woefully low draft number. He was nabbed early by the Army, but he caught a break. He had worked briefly in a machine shop, and thus had experience of operating metal-working machinery. This was just what the artillery were combing the inductees for, men who would repair the big guns, in a place far enough from the front lines that the enemy couldn’t swoop down and carry off those precious machines. They snapped Cyril right up. It was the kind of no-risk and cushy job that several million GIs would have given their left testicle for, but in 1944 what looked like a better deal came along..

Higher-ups in the Army command circles were calculating that the war was likely to last for years yet. If so there might be a serious shortage of college-educated candidates to be trained as commissioned officers. They didn’t want to run short on this valuable resource, so they quickly created what they called ASTP, the Army Specialized Training Program. Under it, GIs lucky enough to be accepted would be relieved of all duties except going to college.

This sounded like a dream of Heaven to most GIs, not least because the system’s unrelenting drafts of young males had left most colleges’ student bodies heavily weighted with an excess of young single women. Cyril applied, was quickly accepted and went happily back to school, this time in uniform — until some person higher still in command circles noticed that both the Germans and the Japanese were losing most of their recent battles, and the war might end sooner than they had calculated. So ASTP was peremptorily abolished and all its students, including Cyril, transferred into the Infantry.

For this branch of service the Army had great and unanticipated need, since Hitler had just managed to launch a totally unexpected full-fledged attack on the troops in the Ardennes forest. And that’s where Cyril landed.

See Part 3, “Cyril Begins to Blossom,” real soon now.

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Algis and Edna Budrys, 1985 (Photo by William Shunn).

    Algis and Edna Budrys, 1985
    (Photo by William Shunn).

It was a nice spring day in 1950-something and I was up in my third-floor office in the house in Red Bank, New Jersey, trying to telephone my other office in New York.

I wasn’t having much luck. Every time I picked up the phone my then wife, Carol, was already on it. Finally, I gave up, turned off the typewriter and went downstairs to see if the mail had come yet. It had. I was opening it over a cup of coffee when Carol showed up, off the phone at last. “Long call,” I said. “Who were you talking to?”

“Eddie Duna,” she said. “Oh, and I invited her out for the weekend, all right?”

“Oh,” I said. “Listen, I forgot to tell you. I already invited A J. I don’t think they’ve met.”

She gave me a look, but what she said was, “Fine. We’ve got room.” We did, too — a house that was ancient, decrepit, requiring constant infusions of money to keep it standing, but with twelve or so rooms. (I work at home and I don’t like to be crowded. My current home is about the same size, though less decrepit and needing somewhat fewer infusions.)

“Maybe they’ll like each other,” she added. “Maybe they’ll get married. A J could do a lot worse. Edna’s smart and great looking, and she’s got a good job.”

“Well, so could she,” I said, sticking up for my client. “A J is turning into a hell of a writer. What’s for lunch?”

And, you know, they did like each other and, a few months later, they did get married.

Well, that’s not so strange, is it? Happens all the time. A couple introduces friends to each other and sometimes the friends get married.

Well, sure, but what’s unusual about this particular event, at least among my crowd, is that these two stayed married, through four sons and more than fifty years, until 2008, when a long illness finally carried A J off. Hey, I’m some matchmaker! When I make a match it stays made.

Algirdas Jonas Budrys was born in 1931 in Lithuania, but he didn’t stay there long. His father was an official in Lithuania’s diplomatic corps and while A J was still small the family was posted to Konigsberg in the German province of East Prussia. A J, who had just about got a good handle on the Lithuanian language, began to learn German. His adult memories of East Prussia — which, like the rest of Germany, had been Nazified with the accession of Adolf Hitler a few years earlier — were troublesome.

He particularly recalled Hitler himself parading right past the Budrys apartment when he was five, he told Mark Williams in an interview shortly before he died. “After the Hitlerjugend walked through, Hitler came by in an open black Mercedes with his arm propped up.” The crowds made “indescribable” sounds. Men lost control of their bowels and had to race for the bushes or writhed and rolled on the ground.

Not long after that, the Budrys family was redeployed to New York. That was a much better posting, especially for a young boy who was beginning to read American children’s stories, but then everything changed.

The Soviet Union occupied all three of the Baltic countries; the Lithuanian diplomatic service ceased to exist, and so did the salary that had kept them afloat in this new country. A J’s father had to find a new way to support his little family. For a while it was farming, but then the Nazis evicted the Soviets and occupied Lithuania, and the other countries themselves, and the American government tardily decided to underwrite people like the Budryses. It looked as though they would be here for a while, so A J began the study of his third language. At which, most critics would agree, he became quite good.

In fact, while attending college, A J began writing stories of his own in English, and even managed to sell a few. Then one day he turned up at my Fifth Avenue literary-agency office to ask if I would take on his representation.

I did. Unfortunately for A J, though — and not all that nicely for me — he came along at a time when I was getting seriously over-extended and in increasingly deep money trouble. In what may have been A J’s last public talk, at the Heinlein Centennial in 2007, the hundredth anniversary of Robert Heinlein’s birth, A J reminisced about those days. “Fred made some great sales for me,” he said. “He even sold John Campbell a story that Campbell had already rejected when I sent it to him myself. But then when Fred sent me his check for the story, it bounced.”

(I regret to say that that’s a true story, though not one I enjoy. Maybe one day I’ll write about my literary-agent days for this blog, but not right now. They were only fifty or sixty years ago and still too painful.)

I couldn’t go on like that. I took the hard decision and packed the agency in, turned all the writers loose and began working to earn the money to pay back the $30,000 I had lost. Mostly I was doing it by writing but, when Horace Gold’s health made him unable to go on editing Galaxy and If, and Bob Guinn offered me the job, I took it. And, of course, A J was one of my principal contributors.

By then A J and Edna were not only married but in the next year or so expecting their first child. They had moved out of the city and into a small apartment in Red Bank, less than half a mile from my own house. That was convenient for A J. When he finished a story for me he could whip the last page out of the typewriter, walk out his door and in ten or fifteen minutes walk it over to my house for, when necessary, an immediate read followed by my trip to the Galaxy office in New York the next morning to bring back Bob Guinn’s check for the story.

“When necessary,” as it happened, was basically always, because when they moved out of New York, they had moved away from Edna’s job. The Budryses were now living on A J’s writing earnings.

Writing money is not like salary money. Salary money comes in a check every Friday, and you can budget according to what you’ll be able to pay. Writing money comes in indigestible lumps — perhaps not much in January, even less in February, a couple hundred, maybe, in March, and then in April a whopping big check, which makes your average income per month look pretty good. But, of course, the grocer, the landlord and everybody else are on their own timetable which has nothing to do with your monthly averages, and so there are problems.

Still, A J was both prolific and good. After a while, the Budryses had risen to the status of renting a house (in Oceanport, closer to the shore) and buying a car. A J, a true son of the automobile age, was now in his element. He developed a new writing behavior that was all his own. Each night, after dinner, he would kiss Edna and the babies (by then there were two of them) good night and jump into his car, carrying a recorder and a good supply of tape.

Then he would drive around for most of the night, more or less at random, steering with one hand and holding the tape recorder with the other to dictate stories into. When he had filled enough tape to satisfy himself he would drive home, park the car, hand the tape over to Edna to be typed out and hit the sack for a good day’s sleep.

Sometimes he hadn’t quite finished the stories when he turned them in, especially when it came to putting a title on them, so we would wrangle over that before I would concede the story was accepted. Generally, that didn’t take long but there was one story — allusive, subjective, poetic — that gave us particular trouble. After we both had come up empty I asked, “All right, A J, just tell me what the story’s about.”

He said, unhappily, “I can’t. I just know it’s what I wanted to write.”

I was leafing through the manuscript. “All right,” I said at last, “Here in the first couple of pages there are some phrases that I like, One is ‘wall of crystal’ and the other is ‘eye of night.’ How about calling it ‘Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night’?”

He gave me a pop-eyed look. “What does it mean?”

I said, “I don’t know, but I promise you that if we do, no one will ever ask you that question.” And no one ever did.

I have been asked which of A J’s stories were written in this hard-driving way, and I don’t know the answer. He had begun writing novels by then and my guess is that that was the system for two of them, probably Who? and Rogue Moon, but it’s only a guess. I don’t think it was many, perhaps not any, of the pieces I published, with the possible exception of the one of his novels that I ran as a three-part serial, The Iron Thorn.

Which nearly resulted in a homicide.

You know what the first law of editing is? It is this: “Never, ever, announce a story by a particular writer until the completed manuscript is safely in your hands.”

I didn’t just violate that law. I did worse. I wanted to start a new serial in the next issue of If, which was just about to go to the printer, and I didn’t have one. What I did have was Part One of A J’s The Iron Thorn. That was just the kind of story I wanted for that spot, but every warning bell in my mind was clanging away. . . .

I ignored them. I crossed my fingers, sent Part One off to the printers and hoped for the best.

I don’t want to tell you how many deadlines we came a hairsbreadth from missing over the next two issues, but A J, though often coming through at the last moment, and I mean by that the very, very last moment, did unfailingly come through, so I didn’t have to kill him.

But I never did that again.

To be continued. . . .

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Alan Turing

Alan Turing

The close of Pride Month seems an apt time to talk about Alan Turing, inventor of the famed Turing Test for identifying independent intelligence in computers, who worked for the British code breakers in World War II, and was one of the leading figures who successfully cracked the secret German messages, a feat which played a considerable part in the victory over Hitler.

Turing was, however, a homosexual. After the war, he was arrested and convicted of “gross indecency.” He was promised to be spared prison, provided he agreed to allow himself to be injected with estrogens to “cure” his condition. Turing made the deal, but two years later, he killed himself by eating a poisoned apple.

After a group of scientists launched a movement to expunge his conviction and honor his name in his home country of England last year, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a posthumous apology to Turing on behalf of the British government. Turing was already honored in much of the rest of the world; for example, in America, the Association for Computing Machinery has presented the Turing Award, the field’s top award, since 1966.