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Norstrilia, Cordwainer Smith's Only Science Fiction Novel

Updated on January 1, 2013

Norstrilia: A Minor Classic and Part of the Cordwainer Smith Future History

Cordwainer Smith's Norstrilia is his only novel, and it is compiled from two of his previously published stories. If you are not a Cordwainer Smith fan, you probably don't care. Why should you?

I care, but then I am Smith's daughter, and I have a website about his work and life. Recently I got an email from someone who had read the first half some 15 or 20 years ago and was thrilled that he was finally going to read the whole thing.

The planet Norstrilia -- that's short for Old North Australia -- exists in the future, some 15,000 years from now. It bears a certain resemblance to the Australia here on this planet where my father lived in for a time. But it's also very different. And one of its teenagers, Rod McBan, is different from his neighbors, so different that he has gone through the Garden of Death three times and is facing a fourth and final trial there.

Everyone on Norstrilia uses telepathy in their everyday lives, but Rod just lacks that skill... most of the time. Every now and then he blares forth strongly enough to give his neighbors toothaches. But should he die for that? Lord Redlady thinks that Rod's odd type of telepathy could be useful. Sometimes Rod can hear what's going on in people's minds for miles around, even when their mind shields are up. His neighbors don't realize that he can do that.

What happens? Well, of course I won't give away any secrets but you learn on page one that he goes to Old Earth and buys it, the whole planet. That is an embarrassment to both planets.

You may have encountered the Lords of the Instrumentality, or C'Mell and other members of the Underpeople, in other stories by Cordwainer Smith, but if you haven't, you'll get glimpses in this novel. Just watch out for those air shafts.

Photo credit: New England Science Fiction Association -- they published the definitive edition of Norstrilia, and that link takes you to their page about it.

Paul Linebarger on a sheep ranch
Paul Linebarger on a sheep ranch

Norstrilia Reflects the Author's Experiences

Rod McBan, the protagonist, is different from everyone around him. So was Paul M. A. Linebarger who wrote science fiction as Cordwainer Smith. (As I mentioned before, I'm his daughter -- I should know!) My father lost an eye in an accident when he was a young child. Rod had the disability of not being reliably telepathic in a world where everyone else was. They both liked collecting rare postage stamps.

Also, my father lived in Australia on two different occasions. The values of its citizens are strongly reflected in the novel. This photo shows him on a sheep station in Australia. Sheep have a significant role in the novel.

Photo credit

Get Norstrilia at Amazon

This edition, carefully edited by the New England Science Fiction Association, is the best complete version available in print. The last time I ordered one, Amazon itself didn't have it but other sellers listed through them did have it.

Norstrilia in Art by Corby Waste

Below Are Just Two of Several You Can See

Corby Waste has done numerous works of art inspired by the stories of Cordwainer Smith. I met Corby at the 2001 Worldcon, the only "con" (science fiction convention) I've been to. I wrote about Corby on my website and here is the main link to Corby's CS art website.

Clicking on either of the images below will take you to a larger version of it at Corby's site. Art used with his permission.

Humphrey's Lawsuit on Norstrilia

Humphrey's Lawsuit on Norstrilia
Humphrey's Lawsuit on Norstrilia

The Station of Doom on Norstrilia

The Station of Doom on Norstrilia
The Station of Doom on Norstrilia

Norstrilia's Publishing History

Norstrila was published in 1964, as the stories: "The Boy Who Bought Old Earth" in Galaxy and "The Store of Heart's Desire" in Worlds of If Science Fiction. There was not even a mention in the magazines that the stories were related.

Then Pyramid Books published two paperbacks: The Planet Buyer in 1964 and The Underpeople in 1968.

Then Ballentine/Del Ray did combine both parts into a paperback in 1975, titled Norstrilia.

Most recently, in 1998, the New England Science Fiction Association Press (also called NESFA Press) brought out the current edition. They succeeded in making it the most complete and accurate version. It includes an introduction by Cordwainer Smith scholar Alan Elms. The editor was James A. Mann, and numerous volunteers assisted in its publication.

Cordwainer Smith on eBay

This is an automatically updating list...

Paul Linebarger and daughter
Paul Linebarger and daughter

Who Was Cordwainer Smith?

He was born Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger... and eventually became my father...

I remember him absorbed in his work as a professor of Asiatic Studies at the School of Advanced International Studies (called SAIS), a part of Johns Hopkins University located not far from our home in Washington, D.C.

It was only after his death that I learned about the CIA work he had been doing the summer we were on vacation in Mexico and at other times.

What was it like to grow up with that strange mind? Well, it was mighty strange. I remember getting annoyed when things I'd said at the dinner table turned up in his stories. Now, as a writer myself, I have probably done that with other people's comments many times.

The word "normal" when applied to a friend was pretty much a condemnation. Normal was considered boring.

Photo credit: this photo is in my personal collection. I'm the child.

Norstrilia on eBay

At times nothing may come up, and at times the paperback or the hardback may, or an anthology, as this is a data feed on the word Norstrilia.

The best edition is the NESFA Press. The text was examined carefully before going to print, a rare treat these days!

Please note that if you click through to from here and if you buy something, Squidoo and I may share a commission, at no cost to you. Clicking on some of the other links might also yield me some commission. I appreciate the income, as it enables me to spend time doing writing like this.

I know that most people haven't, so I won't be bothered if you fit into that category!

Guestbook Comments: Have You Ever Heard of Cordwainer Smith? - Have You Ever Read His Science Fiction?

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    • hartworks lm profile image

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @Virginia Allain: He's well known in the science world among fans of a certain age, but that's about it!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 5 years ago from Central Florida

      How fascinating to have a father who writes and had such an interesting life. No, I'd never run into the book or author, so thank you for telling us about him.