Published more than 60 years ago, this dark and prescient story of a future devolved to idiocy remains one of the most frightening visions to have emerged from the science fiction of that decade. Envisioning a future United States overwhelmed by a citizenry of low IQ (a consequence of the overbreeding of the stupid) Kornbluth was in fact writing of an observed present. The steady, inexorable descent of human intelligence obsessed Kornbluth, was one of his major themes and reached its truest statement in this novelette. The secret masters of Kornbluth’s future are a small population of the intelligent who in subterranean fashion run the country but the “marching morons” overwhelm them and they summon a cynical entrepreneur from the past to help them deal with the dilemma. Weak on technology (a time machine is employed scoop the entrepreneur into their present) the novelette is deadly accurate in its portrait of a society sunk in stupid television, ornate, worthless automobiles and catchphrases which substitute for thought. The denouement is absolutely uncompromising and its utter bleakness is refractory not of a speculative future (which it may well be) but a present which Kornbluth found omnipresent and unbearable. In terms of social statement and extrapolation THE MARCHING MORONS stands with Orwell’s 1984 or Forster’s THE MACHINE STOPS as shattering anatomization of an inevitable future.
Cyril Kornbluth (1924-1958) was the youngest and perhaps the most brilliant of that great group of satirists (Frederik Pohl, Robert Sheckley, Damon Knight, William Tenn) whom Horace Gold drafted to become the characteristic voice of his magazine. Kornbluth was a child prodigy (writing at 16 stories which became classics of the field) and auto-didact, first-generation fan and newspaperman (a Chicago-based wire service) whose heart and health were wrecked by active combat duty at the Battle of the Bulge and other venues. In collaboration with Frederik Pohl he wrote THE SPACE MERCHANTS (1952) for GALAXY which became the classic satirical novel of advertising and GLADIATOR-AT-LAW which brought the same satirical force to the housing industry. There were several other novels, science fiction and mainstream, written with Pohl, two with Judith Merril and several (TAKEOFF, NOT THIS AUGUST) written alone. He struggled for years with health and economic and familial obligations (he was married to a sculptress and had two young sons) and died suddenly on a train platform, sprinting for a New York bound train in March 1958.read more