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Part time Earthling
March 27, 2013 7:31 AM   Subscribe

According to Lindner, his patient first began experiencing a strange feeling while reading fanciful adventure novels during his youth. "In some weird and inexplicable way I knew that what I was reading was my biography. Nothing in these books was unfamiliar to me: I recognized everything... My everyday life began to recede at this point. In fact, it became fiction—and, as it did, the books became my reality." At the further stage of this "psychosis," the patient "filled in the spaces" between the written stories with "fantasy 'recollections.'" -- So you thought otherkin and people believing they're the reincarnation of a fictional character were a modern thing? Well, it turns out science fiction author Cordwainer Smith might've been otherkin half a century before the term was first coined, if The Atlantic is to be believed.

Cordwainer Smith was the pseudonym of Paul Linebarger, born in China to parents working for Sun Yat Sen, who would become his godfather. During World War II he would return to China to work as an expert in psychological warfare, turning his experience into bookform after the war.

It's not proven that the patient Lindner talks about was really Cordwainer Smith, but it would fit well with the rest of his life.
posted by MartinWisse (45 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not sure where you are getting "otherkin" -- is it the portrayal of human-animal hybrids in Smith's fiction?

Anyway this is fascinating. I have the NESFA edition of the Rediscovery of Man and maybe this is a good time to break it out.

Smith is one of the early(ish) SF writers I discovered late, who reshaped my sense of what the history of SF was like. Others include: Olaf Stapledon, Alfred Bester.
posted by grobstein at 7:43 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure the lede of this article is important, or even relevant to the rest of the piece. The main theme is that these stories are awesome, which I wholeheartedly agree with.
posted by wobh at 7:47 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cordwainer Smith is one of my favorite SF authors and probably one of the hardest for me to categorize. I could never decide if his works were science fiction, fantasy or something else entirely. In any case, I'm not at all surprised by this revelation. Try reading "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" and you'll get a good feel for his ability to create another world and fill it with characters you can identify with despite their "otherness".
posted by tommasz at 7:49 AM on March 27, 2013


Scanners Live in Vain
posted by Artw at 7:56 AM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Stories sound interesting. I'm not sure where you're getting this otherkin stuff.
posted by Diablevert at 8:00 AM on March 27, 2013


Cordwainer Smith's stories have this amazing combination of vividness and sophistication that aren't so much ahead of his time as just totally unique.

In short, people who don't like science fiction will really hate these stories.

I can't agree with this. It's just incredibly vivid, interesting writing, almost akin to great horror writing. If anything, hard SF fans would probably find it infuriating.

And now, I'm off to cranch for a bit.
posted by selfnoise at 8:09 AM on March 27, 2013


I vaguely recall Linebarger/Smith was the recurring topic of gossip in SF circles years ago regarding this. Wikipedia says Brian Aldiss first published the link, only citing a personal reference rather than any kind of useful paper trail.
posted by ardgedee at 8:11 AM on March 27, 2013


In short, people who don't like science fiction will really hate these stories.

I can't agree with this. It's just incredibly vivid, interesting writing, almost akin to great horror writing. If anything, hard SF fans would probably find it infuriating.


Yeah, that was a weird little passage. SF evangelism in mainstream venues tends to have a frisson of self-hatred, and this piece did it by oogling on about how weird the stories on. (People who don't like SF must be really closed-minded!)
posted by grobstein at 8:12 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not sure where you are getting "otherkin"

Stories sound interesting. I'm not sure where you're getting this otherkin stuff.


Wikipedia entry on Otherkin, if it helps.

I stumbled upon an Otherkin online discussion group back in 1998, and have been watching them in various fora and websites off and on ever since.

One of the most common "self-discovery" stories that Otherkin have is reading or watching a fantasy work, and immediately feeling a deep connection, one so deep that they come to believe that the work is describes a real world in which they, at one time, actually existed. They usually develop some convolutted theory about reincarnation and alternate universes and quantum physics to explain how this could happen.

I used to see all sorts of people posting about how they were reading Lord of the Rings, "and then I just knew I was an elf, and Tolkein was describing my world!" Rich Danksy, who developed the tabletop roleplaying game Changeling: the Dreaming some years ago for White Wolf Game Studio as part of their World of Darkness series, said that when the game was released a bunch of Otherkin were stunned at how "accurate" a portrayal it was of their lives, and decided that the only way that was possible was that he and the other writers must have all been Otherkin.

So I can absolutely see where the OP is "getting" the idea that Smith might've been Otherkin. If he were living today, he'd probably be spending all his time on Tumblr going on about being an Otherkin, instead of writing.
posted by magstheaxe at 8:27 AM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


How is "otherkin" distinct from the fairly common belief that you are the reincarnation of someone who lived in the past? IIRC there are a number of significant historical figures who have believed, or at least said out loud (perhaps not seriously, hard to say) that they believed they were the reincarnation of someone in the past. Napoleon is the best example I can think of off the top of my head.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:38 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


There were also quite a few people who saw Avatar and believed that they were truly meant to be Na'vi on Pandora.

As far as the out-there-ness of Smith's work, "Scanners Live in Vain" may have been too extreme for John W. Campbell's Astounding, but now it reads as a fairly straightforward parable about people that have sacrificed quite a lot in order to adapt themselves to an unpleasant job that normal (unmodified) people can't do, and have a hard time dealing with the notion that they might not be needed any more. (See also: ex-military people since the dawn of time.) He was certainly ahead of his time, in the depth and imagination shown in his work, but the post's author needs to get a bit more variety in his SF reading if he really sees this stuff as "bizarre and extreme". (Also note that, in the comments to the post, longtime SF author Alan Dean Foster and Smith/Linebarger's daughter show up.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:42 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because being Otherkin includes the belief that you are/were a fictional character. There are, like, Pokemon Otherkin. No joke. Search tumblr.
posted by gsh at 8:42 AM on March 27, 2013


Everywhere, men and women worked with a wild will to build a more imperfect world. I myself went into a hospital and came out French...
posted by bq at 8:42 AM on March 27, 2013


There was Commodus and his firm belief he was Hercules. I'd take tumblr-posting loons over him.
posted by Artw at 8:43 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Relevant previously

"Otherkin" brings with it a lot of specific baggage, BTW, and I don't know that it applies well to Smith/Linebarger.
posted by tyllwin at 8:46 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The 'Kirk Allen' case is fascinating, and it's frustrating that the article doesn't go into more detail about how the conclusion was drawn.
posted by bq at 8:46 AM on March 27, 2013


Rich Danksy, who developed the tabletop roleplaying game Changeling: the Dreaming some years ago for White Wolf Game Studio as part of their World of Darkness series, said that when the game was released a bunch of Otherkin were stunned at how "accurate" a portrayal it was of their lives, and decided that the only way that was possible was that he and the other writers must have all been Otherkin.

I'm not Rich Dansky, but as a regular writer on White Wolf properties I'll say that people with odd perspectives copying this kind of stuff, claiming they invented it, and then accusing us of being wizards/plagiarists is not an entirely uncommon thing, though a lot of it went away with the rise of reliable search and the ability to easily look this stuff up. I have discovered alleged occult societies based on things I've written two or three times.

The most charitable thing I can say about it is that yearning for an esoteric understanding of the self does not necessarily grant one the creativity to make anything of it.
posted by mobunited at 8:50 AM on March 27, 2013 [18 favorites]


Thanks for pointing to the comments!
posted by bq at 8:55 AM on March 27, 2013


Also, since I can't resist if the subject is Cordwainer Smith:

creating
underpeople
posted by tyllwin at 8:58 AM on March 27, 2013


The whole Fans are Slans movement could probably be seen as a precursor to Otherkin.
posted by Artw at 9:01 AM on March 27, 2013


Yeah, interesting author to highlight, but I'm baffled too about how Cordwainer would count as otherkin since that would (based on my reading of this Gawker piece) mean that he absolutely fervently desires to be , or believes that he really is, an animal,/non-human object/fictional character or a collection of different animals /objects/fictional characters , and it doesn't seem from the Atlantic article that he does
posted by Bwithh at 9:08 AM on March 27, 2013


PKD was in contact with the gnostic techno-Christ About half of British comics seems to consist of wizards...

Talking of which, this Kevin Smith interview with Grant Morrison, which just gets weirder and weirder as Smith, who'd skipped research or is very good at faking surprise, descends into the rabbit hole of all the weird stuff Morrison is into based off of an offhand comment.
posted by Artw at 9:18 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


the Kirk Allen link has been plumbed at depth on a Smith page that's hidden somewhere in my bookmarks archive. i'll try and dig it up to post on here. as i remember, it involved a lot of secondary testimony from family etc. saying that so-and-so knew both doctor and patient or something like that and that Linebarger was definitely Allen

i read his book 'Psychological Warfare' as an acidhead teen and it blew me away years later when i discovered his "SF" work to find the two were from the same author (although in hindsight it makes perfect sense).

i've always described his work as outside of any strict genre. it's all just so weird and grand and sad. it reminds me more of Czech or Polish Cold-War narratives in general, as if the genre and themes were really masks for a deeper content. i've read discussions of hidden Christian content which i can see to some degree. i'm not sure that i would classify that as necessarily the intent but more just a remnant of the fact that there are only so many grand-narrative templates from which to draw inspiration. there's definitely a lot of redemption in these stories but just as much outright loss.

in all i'd say his stories remind me of when NYRB first started publishing. most of their early books, the ones i wasn't already aware of at least, fell into a kind of fantastical genre-less territory. it wouldn't be til i was done with the book that i would realize that it was sic-fi or some other genre. his work fits in there. just weird and far reaching and overdue for attention. i've always just read his work as straight-faced and literary and found the SF label too constrictive.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 9:19 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


How is "otherkin" distinct from the fairly common belief that you are the reincarnation of someone who lived in the past?

Social acceptability, mostly.

There is also the superficially reasonable argument that at least historical figures actually did physically exist at one point. This makes about as much sense as saying that it's more likely to have seen one unicorn than two.

Either way, Cordwainer Smith, by dint of being a published SF author, remains to be at the top part of the geek hierarchy flowchart, whereas tumblr-bound otherkin are arguably at the very bottom.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:09 AM on March 27, 2013


First off, any chance to talk about Cordwainer Smith is great - his books were among my favorites as a teen, because of the sheer sense of wonder they evoked. Complex plots, intricate words, fascinating world-building. I still remember the poem from Ballad of Lost C'Mell

She got the which of what-she-did,
Hid the bell with a blot, she did,
But she fell in love with a hominid,
Where is the which of the what-she-did?


or the start to Norstrilia:

Story, place, and time -- these are the essentials.

The story is simple. There was a boy who bought the planet Earth. We know that, to our cost. It only happened once, and we have taken pains that it will never happen again. He came to Earth, got what he wanted, and got away alive, in a series of remarkable adventures. That's the story.


That being said, I always thought that critics had attributed much of his work's oddness to the influence of Chinese folktales, etc. I am not sure I buy the otherkin label, but this is interesting nonetheless.
posted by blahblahblah at 10:11 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


So I can absolutely see where the OP is "getting" the idea that Smith might've been Otherkin. If he were living today, he'd probably be spending all his time on Tumblr going on about being an Otherkin, instead of writing.

In that case I'm confused about why anyone besides Smith would want to put the word psychosis in quotation marks. But que sera sera.
posted by Diablevert at 10:19 AM on March 27, 2013


The idea that "Fans are Slans" implies that Fans are otherkin only if interpreted literally. Were there large parts of Fandom that thought they were literally Slan?

I always thought it was metaphorical, ie, Fans look like mundanes but are smarter, more aware, etc.
posted by jclarkin at 10:22 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read A Planet Named Shayol when I was a kid, never forgot it. I could probably quote lines to you even now. His was a unique imagination.
posted by jokeefe at 10:35 AM on March 27, 2013


I keep hoping to find a collection of his work in ebook format, but with the exception of a couple of the more common stories I've had no luck. My up-close eyesight is not real great anymore and I miss his sad, beautiful worlds.
posted by merelyglib at 10:49 AM on March 27, 2013


I'm a huge fan of Cordwainer Smith - a polymath, a compassionate person.

"Of his accomplishments in this arena, the one that made Linebarger most proud was engineering the surrender of thousands of Chinese troops during the Korean War. Because they considered throwing down their arms shameful even when they had no hope of survival, Linebarger drafted leaflets advising them to shout the Chinese words for love, duty, humanity, and virtue when they approached American lines — phonemes that sound conveniently like “I surrender!”"

I've run into some otherkin and, well, I can't really take it too seriously (even as someone who's skeptical open-minded person). Sorry, you're human.

Now, if more of them were creating work as strong as "Smith"'s...!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:57 AM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Cordwainer Smith

That name rang a bell. (It's not very forgettable, is it?) One of his stories showed up on Protecting Project Pulp recently. It's pretty good, and its underlying concept is a lot more strange and creative than their average story.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:27 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a strange article ("In truth, Smith's sci-fi tales are almost begging for Freudian or Jungian interpretation"—no they're not, unless you think everything ever written is begging for reductive bullshit), but anything that exposes people to one of the most brilliant writers of the '50s and '60s is jake with me. Also, I highly recommend the Lindner book, and especially "The Jet-Propelled Couch" (the chapter that might be about Linebarger/Smith), which absolutely blew my mind when I encountered it many many years ago.

Too bad the poster felt the necessity to stick in the word "otherkin"; all it did is derail the discussion.
posted by languagehat at 11:29 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a general and profound sense of disconnect between body and "essence" throughout CS's stories, so I'm not surprised someone is trying (right or wrong) to finally add him to the otherkin ranks or to a similar odd internet subculture in our present days. Just to add another example (and because it's beautiful writing, hell):

"Here I am, sailor," said she. "I sailed too." Her face was white as chalk, her expression was that of a girl of about twenty. Her body was that of a well-preserved woman of sixty.

As for him, he had not changed again, since he had returned home inside a pod.

He looked at her. His eyes narrowed, and then, in a sudden reversal of roles, it was he who was kneeling beside her bed and covering her hands with his tears.

Half-coherently, he babbled at her: "I ran away from you because I loved you so. I came back here where you would never follow, or if you did follow, you'd still be a young woman, and I'd still be too old. But you have sailed The Soul in here and you wanted me."


- The Lady who Sailed The Soul
posted by Iosephus at 12:02 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


So you thought otherkin and people believing they're the reincarnation of a fictional character were a modern thing?

No, I don’t think anything having to do with people is a modern thing. I find it funny that so many do. But that’s not a modern thing either.
posted by bongo_x at 12:06 PM on March 27, 2013


Source for the previous quote - also a good article in and of itself.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:25 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


In short, people who don't like science fiction will really hate these stories.

Oh, I don't know about that: Linebarger, whose stories read as if translated from a language yet to evolve a few thousand years hence, was a well read polyglot and many will recognize the sources: the names and characters Paul and Virginia in Alpha Ralpha Boulevard are a nod to Bernardin de Saint-Piere's Paul et Virginie, Under Old Earth tropes the story of the Roman emperor Heliogabalus and the first translation I ever read of Arthur Rimbaud's Le Bateau Ivre was a passage in Drunkboat.

And I have often wondered if the name Casher O'Neill in On the Gem Planet, On the Storm Planet and On the Sand Planet was a play on that of Bachir Gemayel of Lebanon, who Paul Linebarger, given his espionage work, quite likely knew as a child.
posted by y2karl at 1:17 PM on March 27, 2013


Were there large parts of Fandom that thought they were literally Slan?

Sort of. There were all kinds of "slan shacks" popping up in the wake of the Van Vogt novel, most of whom were well aware that fans weren't actually superhuman, but then again there was also Claude Degler, who quite literally wanted to breed the coming super race out of sf fans.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:20 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Too bad the poster felt the necessity to stick in the word "otherkin"; all it did is derail the discussion.

It's not a derail if it's in the original post. And I stand by what I said: if Cordwainer Smith really was this patient -- something which of course has not been proven -- he wasn't a hundred percent different from a modern otherkin believing themselves to be the reincarnation of a fictional character.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:26 PM on March 27, 2013


Otherkin are either attention-seekers or people with a serious mental illness, but I obviously need to read Cordwainer Smith. Fritz Leiber was probably a furry, based on a novel that started with another planet appearing in Earth's orbit and ended with the protagonist having sex with a catgirl.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:54 PM on March 27, 2013


I've always read "fans are slans" as the desire of SF fans to believe that they are (well, mostly were, at this point in time) not only superior to mainstream society (aka "mundanes"), but made fun of precisely because they were superior. (See also the X-Men, Harry Potter.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:19 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Considering his CV, I'd guess his imagination was amplified during - as WP's discussion of the super-rich hero Rod of his only, 1975 novel puts it - "a series of adventures among the 'underpeople'."
posted by Twang at 4:25 PM on March 27, 2013


(previously)
posted by flug at 4:50 PM on March 27, 2013


"Why pick C. Smith to be Kirk Allen? Why not Asimov? Or Harlan Ellison?"
posted by ovvl at 5:09 PM on March 27, 2013


I love Cordwainer Smith's stuff. It's actually very hard for me to come up with anything coherent to say about his fiction other than the man loved cats, had to have been almost frighteningly intelligent, and could write an opening paragraph like nobody's business.

The one thing I do note is that it's science fiction that really feels weird; particularly the Instrumentality stuff, his worlds run on a very different internal logic.
posted by Grimgrin at 5:46 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


yea, i've always wanted to check out _psychological warfare_ like i wonder how it might relate to _dune_ or say _the children of hurin_ re: vance-era 'dying earth' tropes or simmons-esque 'hyperion' canterbury tales/dekalog/mythopoeia! (myth that is true ;)
posted by kliuless at 10:07 PM on March 27, 2013


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