Dr. Paul Linebarger
February 21, 2002 7:25 PM   Subscribe

Dr. Paul Linebarger became a spy for the U.S. Intelligence community because he was an expert in propaganda, psychological warfare, and the culture of China. In his other secret life, however, he wrote some of the most wildly inventive and unusual science fiction ever, forming a history of mankind and its Instrumentality that spanned fifteen thousand years. To protect his identity, he published under the name Cordwainer Smith.
posted by Hildago (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yay, Hidalgo! One of my favorites. His language was beautiful and his was the first (prosepoem) translation I read of Rimbaud's The Drunken Boat. And what a life story... And he was on loan to the Egyptian goverment in the 50s. I've always wondered about the similarities of the names Casher O'Neill and Bashir Gemayel, the Lebanese Maronite Christian warlord who was killed in a car bomb assassination during the 1982 Israeli invasion.
Especially since The Quest For Three WOrlds series had so much roman a clef contemporary Egyptian background.
posted by y2karl at 7:31 PM on February 21, 2002

Here's more about him, links and such from Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, which is one of the most stylish looking SF sites I've seen, and the title of the first story of his I ever read. And it's from a story by Chateaubriand, I found out a few years ago, who was noted for his musical language. Linebarger-Smith was one of the most erudite and polyglot of all Science Fiction writers.
posted by y2karl at 7:43 PM on February 21, 2002

If I remember correctly, his godfather was Sun Yat Sen.

Talk about connections.
posted by dragonmage at 7:46 PM on February 21, 2002

Paul et Virginie was the Chateaubriand story, which I meant to include above. I would recommend anyone who hasn't read ALpha Ralpha Boulevard to do so forthwith. It's only a short story but it will change the way you dream. Smith reads like he was translated from a language yet to evolve some tens of thousands of years from now. It's science fiction at its zenith.
posted by y2karl at 7:47 PM on February 21, 2002

Yes, his form and content are coming from a place 99% of us can't even really understand, let alone recreate. I've always wondered how much of it is genius--which other aspects of his life clearly point towards--or some level of insanity, which seems to me like the most convenient way to put his work into a category.

Actually y2karl, it was your post on Henry Darger that got me thinking about Cordwainer Smith, whose stories I haven't read since I was fifteen. The simularities as well as the differences between the two are striking, and in both cases the obsessive creativity forces a kneejerk reaction in me to say "mild schizophrenic combined with mild ocd," though I know that that's unfair and, at the very least, inadequate..
posted by Hildago at 8:01 PM on February 21, 2002

Wow, this is weird. My dad knew him from days in D.C., and I think he knew that he was Cordwainer Smith. Years ago that it's completely fuzzy, my dad told me something about "Cordwainer" being some sort of play on the name "Linebarger." At the time, I was much too young to appreciate it.
posted by elgoose at 8:06 PM on February 21, 2002

It's a literal translation of the Chinese ideogram on Linebarger's--and his father's, too, I would assume--chop block for stamping documents, or so I read somewhere.
posted by y2karl at 8:15 PM on February 21, 2002

And yet, Hidalgo, Psychological Warfare was the standard text for a long time and the reason he was loaned to Nasser. So it's a ponder as to his sanity... I ran his name in Google image and there's a picture of cat C'mell but it leads to a 404. Next to it on the Google page is a picture of him holding a very similar looking cat from another page of photos of noted SF authors. Another mystery.
posted by y2karl at 8:19 PM on February 21, 2002

For the record, Felix A. Forrest, one of his pen names, was a play on his name in Chinese (or his Chinese name, maybe). A cordwainer makes shoes, though, if that helps.
posted by Hildago at 8:24 PM on February 21, 2002

Awesome post. We should do Cordwainer Smith books in MeFi books!
posted by Lynsey at 8:52 PM on February 21, 2002

Cordwainer=Cordoban=reference to fine shoe leather made in Cordoba, and by extension to a maker of fine shoes,

A wain is a wagon. So Cordwainer = Linebarger is a neato wordplay, but not a translation.

Philip K Dick was fond of this kind of thing too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:35 PM on February 21, 2002

Linebarger was also devoutly religious -- and some fans see this as the core element of his work.
posted by Iberaband at 12:02 AM on February 22, 2002

I stand corrected as usual on the cordwainer. You mean like Serious Constricting Path, i_am_joe's_spleen?
posted by y2karl at 7:01 AM on February 22, 2002

Time to read Scanners Live in Vain again. And Ballad of Lost C'Mell. Thanks all for reminding me of this delightful writer again.
posted by tommasz at 7:08 AM on February 22, 2002

Thank you Hildago. This is why I love Metafilter.
posted by catatonic at 10:29 PM on February 22, 2002

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