In this collection of 12 short stories Paul Linebarger, aka Cordwainer Smith, has introduced me to the most warming, heart-wrenching, soulful and imaginative sci-fi it has ever been my pleasure to encounter.
When it comes to spirituality in fantasy and sci-fi Cordwainer Smith is often praised in the same breath that mentions C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien. And in this word spirituality they mean the very essence of humanity and what it means to live as a human. Love, fear, self-sacrifice; all have biblical connotations, all are essential to humanity, and all are sensitively dealt with in this collection.
From 'The Lady Who Sailed The Soul' a story where an unexpected love conquers doubt, time, space, and perhaps even death itself, to 'The Dead Lady of Clown Town' where the dog girl D'joan gives her own life lovingly in order to conquer hate and prejudice, Smith invites us to ponder an insight into what it is to be human that, once experienced, we realise that we could never have done without.
He tells a story well. Draws you in. Everything is in abundance yet nothing is superfluous. The prose is lyrical and charged with empathy. Smith enchants with titles such as 'Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons' and 'The Game of Rat and Dragon' so that we know he took pleasure in pre-bewildering us with such obscure and, lets face it, amusing sequences and phrases.
Just to whet your appetites:
Cats are used whilst travelling in space in a symbiotic, telepathic defense against dragon/rat spirit/ghosts that live beneath space and attack life forces. The bond is so strong that the relationship between cat-defender and human-defender that one protagonist has is so intense that he can love no one else.
Animals from 'Old Earth' or 'Manhome' have been bred into human form so that they are indistinguishable from humans in every way. They are treated as an underclass and frivilously put to death upon a whim. Several stories deal with their inherant soulful nature, often greater than that of mankind, their emancipation, and a love affair between a Lord of the Instrumentality and the cat woman C'mell.
A conscious and intelligent planetary life force telepathically forms a connection with a man who lives in a lawless state deep underground 'Old Earth' who forms a religious cult and bewitches people by using Congohelium, a metal that is made from the conflicting forces surrounding anti-matter and matter, and creates a music that is new in the universe.
That's enough for now.
This man had an unparalleled love of life and is unrivaled in this type of science fiction. I really do urge you to get a hold of a copy of this and read it. Whilst it is not the complete set of short stories it is his selected best. His only novel set in this fictional universe is 'Norstrilia' which is out of print but available 2nd hand here on amazon. I'm off to buy a copy now myself.