The Rediscovery of Man (S.F. MASTERWORKS) Paperback – 29 Mar 2010
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The unusual mythic quality of Cordwainer Smith's extraordinary future comes partly from his upbringing in China and love of Oriental literature. His tales of far tomorrow are told as ancient legends which everyone finds familiar, but not completely: "You already know the end ... But you do not know the beginning." This Millennium SF Masterworks collection opens with Smith's remarkable 1950 debut story "Scanners Live in Vain" and continues with tales of the Instrumentality of Mankind, near-immortal overlords who wield the terrible power of Imperial Inquisitors in old China. Cats appear frequently: as essential fighters against space-borne horrors in "The Game of Rat and Dragon", subjected to forced evolution in "The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal", uplifted (like other animals) to human shape as human's slaves in "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" and other haunting tales of these "underpeople". The stories throb with crazy rhythms and dangerous music, notably the very strange "Under Old Earth"; Joan of Arc's fate is echoed in "The Dead Lady of Clown Town"; one of the weirdest Hells ever imagined--the Instrumentality's ultimate punishment--comes nightmarishly alive in "A Planet Named Shayol". There are further stories with memorably poetic titles, promising a rich strangeness which Smith always delivers. --David Langford --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The best short fiction of acclaimed SF author Cordwainer Smith.See all Product description
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* 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.
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.
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.
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.
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