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Norstrilia Hardcover – December, 1994

4.7 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Cordwainer Smith, pseudonym of the late Paul Linebarger, a professor and part-time spy, wrote only one SF novel, but it is in keeping with the picture of a future world he built in his other fiction. This novel, originally conceived and published in two parts in 1964 and '68, and later issued in paperback by Ballantine in 1975, begins like a more traditional SF tale. Protagonist Rod McBan's Norstrilian peers consider him inferior because he lacks their telepathic abilities. Nearly "culled" as part of the strictly regulated society's population control, McBan uses a computer to arbitrage the galactic financial markets, enabling him, literally, to buy Earth. While the first half would merely have made an interesting novel, the second, more lyrical part displays Smith's superior writing abilities as he describes both the Underpeople (genetically designed combinations of humans and other species-and the Instrumentality (an organization for keeping humanity from becoming stagnant). The result: a novel that transcends its time. Though not a scholarly edition (the variorum is incomplete and the introduction leaves much to be desired), this composite text, ably edited by James A. Mann, is a fine companion to the author's complete short fiction, The Rediscovery of Man.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.


This appeared some time ago but deserves ongoing mention as a continuing classic: the only science fiction novel by Cordwainer Smith; but the center of a setting Smith developed in other short pieces. Any with an interest in Smith's unique world will want to see how it developed from these roots. -- Midwest Book Review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 249 pages
  • Publisher: Nesfa Pr; Revised edition (December 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0915368617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0915368617
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #252,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on October 23, 2007
Format: Paperback
CAUTION: MAKE THIS YOUR LAST CORDWAINER SMITH BOOK! This novel was a rather late addition to Smith's expansive and self-contained literary universe, which he had been constructing for decades, and mostly in his voluminous short stories. All interested persons should first become familiar with the stupendous omnibus collection "The Rediscovery of Man: The Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith." (His short stories are collected in a variety of other editions, and at least one is also titled "The Rediscovery of Man," but these are partial collections of varying usefulness.) Over his career, Smith built an immense and astonishing future history spanning tens of thousands of years, during which humanity had spread throughout the universe and pockets of human society became isolated. A group known as the Instrumentality initiated the Rediscovery of Man to bring far-flung human culture back together. This is all mapped out in an astonishing array of Smith's short stories, and "Norstrilia" (his only full-length novel) must be considered an extension of just one portion of that vast literary universe.

For the newbie, I'm not sure if "Norstrilia" fully functions as a stand-alone novel because I was lucky enough to experience the short stories first. Thus I can understand a few of the less favorable reviews here, claiming that the story is diffuse and doesn't make sense. One issue for the newbie is the great source of Smith's genius - his mythology-like non-Western storytelling technique that is laid out more logically in the short stories, while appearing rather abruptly here. That's why fans should become familiar with Smith's progression of short stories first, because then this novel will make more sense, as it's merely piece of a much larger puzzle.
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Format: Hardcover
Cordwainer Smith deserves the widest possible recognition. Perhaps the most highly literary of all science fiction writers before the New Wave of the sixties (and still, for my money, a better read than most of that failed revolutionary literature), Smith's single novel "Norstrilia" is utterly unlike any other science fiction novel. Rod McBan becomes the richest man in the universe through the economic warfare of his inherited computer; the novel largely concerns itself with the need to survive the acquisition of wealth. Funny, poetic, and touching, "Norstrilia" is a bittersweet read, because it starts to show how Smith would have continued the expansion and collation of his future history, the Instrumentality of Mankind. Unfortunately, his early death deprived us of what would have been the most lyrical of all future histories. At least we have his stories, which is where any new reader should start (there's a new collection in print now); much of the emotional resonance of the novel comes from recognizing characters from the shorter works, especially the cat-girl C'mell. When you're done with those shorter glories, then come to "Norstrilia" and experience the longest swim in Smith's pool. You won't regret it!
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Format: Hardcover
Dr. Paul Linebarger was the son of American diplomats in China (his godfather was President Sun Yat-sen), advisor to Chiang Kai-shek, intelligence analysis in World War II and Korea (he sat out Vietnam), and a linguist and published poet. On top of all that, he wrote science fiction of very high quality under the name "Cordwainer Smith." All his stories are set some 15,000 years hence, in a perfectly managed world of perfect, long-lived people and their "underpeople" servants. And it's all become stale, bland, boring, and decadent. So the Lords of the Instrumentality establish the Rediscovery of Man, allowing disease, accident, anger, and multiple languages and cultures back into the world, just to make things interesting. In this, his only novel, the author brings together all those themes and characters -- Lord Jestocost, C'mell, D'joan, Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, and all the others -- and orbits them around Rod McBan CLI, an enormously wealthy hayseed from the planet of Old North Australia, home of stroon (the drug responsible for near-infinite life), and his leveraged purchase of nearly the whole of Old Earth. Will he find his heart's desire? Originally published as two separate, hacked-up short novels, the whole story is brought back together here. What made Linebarger's work so much above average is that he wasn't so much a story-teller as a myth-maker, creating amazing yarns about larger-than-life characters, telling the history of our maybe-future.
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Format: Hardcover
Harlan Ellison (one of my other favorite authors) brought Cordwainer Smith to my attention sometime in the 70s. Fortunately for me, both "Norstrilia" and "The Best of Cordwainer Smith" were available in paperback somewhere (used-book store?).
Ellison pretty much worshipped Smith, and I pretty much worshipped Ellison, so...
Until that point, I had considered Ray Bradbury the best user of language among the authors I read extensively.
Cordwainer Smith leaves even Bradbury in the dust. His lyrical narratives would make even mundane stories read wonderfully.
Fortunately, Smith's stories -- both short fiction and Norstrilia, his only novel-length effort -- are anything but mundane. His background and interests led him to create worlds utterly unlike any others I've encountered in 2o-some years of avid reading of speculative fiction.
Cordwainer Smith was the pen name of Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger, godson of Sun Yat Sen.
He got his Ph.D. in political science at age 23, and wrote extensively about Chinese political issues, worked for the American intelligence community, produced a classic text about psychological warfare that was used by the U.S. Army for decades, and was a professor of Asiatic Politics at Johns Hopkins University and an advisor to John F. Kennedy. He died in 1966, far too early.
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