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Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works

Science-fiction & fantasy literature: a critical list with discussions.

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Cordwainer Smith

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Standard Disclaimer:

This is a brief discussion of Cordwainer Smith and, of course, of some speculative-fiction books by Smith.

This discussion and list does not necessarily include every book by Smith: it includes only those books that I both know and like. Just as with the author list itself, omission of a particular item may mean I didn’t think highly enough of the omitted item, or it may simply mean that I have not yet sufficient familiarity with it. (In a very few cases, I have listed some books merely on the strength of my opinion of the author: all such books are clearly marked below, as throughout these lists, with a hash mark (#) before the title so you know what’s what.)

I don’t pretend that this discussion is a deep analysis. My intent is no more than to give you a rough idea of what kinds of tales Smith tells, how those tales are usually told, and what makes them and Smith worthy; in sum, to help you rank Cordwainer Smith (and the works by Smith listed here) on your personal literary “to do” list.

A Few Words About Cordwainer Smith

Regrettably, I have not yet had an opportunity to write an essay on this author, but the “Other Resources” section below will lead you to some information about the “Notable Books” listed farther down this page.

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Other Cordwainer Smith Resources

Cordwainer Smith Resources on the Web

There is a pleasing sufficiency of material available—pleasing, because one sometimes gets the impression that Smith is almost forgotten today, but the resources inspire hope that such is not the case. (Though as I update this page in 2020, I see that quite a few of those resources are gone and now available only through archived copies at The Wayback Machine).

The principal resource is Cordwainer Smith and His Remarkable Science Fiction, a dedicated site webmastered by a daughter of Smith’s. Besides that, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at UC Davis Alan Elms has a highly utile Cordwainer Smith Unofficial Biography Page, which is in fact not a “page” but a solid mini-site, with a biography, a bibliography, essays, links, and more: quite a treasure trove [archived copy].

There is also a lengthy and useful Smith page at The Templeton Gate site [archived copy]. And there are not a few extensive, insightful essays around, such as Graham Sleight's Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Cordwainer Smith at the Locus magazine site; “Cats, cruelty and children” by Angus McIntyre; and Christianity In the Science Fiction of “Cordwainer Smith” by James B. Jordan [archived copy]. And, not least, there is a Smith-related blog, still running.

There are also numerous individual appreciations of Smith’s work: it seems that scarcely anybody can read it and not feel moved to comment on its wonders and delights. I don’t usually just give a roll-call of pages for an author, but these each deserve mention on two counts: first, each contributes at least something toward an understanding of, or at least feeling for, Smith’s works; and second, they each evince that intensity that Smith seems so universally to evoke. Note, incidentally, that quite a few are by writers who are themselves published authors. They include (and I apologize if I’ve left any meaningful ones out):

There is also a very brief but nonetheless interesting note at the self-descriptive page The Religious Affiliation of Cordwainer Smith [archived copy], and a curious article in The Atlantic; and, as expected, a useful Smith page at The Encyclopedia of Science-Fiction.

An absorbing and unusual site is the graphic 160th Century Worlds Tour, a “work-in-progress” by virtual-reality artist Corby James Waste that consists of a visual “tour” of of Smith’s imagined far-future universe. It’s impressive, informative, and a lot of fun, too.

Let me also mention the site of The Cordwainer Smith Foundation, which annually awards the Cordwainer (in full, The Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award) “to a science-fiction or fantasy writer whose work displays unusual originality, embodies the spirit of Cordwainer Smith’s fiction, and deserves renewed attention or ‘Rediscovery’.”

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Cordwainer Smith Resources In Print

There are at least a few books (these may not be all):

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Notable Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books by Cordwainer Smith ****

(Smith’s work has been published in numerous collections with overlapping contents. NESFA Press put out a nice, definitive two-volume set with all the works, including a couple of previously unpublished stories and some often-omitted content in the novel; those are the two books listed below, and they are very much the preferred editions.)

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