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The Rediscovery of Man

(Instrumentality of Mankind)

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  3,089 ratings  ·  193 reviews
This is the 1999 British edition from Gollancz that includes 12 of the most famous short stories from Cordwainer Smith's "Instrumentality of Mankind" universe. His complete stories are collected in the 1993 NESFA edition called "The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith". The stories feature governing 'Lords of the Instrumentality' that ...more
Paperback, VGSF Classics #25 , 368 pages
Published May 13th 1999 by Gollancz (first published July 1975)
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Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Nov 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015

Legends and myths of a past that lays far into the future of humanity. The first things that struck me as I picked up this collection is the particular style of Corwainer Smith of telling most of his science-fiction stories as events shrouded in the mist of history, with all the epic scale and slight alterations of fact to suit the public image of a heroic figure. I understand that the author was inspired in this by Chinese classical tales, like The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, borrowing the p
The Rediscovery of Man: The strangest future mythology you’ll ever read
(Also posted at Fantasy Literature)
The universe that Cordwainer Smith created has captured the imagination of many SF fans and authors thanks to the short stories that have been collected in The Instrumentality of Mankind (1974), The Best of Cordwainer Smith (1975), and The Rediscovery of Man (1999). It is without doubt one of the strangest and most memorable creations in SF, even if it only affords short, tantalizing glimpse
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
I'm gonna hit my bongo drum, Sun-man. Anyone up for a laminated mouse brain? I love it. So many great ideas packed into these short stories, I feel as giddy as if I sent my frozen cat people back two million years in the past to fight off the tragic planet of men, men, and nothing but men.

Really, people, this is some classic stuff. :)
Read first time in the late 80s/early 90s, in a Finnish translation with a title using the name of one of the stories, "A Planet Named Shayol". Liked it back then, but need proper reread to rate and review it.
Caro the Helmet Lady
My acquaintance with Cordwainer Smith happened ages ago on the pages of a certain SF magazine. I was reading “A Planet Named Shayol” and I was completely awed and even shocked. The crazy imagination, the context and a bit of a hangman’s humor – everything was there. Considering the whole thing was written in 1961 made it even more impressive. And Cordwainer – what kind of weird name was that? I was hooked.

Then I forgot about the whole thing for about ten years.

So now, when I got the whole The Re
Nov 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cordwainer Smith, pen name of Dr. Paul Linebarger, was at least fifty years ahead of his time. He was writing great, lyrical, thoughtful, modern stories before it was the cool thing to do. He isn't too well known currently because he was never successful at novel-length, but I guarantee that this book contains some of the best novelettes the field ever produced.
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A set of sci-fi stories written in the 1950s and 1960s, set in the far future. Humans have spread across the Galaxy and are ruled by an oligarchy called “The Instrumentality of Mankind”. The stories move on in time, so that the events of the earlier stories are viewed as historical events in the later ones.

The Introduction describes this future history as one of “estranging weirdness”. It’s a good phrase, and there’s nothing wrong with weirdness in a sci-fi novel. In my case though, I found the
Apr 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Cordwainer Smith is one of the most distinctive and idiosyncratic SF writers, along with Jack Vance, whose writing is totally unlike any other author. His far-future tales of The Instrumentality of Mankind are completely original, uniquely strange, richly imaginative, full of wonder, mythic in scope, layered with humor and emotion, and simply unforgettable. Do yourself a favor and read this underrated and overlooked masterwork.
Oct 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 195
Jun 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
NO ONE ELSE writes like this dude. His titles are great: "Mother Hitton's Littol Kittuns," "Alpha Ralpha Boulevard," "The Burning of the Brain," "Under Old Earth," "Golden the Ship Was- Oh! Oh! Oh!," "The Game of Rat and Dragon." Science fiction that draws on Chinese myth and a sense of immense, immovable age. Stories that make me feel whirling and small.
Dec 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cordwainer Smith is a most unusual story writer whose execution and creativity in ideas usually outshone the way they were ended. One usually expects a good, decisive ending to a SF short story but such was the sheer strangeness of his ideas, his poetical prose style and varied range of narrative techniques that I didn't mind too much.

This collection contains about half the stories the author published pertaining to his vision of a future history of mankind. They are arranged in chronological or
May 25, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scifi, abandoned-ship
Whoa, I file this under giving-sci-fi-a-bad-name. At first I just found it not my cup of tea. I don't go in for short stories or mythical far future stuff to begin with. And Smith is so obsessed with moralizing about traditional gender roles it borders on misogyny. But I tried to persevere and finish this for the SF Masterworks group.

Then. Then I got to the story "The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal" which holds the dubious honor of being the most hateful piece of fiction I have ever re
THE DEAD LADY OF CLOWN TOWN, SCANNERS LIVE IN VAIN!, THE LADY WHO SAILED THE SOUL, THE CRIME AND GLORY OF COMMANDER SUZDAL, GOLDEN THE SHIP WAS OH! OH! OH!, THE GAME OF RAT & DRAGON, QUEEN OF THE AFTERNOON These are the hallucinatory and strange titles to some of the strange and hallucinatory tales penned by Cordwainer Smith. Stylistically weird (he apparently based much of his writing style on classical Chinese fiction like THE ROMANCE OF THE 3 KINGDOMS) and full of unique word coinages and ide ...more
Smith is a fabulist. His stories have a dream-like, disorienting quality. There's a grand scheme of future history lurking behind all his narratives. Part of the fun and the dreaminess is that he never fully reveals all the details. One of his fairy-tale elements is the "Underpeople," a race of partly human/partly non-human beings. For example, there are races cat-people and dog-people. These races are oppressed and shunned by ordinary humans and a group of god-like rulers known as the "Instrume ...more
Andrew Horton
May 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who want to have their minds blown
When I finished "The Rediscovery of Man," I felt like I had read an entire 20-novel future-history cycle; such is the totality and scope of this collection of interconnected short stories. The closest and most obvious comparison would be Asmiov's Foundation books, but I honestly believe that The Rediscovery of Man does the same thing better in the space of about 300 pages. The first story begins 4000 years in the future, and the stories proceed in chronological order from there. Mindblowing.
Noah Goats
Jun 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These stories are strange, in a good way, and feel very original. For example, there's a story in here about cats, regular house cats, fighting side by side with mankind against the dragons that haunt the depths of interstellar space. This story is told with a straight face, and somehow it works. I don't think you could get away with making such a story into a movie, it would be impossible to not make it seem ridiculous (see Andy Samberg's Laser Cats). My biggest complaint about Smith is his ove ...more
Simon Mcleish
Dec 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Originally published on my blog here in August 2001.

In the fifties and sixties, Cordwainer Smith was one of the most original writers in the science fiction genre. His stories include many undisputed classics - Scanners Live in Vain, The Game of Rat and Dragon, The Lady Who Sailed the Soul, The Dead Lady of Clown Town, for example - and introduced a level of psychological interest which was much greater than usual in a field generally considered fit only for the cheap pulp magazines. (Under his
Diego González
Feb 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A friend loaned me this collection of short stories and I was blown away. Mr. Smith constructs a coherent world that spans tens of thousands of years. Each story offers us a glimpse into a particular point in this massive history.
The thrust of the history here is the slow awakening of humanity to its common destiny with all sentient beings - many of which have been created by humanity itself. There is a sense of threat to high hopes. Technology is often cruel but necessary, and generally has biz
Feb 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I must admit, I didn't have the reaction most people seem to with Scanners live in Vain. 'The Game of Rat and Dragon' loosened me up, made me smile. The universe of Cordwainer Smith started to fill out. Space age, cold ingenuity of mankind, romance, eventual march of progress etc etc.

And then 'The Dead Lady of Clown Town' knocked me out. I didn't expect it to move me to tears, or make me empathise with real-world events.

Taken all together, its an entire vast universe. Some of the characters and
Jul 14, 2016 rated it liked it
I preferred The Rediscovery of Man over the companion book The Instrumentality of Mankind. Both books are a collection of post-apocalypse short stories set in an interstellar empire ruled by the Lords of the Instrumentality. Though praised by SF legends including Iain M. Banks, Ursula K. Leguin, and Stephen Baxter, my overall experience was mediocre. Written with soft compassion and underlaid with brutal truth, standout stories were Scanners Live in Vain, The Game of Rat and Dragon, and The Ball ...more
Jan 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Continuing the theme of "mid-century science fiction written by pseudonymous CIA agents," we come to Cordwainer Smith, someone with a fascinating life story even for the well-connected elite (short version: his godfather was Sun Yat-sen, and he invented psychological warfare). Smith seems to have faded further out of memory than James Tiptree Jr. - he has never had an award of any note named after him, and it took more effort to get a hold of this anthology than it did Tiptree's collected works ...more
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
I recall seeing this book in the hours I spent waiting for my Mom to shop at the mall, hours I spent at Waldenbooks. And I think I recall seeing this in the hands of some of the sci-fi literati in my high school, so Cordwainer Smith had a kind of cachet in my mind. Now that I finally got around to reading his works, I’m glad I did. The recent sci-fi books I’ve read have been story-driven and technology-driven while in this collection, I get more of an arc of the future. The stories are roughly r ...more
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a most unusual and original body of work. I'd heard of Cordwainer Smith (pen name for Dr. Paul Linebarger), who wrote some of the most influential and yet obscure science fiction in existence. It is well worth the read. But it is unique, and not to everyone's taste.
There are over a thousand reviews, so I will not add to that, other than to say that Dr. Linebarger is famous for literally creating the military doctrines of psychological warfare during WWII, and taught Far Eastern Studies
Michael O'Donnell
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This review contains mild spoilers.

Originally published as ‘The Best of Cordwainer Smith’ in 1975, this collection consists of twelve stories set in the author’s Instrumentality of Mankind universe. The contents follow the internal chronology of the Instrumentality, giving the reader an overview of the history and development of the society in which the stories are set — a society which is ruled by the hereditary Lords of the Instrumentality, who live for hundreds of years, thanks to the drug ‘s
William Korn
Mar 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
Cordwainer Smith did for science fiction what J.R.R. Tolkien did for fantasy. He created an alternate universe filled with such detail that his small but intensely devoted fan base was compelled to create a concordance and a timeline to keep track of it. And he did it all in a few dozen short stories and one novel before he was cruelly struck down by a heart attack at the age of 53. (His wife, Genevieve Linebarger, completed some of his unfinished stories from the notes he left.)

The Rediscovery
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most people know that I tend to enjoy eccentric stories, as my love for RA Lafferty would attest, and I really enjoyed these stories, as they are almost like a more consistent Lafferty, but wholly different in tone and effect. I spent almost a year after reading this book to write a review and had to go-over some of the older stories before even making up my mind what type of review it would be. There is no question about Smith's skills as a writer, as he has a grasp on dialogue and economic exp ...more
Carrie Robinson
Jul 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviews
Wow, what a mind. Kind of like the literary verson of Salvador Dali. Get past the first few stories and you're on a wild fantasy ride for 600+ pages. Some people will find his writing too weird but I loved it. Original, creative and like nothing else. I was totally drawn in. I love that kind of escape where you leave earth completely because anything remotely tying you to the world you know is completely gone and replaced with a completely new world.

The stories are written as if Mr. Smith has an
Simon Hedge
Oct 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
If you are looking for something to get your mind well and truly bent, try some Cordwainer Smith. All the stories in this collection are part of the 'Instrumentality' universe - Smith's science fantasy tableau that sprawls across space and time. The prose is very stylish. At times it puts me in mind of Franz Kafka, other times Phil Dick. Still other times Michael Moorcock…. Not to say that Smith is in any way derivative. His is a unique voice, so much so I fancy I could pick out a story by him i ...more
Peter Tillman
The first "best-of" Cordwainer Smith collection. Arguably still the best.

Fans will want to visit the official website, run by his daughter:
May 31, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
Paul Linebarger was an expert in psychological warfare who wrote science fiction as a hobby under the pen name Cordwainer Smith: a few dozen stories, about a third of which are collected here, and a novel. They are set in a shared space-opera universe with advanced biotechnology, which reminds me of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, though predating it by two-three decades; Bujold must have read Smith, since I could see many parallels between their writings, such as a planet of woman-hatin ...more
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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
  • Norstrilia
  • The Planet Buyer
  • The Underpeople
  • We the Underpeople
  • When the People Fell

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