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(Instrumentality of Mankind)

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  2,210 ratings  ·  128 reviews
Rod McBan 151st farms 'stroon', the immortality drug, and is the last scion of one of the oldest and most honourable families on Norstrilia, only source of stroon. But he's also a telepathic cripple and faces the ever-present risk of being culled under the government's draconian population laws.

To protect himself, he uses his not-strictly-legal computer to play the market
Mass Market Paperback, 288 pages
Published July 1985 by Del Rey (first published February 1975)
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Average rating 4.06  · 
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 ·  2,210 ratings  ·  128 reviews

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4.5 Stars. The only novel ever written by Cordwainer Smith which is a real tragedy for fans of excellent, imaginative science fiction. This is a great big story full of great ideas and cool concepts.

Nominee Hugo Award Best Novel (1964) (The Planet Buyer)
"Tells the story of a boy from the planet Old North Australia (where rich, simple farmers grow the immortality drug Stroon), how he bought Old Earth, and how his visit to Earth changed both him and Earth itself."

A very eccentric novel, a bit frustrating at times, but quite entertaining. It was frustrating in that there were so many potentially interesting issues that could have been pursued--and they were left unexplored. For instance, telepathy is just a given in Norstrilian society and if you
Aug 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: future residents of Meeya Meefla
Shelves: baroque, speculations
What I learned from this book:

1. Inflation has its uses.
2. Sometimes the best computer for the job is the laminated brain of a mouse . . .
3. The economic significance of mutant sheep.
4. Go big or go home.

A sideways and roundabout look at a strange and twisted future involving everything from telepathic mink to bird-men with hypnotic mandalas to a man who literally bought the planet earth. I don't know why it works, but it most certainly does - this is a must read for anyone who appreciates a un
Norstrilia: The only novel set in the “Instrumentality of Mankind” universe
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
I’ve always wanted to read the work of Cordwainer Smith (pen name of Paul Linebarger, a scholar and diplomat who was expert in East Asia and psychological warfare), who also moonlighted as a quirky SF author who wrote a number of short stories mainly in the 50s and 60s set in the Instrumentality of Mankind, a full-fledged galaxy-spanning far-future universe.

He has something of a cult
Roddy Williams
To our detriment, this is Smith’s only novel, his output otherwise being a large number of quirky short stories mostly set in this universe of The Instrumentality of Mankind. Having said that, ‘Norstrilia’ has a complex origin since it was originally published in two shorter separate parts in 1964 as ‘The Planet Buyer’ (which itself was expanded from a shorter piece ‘The Boy Who Bought Old Earth’) and ‘The Store of Heart’s Desire’
Roderick Frederick Ronald Arnold William MacArthur McBan to the Hu
Ian Casey
Sep 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I described Norstrilia to a friend as 'a charming kind of bonkers', and for me it was. Nevertheless I understand why it was problematic in a number of ways (particularly the 1960s sexism and portrayals of slavery and xenophobia, albeit much of this was deliberately echoing older pulp sci-fi) as well as giving the impression of a rushed and cobbled-together mess at times. It also had one of the most passive protagonists in recorded history and a villain who was so underdeveloped as to be essentia ...more
Dev Null
May 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
It is one of the enduring tragedies of science fiction that the man who wrote as Cordwainer Smith died so young. His life was weird and fascinating - from living in China during the revolution to writing what is still considered to be one of the fundamental texts on psychological warfare - and his experiences with such a variety of people and cultures comes through in his stories. He takes perfectly believable aspects of people and twists them so far out of proportion that they are barely recogn ...more
Nov 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Interesting book, the author's only novel. Feels like a serial adventure, collected tales - and indeed this universe is detailed through the author's other short stories.

Set in the far future, this coming-of-age story fits in the space opera mold at times. Bigger ideas from the author's world are only hinted at. Originally written in 1960 and published in two parts, I read the restored version but have yet to read more than a few of Smith's short stories.

Dr. Paul Linebarger, aka Cordwainer Smith
William Korn
Mar 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
This is essentially a coming-of-age story with a difference. And what a difference! Roderick Frederick Ronald Arnold William MacArthur McBan to the Hundred and Fifty-First is a typical teenager in a most atypical place and time. By turns arrogant, naive, very intelligent, warm, clever, depressed, and ultimately very likeable, Rod McBan solves a personal problem by conniving with the McBan Family Computer to buy the entire planet Earth - lock, stock, and underpeople. The main narrative traces his ...more
Chris Gager
Jun 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
When I'm done with this I'll have read all of Mr. Smith's work. He died young and had a very demanding day job so there's not much there. But ... what's there is cherce! My library copy is a small hardbound with a dull brown cover so I'll leave this cover up. Turns out, upon further investigation, that this is a re-bound paperback. It now has a hardbound cover, probably applied by the UMASS/Amherst library where it's on loan from. I never heard of such a thing before, though it seems like someth ...more
D.M. Dutcher
Rod McBan, master and owner of a farm on the planet Norstrilla where giant sick sheep exude a drug which refined gives people immortality, is at risk to his life due to an old quarrel in his 3rd childhood. What does he do? He turns his old computer on the world and lets it buy up Old Earth itself. Even that isn't enough, as he has to escape to it. Once there, he gets involved in the wild plots of the Instrumentality of mankind and might just find himself.

The book is a riot of color and language.
Charles Dee Mitchell
Oct 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mid-century-sf
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Zachary Rawlins
Oct 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Ever read Dune? Like it? In particular, did you like the world, the spice concept, the idea of spaceflight powered by precognitives, a universal economy based on a life-extending substance, etc? Well, good. Because then you already like most of Norstrilia.

I can only imagine Frank Herbert liked this book a whole lot, because he borrowed a shocking amount of it wholesale. Norstrilia is basically Dune without the pretension, long monologues, weird social-political diatribes, and giant worms. Instea
Sep 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
It's a tragedy that Cordwainer Smith left so little behind; this book, along with the collection of short stories from the same universe whose title escapes me now, is an example of absolutely masterful science fiction.
Jenny Thompson
Sep 26, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: gpsfbg
This odd, meandering tale felt more like a prequel than a stand alone novel. Just when things seemed to start happening, it ended. I'm actually a bit glad I won't make it to my book club meeting about this one because "if you can't say anything nice..."
Mar 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a compellingly bizarre book. Set in the far future, there's little or no attempt to make the science plausible; rather, all of the strange characters and milieus and technologies work more on a metaphoric level, allowing Smith to explore various aspects of sociology, politics, religion, psychology, economics, and the like. For example, the book features "underpeople" which are animals modified into human form so as to fill service roles in society; Norstrilia itself is short for Old Nort ...more
Koji Mukai
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incidences of too casual a description of violence aside, what surprised me the most was the modern sensitivity on cultural issues such as class and gender. Because of this, I found many of the characters very sympathetic.
I have strongly mixed feelings about this novel. I found it intriguing, but I also feel unsatisfied.

Norstrilia is a dense science fiction novel. It is filled with science fiction concepts, like AI, supercomputers, faster-than-light travel, immortality, telepathy, and uplifted animals. I am sure there are concepts I missed, simply because there are so many author Cordwainer Smith lightly touched upon. The interplay of these elements in a far future setting was fascinating. I really wanted to unde
Dec 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of Cordwainer Smith's short fiction
Cordwainer Smith comes up with some really original ideas. I like his writing, although he writes oddly, and doesn't always follow the patterns a person is used to in stories. For example, in this novel, the protagonist, Rod, never takes a lot of initiative. The plot is not driven by his actions. I would have preferred a more active protagonist, but it can't be that way: this story is part of a larger bunch of stories, and the story has to be driven by the needs of humanity, the underpeople, the ...more
Feb 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This version came with the story "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell." It was an appropriate pairing as C'Mell figures heavily in Norstrilia. I last read it years ago; I had every hope I would enjoy it again. I am so happy that I fell once again in love with it.

This classic science fiction novel draws heavily on the short stories set in the time of the Instrumentality of Mankind. I had re-read many of them shortly before I started this book. I think it deepened my appreciation of Norstrilia. I had the ba
Jan 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I adored the collection of Cordwainer Smith's short stories called The Rediscovery of Man so was pretty pleased to track down this related novel. And I totally enjoyed it, but was a little let down. It isn't as good as some of the shorts.

The plot of Norstrilia is pretty great, as far as it goes -- it's like a smart deconstruction of the gee-whiz sci-fi of Asimov or Heinlein. But the characters are shallow and underdeveloped. And there are a few annoying features, like the VERY '60s post-beat poe
Jim Mann
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cordwainer Smith wrote SF like nobody else. His vast future of the Instrumentality of Mankind and the Rediscovery of Man is a mythic work. It's strange and wonderful, and as most of it is in such a distant and strange future most of it hasn't dated. It still feels fresh and new.

Norstrilia is his only novel set in that future (and in fact the only novel he wrote under the name Cordwainer Smith). It tells the story of Rod McBan, who, to escape a plot on his home planet of Norstrilia, buys the Ear
Edward Davies
May 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best SF or fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time. McBan’s transformation into a simple farmer to the owner of the entire planet earth is cleverly executed and paced so well that it makes the unlikely storyline feel plausible and makes for a fascinating, though short, read. Once you’ve read this, you’ll find yourself believing in cat people, talking apes, and giant sheep with the ability to extend human lifespans.
Jan 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Got about 3/4 of the way through this and picked up another book. Oh and it had to go back to the library. The writing is pretty high quality, but the plot failed to capture my interest for whatever reason. Sometimes I just can't explain these things.
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Honestly, I like the short stories better, but this novel had a lot of charm. Very sixties sentimentality, mixed with the man who sold the world kind of ideas, and yet, it fit perfectly with the extended future histories that made his writings really special.
May 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
Reads like a children's story mixed with mythic folklore warped by Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Meh
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a strange, strange book but very, very good.
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is such a good book! Cordwainer Smith is now one of my favorite authors. I`m STILL trying to figure out how I missed him for 58 years! ...more
Benjamin Bauer
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite leaving an impressive body of work, Norstrilia, Smith's sole SF novel, seems irrefutable proof that he left us too soon. It functions both as a climax to his earlier Instrumentality of Mankind short stories and a rip-roaring odyssey on its own. Though, for better or worse, it seemed to nail the former more so than the latter from my personal reading experience.

Rod McBan the 151st is in trouble. He's set to inherit his family's stroon farm on the planet of Northern Australia (The titular
Michael Battaglia
Cordwainer Smith was an odd anomaly of his time in the world of SF. An expert on East Asia and the author of a pretty well regarded book on psychological warfare, he basically wrote SF in his spare time (along with some other scattered novels under other pen names) and didn't accumulate many of them in his somewhat short life (he died in his early fifties in 1966) . . . all of his short SF works can be found in a single six-hundredish page volume and he only had one slim SF novel to his credit.

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Pseudonym of:
Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger

Linebarger also employed the literary pseudonyms "Carmichael Smith" (for his political thriller Atomsk), "Anthony Bearden" (for his poetry) and "Felix C. Forrest" (for the novels Ria and Carola).

Linebarger was also a noted East Asia scholar and expert in psychological warfare.

Other books in the series

Instrumentality of Mankind (7 books)
  • The Instrumentality of Mankind
  • The Rediscovery of Man
  • The Planet Buyer
  • The Underpeople
  • We the Underpeople
  • When the People Fell

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