Saturday, 20 October 2001

Cordwainer Smith: Quest of the Three Worlds (1966)

Edition: Gollancz, 1987 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 967

Four linked short stories, set later in Smith's imaginary future than any of his other completed fiction have been put together to make up this novel. They all concern the character Casher O'Neill, exiled from the planet Mizzer when his uncle, its dictator Kuraf, is deposed. (The names in the stories tend to refer to other things; Casher's sounds like a Cairo street name, Mizzer like the Arabic name for Egypt, and Kuraf is an anagram of that of Faruk, Egypt's last king.) Although Casher didn't approve of his uncle's corrupt regime, he doesn't think much of the man who has taken over either, and begins a quest to try and improve things on his home planet. This leads him to sort out bizarre problems on other worlds in the hope of obtaining help, and these problems are the subjects of the original stories.

These three stories are fascinating, and Casher is an interesting character who grows as a result of his experiences. The final story, originally entitled Three to a Given Star, does not fit in so well, Casher's involvement being tangential and the major tension of the novel already resolved. It is also one of Smith's poorest stories and by appearing as the ending of Quest of the Three Worlds, can only serve to undermine its quality as a novel.

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