Unknown or Forgotten: Cordwainer Smith

Cordwainer Smith may not be a name that is familiar to a lot of Australian readers unless they're of the esoteric sf kind.

The author, whose real name was Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger was American by birth and was a visiting professor at the Australian National University in Canberra in 1957 and in 1965, in the Faculty of Modern History. It was probably this connection with Australia that led him to create "the planet Norstrilia (Old North Australia), a semi-arid planet where an immortality drug called stroon is harvested from gigantic, virus-infected sheep each weighing more than 100 tons. Norstrilians are nominally the richest people in the galaxy and defend their immensely valuable stroon with sophisticated weapons (as shown in the story "Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons"). However, extremely high taxes ensure that everyone on the planet lives a frugal, rural life, like the farmers of old Australia, to keep the Norstrilians tough." [From Wikipedia.] Smith also published a novel, Norstrilia, set on this fictional world.

Although his sf output over 16 years - from the publication of "Scanners Live in Vain" in 1950 until his death in 1966 - was rather small he influenced a number of authors who came after him. Harlan Ellison has been known to use the pseudonym "Cordwainer Bird" on occasion, partly in tribute to Linebarger. And Robert Silverberg has said: "Beginning in 1955 and continuing for a decade thereafter, he brought us a group of astoundingly original short stories and a couple of novels which marked the world of science fiction forever. The influence of Cordwainer Smith's stories has been incalculable."

Back in the 1970s a group of three sf fans in Melbourne started their own small publishing house which they named Norstrilia Press. Amongst other books they published An Unusual Angle, Greg Egan's first novel, and The Dreaming Dragons by Damien Broderick which was runner-up for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1981. The press, unfortunately, is no longer in operation.

Links of interest:
"Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons", which includes a link to an e-text of the story.
The Cordwainer Smith Blog which is run by the author's daughter.
Cordwainer Smith pronunciation guide.
John Bangsund manages to include A.D. Hope, Philip Adams and Cordwainer Smith in the one essay. And if you've ever wondered what the sf "fannish" world is all about, this piece might just give you some idea. Or maybe not.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 22, 2009 4:16 PM.

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