Friday, July 26, 2013

Approaching Earthport

"Alpha Ralpha Boulevard" by Chris Wayan (1997)

Cordwainer Smith is a posthumous Guest of Honor at Diversicon 21 at next weekend in the Twin Cities, MN. I'll be on two panels about Smith at the con, as well as running a Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG game scenario called: "The Time Lords and the Lords of the Instrumentality."

Should be fun.

Over the last year, I have been reading a lot of Smith - slowly but surely. His work is weird, elusive, and evocative. I've now read all of Smith's "Instrumentality of Mankind" short stories using the two Baen collections. The two collections have some 800+ pages of short stories set in this rather loosely constructed future history sequence.

And tonight, I am starting Smith's Instrumentality novel, Norstrilia, which is another 250 pages in the second book of the Baen collection.

My goal is to finish Norstrilia in the next week.

Looking forward to the con!


  1. Good luck. I don't know much about Smith, but I'd like to put that right.

  2. @Porky: Thanks! Smith's voice is very unique. It is as if he is retelling myths from the distant future.

  3. Very interest! Smith's work is really unique in science fiction, I think. He does the "ancient galactic empire" trope with a style all his own.

  4. Paul Linebarger aka Cordwainer Smith was awesome and then some. Norstrillia is one of those often-plundered/rarely-mentioned classics. Well worth the read. What did you think of Ballad of Lost C'mell or Mother Hitton?

    1. I thought Hitton is a period piece - definitely not one for the animal rights crowd. Lost C'mell was more enjoyable. Alpha Ralpha Blvd was just plain weird with its Luciferian computer, with a tragic ending tied to racism.

      Overall, I am beginning to appreciate that Smith did not believe in evil. Although he did believe in bad. The Lords of the Instrumentality are predominantly an amoral group, real principalities and powers, like many of the people he must have met running nations.

    2. I'm not sure whether Smith believed in evil or not, but in his fiction there is a lot of human fallibility and frailty, even among the underpeople, machines, scanners, etc. For all the weirdness, it is a very human universe. Of course, his definition of human was (perhaps) a bit more inclusive than is currently fashionable...

    3. In our Diversicon panel on Transhumanism in the works of Cordwainer Smith (which happened last night) we concluded that Smith uses the trappings of Transhumanism, but is not really a Transhumanist. He actually thinks the human condition doesn't change that much, even as Transhuman technologies are featured in a lot of his stories. In retrospect, I think he is far more of a Christian humanist than a Transhumanist. It was one of those panels which really opened up new ground and explored what a writer is really doing with the tools he as chosen.

    4. Sounds like an excellent panel. Scanners Live in Vain is as transhumanist as it gets, in terms of self-modifying humanity into something radically different...but Smith wasn't approaching transhumanism as a movement or political thing, he was writing his stories before that all crystallized into something that could kick him out after the fact. (Which I find amusing.) That smacks of the whole art movement thing where artists who worked long and hard at developing their own thing were adopted or dropped by various movements that they had little to nothing to do say Picasso or Kahlo and Surrealism, for example. Funny thing, those politics. In the end I doubt it matters too terribly much. Smith's stories are classics and well established, and they don't necessarily need to be certified or approved by whatever 'transhumanism' is defined as being right now. Like space Opera or Weird fiction, the definition is malleable and will drift/shift over time.
      Your anaylsis is pretty close to my own, I would consider him slightly more Gnostic than what passes for Christian currently...but not quite as Gnostic as say PKD...and he definitely was far more concerned with what he defined as 'human' than most anything else. Sorry we missed this con...maybe next year...
      Have a Great Time!