LESTER del REY, Editor – Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Second Annual Edition. E. P. Dutton, hardcover. 1973. Ace, paperback, December 1975.

   #5. FREDERIK POHL & C. M. KORNBLUTH “The Meeting.” Short story. First published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1972. First collected in Critical Mass by Frederik Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth (Bantam, paperback, 1977. Co-winner of the 1973 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.

   Most science fiction readers of his era considered Cyril Kornbuth to be of the most gifted writers of them all — myself included — and considered his early death in 1958 at the age of 34 to be an absolute tragedy. He was known largely for his short fiction, starting at the age of 15, but before his death he wrote two novels on his own, plus several more in collaboration with others. “The Meeting” was a story that was finished by Frederik Pohl, working from notes Kornbluth left behind.

   A married couple named the Vladeks have a young boy with severe developmental disabilities, and they have just moved to a new town to find a school specializing in students like him. Most of the story takes place during the first PTA meeting of the year, after which Mr. Vladek has a brief moment to talk to the principal about how nine-year-old Tommy is doing. His wife had to stay home, as Tommy has too many emotional issues to be left with a baby sitter.

    What makes this a science fiction story comes very nearly at the end. There is a possibility that an experimental brain transplant procedure will solve Tommy’s problems, but a decision has to be made right away. The story ends with Mr. Vladek reaching for the telephone to tell the doctor what they’ve decided.

   I don’t think anyone has had any doubt what that decision was going to be. This is a very sentimental, old-fashioned story — the portion that Kornbuth wrote was written in the 50s, after all, with Pohl finishing and polishing it up in 1972. It’s a good, well-structured story and was awarded a Hugo at the time, but I don’t believe it would today.


Previously from the del Rey anthology: ISAAC ASIMOV “The Greatest Asset.”