Nom de plume (gack) of Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (1913-1966), American science fiction writer, diplomat, soldier, academic, spy, psychological warfare expert, confidant of Chiang Kai-shek, etc. ad inf. Also named Lin Bah Loh ("Forest of Incandescent Bliss") in youth by Sun Yat Sen. I'm not making this up. Also wrote three or four obscure mainstream novels as Felix C. Forrest (a play on the Incandescent Bliss thing) and Carmichael Smith.

Linebarger's father had helped finance the Chinese revolution of 1911, and ended up a legal advisor to Sun (Yat Sen, not Microsystems). Linebarger himself served as a psychological warfare expert in China and elsewhere in the Far East during WWII and the Korean War, and wrote an authoritative text on the subject which he called, with uncharacteristic subtlety, Psychological Warfare. He seems to have ended up advising President John F. Kennedy on Far Eastern affairs. 1

Okay, we've got that out of the way. Cordwainer Smith is known for the Instrumentality of Man "future history", laid out in thirty or so groovy short stories and a well-regarded novel, Norstrilia. After a hiatus of years, all of this material is now in print courtesy of the New England Science Fiction Association Press 2.

Smith's style was impressionistic and "poetic", at times to the point of embarrassment. When it works, when his ear is in tune, it's unlike anything else you've ever read; when it doesn't work it's still unique but not in a good way. He had a fantastic imagination, also unique, often extending to grotesques and ad hoc mythology. Smith's work buggers description. Read it. At his best, he's mind-blowing.

In the last years of his life, Smith converted to Christianity, which didn't help his prose. Some people are blessed with a knack for writing about their faith without gushing and idealizing, but Smith wasn't among them. Truismically, grace is dull. What part of the Divine Comedy do people read? The Inferno. Yes, The Inferno is part of a larger work, which also covers Purgatory and Paradise. Speaking of Paradise, how about Paradise Lost? Did you know Milton wrote a Paradise Regained too? No? I rest my case. May you never live in interesting times or places, and may you never have to read about someplace you'd like to live in.

Well, never mind the faith thing. A few of his later stories are marred by his poor treatment of it, but most of them survive.

The Instrumentality of Man stories were concerned with a future in which material perfection was achieved, and later abandoned due to boredom, anomie, etc. Very little of the "material perfection" period happens on-stage because, obviously, material perfection is boring.

1 Biographical info abstracted from the Introduction to the NESFA Press edition of The Rediscovery of Man and the Arlington National Cemetery website:

2 The short fiction is in one volume, The Rediscovery of Man; Norstrilia is in a separate volume by itself. We all know they won't stay in print forever, so don't mess around. Buy the damn things. Them's good readin'. They're real books, too, hardcovers on acid free paper with the pages properly sewn.