Friday, April 28, 2017

FFB: Norstrilia -- Cordwainer Smith (Paul Linebarger)

Here's the opening of Norstrilia:  "Story, place, and time -- these are the essentials.

    The story is simple. There was a boy who bought the planet Earth. We know that, to our cost. It only happened once, and we have taken pains that it will never happen again. He came to Earth, got what he wanted, and got away alive, in a series of remarkable adventures. That's the story."

So now you know the plot.  More or less.  Let me tell you a little more.  In the far future there's a planet named Old North Australia, where there are giant diseased sheep.  From these sheep comes stroon, an immortality drug that can't be synthesized.  It's made the planet enormously rich.  And immortal, so population control is a problem.  At age 18, the youngsters have to pass a test for telepathy.  Fail, and they're killed.  Rod McBan has trouble passing, but he finally does, incurring the wrath of a former friend, who tries to have him killed anyway.  To escape the attempts on his life, Rod, with the aid of his trusty old computer, amasses a giant fortune overnight and buys Old Earth, Manhome.  He goes to Earth, has adventures, and returns to Notstrilia.

No summary can do justice to the richness of Smith's imagination and writing.  I first fell in love with his work when I read a short story called "The Game of Rat and Dragon" many years ago.  Some readers, I've heard, don't fall under Smith's spell, but I did, and it took only that one story to do the trick.  The stories, in fact, are probably the best place to start reading him before coming to this novel.  The tales of the Underpeople, who feature here as well, are as relevant now as they ever were.  Maybe even more relevant.  If you haven't read Smith before, take a look.  You might find yourself fascinated by a writer unlike any other.


5 comments:

George said...

When I first read "Think Blue, Count Two" in GALAXY, I had the same reaction that you did to Cordwainer Smith's unique style. Incredible writer!

FreeLiveFree said...

I'm a big Cordwainer Smith fan. He had an interesting life. He, literally, wrote the book on Psychological Warfare.

Mike Stamm said...

I don't think I had even heard of Cordwainer Smith until I found the Ballantine BEST OF collection in the mid-'70s...but I read that and I was hooked. A favorite (and there is more than one) is "The Lady Who Sailed The SOUL." Smith is *sui generis*, inimitable; there is no one else like him, and his stories are absolutely wonderful. His publication history is interesting; NORSTRILIA was first published as two paperbacks, THE PLANET BUYER and THE UNDERPEOPLE, and then, somewhat revised, as NORSTRILIA. The NESFA Press edition explains this and contains the variant texts. The NESFA Press edition of his collected stories is excellent, too.

Which reminds me...I haven't read the four Casher O'Neill stories yet...

Scott Cupp said...

Smith is one of my two or three favorite writers with The Game of Rat and Dragon and The DeadLady of Cliwntown as personal favorites. Norstrilia is great but the shirt stories are where he grabs you and doesn't let ho

Mike Hobart said...

I started reading the Sf magazines just at the right time to see Cordwainer Smith's stories appearing regularly. It was a great time to be alive. I don't think I realized how lucky I was -- I thought all science fiction was like this.

If only.