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Cordwainer Smith -- pronounced Cordiner Smith -- was the pen-name used by the American author Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (July 11, 1913 - August 6, 1966) for his science fiction works. His non-fiction book Psychological Warfare, based on his work in the field of propaganda during WWII, was published under his own name.
Linebarger was the son of an American diplomat, and spent a considerable part of his childhood in the Far East. (Sun Yat-sen was his godfather.) This was the origin for another pen-name that he used for some stories, "Felix. C. Forrest" - the ideograms in Chinese for "Linebarger" translate roughly as "Forest of Incandescent Bliss"
His stories are strange even by the standards of science fiction, sometimes written in narrative styles closer to traditional Chinese stories than to most English-language fiction. His work is mostly incomplete due to his time-consumming profession and early death. Rather than a full fledged cycle like Dune, Smith's writings consist of only one novel, originally published in two volumes in edited form as The Planet Buyer, a. k. a. The Boy Who Bought Old Earth (1964) and The Underpeople (1968), later restored to its original form as Norstrilia (1975); and numerous short stories (gathered in The Rediscovery of Man and other collections), together suggesting a rich universe, but leaving much to be guessed by the reader.
The bulk of his stories is set some 14 000 years in the future, starting on Earth. The Instrumentality of Mankind is then set to rule the planet and latter any planet inhabited by men. The Instrumentality attempt to revive old cultures and languages to try and bring vitality back to society is called the Rediscovery of Man. This rediscovery can be seen either as the initial period when the man comes out of slavery and the Instrumentality rises , or as the continuing process lead by the Instrumentality, encompassing the whole cycle, where mankind is at constant threat of falling back in its old way.
Stories feature strange and vivid creations such as:
- Planet Norstrilia, a semi-arid planet where an immortality drug is harvested from gigantic (over a hundred tons) virus-infected sheep (see Arrakis, worms and melange for similar concepts).
- The punishment world of Shayol, where criminals suffer the repeated growth and harvesting for transplant of new organs.
- Planoforming ships moving between the stars, and humans telepathically linked with cats defend them from the attacks of monsters in the dark spaces between the stars - humans perceive them as dragons, the cats perceive them as gigantic rats - dispersing them with the flash of small atomic weapons.
- The Underpeople, seen everywhere throughout the reach of the Instrumentality : animals modified during gestation into human form, created to serve, and with no more rights than a vacuum cleaner. Several studies feature the clandestine moves to force recognition of the underpeople as deserving of human rights.