Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cordwainer Smith's NORSTRILIA - book appreciation

NORSTRILIA - you've never heard of it.

Or if you have, you're as old as (or older than) I am and you maybe remember your geeky friend reading this at Uni or in your yoof!

Cordwainer Smith's only sci-fi novel NORSTRILIA.

But first a little about the author Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (the man behind the pseudonym) an adviser to President John F Kennedy and member of the Foreign Policy Association, he had been a Professor of Asiatic Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a close confidant of Chiang Kai-shek. He wrote the classic 'art of modern war' manual Psychological Warfare (1948) and died in 1966, the year I was born.

So, what's so amazing about this sci-fi novel, NORSTRILIA?

Well, apart from it being the most amazingly emotionally prosed novel you'll likely read any decade, it's the way it crams in a linear timeline THE INSTRUMENTALITY OF MANKIND that rivals Frank Herbert's breath-taking DUNE series and about which Cordwainer Smith wrote a whole swathe of short stories, (many of them) collected together in the Rediscovery of Man book. Short stories which actually SCREWED ME UP quite a lot include "The dead lady of clown town" where underpeople become saints and "Alpha ralpha boulevard" where neo-humans learn how to breathe and strangle ... there's a story from some other collection that might be published in "Drunkboat" in UK where someone sees some MUSICAL GOLDEN THING DANCING ON THE STEPS that particularly BLEW MY FUCKING MIND when I first read it. And very few stories have the power, or the ability, to do that these days.

Cordwainer Smith's universe is a beautiful if brutally Dickensian one, filled with all the lyrical complexity, amoral corporatism and degrading tangential counterpoint of human existence.

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