The third story in this volume takes place 16,000 years in the future. When you realize that the 33 stories are ordered chronologically, you begin to grasp the scale of Cordwainer Smith's creation. Regimes, technologies, planets, moralities, religions, histories all rise and fall through his millennia.
These are futuristic tales told as myth, as legend, as a history of a distant and decayed past. Written in an unadorned voice reminiscent of James Tiptree Jr., Smith's visions are dark and pessimistic, clearly a contrast from the mood of SF in his time; in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s it was still thought that science would cure the ills of humanity. In Smith's tales, space travel takes a horrendous toll on those who pilot the ships through the void. After reaching perfection, the lack of strife stifles humanity to a point of decay and stagnation; the Instrumentality of Mankind arises in order to stir things up. Many stories describe moral dilemmas involving the humanity of the Underpeople, beings evolved from animals into humanlike forms.
Stories not to be missed in this collection include "Scanners Live in Vain," "The Dead Lady of Clown Town," "Under Old Earth," "The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal," "Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons," and the truly disturbing "A Planet Called Shayol." Serious SF fans should not pass up the chance to experience Cordwainer Smith's complex, distinctive vision of the far future. --Bonnie Bouman
From Publishers Weekly
Smith (real name: Paul M. A. Linebarger) is one of many underappreciated science fiction writers of the 1950s and '60s, and this hefty volume should help reinvigorate his reputation. Editor Mann has gathered all of Smith's published science fiction stories, as well as a rewritten version of "Ward 81-Q" and another piece, "Himself in Anachron" (completed by Genevieve Linebarger, the author's widow), which have never appeared in print before. The vast majority of the tales take place within the framework of a general future history later dubbed the Instrumentality of Mankind saga, whose linked but independent components include Smith's most famous pieces: "Scanners Live in Vain," "The Ballad of Lost C'mell," "Alpha Ralpha Boulevard" and "The Game of Rat and Dragon." This collection reveals Smith as a sophisticated, often poetic writer whose work stood out at a time when science fiction was still searching for its literary voice. The volume need not--indeed, should not--be read at one sitting: sampled like the vintage they are, these stories rank among the finest of their time, but guzzled all at once, they wear thin, and the prose grows less endearing. Nevertheless, it's thrilling to have them all preserved in a durable edition, so that future readers will be able to enjoy Smith's unique talent.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.