Thursday, 6 September 2001

Cordwainer Smith: The Instrumentality of Mankind (1979)

Edition: Gollancz, 1988 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 937

The oligarchy which rules mankind in the background to most of Smith's science fiction is known as the Instrumentality. This may make it seem an ideal title for a collection of his short stories, but of these fourteen there are at least six - and I would say seven - which are not part of his ambitious future history. The short stories not in The Instrumentality of Mankind are collected in The Rediscovery of Man, and there the stories are set in the Instrumentality but only four or five deal with the events given the name which provides its title; neither collection really has a title appropriate to its content.

The stories in The Instrumentality of Mankind are all in some way "also-rans". (This is not surprising given that the other collection's original title was The Best of Cordwainer Smith.) Many of them have an unfinished feel, which is mainly because the ideas they contain are not as fully developed as they are in Smith's most successful stories. This is the case, in particular, with the stories about the origins of the Vomact family. War No. 81Q, while an immense achievement for a teenager, is clearly juvenile. Gustible's Planet is basically a parody of Smith's usual style.

The stories are not without interest, and for many authors this would amount to a pretty good collection. The Instrumentality of Mankind, however, is very much in the shadow of its counterpart.

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