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Cordwainer Smith

From Academic Kids

Cordwainer Smith – pronounced CORDwainer Smith – was the pen-name used by the American author Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (July 11, 1913August 6, 1966) for his science fiction works. He also used the pseudonyms "Carmichael Smith" (for his political thriller Atomsk), "Anthony Bearden" (under which he wrote poetry) and "Felix C. Forrest" (for novels Ria and Carola).

Linebarger was born in born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Paul M.W. Linebarger, a lawyer and political activist with close ties to the protagonists of the 1911 Chinese Revolution: as a result of those ties, the younger Paul's godfather was no one other than Sun Yat-sen and, when he too specialized in that part of the world, he became a close confidant of Chiang Kai-shek. The Orient was also the origin for another pen-name that he used for some stories, "Felix C. Forrest" – the ideograms in Chinese for "Linebarger" translate roughly as "Forest of Incandescent Bliss". As a child, he was blinded in his left eye; his vision in the remaining eye was impaired by infection.

He held a faculty appointment at Duke University from 1937 to 1946. During World War II, he worked in the US Army's psychological warfare department as a second lieutenant; his 1948 book Psychological Warfare is still a standard text. He eventually rose to the rank of colonel in the reserves. In 1947, he moved to Johns Hopkins University, serving in its School of Advanced International Studies as Professor of Asiatic Studies.

Linebarger is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Stories

Linebarger's stories are strange even by the standards of science fiction, sometimes written in narrative styles closer to traditional Chinese stories than to most English-language fiction. His science fiction is relatively small in volume, due to his time-consuming profession (he worked in the intelligence community, and as a college professor) and early death. Rather than a full fledged cycle like Dune, Smith's writings consist of only one novel, originally published in two volumes in edited form as The Planet Buyer, a.k.a. The Boy Who Bought Old Earth, (1964) and The Underpeople (1968), later restored to its original form as Norstrilia (1975); and around 30 short stories (gathered in The Rediscovery of Man and other collections), together suggesting a rich universe, but leaving much to be guessed by the reader.

The bulk of his stories are set some 14,000 years in the future, starting on Earth. The Instrumentality of Mankind is then set to rule the planet and, later, any planet inhabited by men. The Instrumentality attempts to revive old cultures and languages. This bid to revitalize society is called the Rediscovery of Man. This rediscovery can be seen either as the initial period when humankind emerges from a mundane utopia and the nonhuman underpeople gain freedom from slavery, or as a continuing process begun by the Instrumentality, encompassing the whole cycle, where mankind is constant at risk of falling back in its bad, old ways.

Stories feature strange and vivid creations, such as:

  • Planet Norstrilia, a semi-arid planet where an immortality drug is harvested from gigantic (over a hundred tons) virus-infected sheep (see Arrakis, worms and melange for similar concepts).
  • The punishment world of Shayol (cf. Sheol), where criminals suffer the repeated growth and harvesting for transplant of new organs.
  • Planoforming ships moving between the stars, and humans telepathically linked with cats defend them from the attacks of monsters in the dark spaces between the stars - humans perceive them as dragons, the cats perceive them as gigantic rats – dispersing them with the flash of small atomic weapons.
  • The Underpeople, seen everywhere throughout the reach of the Instrumentality: animals modified during gestation into human form, created to serve, and with no more rights than a vacuum cleaner. Several stories feature the clandestine moves to force recognition of the underpeople as deserving of human rights.
  • Habermen and their supervisors, Scanners, whose spinal cords have been cut to block the "pain of space", and who live only by vision and various life-support implants. Other modes of perception can be temporarily restored to scanners by "cranching".

External links

fr:Cordwainer Smith ja:コードウェイナー・スミス

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