The Little Black Bag by C.M. Kornbluth

SFFaudio Online Audio

The Little Black Bag is a highly regarded C.M. Kornbluth novelette. It was undeniably influential and popular. It won the 2001 Retro-Hugo Award for “Best Novelette” (of 1951), was voted the 13th best all-time short science fiction story (in a 1971 Analog Science Fact & Fiction poll), and was anthologized in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964. Philip K. Dick himself seems to have read it (he had a 1964 short story entitled The Little Black Box).

In his introduction to The Best of C.M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, a friend and frequent collaborator of Kornbluth’s, states that The Marching Morons (see SFFaudio Podcast #112) is a direct sequel to The Little Black Bag. The titular bag is a time-traveled artifact from a future in which the majority of the population is genetically stupid and must be supported by a minority of geniuses who masquerade as assistants to the morons. Thus the bag of the title is filled with self-driven instruments enabling even a complete moron to act as a highly competent doctor.

Three television adaptations of The Little Black Bag have been made: Tales of Tomorrow (1952), Out Of The Unknown (1969), and Night Gallery (1970).

Myself, I think The Little Black Bag is both too well regarded and too popular. It’s popularity suggests that many readers think of themselves as one of the geniuses surrounded by morons. And its being regarded as highly as it is by those geniuses makes me think they are rather stupider than they think.

I invite you to come to your own conclusions.

Escape PodEscape Pod #429 Little Black Bag
by C.M. Kornbluth; Read by Mat Weller
1 |MP3| – Approx. 1 Hour 16 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Escape Pod
Podcast: January 5, 2014
First published in Astounding, July 1950

Here’s a |PDF| made from it’s original publication.


Posted by Jesse Willis

2 thoughts to “The Little Black Bag by C.M. Kornbluth”

  1. Again, I think you look at surface level. Kornbluth was a Jew who watched the Nazis come to power as a child. Despite a weak physical Constitution, he left a comfortable factory job and joined the Infantry as a Machine Gunner just in time to cause permanent heart damage to himself from overexertion in the Bulge, where he won a Bronze Star for valor. He also was smart enough to go to U of C, but interested in the average man enough to become a newspaper man.

    The “Geniuses” are willing to commit mass murder to stop the degradation and ultimate destruction of Society, and they use Nazi methods to do it, which sickens them to the point that one of their most brilliant members kills himself. They use a reasonably intelligent non genius who came up with ideas that they could not, being from the mass murdering 20th Century.

    The Little Black Bag deals with alcoholism, self respect, and that which gives life meaning and worth. He explored that as well in “The tar st Midnight.”

    Kornbluth was also the father of a Special Needs child, and this was part of his Hugo award posthumous collaboration with Pohl, “The Meeting.” He was no Margaret Sanger. He FOUGHT Nazis.

    In his stories, he writes about all level of characters. His best stories are complex and multi-faceted; I include “Not This August” in his novels, and the two stories you have recorded here, along with “The Meeting,” and what is perhaps his finest short story, “The Altar at Midnight,”which really outlines the responsibility and tragedy of genius poorly used.

    Genius poorly used is what “The Marching Morons” is all about, not eugenic superiority. Genius poorly used, and the degradation of Society which results. An example of Genius poorly used is Joseph Goebbels, who used his brilliance with psychological manipulation of words for a totally evil purpose. Oddly enough, his opposition, who wrote THE TEXTBOOK on Psychological Warfare, was another great SF writer in the Hall of Fame: Cordwainer Smith.

  2. I wasn’t aware of his “special needs” kid, but knew about the WWII service. If you haven’t already check out our follow up podcast to THE MARCHING MORONS show, and the READING, SHORT AND DEEP episodes we’ve done on KORNBLUTH stories. I am a fan of his novel GRAVY PLANET with Pohl. :D

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