Where Do Cordwainer Smith's strange words come from?
Cordwainer Smith's writing is so filled with
literary puns, obscure references, and bizarre names, that
you'd never know what they all mean. Some of them turn up
in multiple stories, and you may not remember exactly how
they were used in something you read a while ago...
Luckily, Tony Lewis' 190-page paperback,
Concordance to Cordwainer Smith solves many mysteries. (Clicking on the title
will open a new window at Amazon's page for the book.)
Hundreds of entries, arranged alphabetically, answer such
- What characters, besides the famous girlygirl C'Mell
and the heroine D'Joan, have names beginning with C' or
- Who is the E-telekeli and why is his name not said
- What did Lord Jestocost do, and in what language does
his name mean "cruelty?"
- How is Scanners Live in Vain related to an Anglican
I could have fun making up a lengthy trivia quiz... the book
is a delight to browse... but you get the drift. I keep my copy
handy next to the stories.
Tony Lewis began compiling the Concordance to Cordwainer
Smith in 1968, and he's been at it (off and on) ever since. In
his words, the book "is the attempt to bring together all the
people, places, things, and concepts in the science fiction
works of Cordwainer Smith together with exegetical—in some
cases, highly speculative—comments."
I like his remark, "Where dates or comments are in
contradiction, I have selected those which best serve my
theories. Go Thou, and do likewise." Lewis invites readers to
contribute their thoughts for future editions. (The current
edition is the third, published in 2000, and nominated for a
Hugo that year.)
A Sample Entry
To give you the flavor of the book, here is one entry. (Many
are shorter, some are longer.) The letters in brackets are
codes for the stories.
An obsolete computer part way up in Earthport on Alpha Ralpha
Boulevard. The words written on its doors are in English
(possible dating?). It is a prediction machine and always works
if you go up on the northern side. The Underpeople treated it
as a god. It knew Paul and Virginia 12 years before they came
into being. [AR] Lord Jestocost had a direct connection to this
Abba (Aramaic) father + dingo (Australian slang) to
betray = father of lies?
less possible: from Abed-nego = worshipper of nebo (lofty
You can read the rest of the entries for the letter A on the website
of NESFA (New England Science Fiction Association), the
publishers of the book. They also list the entries for
the letter R.
Further Uses for Concordance to Cordwainer
- You can look up any story by its title for a brief plot
summary and other comments.
- There is a chronology of the Instrumentality, updated
from the one that J.J. Pierce produced for The Best of
- There is also a bibliography of the fiction of Paul M.
A. Linebarger, his science fiction as Cordwainer Smith and
his other fiction. Lewis calls it incomplete, but at 13
pages of small print, it must have more than I do!
What others Have Said
"One of the most entertaining reference books around. It
should delight all Smith's fans." — Locus
"It impelled this reviewer to immediately reread all of
Smith's stories, and if it does so for others it's a most
valuable book indeed." — Steve Carper, Fantasy
"Fun for other dedicated Cordwainer Smith fans and helpful
to dedicated Cordwainer Smith scholars." — Alan C. Elms,
Science Fiction Studies
Where to Find It
At Amazon.co.uk in the UK:
It's likely to be at alibris
too. This link takes you to a Cordwainer Smith search page
Of course, you can buy it directly from the publisher,
NESFA, but they do state on their
website that you need to allow several weeks for delivery.
(They are a volunteer organization.) I used to buy from them
wholesale and sell directly from this website, and my
experience was that it often did take a good while to get