Although Kornbluth received acclaim as a novelist, his reputation rests largely on his shorter works, which are recognized for their intelligence, incisive wit, and readability.
“The Marching Morons,” one of the most famous novelettes in science fiction, has prompted many critics to examine its future scenario of an intelligent but overwhelmed minority. Those focusing on its genetics, however, have tended to overlook, and inadvertently belittle, the social criticism explicit in the story. When the intellectuals turn to Barlow to solve their problem, they find themselves employing a veritable Adolf Hitler. Kornbluth takes a global view, however: He juxtaposes Nazi gas chambers and American bombings of Japanese civilians by having Barlow’s rockets lift off from Los Alamos. The intelligentsia appear as culpable as Honest John.
Kornbluth’s concern with the ethics of theoretical science underlies both “Two Dooms,” with its indecisive Royland, and “Gomez” (1954), whose protagonist, Julio Gomez, sits on a similar fence with regard to unified field theory, the implications of which terrify him. Both stories explore moral quandaries of the atomic age, as do such other works as “The Altar at Midnight,” Kornbluth’s fascinating first solo novel Takeoff (1952), and “The Remorseful” (1954).
Kornbluth’s concern with the impact of theoretical knowledge parallels his concern with history. Historical insight...
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