Saturday, May 22, 2010

We the Underpeople Introduction - Robert Silverberg

"Nobody—with the possible exception of A.E. van Vogt, whose dreamlike, surreal The World of Null-A was first published around the time Cordwainer Smith was writing "Scanners"—wrote science fiction that sounded like that. The lucid, unadorned prose setting forth the immeasurably strange—it was a new kind of voice.

I read on and on. One bizarre term after another tumbled forth: Scanners, the Up-and-Out, the habermans, the Cranching Wire. In time, it all made sense. By the end of the story, forty pages later, I knew that some incomparable master of science fiction had taken me to an invented world like none that had ever been portrayed before.

But who was this Cordwainer Smith?

Suddenly, everybody in the little inner world of science fiction—there couldn't have been more than a few hundred who really cared about it in any more than a casual way—was asking that question. But no answers came forth. William Crawford let it be known that the name was a pseudonym—but for whom? Van Vogt? Hardly. If he had written it, he would have been proud to publish it under his own name. The prolific Henry Kuttner, famous for his innumerable pseudonyms? Heinlein? Sturgeon? None of the theories seemed to add up. The name itself provided no clue. ("Cordwainer" is an archaic term meaning "leather-worker" or "shoemaker.")

The hubbub died down within a few months, and the unknown Mr. Smith and his remarkable story receded into obscurity and might have remained there forever but for Frederik Pohl, not only a writer but an editor of s-f anthologies. Pohl knew about "Scanners" because he had had a story in that same issue of Fantasy Book, and he republished it in 1952 in a paperback called Beyond the End of Time, a fine fat collection that also included work by Bradbury, Asimov, van Vogt, and Heinlein. Science-fiction paperbacks were few and far between back then, and everybody who liked s-f pounced on the Pohl anthology. Thousands of readers who had never so much as heard of Fantasy Book now discovered Cordwainer Smith and clamored for more of his work."

4.5 out of 5

No comments:

Post a Comment