Cordwainer Smith

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Cordwainer Smith – pronounced CORDwainer Smith – was the pseudonym used by American author Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (July 11, 1913August 6, 1966) for his science fiction works. Linebarger was also a noted East Asian scholar and expert in psychological warfare.

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 born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Paul M.W. Linebarger, a lawyer and political activist with close ties to the leaders of the Chinese revolution of 1911. As a result of those ties, Linebarger's godfather was none other than Sun Yat-sen, considered the father of Chinese nationalism. When he pursued his father's interest in China, Linebarger became a close confidant of Chiang Kai-shek. As a child, Linebarger was blinded in his left eye; the vision in his remaining eye was impaired by infection. His father followed Sun Yat-sen into exile in Japan, before moving his family to France and then Germany. As a result of these experiences, Linebarger was familiar with six languages by adulthood. At the age of 23, he received a Ph.D. in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University.

Linebarger held a faculty appointment at Duke University from 1937 to 1946, where he began producing highly regarded works on Far Eastern affairs. While retaining his professorship at Duke after the beginning of World War II, he began serving as a second lieutenant of the U.S. Army, where he was involved in the creation of the Office of War Information and of the Operation Planning and Intelligence Board. He also helped organize the Army's first psychological warfare section. Closer to the end of the war, he was deployed to China to head the psychological warfare program there and help coordinate U.S.-China military operations. By the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of major.

In 1936, Linebarger married Margaret Snow, and they had a daughter in 1942. They had a second child, another daughter, in 1947, and divorced in 1949. In 1950, Linebarger married for the second time, to Genevieve Collins; they remained married until his death in 1966.

In 1947, he moved to the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and served as Professor of Asiatic Studies. He used his experiences in the war to write the 1948 book Psychological Warfare, which is regarded as a classic text in the field. He eventually rose to the rank of colonel in the reserves and was recalled to advise the British forces in the Malayan Emergency and the U.S. Eighth Army in the Korean War. While he was known to call himself a "visitor to small wars", he refrained becoming involved in Vietnam, but is known to have done undocumented work for the Central Intelligence Agency. He traveled extensively and became a member of the Foreign Policy Association, and was called upon to advise then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

He had expressed a wish to retire to Australia, which he had visited in his travels, but died of a heart attack at age 53. Linebarger is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 35, Grave Number 4712. His widow, Genevieve Collins Linebarger, was interred with him on 16 November 1981.

Science fiction writing

Linebarger's stories are strange even by the standards of science fiction, sometimes written in narrative styles closer to traditional Chinese stories than to most English-language fiction. His science fiction is relatively small in volume, due to his time-consuming profession (he worked in the intelligence community, and as a college professor), and his early death. Rather than a full-fledged series like Dune, Smith's writings consist of only one novel, originally published in two volumes in edited form as The Planet Buyer, a.k.a. The Boy Who Bought Old Earth, (1964) and The Underpeople (1968), later restored to its original form as Norstrilia (1975); and around 30 short stories (gathered in The Rediscovery of Man and other collections), all of them suggesting a rich universe, but leaving much to be guessed by the reader. The cultural links to China were partially expressed in the Felix C. Forrest pseudonym, as the ideograms for "Linebarger" in Chinese roughly translate as "Forest of Incandescent Bliss".

As an expert in psychological warfare, Linebarger was very interested in the then-newly developing fields of psychology and psychiatry and inserted many of their ideas into his fiction. His fiction also often has religious overtones or motifs, in particular in characters who have no control of their actions. This has led to suggestions that Linebarger was conventionally religious, which are refuted by Linebarger's daughter. Regardless, Linebarger's works are sometimes included in analyses of Christianity in fiction, along with the works of authors such as C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

The bulk of his stories are set some 14,000 years in the future, starting on Earth. The Instrumentality of Mankind rules the planet and any planet later inhabited by humanity. The Instrumentality attempts to revive old cultures and languages in a process known as the Rediscovery of Man. This rediscovery can be seen either as the initial period when humankind emerges from a mundane utopia and the nonhuman underpeople gain freedom from slavery, or as a continuing process begun by the Instrumentality, encompassing the whole cycle, where mankind is constantly at risk of falling back to its bad, old ways.

His stories, describing a long future history of Earth, from a postapocalyptic landscape with walled cities defended by agents of Instrumentality to an utopic planet in which freedom can be found only deep below surface, in long-forgotten and buried anthropogenic strata, may appear to belong to the Dying Earth subgenre of Science Fiction, but are ultimately more optimistic.

Linebarger's stories feature strange and vivid creations, such as:

  • Planet Norstrilia, a semi-arid planet where an immortality drug is harvested from gigantic (over one hundred tons) virus-infected sheep (see the worms of Arrakis and melange for similar concepts).
  • The punishment world of Shayol (cf. Sheol), where criminals are punished by the regrowth and harvesting of their organs for transplanting.
  • Planoforming spacecraft crewed by humans telepathically linked with cats which defend against the attacks of unknown malevolent entities in space with the flash of small atomic weapons (these entities are perceived by humans as dragons, and by cats as gigantic rats).
  • The Underpeople, animals modified genetically into human form to fulfill servile roles, and treated as property. Several stories feature clandestine efforts to liberate the underpeople and grant them equal rights to humans. They are seen everywhere throughout regions controlled by the Instrumentality.
  • Habermen and their supervisors, Scanners, whose sensory nerves have been cut to block the "pain of space", and who perceive only by vision and various life-support implants. Other modes of perception can be temporarily restored to scanners by "cranching".

Published non-fiction works

1937 The Political Doctrines of Sun-Yat-Sen: An Exposition of the San Min Chu I Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press
1938 Government in Republican China (with Fritz Morstein Marx) London: McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0883550814
1941 The China of Chiang K'ai-shek: A Political Study Boston: World Peace Foundation, ISBN 0837167795
1948 Psychological Warfare Washington: Infantry Journal Press
1951 Foreign milieux (HBM 200/1) Dept. of Defense, Research and Development Board
1951 Immediate improvement of theater-level psychological warfare in the Far East Operations Research Office, Johns Hopkins University
1954 Far Eastern Government and Politics: China and Japan (with Djang Chu and Ardath W. Burks) Van Nostrand
1956 Draft statement of a ten-year China and Indochina policy, 1956-1966 Foreign Policy Research Institute, University of Pennsylvania
1965 Essays on military psychological operations, Special Operations Research Office, American University

External links

de:Cordwainer Smith es:Cordwainer Smith fr:Cordwainer Smith he:קורדוויינר סמית ja:コードウェイナー・スミス