Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is Cordwainer Smith's Future Today?

Science Fiction writer Cordwainer Smith (1913-1966) set his stories thousands of years in the future, when the Instrumentality of Mankind rules Earth and humans have servants - the Underpeople - created by genetically modifying animals. Wikipedia has a few more of the elements of Smith's future universe:
  • the planet Norstrilia (Old North Australia), a semi-arid planet where an immortality drug called stroon is harvested from gigantic, virus-infected sheep each weighing more than 100 tons. Norstrilians are nominally the richest people in the galaxy and defend their immensely valuable stroon with sophisticated weapons [...]. However, extremely high taxes ensure that everyone on the planet lives a frugal, rural life, like the farmers of old Australia, to keep the Norstrilians tough.
  • the punishment world of Shayol [...], where criminals are punished by the regrowth and harvesting of their organs for transplanting
  • planoforming spacecraft, which are crewed by humans telepathically linked with cats to defend against the attacks of malevolent entities in space, who are perceived by the humans as dragons, and by the cats as gigantic rats, in "The Game of Rat and Dragon".
  • the Underpeople, animals modified genetically into human form and intelligence to fulfill servile roles, and treated as property. Several stories feature clandestine efforts to liberate the underpeople and grant them civil rights. They are seen everywhere throughout regions controlled by the Instrumentality.
  • Habermans and their supervisors, Scanners, who are essential for space travel, but at the cost of having their sensory nerves cut to block the "pain of space", and who perceive only by vision and various life-support implants. A technological breakthrough removes the need for the treatment, but resistance among the Scanners to their perceived loss of status ensues, forming the basis of the story "Scanners Live in Vain".
The result is a richly imagined future shaped in part by advanced bioengineering technology. You can read number of Smith's short stories for free online:
The Cordwainer Smith Blog (maintained by his daughter Rosana Hart) is asking for tips on science news items that look like part of Smith's future:
Many things which Cordwainer Smith wrote about are happening now– animal cloning, for one So I have started a category of this blog called “It’s Happening Now,” and when you come across news items that remind you of something in a CS story, do come by and post a comment on this post with links if it was something online you found. Please comment on what bit of what story it reminds you of!
There's already one example up: use of rat brain cells to guide a robot which echos the laminated mouse brain computer in Smith's "Think Blue, Count Two". I'm trying to think of some good examples of my own.

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1 comment:

Rosana Hart said...

Thanks for picking up the ball on this, Peggy! There have got to be a lot of examples out there, but I don't stay current enough with science news to know what they are. Hope you come up with something, sooner or later.

Rosana