Atomsk, by Carmichael Smith
Atomsk -- now available as a Kindle book at
Amazon -- is a clever and engaging spy novel.... It was written by Paul M. A. Linebarger under the
pen name of Carmichael Smith, shortly before he began writing as Cordwainer Smith. This book draws on the
principles of Psychological Warfare, a field which he helped to found. (His book of that title, written under his own name, is one of the classics of the
Atomsk is out of print. Copies of it tend to fetch very high prices in the used book market. So I learned
how to make a Kindle book from the PDF file I had made before. It took me a couple of tries, but now
it's up and inexpensive! (If you read it and like it, consider writing some comments in the review area of the
It's always been one of my favorites of my father's writings, so for those of you who are readers more
than collectors, I spent some time scanning in my copy and making an ebook.
Atomsk begins not long after World War II, with the American military in occupied Japan concerned about a very
secret Russian city in Siberia. General Coppersmith asks Major Michael Dugan, "the greatest spy in the world," to
"I want you to spoil the secret of Atomsk."
Coppersmith spelled it out, adding, "It's the Russian atomic center. We want them to know that we know
all about it. We want them to guess as to how we know about it... For that, we need a man as a
"To go in, to get out, and after he was out, to leave traces?"
Here's another bit, to give you more of a taste. This is from the third chapter. We are looking through the eyes
of Captain Sarah Lomax, who is helping to prepare Major Dugan for his trip with its impossible odds.
While Dugan was talking, Sarah studied him. He was of middle height. There was a quaint mobility to his
face, a quickness of expression which made her suspect that in his early childhood some warm-hearted
quickly responsive woman had taught him the rudiments of human relationships. He was acting a role, but
it was a role which he enjoyed acting. He was talking, smiling, agreeing, dissenting, frowning, smiling
again, all in turn.
Who was she to say that this was not the real, the true Dugan? People were not their dead selves but
their live selves. Yet in the case of a man like Dugan, there must be alternative selves, other
personalities patterned to the occasion and the culture. Dugan-the-Japanese must have been just as
believable as Dugan-the-American; Japanese must have liked him because he was Japanese; otherwise he
would have been found out and killed. How could she like a man who existed only by virtue of his own
command, who played perpetually on a stage of make-believe?
What was he, anyway? Dugan was no name for a man with black hair, black eyes, olive skin -- or was it?
Was he a Turk or a Greek, an Italian or an Egyptian, or (wildest chance of all, this) simply an
American?... Swanson had just said, "I knew the pilot. They killed him. They had a right to, but I hate
them for it just the same." Sarah supposed he was talking about the photo plane. Dugan responded by
closing his face -- literally shutting out all expression for an instant -- so that he looked like a
dead man. Or like a Japanese!
Sarah saw, with a flash of intuition, that she had caught him betraying himself -- for the first
distinguishable second in days of their being together. For once, Dugan had gone back to his wartime
role and had responded with the manner of a Japanese, the dead formal silence with which Japanese men
bore news of disaster. He must have had many friends among the Japanese during his years of wartime
spying; and of them, many must have died, so that the expression of quick military sorrow could have
But before she could catch her breath or say anything, Dugan let his face go doleful in the American
manner. He looked Irish again, and American too.... She picked up the thread of the conversation again.
Dugan was protesting, "You mustn't hate the Russians. If you do have to fight them, hating them is no
use, medically or psychologically. It reduces your own efficiency."
If you would like to buy Atomsk as a book, you can often find used copies online. I've seen it at
Alibris, a network of booksellers from various countries.
Tony Lewis, who wrote the Concordance to Cordwainer Smith, said of
Atomsk is what we now call a techno-thriller. It was written twenty-five years too early. Had it been
written later, it would have been acclaimed as well, the sort of thing that Tom Clancy made millions out of!
The seeds fell on ground that hadn't been ploughed and fertilized yet, as it were.