What Readers Say
I have received so many emails from fans of my father's science fiction. Many have told me how it affected
their lives. I didn't ask for permission to quote most of them, but here are some comments which I did get
permission to use.
If you would like to contribute some writing about your own experiences with Cordwainer Smith, I've set
up my Cordwainer smith blog to accept your comments, and I've
created various posts that ask for your input, such as
- What is your favorite Cordwainer Smith story?
- When did you first read
- The links take you right to those blog posts. Do tell us how you first found CS or how he's
Alan Macdougall, from New Zealand
Alan wrote me in 2001: "I grew up in a small country town of around 200 people. This was the late 70's.
Every year the town would have a 'white elephant' fair as a fundraiser for the local community hall rebuilding
"This particular year, as always, I had about $0.50 to spend, and after much poking about and
thinking and agonising I came away with two books: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury and the
Sphere Books edition of The Planetbuyer.
"The latter immediately struck a chord with me - although I had read lots of Sci-Fi by this time (I would have
been about 10 or 11) this was the first with a recognisable character, someone who could be me, just an Antipodean
farm boy... except 15 thousand years in the future after a nuclear war.(In those days I was very very worried about
nuclear war and to think there might be an Australia somewhere 15 thousand years hence made me think there might be
a New Zealand too.) Rod looks after sheep, has chores to do... much like me. He didn't always feel like he fitted
in... much like me. And then the sheer depth of invention was amazing to me, and I longed to know more - all the
whos and whats and whys... and what happened to Rod next.
"[Later] I found an original paperback of Space Lords with that wonderful dedication to his readers
that your father wrote. I felt like he was speaking to me personally... from a distance of years, (written before I
was born) it felt really special."
I was really moved by this story of a boy growing up with the same nuclear fears that had haunted me
earlier. This is probably the reader comment I remember the best of all that I have received, and for that reason
I've put it first. (The shadow of nuclear holocaust theme recurs further down this page.)
After receiving this email, I looked up that dedication. Here is the heart of it:
These stories are for us-- for me who wrote them, because I loved them; for you, who are looking at
This is science fiction, yes. But it comes from your own time, from your own world, even from your own
All I can do is work the symbols.
The magic and the beauty will come of our own past, your present, your hopes and your experience. This
may look alien but it is really as close to you as your own fingers. Some people will like this very
much. Many will not understand it, and push it aside. That is their loss, reader, not yours, not
We two, we have this story between us. Read a bit and see how it goes.
At this instant, you are yourself the prologue. All I have done is supply the makings.
Yannis Tsamalis, from Greece
"I'm writing to you in order to tell you that I am an avid admirer of your late father's work. Every time I read
one of his Instrumentality stories it is like being transferred into this future world.
"I do not think it an exaggeration to assert that all of your father's stories emit (if I may say) this special
kind of liveliness and appeal peculiar to themselves: when you start reading any one of them, it feels, at first,
so remote, so utterly detached from anything you know and experience in everyday life, yet, while you read on,
suddenly you find your very self, your very being, all surrounded by this magnificent universe Cordwainer Smith had
envisioned; and you never know when you did cross the boundary line (if there is, actually, any) between the
"The uniqueness of Cordwainer Smith lies in the fact that he describes a world which, though most extraordinary in
its every aspect, is run throughout by a very real sense of cogency and cohesion, which turns this alternative
universe into palpable reality. But who can really say that such a cosmos doesn't exist already? I, for one, though
I may not be able to prove its existence, yet I cannot find, either, any adequate and convincing reasons why such a
society shouldn't or couldn't exist somewhere, somewhen.
"I hope I haven't tried your patience. I am just a lover of fine literature, and I happen to believe that your
father's work is one of its exquisite specimens.
"Growing up in the 70's I read every story by Cordwainer Smith that I could get my hands on. Early in my teen
years I went through therapy in a drug program. The world was so fearsome a place for me I could not imagine
anything beyond an impending nuclear Holocaust. Reading CS's works gave me the courage to face my fears and the
world. Here was something that expanded the mind far beyond any drug had ever done for me. I was fascinated and
filled with admiration that has only grown through the years, as I myself have begun to write. He is still my
favorite writer in any genre.
"The beautiful, poetic, near hypnotic quality of CS's work has yet to be duplicated in any writing anywhere.
After 30 years, I still cry when I read 'The Lady Who Sailed the Soul,' or 'Lost Ballad of C'Mell.'
"If you suffered with the birth pangs that accompanied the creation of such beauty, I'm sorry for your pain.
Take heart, your agony was not in vain. My world would have been an infinitely poorer place without your father's
creations. They are expressions of genius, and I hope you can see that they are worth the price of sleepless nights
and frightened dreams.
"His work is so evocative, it could be used to teach any prospective aliens we meet what it is like to be human.
My life would be less, and my capacity for love would be less without having read those words. I thank you for not
letting his memory fade in a world that may need to learn how to become human again."
"Rosana: I made my way to your dad´s universe through the usual Heinlein- Clarke-Asimov-what-else-is-out-here?
method recommended by 4 out of 5 dentists for their patients who read SF. I was 9 or 10 and reading voraciously, a
dictionary close at hand for those words outside my ken.
"And I found a story by Cordwainer Smith. Being a discerning prodigy (self-anointed), I immediately had to read
them all. Which wasn't as easy as it sounds. At the time we lived in a suburb of Vancouver, BC, called Cloverdale,
which, while famous for its rodeo, isn´t exactly known - or wasn't then, at any rate - for its quantity and quality
"So I looked.
"And as I´m being taught 'patience' in this iteration, I looked some more.
"At long last, some years thence, when a less obsessive-repulsive would have given up the ghost, what to my
wondering eyes did appear?
"The Best of Cordwainer Smith.
"The title seemed redundant. Nonetheless, I reached out fast - fast like a cobra, fast like the
wind. I doubt motion sensors would've picked me up, had they then been invented.
" 'Me! Me! Me! Mine! Mine! Mine!' I shrieked. To myself, recalling, chagrined, how my outbursts had, on several
occasions previous, frightened the local yokels. (Picture me as Daffy Duck in ‘Ali Baba Bunny´ as directed by the
lovely Chuck Jones.)
"With flesh-and-blood money squeezed from my overworked, underpaid parents burning a figurative hole in my
pocket, I scurried (now think Marvin Martian, his feet a blur) up to the drone manning the abacus. Okay… cash
register. But not one of those fancy bar code scanning numbers, nor even one of its clunky, obsolete progenitors
with their DOS-inspired alphanumeric displays. Rather something that would´ve been at home perhaps not in the Old
West, nor even the Mae West, but certainly in the Middle-Aged West of story and song.
"As for the drone, picture a mouth breathing troglodyte so deadly dull as to suck the IQ out of a room. Well, it
was his younger, thicker brother, Hoover. Barely Upright. And he wasn´t having his best day.
"He looked at the title without the slightest clue, as that was his best and only look. He'd've snorted
derisively had he the capacity to work out derision from the superior position. Did his level, unknowing best to
suck the joy out of my prized acquisition. Intuitively, I understood that it was rare as steak tartare for him to
do his level best, unknowing or otherwise, so I allowed him his moment most uncommon and flew away home.
"I've had that book 30-some years now. I have no idea how many times I've pored over those stories. Some of my
favourites, like 'The Burning of the Brain' and 'The Game of Rat and Dragon' more than 50, I´m sure. And I hunted
down Norstrilia and Quest of the 3 Worlds and Space Lords and devoured them repeatedly,
"The exotic names and places and people and races, the vaguely Oriental storytelling, those strange careers and
epic tales - it was all thrilling. And remains so to this day.
"I wish your dad was still alive and writing. His stories have given me countless hours of joy. I know he's been
gone some time now, but I offer you my condolences -- I´m sure you miss him more than any of his rabid fans
could ever do, even at their (read: 'my') most hyperbolic.
"Golden his Writing Was - Oh! Oh! Oh!
"Thanks very much.
"A lifelong acolyte,
Bala Menon, from India and the US
"I first encountered CS in the much-anthologized 'Game of Rat and Dragon', and promptly started hunting more of
this. Which was kinda tough to do, because Science Fiction, as a whole, didn't get much distribution in India, at
the time. When I finally did manage to locate Norstrilia and The Instrumentality of Mankind, they
promptly went way up to the top of my list. C'Mell, Jestocost, D'Joan ... this was probably my favourite SF then.
(Still is ... when asked the 'which books would you take to a desert island' question a few months back, I voted
for CS's Instrumentality books)
"Imagine my surprise when I land up in the US, and find practically no one who knows my favourite author
...True, I did find a few bibliophiles who knew CS, but good grief, I expected torrents more! I used to buy extra
copies of Norstrilia and The Best of CS and pass 'em around to rave reviews from the pals who got
"Cordwainer Smith (along with Philip K. Dick) kept me from becoming a clerk in some dumb office! What a superb
writer he was." --Richard Fenno
Now that's what I'd call having an effect! Wikipedia says of Richard: "Richard F. Fenno, Jr. (born 12
December 1926) is an American political scientist known for his pioneering work on the U.S. Congress and its
From Tech Support at a Software Company
Here's one that surprised me: This email came as a response to a routine tech support question I sent to
FirstPlace Software, the makers of WebPosition Gold:
"Wow, 'When The People Fell' is a short story of your Dad's that I remember from a sci-fi anthology that I read
at least 15 years ago! As soon as I read that part of your mail, I buzzed over to your site for a closer look and
also told some of my fellow sci- fi fans here at work about your site.
"Your Dad was a good writer with a quirky sense of humor. I don't have a copy of 'When The People Fell' anymore,
but I'm pretty sure it was about a Chinese invasion of Venus, right? The part about the Chinese wanting to build a
casino right after they invade made me laugh right out loud."
"When I was rather young (maybe 9 or 10?) I distinctly recall making a sort of playacting game for my younger
sister inspired by 'The Game of Rat and Dragon,' using a discarded television that would still light up, a old
motorcycle helmet, a generic "space music" album, and a somewhat reluctant cat."
"The huge imaginative leaps are what I like best about the Cordwainer Smith stories, and the realistic feel for
distant history, and how diffused and mysterious it can be - I'd never read anything that took place THAT far into
the future. I love the great words, and the unexpected characters with their complicated back