Posts Tagged ‘Cordwainer Smith’

When I finished reading “The Rediscovery of Man”, my first thought was “how am I going to post a review of this book?”. The Rediscovery of Man is a timeless classic; a collection of short stories the first of which was written in 1950, and it has been already reviewed by some of the greatest writers in our time, such as Terry Pratchett himself. But then a simple thought stroke my mind, “why not?” and here I am, looking for words that may express my opinions about this novel.


Strong points: The writing style, the development of the society where the short stories take place, some of the characters where surprisingly deep

Weak Points: Most of the characters were plain and simple, without development whatsoever; some key details are left unexplained

The Rediscovery of Man contains 12 short stories which take place over a period of 10000 years (from 6000 AD to 16000 AD). During this time we are witnesses of how mankind, surrounded by endless commodities, loses its humanity and rediscovers it back thanks to the brave actions of some individuals. We are given a rich universe that is in constant evolution, which ever-changing technology and ever-changing ethical and moral code.

This ever changing universe it is one of the main qualities of this book, we see a society in constant evolution, a well-defined way of development that enriches the novel and connects all the stories allowing us to locate them in chronological order without much difficulty. The slow but terrifying loss of humanity is hinted and developed over the first stories, making man-kind more monstrous each short story we read. Slavery of the underpeopled (genetically engineer animals which are sacrificed as soon as they are sick or stop being useful), racism between words and, finally, genetically engineered humans designed to be happy, to love an already chosen person, to stay in their homes, doing small jobs the government gives them to make them happy and make them feel useful. As humanity changes so does its technology, going from cyborgs operating ships (as seen in the first short-story The Scanners live in vain) to human crewed vessels and other kinds of transport between worlds. This constant evolution is really the strongest point of this novel, what keeps you reading to discover what is to happen with this society which seems condemned to downfall, making this reading a rich and enjoyable experience

On the other hand the characters are usually plain and usually have a function of fulfilling what I like to call literary stereotypes: the tragic hero, the android rediscovering its feelings… they embody this functions and usually they don’t go beyond them. In my case I love characters, I want to feel things toward them I want to like them or hate them, I want to think about them as if they were living entities, cry (or celebrate it) when they die, feel excitement when they fulfill their objective… sadly I haven’t feel any of that in most of this short stories. The author seems to use his characters as mere tools, simple vehicles to allow that wonderful setting to evolve and take new forms. They are not agents of change but its physical representation, a consequence. This is Mr. Smith style and his choice, I am not saying otherwise, but from the point of view of this modern-day reader, I was missing deep characters capable of moving me.

In some of these stories, though, we find certain characters that are pleasant surprises to us. Pinlighter Underhill, who is the main character of the short story The Game of Rat and Dragon, is an example of one of those surprises. During most of the narrative we get to know a perfectly normal human being, but the sudden twist it the last page of the story makes this man an intense and delightful character which quite a psychological depth. That small line at the end of The Game of the Rat and Dragon made it my favorite out of the twelve stories, suddenly transforming Underhill into a tortured character. Other character that was quite interesting was Sto Odin, from Under Old Earth, an old Instrumentality (the semi-immortal men and women who govern humanity) that seventy seven days before the date he has decided to die starts having doubts about the validity of the system of mandatory happiness he has been enforcing for over a thousand years. His fears and actions made him probably one of the hardest characters to predict until the very end of the story, though sometimes they felt as if the author had decided to improvise some of his skills on the spot.

Now, one thing Cordwainer Smith excels in is his writing style. His use of words is hypnotic. An extensive vocabulary and a way with the English language difficult to describe pulls you inside this pages and leave you craving for more. His writing style is, in one word, beautiful. His vocabulary is as boundless as his imagination. All of us aspiring writers could learn much of this man.

Other detail that irritated me at some points was the fact that he leaves lots of important items of the story completely unexplained and without hints to help the readers to figure out what the heck he is talking about. Sometimes reading this book is like trying to talk with an expert aeronautical engineer who insists in using scientific terminology to refer to anything he speaks about! And who refuses to believe that you can’t understand what he is referring too! Sadly, we are talking about some machines, genetic mutation and physical rules created by the mind of the author, so we can’t double check it with no one else. What is exactly the Congohelium, a estrange artifact which appears in Under Old Earth?, or the Aba-Dingo from Alpha Ralpha Boulevard? Those are some questions we thirst to know but are never answered to us

Out of the twelve stories I have my own preferences: The Game of the Rat and Dragon because of the sudden twist at the end and because who doesn’t like a story of cats fighting on spaceships? Especially when one of said cat’s name is Captain Wow? Closely followed by Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, The first story which is centered after the rediscovery of humanity by mankind and has quite a comedic beginning in which the people are choosing what culture do they want to belong to (the main characters have chosen to be French and therefore decide they have to spend the afternoons on cafes), this story centers in the worries of finding who we really are when everything we want to be is on our reach. Finally The Lady who Sailed the Soul is a delightful story about a woman who enrolls as a sailor in a spaceship. Its ending is probably the most touching paragraph in the whole book.

If you are going to read this book keep in mind you are reading stories which were written in the 1950´s and are loyal to the ideology of its time. So keep an open mind and give the book a chance as much as it may sometimes be irritating.

I would recomend this book to those readers that consider themselves lovers of the science fiction genre. They can’t miss the wonderful world that Cordwainer Smith has created in this set of short stories. I also recomend it to any person who enjoys Reading classics, the autor grasp and skill with language can be compared to that of Tolkien. If you don’t like Science Fiction or you are new on the genre its probably better to skip this book at least for now.

I think I would give this book a seven out of ten: amazing setting and writing style, some interesting narrative choices but only with three or four interesting characters and sometimes a lack of information that exasperated me.


¡Hasta la próxima!