Cordwainer Smith

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Not to be confused with E. E. Smith.
Cordwainer Smith
Cordwainer Smith in red chair.jpg
Smith, ca. early 1960s
Born Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger
(1913-07-11)July 11, 1913
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Died August 6, 1966(1966-08-06) (aged 53)
Baltimore, Maryland
Occupation Writer, professor, military officer
Nationality United States
Education PhD in political science
Alma mater Johns Hopkins University
Period 1937–1965
Genre Science fiction
Subject East Asia political science, psychological warfare
Notable works "Scanners Live in Vain"
Psychological Warfare
Spouse Margaret Snow
Genevieve Collins
Children Several
Relatives Sun Yat-sen (godfather)

Cordwainer Smith (pronounced CORDwainer)[1] was the pseudonym used by American author Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (July 11, 1913 – August 6, 1966) for his science fiction works. Linebarger was a noted East Asia scholar and expert in psychological warfare. ("Cordwainer" is an archaic word for "A worker in cordwain or cordovan leather; a shoemaker",[2] and a "smith" is "One who works in iron or other metals; esp. a blacksmith or farrier":[2] two kinds of skilled workers with traditional materials.)

Linebarger also employed the literary pseudonyms "Carmichael Smith" (for his political thriller Atomsk), "Anthony Bearden" (for his poetry) and "Felix C. Forrest" (for the novels Ria and Carola). He died of a heart attack in 1966 at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, at age 53.

Early life and education[edit]

Linebarger was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father was Paul M. W. Linebarger, a lawyer and political activist with close ties to the leaders of the Chinese revolution of 1911. As a result of those connections, Linebarger's godfather was Sun Yat-sen, considered the father of Chinese nationalism.

As a child, Linebarger was blinded in his right eye; the vision in his remaining eye was impaired by infection. His father moved his family to France and then Germany while Sun Yat-sen was struggling against contentious warlords in China. As a result, Linebarger was familiar with six languages by adulthood.

At the age of 23, he received a PhD in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University.

Career[edit]

From 1937 to 1946, Linebarger held a faculty appointment at Duke University, where he began producing highly regarded works on Far Eastern affairs.

While retaining his professorship at Duke after the beginning of World War II, Linebarger began serving as a second lieutenant of the United States Army, where he was involved in the creation of the Office of War Information and the Operation Planning and Intelligence Board. He also helped organize the Army's first psychological warfare section. In 1943, he was sent to China to coordinate military intelligence operations. When he later pursued his interest in China, Linebarger became a close confidant of Chiang Kai-shek. By the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of major.

Psychological Warfare Linebarger.jpg

In 1947, Linebarger moved to the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, where he served as Professor of Asiatic Studies. He used his experiences in the war to write the book Psychological Warfare (1948). It is regarded by many in the field as a classic text.

He eventually rose to the rank of colonel in the reserves. He was recalled to advise the British forces in the Malayan Emergency and the U.S. Eighth Army in the Korean War. While he was known to call himself a "visitor to small wars", he refrained from becoming involved in Vietnam, but is known to have done undocumented work for the Central Intelligence Agency. He traveled extensively and became a member of the Foreign Policy Association, and was called upon to advise then–U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1936, Linebarger married Margaret Snow. They had a daughter in 1942 and another in 1947. They divorced in 1949.

In 1950, Linebarger married again to Genevieve Collins; they had several children. They were married until his death from a heart attack in 1966, in Baltimore, Maryland. Linebarger had expressed a wish to retire to Australia, which he had visited in his travels, but died at age 53.

Colonel Linebarger is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 35, Grave Number 4712. After her death, his widow, Genevieve Collins Linebarger, was interred with him on November 16, 1981.[3]

Case history debate[edit]

Linebarger was long rumored to have been the original for "Kirk Allen," the fantasy-haunted subject of "The Jet-Propelled Couch," a chapter in psychologist Robert M. Lindner's best-selling 1954 collection, The Fifty-Minute Hour.[4] According to Cordwainer Smith scholar Alan C. Elms,[5] this speculation first reached print in Brian Aldiss's 1973 history of science fiction, Billion Year Spree; Aldiss, in turn, claimed to have gotten the information from Leon Stover.[6] More recently, both Elms and librarian Lee Weinstein[7] have gathered circumstantial evidence to support the case for Linebarger's being "Allen," but both concede there is no direct proof that Linebarger was ever a patient of Lindner's or that he suffered from a disorder similar to that of "Kirk Allen." [8]

Science fiction style[edit]

A notable characteristic of Linebarger's science fiction is that most of his stories are set in the same universe, with a unified chronology. Some anthologies of Linebarger's fiction include a chart, with each of his stories inserted into the appropriate slot in the timeline. All his writings suggest a rich universe developing over a long period of time, but leave much to be guessed at by the reader.

Linebarger's stories are unusual, sometimes being written in narrative styles closer to traditional Chinese stories than to most English-language fiction, as well as reminiscent of the Genji tales of Lady Murasaki. The total volume of his science fiction output is relatively small, because of his time-consuming profession and his early death.

Smith's works consist of: a single novel, originally published in two volumes in edited form as The Planet Buyer, also known as The Boy Who Bought Old Earth (1964) and The Underpeople (1968), and later restored to its original form as Norstrilia (1975); and 32 short stories (collected in The Rediscovery of Man (1993), including two versions of the short story "War No. 81-Q").

Linebarger's cultural links to China are partially expressed in the pseudonym "Felix C. Forrest", which he used in addition to "Cordwainer Smith": his godfather Sun Yat-Sen suggested to Linebarger that he adopt the Chinese name "Lin Bai-lo" (simplified Chinese: 林白乐; traditional Chinese: 林白樂; pinyin: Lín Báilè), which may be roughly translated as "Forest of Incandescent Bliss". In his later years, Linebarger proudly wore a tie with the Chinese characters for this name embroidered on it.

As an expert in psychological warfare, Linebarger was very interested in the newly developing fields of psychology and psychiatry. He used many of their concepts into his fiction. His fiction often has religious overtones or motifs, particularly evident in characters who have no control over their actions. James P. Jordan argued for the importance of Anglicanism to Linebarger's works back to 1949.[9] But Linebarger's daughter Rosana Hart has indicated that he did not become an Anglican until 1950, and was not strongly interested in religion until later still.[10] The introduction to the collection Rediscovery of Man notes that from around 1960 Linebarger became more devout and expressed this in his writing. Linebarger's works are sometimes included in analyses of Christianity in fiction, along with the works of authors such as C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Most of Smith's stories are set in an era starting some 14,000 years in the future. The Instrumentality of Mankind rules Earth and goes on to control other planets later inhabited by humanity. The Instrumentality attempts to revive old cultures and languages in a process known as the Rediscovery of Man. This rediscovery can be seen as the initial period when humankind emerges from a mundane utopia and the nonhuman Underpeople gain freedom from slavery. It may also be viewed as part of a continuing process begun by the Instrumentality, encompassing the whole cycle, where mankind is constantly at risk of falling back into bad old ways.

For years, Cordwainer Smith had a pocket notebook which he had filled with ideas about The Instrumentality and additional stories in the series. But while in a small boat in a lake or bay in the mid 60s, he leaned over the side, and his notebook fell out of his breast pocket into the water, where it was lost forever. Another story claims that he accidentally left the notebook in a restaurant in Rhodes in 1965. With the book gone, he felt empty of ideas, and decided to start a new series which was an allegory of Mid-Eastern politics.[11][12]

Smith's stories describe a long future history of Earth. The settings range from a postapocalyptic landscape with walled cities, defended by agents of the Instrumentality, to a state of sterile utopia, in which freedom can be found only deep below the surface, in long-forgotten and buried anthropogenic strata. These features may place Smith's works within the Dying Earth subgenre of science fiction. They are ultimately more optimistic and distinctive.

Smith's most celebrated short story is his first-published, "Scanners Live in Vain", which led many of its earliest readers to assume that "Cordwainer Smith" was a new pen name for one of the established giants of the genre. It was selected as one of the best science fiction short stories of the pre-Nebula Award period by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. It was selected for The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964.

Linebarger's stories feature strange and vivid creations, such as:

  • The planet Norstrilia (Old North Australia), a semi-arid planet where an immortality drug called stroon is harvested from gigantic, virus-infected sheep each weighing more than 100 tons. Norstrilians are nominally the richest people in the galaxy and defend their immensely valuable stroon with sophisticated weapons (as shown in the story "Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons"). However, extremely high taxes ensure that everyone on the planet lives a frugal, rural life, like the farmers of old Australia, to keep the Norstrilians tough.
  • The punishment world of Shayol (cf. Sheol), where criminals are punished by the regrowth and harvesting of their organs for transplanting
  • Planoforming spacecraft, which are crewed by humans telepathically linked with cats to defend against the attacks of malevolent entities in space, who are perceived by the humans as dragons, and by the cats as gigantic rats, in "The Game of Rat and Dragon".
  • The Underpeople, animals modified into human form and intelligence to fulfill servile roles, and treated as property. Several stories feature clandestine efforts to liberate the Underpeople and grant them civil rights. They are seen everywhere throughout regions controlled by the Instrumentality. Names of Underpeople are based on their animal species. Thus C'Mell ("The Ballad of Lost C'Mell") is cat-derived; and D'Joan ("The Dead Lady of Clown Town"), a Joan of Arc figure, is descended from dogs.
  • Habermans and their supervisors, Scanners, who are essential for space travel, but at the cost of having their sensory nerves cut to block the "pain of space", and who perceive only by vision and various life-support implants. A technological breakthrough removes the need for the treatment, but resistance among the Scanners to their perceived loss of status ensues, forming the basis of the story "Scanners Live in Vain".
  • Early works in the timeline include neologisms which are not explained to any great extent, but serve to produce an atmosphere of strangeness. These words are usually derived from non-English words. For instance, manshonyagger derives from the German words "menschen" meaning, in some senses, "men" or "mankind", and "jäger", meaning a hunter; referring to war machines that roam the wild lands between the walled cities and prey on men, except for those they can identify as Germans. Another example is "Meeya Meefla", the only city to have preserved its name from the pre-atomic era: evidently Miami, Florida, from its abbreviated form (as on road signs) "MIAMI FLA".
  • Character names in the stories often derive from words in languages other than English. Smith seemed particularly fond of using numbers for this purpose. For instance, the name "Lord Sto Odin" in the story "Under Old Earth" is derived from the Russian words for "One hundred and one", сто один. Quite a few of the names mean "five-six" in different languages, including both the robot Fisi (fi[ve]-si[x]), the dead Lady Panc Ashash (in Sanskrit "pañcha" [पञ्च] is "five" and "ṣaṣ" [षष्] is "six"), Limaono (lima-ono, Hawaiian and/or Fijian), Englok (ng5-luk6 [-], in Cantonese), Goroke (go-roku [-], Japanese) and Femtiosex ("fifty-six" in Swedish) in "The Dead Lady of Clown Town" as well as the main character in "Think Blue, Count Two", Veesey-koosey, which is an English transcription of the Finnish words "viisi" (five) and "kuusi" (six). Four of the characters in "Think Blue, Count Two" are called "Thirteen" in different languages: Tiga-belas (both in Indonesian and Malay), Trece (Spanish), Talatashar (based on an Arabic dialect form ثلاث عشر, thalāth ʿashar) and Sh'san (based on Mandarin 十三, shísān, where the "í" is never pronounced). Other names, notably that of Lord Jestocost (Russian Жестокость, Cruelty), are non-English but not numbers.
  • Remnants of contemporary culture accordingly appear as valued antiquities or sometimes just as unrecognized survivals, lending a rare feeling of nostalgia for the present to the stories.

Published non-fiction[edit]

  • 1937, The Political Doctrines of Sun Yat-Sen: An Exposition of the San Min Chu I, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press
  • 1938, Government in Republican China, London: McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-88355-081-4
  • 1941, The China of Chiang K'ai-shek: A Political Study, Boston: World Peace Foundation, ISBN 0-8371-6779-5
  • 1948, Psychological Warfare, Washington: Infantry Journal Press; revised second edition, 1954, New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce
  • 1951, Foreign milieux (HBM 200/1), Dept. of Defense, Research and Development Board
  • 1951, Immediate improvement of theater-level psychological warfare in the Far East, Operations Research Office, Johns Hopkins University
  • 1954, Far Eastern Government and Politics: China and Japan (with Djang Chu and Ardath W. Burks), Van Nostrand
  • 1956, "Draft statement of a ten-year China and Indochina policy, 1956–1966", Foreign Policy Research Institute, University of Pennsylvania
  • 1965, Essays on military psychological operations, Special Operations Research Office, American University

Unpublished novels[edit]

  • 1939 (rewritten in 1947) General Death
  • 1946 Journey in Search of a Destination
  • 1947-1948 The Dead can bite (aka Sarmantia)

Published fiction[edit]

Short stories[edit]

Titles marked with an asterisk * are independent stories not related to the Instrumentality universe.

Book format[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Elms, Alan C., Cordwainer Smith Pronunciation Guide, Ulmus.net. Retrieved August 20, 2006.
  2. ^ a b Oxford English Dictionary
  3. ^ Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger
  4. ^ Lindner, Robert. The Fifty-Minute Hour. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1954.
  5. ^ Elms, Alan C. "Behind the Jet-Propelled Couch: Cordwainer Smith & Kirk Allen," New York Review of Science Fiction, May 2002.
  6. ^ Aldiss, Brian W. Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction. New York: Doubleday, 1973.
  7. ^ Weinstein, Lee. "In Search of Kirk Allen," New York Review of Science Fiction, April 2001.
  8. ^ See also 'Cordwainer Smith Scholarly Corner by Alan C. Elms
  9. ^ Jordan, James B., "Christianity in the Science Fiction of 'Cordwainer Smith', Contra Mundum, No. 2 Winter 1992
  10. ^ "Biography and memories of Paul M. A. Linebarger, who was Cordwainer Smith", www.cordwainer-smith.com
  11. ^ Cordwainer Smith: The Ballad of Lost Linebarger, Part 2
  12. ^ Cordwainer Smith - The Rediscovery of Man

External links[edit]