OR: The Rediscovery of Man

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #21:-


Cordwainer Smith

Millennium pb, 377pp, £6.99

Paul Linebarger (1913 – 66), who wrote under the pseudonym Cordwainer Smith, produced a small but influential body of work, the novel Norstrilia and several collections of short stories, the best of which are assembled here. Smith’s tales of the Instrumentality of Mankind form a future history spanning over 15,000 years and embracing countless worlds. While modern readers will find familiar concepts in his work, all the trappings of hard and not so hard SF, such as cloning, genetic engineering, AI, robots, FTL travel, telepathy and longevity, they are given a unique flavour all their own. At heart Smith was a fabulist, not so much concerned with the nuts and bolts of physics as the mythic and romantic possibilities they allow us to contemplate. To read one of his baroque fantasies is to step into a world that is lush and vibrant with potential, where far more is suggested than can ever be revealed, to meet with people who are truly remarkable. Who can resist stories with such evocative titles as ‘The Dead Lady of Clown Town’ and The Ballad of Lost C’Mell’? Or characters with names like Helen America and Mr Grey-no-more, Lord Jestocost and Lady Arabella Underwood, Go-Captain Alvarez and Mother Hilton, the weapons mistress of Old North Australia? Stories that innocently drop such marvellous phrases as ‘I myself went into hospital and came out French’?

Millennium are to be commended for bringing the work of this little known writer back into print.

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