Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Creation of Cordwainer Smith - Alan C. Elms

Science-Fiction Studies, 1984, 1J, 270-279

A biographical highly detailed overview.

"The eye destroyed in childhood had been replaced by a non-organic prosthesis, a glass shell covering a metal ball. Linebarger wore that prosthesis in his eye-socket for the rest of his life, just as the scanners wore a kind of prosthesis embedded in their chests, their control boxes. Linebarger's glass eye was less trouble-some that his remaining "good" eye (which continued to be an intermittent focus of disease and anxiety). But getting that glass eye necessitated a loss of sensory input, as with the pain-free but non-functioning sensory organs in "Scanners."
An interesting defensive reversal occurs in the story: instead of being blinded when their other sensory connections are severed, the scanners retain only the use of their eyes. For Linebarger, the loss of one eye had increased the importance of the other, and of vision generally. (According to his widow, "That was the one great fear of his life, to go blind. He would rather have been dead than blind. ") A similar defensive reversal involves the fact that Linebarger's eye had been pierced by a wire thrown at him. In the story, the scanners' senses are temporarily restored during "cranching" by a wire with a small sphere at one end, which must be tossed into the air to be activated.
Linebarger's experience of losing his eye as a child does not appear to have been solely responsible for the central theme of "Scanners" (and certainly not for the similar themes of his mainstream novels). But it may well have offered him a powerful set of metaphors and defensive reverse-metaphors to represent another sort of disaster in his life, his "cutting off' or restriction of ordinary human pleasures and social interactions as a means of controlling anxiety and maintaining self-esteem."

5 out of 5

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