The Instrumentality of Mankind

The Instrumentality of Mankind

by Cordwainer Smith

14 short stories set in a universe of scanners, planoforming ships and animal-derived Underpeople.1 No, No, Not Rogov! (1959)2 War No. 81-Q (1928)3 Mark Elf (1957)4 The Queen of the Afternoon (1978)5 When the People Fell (1959)6 Think Blue, Count Two (1963)7 The Colonel Came Back from the Nothing-at-All (1979)8 From Gustible's Planet (1962)9 Drunkboat (1963)10 Western Science Is So Wonderful (1958)11 Nancy (1959)12 The Fife of Bodidharma (1959)13 Angerhelm (1959)14 The Good Friends (1963)"First Edition: May 1979" stated on the copyright page.

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Usually I don't read too much sci-fi literature, as I tend to prefer contemporary novels and poetry. I had a period during high-school when I was reading almost exclusively sci-fi. But I still can appreciate a good sci-fi novel, that for me means one that manages to create a fully functional world in the (preferably distant) future imagined. I admired most his ability to tell the story without bugging the first part with abundant details on how that distant world is working. Regarding the complexity and difficulty, there are many concepts that require explanations, which is natural as the stories are set in a distant future. In terms of credibility, not debating if the respective changes in human society and technology present in the stories are possible or not, I believe the world created by Smith is fairly consistent with itself. As this is a sci-fi novel, I cannot rate it more than 3 on credibility. +--------------------------+-----------------+ Criteria Rating +--------------------------+-----------------+ Premise 4 +--------------------------+-----------------+ Form 4 +--------------------------+-----------------+ Originality 4 +--------------------------+-----------------+ Characters 3 +--------------------------+-----------------+ Difficulty/Complexity 2 +--------------------------+-----------------+ Credibility 2 +--------------------------+-----------------+ Edition 2 +--------------------------+-----------------+ Total 3.00 +--------------------------+-----------------+ For more details on how I rated and reviewed this novel, please read these guidelines.

And in my blog, which sometimes gave a running account of my reading, I compared him to Flannery O'Connor in having a moral world view but not always sounding judgmental, just standing back and showing the behavior of people in stressful situations, or people/animal people/and other world people all bumped up against each other.

Some of the stories were more haunting than others, but what seemed like a simple foray ends up being such a layered Easter egg of sci-fi goodness that this was a hard book to put down.

(I'm only referring to DrunkBoat, here.) The rest of the stories are either also in other editions or are less memorable, but all of them are quite good.

Cordwainer Smith is a forgotten author these days, but I urge anyone who sees any book by him to pick it up, take it home and read.

As such, I accidentally purchased and started reading "The Instrumentality Of Mankind when I'd intended to be reading "The Rediscovery of Man". That said, as the last page of The Rediscovery of Man states: "His sparse but regular output of science fiction consisted chiefly of short stories, the best of which are collected in this volume". I strongly agree that, with on exception, the best stories are in The Rediscovery of Man. Most of Mr Smith's writing was done between 1950 and 1980 and it's reasonably obvious when reading them that this is the case, both due to the language used and the social norms of the time that occasionally seep through. The vast majority of the stories here are science fiction, although they're of the type that agrees that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic and is happy to run with the magic and not bother explaining things too deeply. Under his real name he authored the extremely well-regarded non-fiction book "Psychological Warfare" ( It's a magical fife with some interesting powers and we, very quickly, meet various owners of the fife as it travels through time before a very speculative and twisty end.