By John Robinson

There is a rosy gloom in the stories of Cordwainer Smith.  They take place in a
candy apple universe where the candy is sometimes hard to find.  Whether the
picture he creates is painted over the gloom or the gloom painted over the
picture is difficult to determine.  There seems to be (as the cover of the
paperback, The Planet Buyer) a borscht-red tinge of death; a shrouding, damning
end to man as we know him and a new man living on afterward in an ever
expanding universe.

If you haven't read the stories of Cordwainer Smith we recommend that you do. 
Each has its own personal beauty.  There is a kind of hope that makes them
almost immobile; nevertheless, the characters and their situations are alive
and moving.

To anyone who has read Smith's stories a sweeping picture of life in the far
future has been formed.  Starting with one story the picture becomes more
complete as further adventures are read.  Because the picture is incomplete the
reader is left wishing for more.  Smith writes as if he were painting and
writing poetry at the same time.  His words become light energetic strokes that
are filled with bright color and an energetic living.  The few darker words are
what make the reader curious.  They are brief passages that describe people and
cultures that are as interesting as the main characters, but only glossed over.
The reader is left fancying himself as a science fiction sociologist-
anthropologist fitting all the minute clues together.  While Smith is creating
a group of characters that somehow thrive in a vacuum of isolation, save that
they themselves are thrown together, the reader follows from impossible scene
to impossible scene and makes his way through the "sense-of-wonder" to find the
missing parts for himself.  All the time he thinks Smith wrote the entire story.

Who is Cordwainer Smith?  When we first read his stories we wondered who he
could be.  There were a tremendous number of writer teams that could write as
Smith.  We doubted that one man could write this way.  There was a similarity
to Ray Bradbury, but Bradbury would not write like this.  C'mell and Rod McBan
are not the kind of characters that he would create.  T'ruth and the Wind
People of "On the Storm Planet" may be very much like a number of Bradbury
creations, but then again man has found peace with his machines in these

Isaac Asimov was another writer soon eliminated.  The Instrumentality is very
much like Asimov's Foundation, but the technology is quite different.

Robert Heinlein was immediately dropped because of a decided difference and
lack of philosophy.  Also, Heinlein has the habit of using other writers'
poetry rather than his own.  He might have given a plot or two, but not a story.

We finally gave up guessing when Galaxy stated that Cordwainer Smith taught
sociology near Washington, D.C.  It was later revealed that he was in New
Zealand and that he had been a diplomatic assistant in the orient, where
science fiction had helped him to become friendly with  important foreign

Smith uses poetic writing to tell most of his stories.  Occasionally in the
middle of one of his romantic ballad-stories you may find some actual verse,
like this:

      "This is the house of the long ago,
       Where the old ones murmur an endless woe,
       Where the pain of time is an actual pain,
       And things once known always come again.
       Out in the garden of death, our young
       Have tasted the valiant taste of fear,
       With muscular arm and reckless tongue,
       They have won, and lost, and escaped us here.
       This is the house of long ago.
       Those who die young do not enter here,
       Those living on know what hell is near,
       The old ones who suffer have willed it so.
       Out in the garden of death, the old
       Look with awe on the young and bold."
This is the verse that goes through the mind of Rod McBan as he enters the
garden of death for the test that will kill him or make him a man.  He is part
of that universe that Smith's stories form.  On Norstrilia where Rod lives and
is tested the basis of the economy are multi-tonned, sick sheep.  There are
other wonders that the reader and McBan encounter that are far more fantastic. 
It is Stroon that is removed from these sheep.  Stroon is a drug that gives a
long life and near immortality.

The technology in Smith's far future is more fanciful than factual.  Fantastic
discoveries are made that would scarcely fit into the category of modern
science.  The planoform method of interstellar travel is amazingly logical. 
Many readers will probably wish they had devised the method.  Space warp and
inter-dimensional travel certainly aren't new ideas.   Smith makes them seem
very new.  Computers are man-machine entities that are almost invisible because
they are a part of the architecture and people take little heed to structural

Medicine becomes more important than machinery.  Besides the Stroon projects
there are tests on the planet Shayol.  Tiny spiked creatures mutate people and
the mutated limbs and bodies are cut away for study.  This is closer to an
alchemy of medicine than a science of medicine.

Confusion is a common part of the far future.  Mass communications are banned
because they lead to war and strife. The people of that time are ignorant of
the cultures of other worlds and sometimes do not even know what is happening
in their own back yards.  It is possible that the same thing might have
happened with extended and impoved communciations.  Just as the lack of
communications leaves a people ignorant of what is happening, so too, the
extension of communication could lead to cultures bent on learning.  They would
be studying the past while living in the present and not knowing that an enemy
might be attacking, but that is not a part of the action concerned.

After thousands of years of ciilization people are still divided into those who
live as if they were dead and those who really live.  It is not simply
colonists who are progressing and the old cultures that are decaying.  While
most of the dying, sterile people are on the old planets there are the
underpeople also living on the old planets and waiting for their chance to be
free and part of a growing society.  Rod McBan is an example of a human (in an
old society on a new planet) who fights his way from deadly surroundings and
finds some hope for a future.

Without the underpeople there would be no saga in Smith's stories.  They are
the key people, along with Rod McBan and the Instrumentality.  While they are
only mutated animals that have been made into humanoid form they show more
human characteristics than their masters.

Mankind is moving out among the stars and is thus isolated.  There are no
cities where thousands and millions of people can get together.  Where there
are cities the people choose not to meet.

The only group that forces itself to come together is the underpeople.  They
meet in the underground parts of Old Earth's cities.  While they are a key to
the future there is something holding them back.  They breed very little, or
not at all.

Rod McBan and C'mell come together and give the hope needed for the future. 
While their people die around them they plan a future.  They show that there
can be agreement, and even love between the two groups.

We mentioned the small groups of people who were passed over briefly and said
that they provided the major mystery to the E'people, transformed eagles, who
believe and prove that Rod McBan is to be a messiah to the underpeople on Mars.
They communicate using message-coding machines and employing a code of special
moods used in what appear to be normal communications.  Though they are found
on only two pages of the entire novel The Planet Buyer the reader can be sure
that they signal a sequel.

On Shayol humans were suffering.  They were becoming masses of mutation while
their bodies shrank away.  Finally someone came and set them free.  They still
lost much.  They lost part of their souls.

There are other oppressed people.  The cat girls that are so common on Old
Earth.  Pleasure is their business and their purpose.  They are the 'B' girls
of their time; in reality, mere pets because they are denied physical love with
humans upon penalty of death.

These downtrodden people are looking for a deliverer.  There is someone coming
to set them free if they wait.  The wait is a long one.

Smith may shorten that wait in future stories, or he may jump to later times
than those of Rod McBan (as he did in "On The Storm Planet") and merely give us
clues to what follows.  T'ruth exists as a servant after the time of Rod McBan.
She is a servant because of her love for her master.  She succeeds in giving
orders to Casher O'Neill (the hero of "On the Storm Planet" and a hired
bodyguard to T'ruth's master) who assumes that underpeople are still to be
bossed.  That must mean something and yet it is a puzzle.

If Rod McBan succeeds in freeing the underpeople it may be a purely local thing
common to Old Earth, or perhaps it will be like the Civil War with the slaves
remaining slaves and gradually assuming the right to mix with and marry humans.
The rest of the picture will have to be filled in with Cordwainer Smith's hand
because the readers will only be able to guess at the possibilities.

We hope these stories continue on for a long time.  Not just because of a wish
to know what happens to the characters, but because curiosity has been aroused
surrounding the many mysterious cities, states, societies, cultures, and worlds
of the distant future.  It is not because the reader may wish a writer to
thrive in his work, or for a most fantastic part of science fiction to increase
itself, but for the enjoyment of discovering new worlds and adventures that a
writer like Cordwainer Smith can create and continue to the enjoyment of his

                                  [pp. 19 - 25, NO-EYED MONSTER #5, Winter 1965]

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