T he R ediscovery of M an By Cordwainer Smith Reviewed by Ted Gioia Few science fiction writers present us with a bigger puzzle than Cordwainer Smith , an eccentric figure from the golden age of sci-fi who retains a small but devoted cult following today. Was Smith a brilliant thinker or mentally ill? Was he an artist or an ideologue? Was his body of work a unified vision or a disparate jumble? Above all, did he see himself as a writer of fictional stories or could it be that he believed that his fanciful narratives were, in some sense, true accounts based on his personal experiences? The preponderance of evidence suggests that our sci-fi author served as the basis for this case study, which was included by Dr.
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T he R ediscovery of M an By Cordwainer Smith Reviewed by Ted Gioia Few science fiction writers present us with a bigger puzzle than Cordwainer Smith , an eccentric figure from the golden age of sci-fi who retains a small but devoted cult following today. Was Smith a brilliant thinker or mentally ill? Was he an artist or an ideologue? Was his body of work a unified vision or a disparate jumble? Above all, did he see himself as a writer of fictional stories or could it be that he believed that his fanciful narratives were, in some sense, true accounts based on his personal experiences?
The preponderance of evidence suggests that our sci-fi author served as the basis for this case study, which was included by Dr. In other cases, the mental leaps do not result in concrete manifestations—as in the many stories here in which telepathy and mind- reading play a key role—but the locus of action still remains in the mental sphere.
Even a used paperback copy of this work can bring in hundreds of dollars on the web. And for good reason. Even so, I am not surprised that, when Smith submitted it to John W. Campbell, Jr. In still other instances, we encounter humans who have been genetically altered to meet the exigencies of different planets…or robots of humanoid appearance…or mixtures of animal parts with mechanical and electronic technology. This may sound like the bar scene in Star Wars , but in fact Smith is acutely sensitive to the ethical and sociological issues presented by a blurring of the concept of personhood.
Time and time again in his stories, he focuses on the struggle of one or another group to achieve the perks and prerogatives that are denied them because of how society classifies their state of being. In other instances, he reaches for religious symbolism in describing these social movements, and many have noted the Christian overtones of some of his work—yet this is not the Christianity of the modern-day, but more the underground movement of the early Roman empire, hidden in catacombs and potentially subversive.
Smith amplifies on his key philosophical themes, and here again the author stands out for his extreme effects. Yet the symbolic resonance of this story, one of the finest science fiction works of the 20th century, goes beyond any purely political interpretation.
Some of the action is told in a straightforward manner, yet key scenes might be relayed in the lyrics of a song, the description of a snippet of film, testimonies taken down years after the events, and other indirect ways. Needless to say, this focus on the metaphysical and psychological made Smith an atypical personality in the world of science fiction.
Rather his imaginative universe is so unconventional, and at times so austere—his fascination with the coldness and emptiness of remote space almost borders on an obsession—that it seems like a realization of some quasi-monastic worldview rather than a springboard for fiction of any kind.
Other authors have dealt with the conquest of space, perhaps as well or better than Smith; but none has done a better job of conveying the psychic aspects of the renunciation of the home planet that is the flip of side of this same story. Did Smith work out all of the details of his imaginary universe at the start of his writing career? Or, even stranger to consider, did he experience them in some out-of- body way? On the other hand, very little repetition takes place in these stories.
Very rarely does a key character from one story play a major role in another one—although minor characters do reappear with regularity. It is that very quality—the endless ingenuity of our author as he piles up strange element upon strange element—that stands out as the most salient trademark of this author.
If in fact, he did feel as if he had lived these stories, at second-hand or even first-hand, then one can only marvel at the richness of such an interior life—and be thankful that these stories survive as testimony. Back to the home page. By the same token, Smith employs a range of writing techniques—sometimes arcane narrative structures or, at other points, peculiar plot devices— that similarly aim at restricting or eliminating the flow of empirical data that serves as the constitu- tive element for most works of fiction.
In his most. Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at www. The State of the Art Ballard, J. The Atrocity Exhibition Ballard, J. Crash Ballard, J.
The Crystal World Ballard, J. Childhood's End Clarke, Arthur C. Babel Delany, Samuel R. Dhalgren Delany, Samuel R. Nova Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick, Philip K. Ubik Dick, Philip K. Camp Concentration Disch, Thomas M. The White Hotel Tiptree, Jr. Slan Van Vogt, A. The Island of Dr. Moreau Wells, H. Robert Heinlein at A.
The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith
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The Rediscovery of Man
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It was edited by James A. Most of the stories take place in Smith's future history set in the universe of the Instrumentality of Mankind ; the collection is arranged in the chronological order in which the stories take place in the fictional timeline. The collection also contains short stories which do not take place in this universe. Within the context of the future history, the Rediscovery of Mankind refers to the Instrumentality's re-introduction of chance and unhappiness into the sterile utopia that they had created for humanity. Other than Smith's novel, Norstrilia , which takes place in the same future history, the book collects all of Smith's known science fiction writing.