What do you remember? The year, the story, its effects on you? How old were you?
I really can’t remember when I first read his science fiction. He gave me copies of some of the magazines as they came out, but I think that well before any science fiction, I read Atomsk, the spy novel he wrote as Carmichael Smith. That link takes you to my page about it, with a long enough quote that you can get the distinctly Cordwainer-like feel to it. (I liked it so much I made it into an ebook.)
Let’s see…probably 1967-1968 or thereabouts. The story was “Scanners Live in Vain”, appearing in the Robert Silverberg-edited “Science Fiction Hall of Fame” (Volume I), from the SF Book Club.
The effects? It was one dang strange story, to be sure. But I could see there was a lot of stuff going on in the background, even at that early age.
Some years later I came across “The Best of…” from Ballantine and found that it was part of a larger picture. Between the introduction and the timeline, as well as the other stories…wow! I found a second-hand copy of “Norstrilia” soon after. Wow, again! Then F&SF published a completed story, Del Rey (the Ballantine SF label by that point) came out with “Three Worlds” and “When the People Fell”…
For more, see my blog, link in the name above. Search under the category “Science Fiction” and you’ll see a few references to the Instrumentality!
(And after doing a re-read of “the Canon” last year, I’m doing a re-read of “the Canon” this year. Some stories are not only as fresh as they were on subsequent readings but lend themselves to new discoveries as well!)
Thanks, Fred! Readers, if you have a pertinent blog or website, feel free to also put the url in your post, or a link to a specific pertinent page.
Let’s give this a whack…
…and I’m sure there will be more!
I believe the first one I have read was “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” in Gardner Dozois’ _Furthest Horizon_ anthology.
Hmmm…tried posting the link yesterday and the comment seems not to have shown up. So let’s try again.
My big posting on Cordwainer Smith can be found here (if it works this time!).
In high school, circa 1976 or ’77, in a used copy of SF Hall of Fame, I believe, but really can’t be sure. I know that that was an anthology I treasured back then, frayed as it was. I remember I was disoriented by the story “Scanners Live in Vain” and didn’t fully appreciate C.S. until I was older. Then he impressed me mightily.
But I always remember that odd sense of “what the h is going on” when I first read “Scanners”….it felt strange and tantalizingly dense. It still reads great to me.
The Dead Lady of Clown Town may be my favorite, though. :)
I vividly remember reading ‘The Ballad of Lost C’Mell’ in Volume 2 of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. I was maybe 12 or 13 at the time. I see from Wikipedia that it was published in 1973 and edited by Ben Bova. I think I had a second hand copy, however, and it may not have been published in 1973 in the UK (I’m British).
I was struck by the strangeness of the story, and rather baffled by it. I had been reading Clarke, Asimov and other ‘hard’ sf writers, plus a bit of Harlan Ellison, Jack Vance and a few others. I don’t think I’d discovered the so-called New Wave sf by then, so ‘C’Mell’ was a revelation. On the one hand, I was slightly affronted by this very odd story. But on the other, I couldn’t forget it. A few years later Del Rey published the ‘Best Of’ collection and I was hooked (but still baffled).
As you’ve been kind enough to invite blog links, can I invite people to my HG Wells Blog? I’ve always assumed that the Beast People of The Island of Dr Moreau were at least distant cousins of the Underpeople.
Welcome, Valdemar, and I just took a quick look at your H G Wells blog.. very nice combination of text and graphics. I know my father read Wells. He read everything.
Affronted, baffled… these seem like very understandable reactions to CS to me! I was affronted at times, too, for different reasons… like when something I had said at the breakfast table turned up in a story! (I remember how annoyed I was, but unfortunately I don’t remember what I’d said or what story it was.)
Thanks, Rosana. Perhaps I should have added that I’ve been re-reading your father’s stories for many years since my initial bafflement! The mark of a true writer is that his work can be re-read – or so I believe. It’s sad to return to a writer I enjoyed as a lad and find his work to be rather thin stuff. But CS had such remarkable depth. I also wonder if his work is becoming more relevant thanks to globalisation, and in particular the rise of China as a great power. There were moments during the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony that recalled ‘When the People Fell’ – the sheer power of organised numbers.
I hadn’t thought of the rise of China as having a possible beneficial effect on his readership, intriguing idea. Reminds me that several years ago I had an email correspondance with an Italian CS fan who was working in Beijing for a European bank. He had enough Chinese to comment on some aspects of the stories.
There was a bit in the closing cermonies of the Olympics when a lot of men were suspended in the air in silvery suits, moving around. I thought of “When the People Fell” at that point too.
When did I first read Cordwainer’s smith work? Hmm. It had to be the late 80’s, maybe 1987 or 1988. You see, as a kid I read as much science fiction and fantasy as I could get my hands on. I was fed much of this through my older brother, who always left his books for me to read. Consequently I read well above my grade level. When I finally was able to get a library card, I ended up smashing through all the “children’s” Sci fi and fantasy like a rocket through the side of a barn. I begged my mom to sign the for to let me read adult books; for those were the ones that I longed to read. by the time I was in 5th grade I had already read through the Lord of the Rings and many Novels by Asimov and Clarke, and I wanted more.
After getting my mom to sign the ‘adult’ library card for me, I ended up venturing in to the adult section of the library. There, I found out to my glee, they sold user donated paperback novels for 25 cents each. Having a bit of money in my pocket I ended up buying all th science fiction and fantasy books that were on the table; i think there were five or six books. One of them, as you may have guessed, was collection of short stories by Cordwainer Smith.
I have found that not many people have heard of him, yet there seems to be so much that is influenced by his writings. For an author he had a short career and not a huge amount of output, but what he did write influences popular media to this day…even if most don’t seem to realize it.
The story out of that collection that stays with me is “Scanners Live in Vain.” I have since lost that book, unfortunately along with many others I read as a child, but am glad to find that there is a website dedicated to his work. I list Cordwainer Smith as one of the author’s that influenced me, along with the likes of CS Lewis, Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, and a few others. I guess I’ll be bookmarking this site ;)
Hello Lady ! – the Daughter of Cordwainer Smith …wOw… And here i am all the way up into 2008, communicating with you over the internet! did your dad write about this too?
I can actually chart part of my life according to your father’s bibliography. I had to look at it to determine that the first thing i read by him must have been the book Stardreamer, when i was 17. I bought it fresh off the press at a drugstore ‘newsrack’ near my house which, for some reason, stocked really wierd and obscure SF pb’s. By that time, your father had written some very strange ones indeed!
I loved his stuff, and always kept an eye peeled for more, but it wasn’t till a couple years later that i found a huge trove of dusty sf mags on the bottom shelves of a large used bookstore in Cleveland Ohio. In one swoop i acquired almost every short story now in ‘The Rediscovery Of Man’.
The title that has always really stuck in my mind, and the first one i read from that haul of treasure, was ‘The Dead Lady Of Clown Town’. It is one of the most compelling titles of all time, so beautiful and so wierd. Your father had a way with worlds!
He was also a humanist. ‘A Planet Named Shayol’ being another case in point. I confess i was bemused when i discovered that the author of the heartfelt and luminous dystopias so appealing to the alienated youth i was at that time (during the vietnam war) was formerly employed in psychological warfare operations for the military. How could a guy with a job like that be the author of stories about ‘underpeople’ fighting against an ‘instrumentality’?
I didn’t find a copy of ‘Psychological Warfare’ till i was 35. Your father must have been what the chinese sages called a ‘real human being’. I think the quotes from this book you chose for the site bear this out.
The account of his role in the chinese surrender, and his own statements on the purpose of psy-war being to spare lives, and win wars without killing, really show just how well his fiction and his ‘secret’ profession go together. I believe the same talent and sentiments that he placed in service of the military must have also been employed in his science fiction. He certainly had a profound effect on me.
I would like to imagine, and to hope, that the operations of the U.S. Military, and thus the future of all Humanity, are still in the hands of such capable and humanitarian visionaries as your father Dr. Paul Linebarger.
Deejrandom, for some reason I didn’t see your comment till just now to approve it, probably a glitch in cyberspace didn’t email me or something of the sort.
You can find a link to read “Scanners Live in Vain” online here:
There are several of his stories there, it’s all legit.
I read both “The Burning of the Brain” and “The Game of Rat and Dragon” near the very beginning of my SF reading when I was quite young. Both stories impressed me powerfully, stayed with me, and after re-readings over the years still impress me.
I’m pretty sure that my first Cordwainer story was “The Game of Rat and Dragon”, although I don’t recollect whether it was in one of the pulps, or already anthologised – this would have been about 1959 or 1960. Next would probably be “The Gem Planet”, which I’m pretty sure was in F&SF about 1964 (I remember the artist’s illustration of the tiger-underman). Then “Shayol” in the mid-to-late 1960s. Thereafter not much until the early 1970s – especially “The Planet Buyer” and “The Underpeople”. Thereafter just about everything I could lay my hands on.
I recollect being both fascinated and puzzled. The puzzle was really because of genre confusion, Was this science fiction or war it fantasy? By the time I was in my thirties, I had realised the limits of this sort of pigeonholing, and my problems vanished.
Just wanted to thank you for the link; I tend to come here and look around early in the morning while I’m at work, so that may be why my comment was overlooked ;) I’ll try to visit more and be a bit more prompt in my replies.
Deejrandom, I doubt it had to do with your time of day. I automatically get emails whenever someone posts a comment… unless it is identified as spam, then I don’t see it. But cyberspace IS quirky, probably more so here in Mexico than up north.
The first story I read was “The Ballad of Lost C’Mell” in a 2nd-hand 60s best-of-the-year collection of stories. It made me an immediate fan of Cordwainer Smith, and to this day he’s my favorite writer.
The Lady Who Sailed the Soul. My dad would mention it in passing occasionally, and he sent found it online for me one day and emailed me the link. I fell in love with the folkloric style and uniquely organic way of dealing with futuristic or fantasy ideas. It was more than realistic, it felt real.
Later, when I made one of my visits home, I sought out my dad for new reading material. He always has something to suggest when I come into his room while he is idly occupied. I took my seat at the foot of his book case and he found me Nostrillia. From then on I was a devotee.
Heh don’t kid yourself. Cyberspace is quirky almost any place that I’ve used it ;) God help us if people start getting Cyber punk type implants…think of what the blue screen of death will mean then heh.
Correction: it must have been “Galaxy” where I saw “On the Gem Planet” in 1964. I saw a lot of pulps about that time.
I know for sure when I read the first story by C.S. It was the summer of 1970, and the story was ‘Alpha Ralpha Boulevard’. I read it in Italian (which is my mother tongue), but later I had a chance to read it again in English and I must say C.S. had a great translator, as the undefinable aura that you perceive when reading his prose doesn’t get ‘lost in translation’ at all. I was 16 at the time and going through my first love experiences, so the story — which is a great love story of course — had a really strong impact on me. After that I moved slowly on to read all the rest…
I know I read Scanners Live in Vain in a used copy of Fred Pohl’s anthology Beyond the End of Time in about 1955 when I was 15 (I ran out of ‘juvie’ SF quickly and turned to adult at an early age)…it blew me away.
Followed C.S. through all these years, I am 69 now and I know of SF writers who are his peers but I now of no SF writer who wrote that kind of SF , I don’t think there ever will be!
Yesterday. Now that's very odd for me, considering I've read SF avidly for over 30 years. I seem to recall hearing peripheral references to CS, and I'm fairly sure I'd seen the Best Of anthology in some used book store or other, but had never gotten around to picking it up. The way I came across his writings was rather unique, as well. I'd been reading a bio on Harlan Ellison which mentioned his use of the nom de plume “Cordwainer Bird” for projects he worked on with which he didn't want to be associated, and how this was in part a reference to CS. I figured that if an author as accomplished as Ellison thought enough of your father to refer to him, then it might be interesting to read his stories.
I wasn't wrong. First I read Scanners Live In Vain, and then in quick succession every short story I could find on the 'net. Soon (as in within the hour) I'll be scouring auction sites and bookstores for his collected works and novel.
The thing that most struck me was how humanist his stories are; the 'future science' seems more on the periphery, though it has obvious and far-reaching effects on the characters. However, it's the characters themselves that are the focus far more than the science. The imagery reminds me of Zelazny (or, rather, I should say Zelazny's imagery reminds me strongly of CS, since Roger came to SF temporally after your father did).
I only wish (as I'm sure has been expressed before) that your father had had a longer time to devote to his writing. His short stories are polished gems, in my limited experience of them.
Thanks for your thoughts, Jim. I too wish that my dad had had more time to write. Who knows what would have come out of that mind?!!
I'm 56 this year and I first read a story by Cordwainer Smith when I was about 9 or 10. I'm not sure which one but my favourite remains the Lady who sailed the Soul. I thought that I was alone in my appreciation of his writings as he is little mentioned in science fiction writings but I am pleased to see that I am totally mistaken.
Ok. Thank you very much for having so kindly answered.