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The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith Hardcover – June 1, 1993
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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.
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Like others say, and I agree, this is for serious fans of C. Smith and/or historians of science fiction.
So I took down my favourite anthology - the 1970 Panther Books edition published under the title 'Under Old Earth' and started to refresh the Cordwainer Smith experience. As I read the wonderful 'A Planet Named Shayol' (there is nothing like this anywhere!) the tears rose in my eyes again. This involuntary response told me so much!!! Here's a quote:
'It's unfair,' cried the half-man. 'They should be punished as we were!'
The Lady Johanna Gnade looked down at him. 'Punishment is ended. We will give you anything you wish, but not the pain of another.'
What a vision! The only comparable one I can think of is the words Gustav Mahler wrote about the day of judgement scene in his second symphony. After the trumpets sound and the dead are raised Mahler reasoned that there would be neither reward nor punishment - only God's heavenly love would remain.
I cannot compromise the five star average rating for these stories. I agree with one and all! If you haven't read these stories you have a wonderful experience in store. If you, like me, know them already - just enjoy again and again as I do.
Unfortunately Smith was ill-served by his early publishers: his one longish novel (Norstrilia) was hacked into two parts (The Planet Buyer and The Underpeople), and the short stories (which originally appeared in magazines like Fantasy and & Science Fiction ) were splattered around different compilations at random.
Now Norstrilia has been restored and published intact, and the shorts have all been collected into one properly-edited volume: this one.
There are 33 stories altogether. If you've been reading SF for any length of time, you may well have one or more of the early anthologies already, and will want to know if this complete opus will give you enough extra stories to justify the expense. I therefore provide the complete list below.
There is an intelligent and scholarly introduction, and also an editor's introduction. The 27 stories of the Instrumentality universe are then presented in order of internal chronology, followed by the odds and ends.
01) No, No, Not Rogov!
02) War Nº 81-Q (Rewritten version)
03) Mark Elf
04) The Queen of the Afternoon
05) Scanners Live in Vain
06) The Lady Who Sailed The Soul
07) When the People Fell
08) Think Blue, Count Two
09) The Colonel Came Back from Nothing-at-All
10) The Game of Rat and Dragon
11) The Burning of the Brain
12) From Gustible's Planet
13) Himself in Anachron
14) The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal
15) Golden the Ship Was — Oh! Oh! Oh!
16) The Dead Lady of Clown Town
17) Under Old Earth
19) Mother Hitton's Littul Kittens
20) Alpha Ralpha Boulevard
21) The Ballad of Lost C'mell
22) A Planet Named Shayol
23) On the Gem Planet
24) On the Storm Planet
25) On the Sand Planet
26) Three to a Given Star
27) Down to a Sunless Sea
28) War Nº 81-Q (Original version)
29) Western Science is So Wonderful
31) The Fife of Bodidharma
33) The Good Friends
N.B. The Gollancz paperback with the identical title is NOT the same as this edition, since it contains only twelve (12) stories. Suggestio falsi?
Smith's stories are not hard science; they read more like fairy tales or myths. However, The Rediscovery of Man is the myths of mankind's future, myths showing the potential for both dreams and nightmares to come true. These are stories for children thousands of years hence, and for adults today. Just like myths and fairy tales, Smith's stories have great truths in them that are often hidden by an entertaining story.
This collection is a fascinating glimpse into the human mentality. Individually, a few of these stories stand out as his best writing, but the collection as a whole is a beautiful work that leads you through one of the most imaginative minds in science fiction.