Cordwainer Smith

This tag is associated with 4 posts

“The Dead Lady of Clown Town” by Cordwainer Smith- Love as Resistance

It’s no secret that I love science fiction. I’ve written on various science fiction works on this site before, and have a second website that is largely dedicated to writings on science fiction (Eclectic Theist). I’ve been on a journey discovering vintage science fiction. Cordwainer Smith is a major figure in that scene, and for good reason. Though he died fairly young, he churned out a number of short stories, novellas, and one novel, almost all of which are set in a shared universe spanning thousands of years. Smith was a Christian who pushed the boundaries in his fiction, using the strangeness of his world.

“The Dead Lady of Clown Town” is one of the stories set in his larger universe. It is intentionally resonant with the story of Joan of Arc, down to a character named D’Joan. In this world, there are the underpeople–animals who have been cross-bred or genetically altered to express various human features–whether physical or mental. The underpeople are used as, essentially, slave labor. They’re discarded and tossed aside whenever their usefulness is undercut. At one point, Smith writes of hospitals for humans that stand empty even as the underpeople are desperate for their care. The reason the hospitals are empty  is because  the underpeople aren’t allowed to be treated in them. They’re underpeople, after all.

The climax of the story has D’Joan being burned alive, but even as she burns, she cries out in love for those who burn her. The other underpeople had risen up with her, crying out and embracing people, calling out that they loved them. The love the underpeople bring unlock all possibilities. Robots come to be aware of their selves; Lords and Ladies are horrified or delighted by turns. Humans run in terror; while others stand around in shock. It’s a dizzying, poignant scene that, even more than 50 years later, evokes images of resistance.

The resistance of the underpeople is one of love. They reach out and embrace those who would seek to hate or even destroy them. Their resistance is built upon a powerful cry that resonates with that of forgiveness and hope rather than hatred and injustice. The underpeople cry “love; love!” and they die smiling. It’s a stunning scene, and one that we cannot help but see parallels throughout time. Smith published this story in 1964, in the heart of the Civil Rights era. It is impossible to not see parallels with Martin Luther King Jr.’s resistance movement and his nonviolence, even while calling out injustice in the strongest terms.

But the resistance of the underpeople is transformational: it changes their whole society, as well as everyone it touches. If we truly desire a just society, we must have a society that is capable of changing rather than rejecting. When those we’ve designated as the “other” reach out to us for embrace, we must not reject them. We must treat them as we wish to be treated.

Set in the context of Smith’s other stories, this is a story that sets off the founding of a religion based on equality of all sentient beings. It’s a beautiful, hopeful future envisioned by Smith. In our own time, as resistance to injustice builds, we have powerful voices also rising up to cry out for those who are downtrodden. May it ever be.

Links

“We the Underpeople”  – Cordwainer Smith and Humanity in the Future– I look at Smith’s vision for the future of humanity, good and bad; bleak and hopeful.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Popular Books– Check out my other posts on popular books, including several other science fiction works. (Scroll down for more.)

Cordwainer Smith– Another blogger writes on the themes found throughout Cordwainer Smith’s science fiction.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“We the Underpeople” – Cordwainer Smith and Humanity in the Future

wtu-smith

Cordwainer Smith (actual name: Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) was an expert in psychological warfare, a scholar of Eastern Asia, an Anglican, and a science fiction author, among other things. He wrote a number of short stories and one novel all set in the same universe–our own. These stories go from the past into the far future and put forward a vision of the future that is at once hopeful and bleak. Here, I’d like to discuss a few themes in the works of his I’ve read, collected in a volume called We the Underpeople by Baen. There will be some minor Spoilers in what follows.

Free Will and Determinism

A prominent theme found throughout Smith’s work is the discussion of free will and determinism. The “Rediscovery of Man” is a time period in which members of the Instrumentality decide that they need to change the world such that people aren’t always happy any more. You see, they made it so that accidents wouldn’t happen (or if they did, prompt healing was available), people wouldn’t say bad things, and the like. If someone did get unhappy, they were brain wiped and reconditioned. Everyone’s happy, see?

Yet the members of the Instrumentality argued and finally allowed for some unhappiness to be allowed back into people’s lives: the Rediscovery of Man.

Smith here notes that human freedom is something that is at the core of our being. Without it, “happiness” falls away into determinism. We may be “happy,” but it is a happiness that is not truly experienced or real. The feelings might be there, but the reality is not. The human capacity for wrongdoing and suffering is there, but it must be in order to have the capacity for truly experiencing and enjoying happiness and delight.

A challenge might arise here: what of heaven? I think this is a tough question, and one that I admit I have no answer I feel firmly about. It’s possible that the choices we make are, over time, enough to solidify us into a sinless existence (a position of Greg Boyd). Perhaps instead, the renewal of our minds that takes place in the New Creation helps us to avoid doing those things that we would not like to do but find ourselves doing in our fallen state.

Humanity and Inhumanity

Humans in Smith’s world have created “underpeople”–animals that have been bred to serve humans in various capacities. Yet these animals are self-aware and brutally oppressed. They experience free will and life, but are trampled by human wants and desires. They are not “people.”

The poignancy of this theme hits close to home when we consider those people who are often set aside in our own world. Things like the Rwandan Genocide are allowed to happen by those we have put in power because there aren’t resources there deemed worth protecting; people are allowed to starve to death because we don’t want to give “handouts,” and the like. How might we as Christians work to correct the wrongs in our own world done to those we have deemed “underpeople”?

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a major theme in Smith’s novel, Norstrilia. The main character, Rod McBan, is attacked by a bitter man, the Honorable Secretary, who is upset that he cannot also have his life extended for a very long time. At a pivotal scene in the book, McBan forgives the Honorable Secretary for the attacks. However, he also forgives himself, for he had–even in thought–mocked the man and his inability to get the same treatment as everybody else to extend his life. McBan realized that his own behavior towards the Honorable Secretary had, in part, lead to the man’s wrongs.

It is a stunning change in the tenor of the plot thread, for the reader had been prone to sympathizing with the main character and forgiving his own “innocent” jabs at the man who tried to kill him. Yet here, Smith elegantly points towards the need for mutual reconciliation and the need to confess one’s own sins. It is masterfully done and speaks very highly of the power of forgiveness.

Conclusion

Cordwainer Smith masterfully wove his Anglican worldview into his science fiction, but he did so very subtly. I haven’t even touched on some of the other messages conveyed in his body of work, such as the allegorical story of Joan of Arc. There is much to contemplate in the works, including human freedom and the need to forgive. I highly recommend his science fiction to my readers.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Popular Books– Check out my other posts on popular books, including several other science fiction works. (Scroll down for more.)

Cordwainer Smith– Another blogger writes on the themes found throughout Cordwainer Smith’s science fiction.

 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 10/21/16- Reading the Bible, a pro-life argument, and more!

postGo Cubs! Enjoy the reads.

The What-He-Did: The Poetic Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith– Cordwainer Smith was a Christian who also happened to be an expert in psychological warfare, among other things. He wrote science fiction that is strange and alluring and poetic all at once, and imbued with his worldview.

Spoilers– Too often, we assume that because we’ve read it before, or know the “spoilers” of the story, we know exactly what the Bible is teaching. Is that really the case?

The Most Undervalued Argument in the Pro-Life Movement– A defense of a rather simple argument for the pro-life position.

Let’s All Be Nicene– The continuing debate over eternal subordination of the Son is, frankly, disturbing to me. I think the call to be Nicene is an appropriate one. This is a post highlighting some of the issues with those who are for eternal subordination of the Son and its problems.

6 Myths About Advocating for Women in Ministry– Don’t be deceived by false arguments that advocating for women in the ministry is somehow detrimental to the church.

“Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”– A brief account and reflection on Luther’s famous words.

Really Recommended Posts 8/21/15- Science Fiction, Debate the New Testament, and more!

postAnother week, another round of fresh reads for you, dear readers, to enjoy! This week we have posts on a science fiction author you may not have heard of, a debate between an atheist and a New Testament scholar, theology and miscarriages, a pro-life post with some good arguments and advice for advocates, and creationism.

Cordwainer Smith– Cordwainer Smith was a science fiction author who was also an Anglican. He developed a unique and compelling world full of intriguing insights into humanity, religion, and free will. Here’s a post that develops some of his thought and reflects a bit on his body of work.

How Not to Argue Pro-Choice: Eleven Completely Misguided Arguments– Clinton Wilcox has written a valuable piece here responding to a pro-choice article that alleges to discredit 11 common pro-life arguments. Not only does he respond to each of the 11 attacks on pro-life arguments, but he also clarifies some arguments that we probably shouldn’t be using.

Fact-Checking Dan Barker from Our Recent Debate [with Daniel B. Wallace]– Here’s a meaty read that will help you dive into some of the extra-biblical evidence related to Jesus Christ, among other things.

Miss Carry: The Theology of Unrealized Motherhood– Miscarriages happen to anywhere from 10%-50% of all pregnancies. Yet we don’t often talk about the emotional impact these can have on families. Here’s a post reflecting on the need for a theology of unrealized motherhood.

Billions of Stone Artifacts: Witness to the Ancient Occupation of the Saharan Desert– Joel Duff continues his series responding to an Answers in Genesis argument about the sheer volume of stone artifacts in Africa. The basics are that the fact that billions of artifacts exist means that human occupation must have been much longer than a young earth creationist timeline allows for.

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