The Remakable Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith


A Novel by Paul Linebarger as Felix C. Forrest

Ria, by Felix C. Forrest, was published in 1947, about a year before Carola. It was a novel Paul Linebarger wrote before he began his Cordwainer Smith era. The book was out of print for years, and then was reprinted in 1987. That edition is out of print as well, but probably more often found online than the first edition. See further down this page for a selection from the book.

I re-read the book when I created this website. Felix C. Forrest is not yet Cordwainer Smith, though the themes of cats, suffering, cruelty, and male-female relationships are already dominant. It has no real science fiction aspect. At times he pontificates at length, and some of the writing (and the ideas) are dated. I didn't enjoy this as much as I enjoy most CS. But as I said on the home page, being his daughter, I'm hardly objective. Re-reading the book was rather like an extended conversation with my father, in which I couldn't answer back.

Ria herself came alive for me (though most of the other characters didn't so much), and one of the most interesting things about the book for me was how my father wrote mostly from the female point of view, through the eyes of Ria herself. When he was about Ria's age, he lived for some time in Baden Baden, and the novel's odd variety of characters, and its descriptions of the power of American dollars in 1922 Germany sound very much like what he told me about his experiences there.

Ria may help with the discussion about when he became involved in Christianity. Bits like this can be read in more than one way: "But if you stopped and thought about life as it truly was, all problems came down to yourself, and your own tragic temporariness, and the fact that you were no more solid than a daydream in the mind of an unimaginable God."

Ria, by Felix C. Forrest, book cover of 1947 edition

Here is the cover of the first edition, and here is the blurb from it: The author of this extraordinary first novel is a government scientist, now back at his regular occupation after three and a half years in the Army. Ria was written while the author was overseas and it was mailed back to his wife in installments.

The central figure of this novel is an American girl who has been educated in Japan and Germany, the attractive, bright, and intense fifteen-year-old Ria. Most of the action takes places in Bad Christi, Germany, when the girl finds herself caught up in a curious pattern of behavior that is often beyond her understanding as well as out of her control. Surrounded by a group of vivid and unusual characters, and compelled to action by circumstances as real as they are peculiar, Ria plays her odd part in enacting a drama of 'sex plus time plus space.'

Quite as strange as the central figure are the other characters in the story: the young and fantastic German intellectual, the exiled ancient Russian prince, the broken-down English madam, the lovely blond Swedish girl, Ria's helpful and irrepressible mother, and half a dozen others, including the magnificent golden cat, Sardanapal.

It is safe to say that Felix C. Forrest has scored an outstanding success with his first book of fiction. Before the war Mr. Forrest had written extensively in his professional field, but this is his first book of general interest. Born in 1913, the author has lived much of his life abroad. As a very young child, he was taken to Japan, and he still regards the Inland Sea as the most beautiful spot on earth. Later, as readers of this novel will understand, he lived on the Riviera and in the Black Forest. He has also lived in China and in southern England. As a result, he says now that at any given place he is apt to find himself homesick for all the rest of the world.

Ria book cover, 1987 edition, Felix C ForrestAnd here is the cover and blurb from the 1987 edition. Those familiar with the quirky stylistic nuances of Cordwainer Smith will recognize in RIA a similarity that is more than mere coincidence. Long before the first published appearance of "Cordwainer Smith," the man who would be Smith was already producing works of fiction using the same unique style and invariably humane inner vision that was later to characterize his tales of mankind's far future.
     RIA, like the tales of the Instrumentality, is a story of human growth and introspection. A story of humanity that cuts across cultural boundaries by finding and exploring the threads of human experience that are common to all. And, like Smith's later tales of a far future universe, RIA is a story that cannot be told in the here and now. It is a story that can only be told as it is remembered; through the obscuring mists of time and memory.

Chapters One and Two
I. The Memories of Ria
I. Ria Regardie Browne stood alone on the hotel terrace and looked over the dunes at the edge of the ocean. East of her the sky was gray. Into that sky Gene had flown, and had not come back.

And now it was September—17 September 1943, 1930 hours—that's the way Gene would have put it, with vehement mock-military enthusiasm. But war was hard, practical work, and Gene had not been the right kind of man to venture into a sky full of howling machinery. Gene had resented war; but when it came he accepted it as duty and adventure. Now she looked over the waters, all alone, while her hand hurt.

She was not looking for anything. That spring the coast had been invested with danger. Heavy columns of smoke and unnatural dark-orange flame had stained the coastal sky whenever the undersea boats attacked. Now the sky was quiet.

The sky was coolly gray. It held neither threat nor promise. Ria was alone with herself and the pain in her hand. The hand looked all right from the outside: the numbness did not stand out in red welts; the twist did not betray itself as a deformity. The hand looked like an ordinary hand, but filled with fire known to herself alone.

The doctor had said, just an hour earlier, on this same terrace:

"Well, Mrs. Browne, if you don't want to go to a psychiatrist, there's nothing much that I can do for you. The neurologist has said that there is no organic difficulty in your nerves. We could, of course, block off the nerve leading to your arm, and shut off the pain that way if it becomes intolerable; but that's tricky business. You assure me that you have adjusted yourself to the death of your husband. You said that, didn't you?"

While he had been talking, Ria visualized his life as a corridor running parallel to her own. His corridor was bright, warm, pink, alive with domesticity, health, laughter. Her corridor was gray, dry, cool, quiet, apart. Words made windows between the corridors. You could guess at what people really thought if you could mind-read the intended words behind their voiced words, the real meanings behind the sounds they mouthed. Preoccupied with the image, Ria merely answered:


"Well, then, if it isn't your husband, it's something else. You're too young for this kind of syndrome—young for a person of your personality type. You're thirty-six, and haven't any reason for this, not for years yet. Rule out organic troubles, for the time at least... What have you been hiding from me? Or from yourself?"

"I don't know."

"But you have to know! It's your brain, not mine. If you can't dig out the trouble, a psychiatrist can. Somewhere, sometime, you've picked up a worry, a conflict, a blocked desire—one like thousands of others in anyone's life. But this one has happened to be permanent and hidden. Now it's tangible enough to reach across the years and twist your hand. Do you need any more proof that something is really wrong?"

"I suppose I'm just tired. After all, Gene's death..."

"No. We've gone into that. You've persuaded me it isn't that. Tell me. Anywhere, somewhere in your past—isn't there a shock you haven't mentioned, a disappointment, humiliation, a crime?"

"Crime?...No." But as she answered, Ria felt the past uncoiling in the depths of the corridor behind her. She felt her German yesterdays stir faintly in the silence of her brain.

"Well, Mrs. Browne?"

"There may be something. You'll have to let me think it over. I don't need a psychoanalyst or a Christian Scientist or anything like that. I may find something. If there is anything there, I can find it for myself."

The doctor rose. Ocean wind moved across his thick gray hair. His face seemed tinted a more than usual bronze as it reflected the red glow of the late-afternoon sky. Ria thought with casual envy of the woman, unknown, to whom this man would go home. She said good-bye to the doctor almost listlessly, appreciating the way he took her warped hand casually, but not too casually, in the conventional handshake. He passed the edge of the building and was gone.

Ria turned her eyes to the sea, and the past. Somewhere in herself there was a force; she visualized it as an animal, indolent, brainless, cruel only in that it lived. This animal attacked her. It was up to her, and to her alone, to go back into the darkness to herself, to find the enemy, and to kill it with light. But who? What? When?

What crime?

She remembered. Of course, she remembered:

Bräutigam murmuring, "Wealth—wealth—wealth! More wealth than the world has ever seen, ever. More food. Riches for everybody." And she could see Bräutigam sucking his innocently lascivious lips, and brushing his stringy, soft brown hair away from his high, narrow forehead.

Or the cat Sardánapal walking past, broad muzzle grinning, fiery eyes scornful; funny, thought Ria, that even after twenty-one years she could not get over half-believing that the cat really was the incarnation of a scientist from Mars.

Or Murata, eating cream puffs and politely bowing every third bite, becoming sharp and tense as he described pain. Ria thought to herself: How could I have known it then? The poor little man was getting lustful. It was just his way of getting passionate. But she could not forget Murata's black eyes blazing, his voice catching, as he said to her:

"The Chinese—the Chinese—they are terrible people. The tortures! Rinchiku, one of them is called. Do you know what they say about that one, Ria? Do you know what they say about that one? They say that a dead man—truly, a man who has been dead all one day—will wake up and make weeping for shame if they do the rinchiku to him! Ria. Isn't that terrible, Ria? What do you think, Ria?"

His greedy eyes had searched her face as he watched for an answer; but Ria had looked out of the window at the Black Forest and the familiar promenaders of Bad Christi, and—without knowing why—she refused him the satisfaction of seeing that he had keyed her up. He let his eyes fall to the table, and his Japanese golden teeth flashed as he smacked up another bite of cream puff. Ria let that memory slip sideways, and away.

Or the Prinz Todschonotschidsche, whose old lungs whistled as he wheezed his sharp philosophy. And the Russian smell of the big room, where dusty sunlight fell unnoticed into a tray of cheap jewels.

Or the nice people. Nicest of all, her mother, gray eyes glittering, fearless before God and man, skeptical of everything but the truth, and dead sure of what truth was. Nice, too, Desirée—pale face and pale lips and pale golden hair, making her look like a statue coming halfway to life, still enchanted with beauty.

Or Wolf von Julo, long fang-like teeth gleaming, fierce-looking, sharp-talking, until he took a pear from his pocket and polished it on his sleeve, clicking his heels and saying: "Fräulein Regardie, the Germany of one thousand nine hundred and twenty-two can give you little that you cannot buy for a butter-bread with your good American dollar and our thousands of marks. But take note, Fräulein: a pear like this cannot be bought at any price. All your dollars could not buy it. We German people still have our land, and our pride. You cannot buy this pear. So! You are a good girl. I give it to you. What do you say, Ria?" And his chuckle followed.

But these things were just the glimpses of memory.

She had to get back to the house itself, if she were to recapture the smell of crime, to see again the pale, hunted face of Desirée, the imperial fury of Bräutigam despairing, the blood all over the room—and her own sinking, sinking feeling that she had stumbled into something from which no God could extricate her, ever.

But how could you ever find anything, if you looked back? Memory was not a clear paneling to the corridor behind you, neatly niching the days and hours of life. Memory was just a chart, a map as unreal as a picture-map of familiar cities. Memory was what you had taught yourself to remember about yourself—the practical things, the dates, the events which you had to put on passport applications and driver's licenses, the anniversaries you told other people about. Memory was personal history—tidied up, improved, falsified, like any kind of history.

Memory was not the raw uncontrollable pictures which sprang forth from the depths of your mind—the chaos of queer things which most people kept under control. Memory was not the bite of poetry evoked by a familiar texture, the sting of wan unhappiness brought forth by a once-familiar tint. Ria remembered how a particular cerise color on the walls of a department-store restaurant in Richmond had made her feel puzzled and at home, until she knew that the color was the color of a dress of Desirée's—the one which Mother had called the Dress of the Scarlet Woman, and which Mrs. Cordon had said she wouldn't go to a dogfight in. Ria remembered that going to a dogfight had seemed an improbable necessity for Mrs. Cordon, and that the two women had explained the idiom to her painstakingly; Mrs. Cordon had told Mother that she, Ria, should be taken home to America so she would grow up a real American girl, instead of living in Japan and Germany and God knows where; and Ria had thought of the picture books of America, and the never-ending stream of good things which had come from America, and had felt oddly wistful at the familiarity of little Mr. Murata who alone of all people in Bad Christi was the only one who could connect her childhood in Japan and her adolescence in Germany by talking good, Tokyo-twanging Nihongo to her as they peered over the wooded hills toward the Rhine, where the French were, grim, menacing, and implacable—There! That was what happened when you just let yourself remember, instead of sorting out the tidy dates and the formal dissociated names. That wasn't real memory.

But what was real memory? It wasn't dreams, either, not the monstrous shapes which rose and struggled and fell in a familiar but unknowable world. Ria remembered her own dreams—especially the few signal ones for which she had names: the Dream of Innocence, the Dream of Crime, the Dream of Pure Power—as a sort of life convulsively apart from the elegant superficiality of waking hours. When awake, her brain was genteel; it forgot Bräutigam and the blood on the table; it forgot the Martian-scientist glare of the accusing cat Sardánapal; it forgot the rainfall around Mademoiselle Lavallance and the jabbering heartbreak of old Frau Bräutigam. But dreams stripped the past of everything extraneous—names, persons, places, times. Nothing remained but the pure gesture, dressed up again in the garments of more recent experiences. And dreams were at that broad borderland of sheer experience which was so obvious that people did not dare to talk about it.

What about the traps which everybody had inside his head?

What about the sudden glimpses backward into the forever-unknowable first person singular, the blank abyss from which each of us comes forth, and over which each of us is precariously suspended?

Ria found herself changing mental images, and dropping the fiction of the corridor. With her mind she saw a lunar landscape, full of potholes like bullet-marks in the cold stone. Over each hole a person stood, suspended in thin, empty air. Now and then some individuals would vanish; all the time, empty holes were popping up new people. The new people immediately set to bowing and simpering and chatting with the others, until they too flashed downward and forever out of sight, back into the subterranean nothingness from which they had first leapt. The remarkable thing was not the way that people sprang forth out of the horror of being born—not the way they impotently flashed downward into irrevocable death. No, the odd and important thing was the way they pretended this tremendous spiritual drama was not going on all around them—the way that they chatted with each other while mysteries and miracles occurred pell-mell all over the place—the way that they looked at each other's hats and dresses, or applauded one another's wit, or flirted and fell in love with one another, while the blinding machinery of the universe operated in plain sight before their unseeing eyes.

Perhaps they dared not look. Perhaps dreams were the fugitive sidewise glimpses which people dared take at the terrific truth of being alive. Perhaps words were built to guard men from vision. After all, words were not designed to express what we experience; they were set up for a very different purpose, to express what people want to communicate. What could people really say about death? Say, that is, that mattered? Or say about the elusive oddity of sex, the charmingness of being one kind of human being?

People talked about the safe things, the nice things, the good things, the true things which did not matter much. When ordinary facts stared them in the face—facts like the certainty of dying, the goodness of passion, or the strangeness of being—people looked away. Yet among those facts was one that Ria had to find. She saw herself walking wide-eyed into the landscape of mysteries, lunar in its bleak brightness of light. Somewhere she would find the combination of facts which now lay hidden in her brain, and which by its mere presence twisted her arm out of shape.

But she would have to stop being genteel; she would have to stop thinking about unimportant things like last year's hat or next year's politics. Dresses and wars and newspapers and politics and talk and books—these were things which people did together, things with which they amused themselves before flashing, one by one, irrevocably away out of sight. Communism or Culbertson bridge or Boulder Dam might look important for a minute if you tried hard not to use your own imagination, and tried to think that the blank spaces in betweeen living people were more important than were the people themselves; but if you stopped and thought about life as it truly was, all problems came down to yourself, and your own tragic temporariness, and the fact that you were no more solid than a daydream in the mind of an unimaginable God. How could people really look at things? Or really talk about themselves? Of course, they pretended they weren't people. They kept fundamentals off the stage of the everyday.

When she was a girl, her mother had always shushed her up when she got down to anything important or true. Yet Ria, smiling at the thought of her mother's incomparable bravery, knew that her mother was one of the rare people who can keep both worlds, the eternal and the momentary, plainly in sight all the time. Ria remembered her mother's thin-lipped bright smile, and the way that her mother could utter—unconsciously but authoritatively—some tremendous theological truth at the moment she scrubbed out the ears of a dirty baby.

Ria thought: Sometimes I realized that the world was full of people who went around keeping secrets from each other, secrets which they all knew. I've looked across aisles in streetcars and watched blank lumpy people sitting in docile rows. You could see their eyeballs move as they read the ads or as they looked across at the traffic to be seen through the windows opposite.

But sometimes you would see more than that—something else would go across their faces, something odd which they didn't like. And then they would look around to see if anyone caught them feeling that way, because people sense that when they see the truth, it is so obvious that other people ought to be able to catch them seeing it. But they notice that everybody else looks dull and usual, and they heave little sighs, and look cheered up, and try to focus their minds back on the things which don't matter—the streetcar, the world around them, the prices of things: anything but the absolutes which they've looked at face-to-face. Why should they talk about being alive? There isn't anything to say—nothing that words can say.

Yet, Ria somehow felt that the combination of memory, dream, and formal recollection could be put together; she could find the question which, unanswered, had converted itself into physical torment. But the question was not to be found among the real, the basic questions. These had no answers; and if mankind did indeed require answers to the questions, why birth? why love? why death? why anything?, mankind would have gone mad long ago.

It was the final miracle that mankind could ignore miracles—could ignore the overwhelming inexplicables of everyday life, and find enough games to keep happy. What Chinese was it who said, "We are born in a stupor and die in a dream"—without mentioning what would happen if we dared to wake up in the middle of it all?

Ria is often available online.  You may find it at Alibris.

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 The Blog
 His Books
 The Rediscovery of Man, by Cordwainer Smith
 Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith
 Atomsk, by Carmichael Smith
 Ria, by Felix C. Forrest
 Carola, by Felix C. Forrest
 Psychological Warfare, by Paul M. A. Linebarger
 Letters from Paul, by Paul M. A. Linebarger
 Letters from Paul: One Letter
 Books about His Science Fiction
 Concordance to Cordwainer Smith, by Anthony Lewis
 The Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith, by Karen Hellekson
 Exploring Cordwainer Smith, Booklet by Andrew Porter
 Where You Can Get Books
 Cordwainer Smith at Amazon
 Cordwainer Smith at Alibris
 Cordwainer Smith at AbeBooks
 Cordwainer Smith on eBay
 Cordwainer Smith, the Author
 A Cordwainer Smith Panel Discussion
 Scholarly Corner, by Alan C. Elms
 What Other Science Fiction Authors Say
 What Readers Say
 Paul M. A. Linebarger, the Man
 Family Photos
 A Daughter's Memories
 Was Paul Linebarger Kirk Allen?
 His Arlington National Cemetery Bio and My Comments
 Rosana's Ramblings
 Rambling 1: Shakespeare Had It Wrong
 Rambling 2: The Return of C'mell, Sort Of
 Art Inspired by Cordwainer Smith
 Virgil Finlay
 Pierre Lacombe
 Craig Moore
 Corby Waste
 Annual Rediscovery Award
 2012 Fredric Brown
 2011 Katherine MacLean
 2010 Mark Clifton
 2009 A. Merritt
 2008 Stanley G. Weinbaum
 2007 Daniel F Galouye
 2006 William Hope Hodgson
 2005 Leigh Brackett
 Leigh Brackett: Her Biography
 2004 Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore
 2003 Edgar Pangborn
 2002 R. A. Lafferty
 2001 Olaf Stapledon
 Cordwainer Smith Foundation
 Cordwainer Smith T-Shirts
 Cordwainer Smith: Other Online Resources
 Contact Us
 Illustrated Bibliography, by Mike Bennett
 Introduction to the Illustrated Bibliography
 All the Stories and All the Books
 Chronological Book List
 Magazine Covers
 Book Covers
 Book Covers: Best of Cordwainer Smith
 Book Covers: Instrumentality of Mankind
 Book Covers: Norstrilia
 Book Covers: Planet Buyer
 Book Covers: Rediscovery of Man
 Book Covers: Quest of the Three Worlds
 Book Covers: Space Lords
 Book Covers: Stardreamer
 Book Covers: Under Old Earth
 Book Covers: Underpeople
 Book Covers: You Will Never Be the Same
 Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger - Chronology
 Press Releases
 2008 Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award Goes to Stanley G. Weinbaum
 2002: About the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award
 2001: First Rediscovery Award Ceremony
 2001: Creation of Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award