on 10 September 2002
This collection is an excellent introduction to Cordwainer Smith's work, but a quick word of warning: there are actually two Smith books out there called 'The Rediscovery of Man'. This short story collection is the right place for beginners to start, but more ardent Smith fans may want to track down the NEFSA Press volume with the same title. The latter contains the _complete_ short fiction of Cordwainer Smith, including the non-Instrumentality short stories. If you get the NEFSA version and 'Norstrilia' you'll have all of Smith's science fiction in only two volumes.
And for what it's worth, I think 'A Planet Named Shayol' is one of the most extraordinary short stories ever written in any genre.
on 27 February 2016
First read these 50 or 60 years ago in the original magazine publications. It's great to read them again, and they've stood the test of time as far as I am concerned, and though they sometimes get a bit "preachy" they still have a message for today's generation.
Before you read his work it might pay to look up " Cordwainer Smith" and his remarkable life and experiences, and see how he came to write as he did. This includes some of his earlier work and it's not quite up to his later stuff, but persevere and you will be rewarded.
on 24 November 2014
The stories were good, but the book did not contain all the short stories contained in other books titled "The Rediscovery of man" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rediscovery_of_Man). It only contained:
* Scanners live in vain
* The Lady who sailed the soul
* The game of rat and dragon
* The burning of the Brain
* The crime and the glory of Commander Suzdal
* Golden the Ship was - Oh! Oh! Oh!
* The Dead Lady of Clown Town
* Under Old Earth
* Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons
* Alpha Ralpha Boulevard
* The Ballad of Lost C'mell
* A Planet named Shayol
So, only 12 stories out of the 27 listed in the Wiki article. Strange, as the stories in this book seem lifted out of the other book, with forwards by James A. Mann and a timeline in the back showing how all the stories should have fitted together.
on 13 December 1999
Cordwainer Smith brings depth, richness, and above all an amazing sense of a true alternative reality to SF with this brilliantly imagined series of stories.
Like Clockwork Orange, but without the pseudo-new-made-up-language, Smiths universe is one to be experienced in totality - and you can only really appreciate each story when you have finished the lot.
Whilst these stories only skim the surface of what was surely one of the most complete SF universes ever to grace the page, the multitude of small glimpses they offer gives far more sustenance than digesting many a weighty space opera multi-parter!
If this isn't on your bookshelf, you havent got a true context against which to measure anyone from Asimov to Gibson.
on 30 August 2010
I think I'm probably preaching to the converted here, but few people drop into Cordwainer Smith by accident. As mentioned, the NESFA hardback contains all of CS's short stories in a better binding than usual. I don't know if it's still available.
The simple fact remains: Smith/Linebarger was probably the very finest exponent of the Speculative/Science Fiction short story. His total grasp of mood and culture, his soaring, focussed imagination, and his effortless use of language to transport you into his future history are almost beyond comparison. He should be measured with Ray Bradbury at his very best, Stanislaw Lem at his most allegorical and PK Dick for sheer audacity and leitmotiv. He changed the face of SF, and with his attention to the cultural changes associated with technology predated the 60's British New Wave by a decade (eg: Aldiss, Brunner, Zelazny, Platt). His command of future technology has still not been exceeded by the current crop of Hard SF writers (eg: Hamilton, Banks, Asher, Stephenson, McLeod, Reynolds and so on).
Smith's work is not for the faint-hearted. It's not difficult, but it can be dense and there are never any laugh-out-loud passages. There are, however, many instances of wit and wordplay which are easy to miss: you need to have a broad education and be very well-read...basically, like the man himself.
Cordwainer Smith's short stories and one novel (possibly two: Norstrilia, Quest of the Three Worlds, although both are conflations of previous short stories) are immensely rewarding to a reader who, dare I say it, is of greater intellectual capacity than average. But you wouldn't have come this far, unless you thought it was you too, would you?
Read, and wonder.
on 10 October 2009
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.
on 16 November 2000
This book really surprised me. Not only was the background colourful and insightful, the stories really do tie together really well. The 'Game of Rat and Dragon',rates as one of the finest short stories I have read. Read this book!
on 4 January 2002
In this and "Norstrilia" Cordwainer Smith succeeded in producing a near-perfect set of myths, drawing on a deep understanding of the form. The intensity of the writing, particularly in "The Dead Lady of Clown Town" and "Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons", is very rarely seen in modern fiction. Everybody should buy this book.
on 8 February 2010
As others have noted and reviewed, this is a collection of 12 short stories from Smith's 'Instrumentality' vision of the future. So far I've read 6 of them. The first one entitled 'Scanners Live in Vain' certainly got me hooked straight-away and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The 2nd story, 'The Lady who Sailed the Soul' was OK and after all you expect a certain amount of variability within a collection. The 3rd story, 'The Game of Rat and Dragon' was a very interesting idea and quite enjoyable, but perhaps rather less good than it should have been with such a fascinating idea at its heart. After that I found the stories less and less interesting and after reading 6 I've put the book down and moved on to another book in the 'SF masterworks' series entitled 'Flowers for Algenon' which I'm enjoying much more!
I'll return to this book sometime when I've run out of other material, but for for other potential readers I'd summarise this book as quite interesting, some good ideas, but I didn't find the overall themes and narrative style engaging enough to keep me going.
To be fair, judging the complete book after reading less than half doesn't enable me to give a really balanced view. On the other hand, I've read about a dozen books in the 'SF masterworks' series, all chosen based purely on their Amazon reviews, and so far this is the only regret. The others have ranged from superb through very good to good. If you're starting out with this series (as I am) then I'd advise starting elsewhere.
on 14 September 2009
Cordwainer Smith was unique. Although the contents of this volume represent almost half of his entire science-fictional output, what he lacked in quantity he made up for in superb and very different quality. His prose is colored by some very non-standard phrasing and imagery, at least some of which came from his close connections with Chinese culture (his god-father was Sun Yat-sen, and he was a close confidant of Chiang Kai-shek). There is a feeling, an ambience to his stories that I have never seen even approximated by any other author. But the themes he tackled in his stories are ones that everyone can relate to, covering prejudice, greed, lust for power, crime and appropriate punishment, and the seeming boundless desire to go where no man has gone before.
Perhaps the main highlight of this collection is "The Dead Lady of Clown Town", which is a very forceful retelling of the Joan of Arc story. I ended up in tears at the end of this one when I first read it, and subsequent re-reads haven't lessened its impact. I've had this one in my top ten 'best of sf' short fiction list since my first encounter with it.
"A Planet Named Shayol" will make you do some heavy thinking about just what can or should be done to punish a society's law (or custom) breakers, or if punishment is ever even really justifiable at all, and will give you a nightmare vision of just what hell on Earth (or any other planet) just might be like.
"The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" may be the centerpiece of his entire envisioned future history, as the Instrumentality of Mankind, which for centuries has managed the human population to avoid disease, war, or hard labor (for which tasks the Underpeople were created), is driven to the conclusion that a viable civilization must have some dark elements, as championed by Lord Jestocost and girly-girl Cat-person C'Mell.
Almost all of the stories here are part of Smith's envisioned universe governed by the Instrumentality, a vision that stretches from near-Earth future to a very distant far-future galaxy where humanity has spread almost everywhere. Smith clearly has some overriding messages: his fear of all-powerful ruling bodies, his attachment to all forms of life and the respect that each individual should have, and a basic belief in the power and utility of religion. All the details of this universe are not filled in, and it is sometimes the tantalizing glimpses of what he does not describe that will capture your imagination, and your wish that there were more stories about this unique world. His Underpeople are marvelous creations, showing not only those traits normally associated with the best of humanity, but also characteristics of their underlying animal heritage, whether it be cat, dog, or turtle.
Not every story here is a gem, most especially those not set in his Instrumentality universe or those dealing with the very near future. But they are all very readable, and the overall level of quality here is absurdly high. Read this first. Then take on his only sf novel, Norstrilia. You won't regret it.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)