The Remakable Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith

 Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore: Winners of the 2004 Cordwainer Smith Foundation"Rediscovery" Award

Why two writers this year?

Henry Kuttner and C L MooreHenry Kuttner (1915-1958) and Catherine L Moore (1911-1987) were both science fiction writers before they met.They married each other.

"Since our marriage, we have collaborated on almost everything we write... It is almost impossible now to tell which of us wrote what part of any particular story," said one of them -- fittingly, I don't know which one.

They wrote under many pseudonyms. Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O'Donnell were the best-known of the names they used.


2004 Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery AwardHats off to to the four jurors for the Rediscovery Award -- Robert Silverberg, Gardner Dozois, John Clute, and Scott Edelman -- for shining a light on this remarkable couple, who were very well-known in their era but hardly household names now.

They do need rediscovery, as their books are currently out of print. You can find their works at This massive website lists offerings from booksellers large and small, worldwide. I was able to find The Best of Henry Kuttner (with an introduction by Ray Bradbury) and The Best of C.L. Moore (edited by Lester Del Ray) for a total of $10, including shipping from two different booksellers.

From The Best of Henry Kuttner

Here's a taste from "Mimsy were the Borogroves," one of their best-known collaborative stories. A boy of the 1940s has found a box that came from the distant future:

The soft, woven Helmet was the first thing that caught his eye, but he discarded that without much interest. It was just a cap. Next, he lifted a square, transparent crystal block, small enough to cup in his palm—much too small to contain the maze of apparatus within it. In a moment Scott had solved that problem. The crystal was a sort of magnifying glass, vastly enlarging the things inside the block. Strange things they were, too. Miniature people, for example.

They moved. Like clockwork automatons, though much more smoothly. It was rather like watching a play. Scott was interested in their costumes, but fascinated by their actions. The tiny people were deftly building a house. Scott wished it would catch fire, so he could see the people put it out.

Flames licked up from the half-completed structure. The automatons, with a great deal of odd apparatus, extinguished the blaze.

It didn't take Scott long to catch on. But he was a little worried. The manikins would obey his thoughts. By the time he discovered that, he was frightened and threw the cube from him.

Halfway up the bank, he reconsidered and returned.

From The Best of C. L. Moore

I'm used to running across Cordwainer Smith derivatives, but C. L. Moore's "Shambleau" was first published in 1933, before my father started writing science fiction. But when I read this tale, it reminded me more of Cordwainer Smith than anything else has. In the emotional complexity, in the pleasure-and-horror combined, and in the red-haired, green-eyed, cat-like female character... but this one is no C'Mell.

Here's the opening of "Shambleau:"

Man has conquered space before. You may be sure of that. Somewhere beyond the Egyptians, in that dimness out of which come echoes of half-mythical names—Atlantis, Mu—somewhere back of history's first beginnings there must have been an age when mankind, like us today, built cities of steel to house its star-roving ships and knew the names of the planets in their own native tongues—heard Venus' people call their wet world "Sha-ardol" in that soft, sweet slurring speech and mimicked Mars' guttural "Lakkdiz" from the harsh tongues of Mars' dryland dwellers. You may be sure of it. Man has conquered Space before, and out of that conquest faint, faint echoes run still through a world that has forgotten the very fact of a civilization which must have been as mighty as our own.

A ways into the story, here's a paragraph that is a far cry from the technological-type science fiction common at the time:

Smith had a strange dream that night. He thought he had awakened to a room full of darkness and moonlight and moving shadows, for the nearer moon of Mars was racing through the sky and everything on the planet below her was endued with a restless life in the dark. And something . . . some nameless, unthinkable thing . . . was coiled about his throat . . . something like a soft snake, wet and warm. It lay loose and light about his neck . . . and it was moving gently, very gently, with a soft caressive pressure that sent little thrills of delight through every nerve and fiber of him, a perilous delight—beyond physical pleasure, deeper than joy of the mind. That warm softness was caressing the very roots of his soul with a terrible intimacy. The ecstasy of it left him weak, and yet he knew—in a flash of knowledge born of this impossible dream—that the soul should not be handled. And with that knowledge, a horror broke upon him, turning the pleasure into a rapture of revulsion, hateful, horrible—but still most foully sweet. He tried to lift his hands and tear the dream-monstrosity from his throat—tried but half-heartedly; for though his soul was revolted to his very deeps, yet the delight of his body was so great that his hands all but refused the attempt. But when at last he tried to lift his arms a cold shock went over him and he found that he could not stir . . . his body lay stony as marble beneath the blankets, a living marble that shuddered with a dreadful delight through every rigid vein.

Another of her stories in this collection, "No Woman Born," probably influenced several Cordwainer Smith stories, according to CS scholar Alan C. Elms.

The book ends with a fascinating account by Moore herself of how she came to write "Shambleau."

Intrigued? Take a look at Or a really large library.


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NEW! His spy thriller  Atomsk, written as Carmichael Smith, is now on the Kindle!
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 Leigh Brackett: Her Biography
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