Cordwainer Smith

17 Oct 2010 in international | questo post è lungo 235 parole

Earlier this year I discovered the work of the science-fiction writer Cordwainer Smith. Always I arrive late at the fiesta! I was vaguely familiar with his name when I was younger but I had no idea his work was quite so original and bizarre as I have found it to be. Before discovering Smith's oeuvre I assumed that all pre-1960s SF authors always followed orthodox narrative structure and employed conventional 'straight' prose techniques. Even Jack Vance, the master of muscular baroque language, obeyed convention when he needed a quick resolution to a story or novel. Cordwainer Smith is different. All literature of the imagination is 'strange' and most of it is created by men and women who are not particularly strange. Most tales of the far future maintain the impression that they are imagined by writers who are living in the present: this is normal.

But Smith's stories give the impression that they are realistic or historical fictions written from the future. I believe Robert Silverberg made the witty suggestion that Smith was a real time traveller from the future who offered the mainstream, non-fantastical works of his own age to the science-fiction magazines of ours. This is a pleasing conceit. I have heard it said elsewhere that the strangeness of Smith's style derives from Chinese methods of story-telling (Smith spent his formative years in China) but that doesn't account for the strangeness of his visions. They are authentically strange, not forced or contrived, and I am enthralled by them.

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