Rhys's Reviews > The Rediscovery of Man

The Rediscovery of Man by Cordwainer Smith
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May 27, 11

Read from October 07, 2010 to May 25, 2011

Usually after reading a book I give it away. A small number I keep for myself because I know I'll want to re-read them in the future. This volume belongs to the second category. I only discovered Cordwainer Smith last year. One of the stories in this book, 'The Dead Lady of Clown Town', is my favourite SF story ever; 'Under Old Earth' and 'Alpha Ralpha Boulevard' aren't far behind.

Smith started writing in the 1920s but he remained extremely obscure until publishing 'Scanners Live in Vain' in 1950. Before discovering Smith's oeuvre I assumed that all pre-1960s SF authors always followed orthodox narrative structure and employed conventional 'straight' prose techniques. Cordwainer Smith is different. All literature of the imagination is 'strange' and most of it is created by men and women who are not particularly strange. Most tales of the far future maintain the impression that they are imagined by writers who are living in the present: this is normal.

But Smith's stories give the impression that they are realistic or historical fictions written from the future. I believe Robert Silverberg made the witty suggestion that Smith was a real time traveller from the future who offered the mainstream, non-fantastical works of his own age to the science-fiction magazines of ours. This is a pleasing conceit. I have heard it said elsewhere that the strangeness of Smith's style derives from Chinese methods of story-telling (Smith spent his formative years in China) but that doesn't account for the strangeness of his visions. They are authentically strange, not forced or contrived, and I am enthralled by them.
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Jayaprakash Satyamurthy All the generic values that people claim for SF: sensawunda, mind-blowingness, immense scale and scope, high strangeness, wild extrapolation, breath-taking vistas of future history - Smith is one of the few writers who had them all.


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