The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith

By Cordwainer Smith

Rating: 5 stars

This volume contains the entire of Cordwainer Smith’s short science fiction. This mostly consists of stories set in his “Instrumentality of Mankind” future history, but there are a handful of other stories at the end. The Instrumentality universe is a massive imagining, as mankind is shepherded by the all-powerful Instrumentality, protecting it from itself and beyond.

The stories here are lyrical, vivid creatures that demand to be savoured, one or two at a time and Smith’s style reminds me in some ways of Ray Bradbury, another of my favourite writers. This volume, combined with Norstralia contains the sum total of Smith’s output, cut short by a heart attack at the awfully young age of 53. The Instrumentality universe is rich and varied, with themes including the liberation of the Underpeople (genetically modified animals used as slaves) and the meaning of what it is to be human (leading to the “Rediscovery of Man” period).

Picking highlights is difficult, but Scanners Live in Vain, Smith’s first published story, is excellent. It tells of the men who man the spaceships, with their sensory nerves cut to block out the “pain of space” and the volunteers who undergo the same procedure to monitor them, and the process that could make them obsolete. The Dead Lady of Clown Town and The Ballad of Lost C’Mell both deal with the liberation of the underpeople while Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons is a darkly humorous story about the lengths that the Norstalians will go to to protect their monopoly of the immortality drug, Stroon.

In all, this a marvellous collection for any fan of future history and the Instrumentality will stay with me for quite some time.

Book details

ISBN: 9780915368563
Publisher: NESFA Press
Year of publication: 1993

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