Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cordwainer Smith

"The story ran – how did the story run? Everyone knew the reference to Helen America and Mr. Grey-no-more, but no one knew exactly how it happened. Their names were welded to the glittering timeless jewelry of romance. Sometimes they were compared to Heloise and Abelard, whose story had been found among books in a long-buried library. Other ages were to compare their life with the weird, ugly-lovely story of the Go-Captain Taliano and the Lady Dolores Oh."

The above quotation is the first paragraph of the Cordwainer Smith story “The Lady Who Sailed The Soul”, which story is part of the collection titled The Rediscovery of Man.

If you haven’t read Cordwainer Smith you are missing out on one of the master writers of Science Fiction and are to be envied if you have not read any of his wonderful futuristic tales.

I first read the entire Cordwainer Smith collection back in the early 1970s and every so often read them again, as I am doing at the moment. Unlike some older Science Fiction, Cordwainer Smith’s tales have not dated despite the fact they were written in the 1950s and 60s.

There is something in Smith’s writing that instantly transports the reader to the far flung future of the Instrumentality of Mankind. The stories are entrancing, strangely wonderful and wonderfully strange. A great many of the stories are told from the viewpoint of an unnamed narrator in an even more distant future, a sort retelling of the history and folklore of the Instrumentality.

You’ve only got to look at the titles of the stories to get some sense of the wonder waiting for you in the stories. How could you resist a story titled “Golden The Ship Was – Oh! Oh! Oh!” or "The Dead Lady of Clown Town” or “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard

There is a fairly recent article on
Cordwainer Smith by Graham Sleight on Locus Online here, and it is also worth reading Jeff VanderMeer's response to this article on his Ecstatic Days Blog.

If you visit the
Wikipedia page on Cordwainer Smith there are links to several of the stories that are available online.

Cordwainer Smith was the pen name of Paul Linebarger who was a Professor of Political Science and an expert on psychological warfare. He was born in America in 1913 and spent a portion of his younger life in China. He was the godson of Sun Yat Sen, with whom his father had close ties. His literary output was small, predominantly short stories, with only one novel to his credit. He died in 1966 so his work is all the more precious there being so little of it.

I’m sure I’ll continue to pick up and reread his stories till my dying day with as much a sense of wonder as I felt when I first read them.

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