The Remakable Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith

The Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith, by Karen Hellekson

The Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith by Karen Hellekson book coverThe Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith, by Karen L. Hellekson, is the only book I know of that is devoted entirely to this topic.

Here's what the publisher, Mcfarland and Company, says about it:

This critical work concentrates on the science fiction writings of Paul Linebarger, who wrote under the pseudonym Cordwainer Smith, as well as other pseudonyms he created to reflect his different writing styles. His writings give voice to concerns about humanity and personal struggle; his ideas about love, loss, alienation, and psychic pain continue to resonate today.

This work begins with a brief biographical sketch of Cordwainer Smith, linking elements of his past to his writing and focusing on his contributions to science fiction as well as his concern with humanity. Also discussed are Smith's published and unpublished novel- length non-science fiction, his revision process, the true man-underpeople dichotomy in his published and unpublished short fiction, and his only published novel-length science fiction work Norstrilia. 

I've read much of it. As I have often said, I'm not as much a CS fan as someone who grew up surrounded by his mind -- so I am not really the best person to review it. I think that anyone who is fascinated by CS's writings and enjoys literary analysis might like to read it. It's fun to see discussion of so many CS-related themes in one place.

Here's a quote, to give you a taste:

"The Great Pain of Space is a recurring theme in Smith's science fiction, and one that merits investigation. In Smith's earlier science fiction stories, the Great Pain of Space is literal; people literally experience horrible pain and death simply from attempting to traverse space. In Smith's later works, the pain is sublimated and metaphorical. In 'Think Blue, Count Two,' something inside people is triggered by space that causes insanity, despair, and pain. Regardless of how this pain is articulated, however, it is connected with space and humanity's attempt to travel through it. I certainly agree that Smith, in his science fiction, was working through his own psychological problems."[Page 88]

The paperback book is 158 pages long: that's 104 pages of the text itself, followed by a glossary of CS terms, a bibliography, a list of manuscripts at the Spencer Research Library in Lawrence, Kansas, and an index. Its $35 price tag seems steep to me, but I suppose academic books tend to cost more than general interest ones, due to the smaller readerships. As a librarian myself, I can't help reminding you that your public or academic library may be able to get it for you on interlibrary loan. And there's a good chance you can get a used copy online; I have links at the bottom of this page.

Andy Sawyer, Science Fiction Librarian at the University of Liverpool, and Reviews Editor of Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction kindly sent me some comments that were to appear in Foundation 84. See The Science Fiction Foundation Collection webpage:

Andy's comments on The Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith

It draws together a body of existing research, and is especially interesting on the early "mainstream" fiction, which few fans have read. She quotes, for instance, an interesting quotation from Ria (1947) about "the fluent deep roar of a resounding brass instrument of some kind . . . something which sounded like the instrumentality of man". She identifies various themes of loss, love and alienation in his work. Although her analysis can be superficial at times (she rightly stresses the way he deals with the question of "what makes us human?" but the final "afterword" summarises Smith's work with at least seven uses of the phrase "the human condition" in four pages, which is probably six too many) she has produced an enjoyable book on a fine writer.

Although her glossary is useful, no serious scholar or fan of Smith should be without Anthony R. Lewis's Concordance, now in its third edition. It's only necessary to compare entries such as the one for "Judson, E. Z. C." in both. Hellekson's is fine as far as the reference within Smith's work goes, but it is Lewis who tells us that the "Ancient American poet, 1823-1866" was the writer of over 400 books, many as "Ned Buntline" who was Buffalo Bill Cody's promoter. (Although it is Hellekson who has an entry for Norstrilia's "Absent Queen" without, however, explaining the reference as - at least so I have always taken it - an echo of Australian identification with a British "homeland".)

You can likely find the book at Alibris.

Here are links to Amazon and as well.


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NEW! His spy thriller  Atomsk, written as Carmichael Smith, is now on the Kindle!
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Atomsk Kindle version

 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