- "The Instrumentality was a self-perpetuating body of men with enormous powers and a strict code. Each was a plenum of the low, the middle, and the high justice. Each could do anything he found necessary or proper to maintain the Instrumentality and keep the peace between the worlds. But if he made a mistake or committed a wrong—ah, then, it was suddenly different. Any Lord could put another Lord to death in an emergency, but he was assured of death and disgrace himself if he assumed this responsibility. The only difference between ratification and repudiation came in the fact that Lords who killed in an emergency and were proved wrong were marked down on a very shameful list, while those who killed other Lords rightly (as later examination might prove) were listed on a very honorable list, but still killed. With three Lords, the situation was different. Three Lords made an emergency court; if they acted together, acted in good faith, and reported to the computers of the Instrumentality, they were exempt from punishment, though not from blame or even reduction to civilian status. Seven Lords, or all the Lords on a given planet at a given moment, were beyond any criticism except that of a dignified reversal of their actions should a later ruling prove them wrong.
"Can you imagine a rain of people through an acid fog? Can you imagine thousands and thousands of human bodies, without weapons, overwhelming the unconquerable monsters? Can you—"
"Look, sir," interrupted the reporter.
"Don't interrupt me! You ask me silly questions. I tell you I saw the Goonhogo itself. I saw it take Venus. Now ask me about that!"
The reporter had called to get an old man's reminiscences about bygone ages. He did not expect Dobyns Bennett to flare up at him.
Dobyns Bennett thrust home the psychological advantage he had gotten by taking the initiative. "Can you imagine showhices in their parachutes, a lot of them dead, floating out of a green sky? Can you imagine mothers crying as they fell? Can you imagine people pouring down on the poor helpless monsters?"
Mildly, the reporter asked what showhices were.
"That's old Chinesian for children," said Dobyns Bennett. "I saw the last of the nations burst and die, and you want to ask me about fashionable clothes and things. Real history never gets into the books. It's too shocking. I suppose you were going to ask me what I thought of the new striped pantaloons for women!"
"No," said the reporter, but he blushed. The question was in his notebook and he hated blushing.
Within the Downport, Martel had less trouble than he thought. He draped his aircoat over his shoulder so that it concealed the instruments. He took up his scanning mirror, and made up his face from the inside, by adding tone and animation to his blood and nerves until the muscles of his face glowed and the skin gave out a healthy sweat. That way he looked like an ordinary man who had just completed a long night flight.This isn't the usual sci-fi stuff that was getting cranked-out during the Fifties and Sixties. It was, and remains, extremely unique. Cordwainer Smith created a stunning future history filled with very peculiar planets like Viola Siderea, Shayol, or Norstrilia--the source of the immortality drug Stroon. He gave us Scanners who were tragic, early-adopters of transhumanistic cyber-augmentation and cryonic preservation (Cold Sleep) who found themselves faced with obsolescence. He gave us Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, The Dead Lady of Clown Town, Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons, The Ballad of Lost C'Mell and the Underpeople--those people who were raised up from domesticated animals to become a genetically engineered slave-class that was a direct continuation of H. G. Well's Doctor Moreau's great work, in spirit and conception, if not in literal fact. But then there are other parallels with Wells, and with The Island of Doctor Moreau through-out Smith's work.
After straightening out his clothing, and hiding his Tablet within his jacket, he faced the problem of what to do about the Talking Finger. If he kept the nail, it would show him to be a Scanner. He would be respected, but he would be identified. He might be stopped by the guards whom the Instrumentality had undoubtedly set around the person of Adam Stone. If he broke the nail—but he couldn't! No Scanner in the history of the Confraternity had ever willingly broken his nail. That would be Resignation, and there was no such thing. The only way out, was in the Up-and-Out! Martel put his finger to his mouth and bit off the nail. He looked at the now-queer finger, and sighed to himself.
The stories of Smith's Rediscovery of Man, the Instrumentality, and Norstrilia are amazingly packed chock-full of incredible ideas, ingenuity and a very different sort of idealism than the run of the mill. Smith's Instrumentality had a pseudo-medieval air about it--they were the Lords & Ladies of the Instrumentality after all, but unlike Herbert's Dune or Silverberg's Majipoor, Smith took things in a very different direction. The Instrumentality had a very real purpose and every means necessary to carry it out. They are all-powerful, as a collective, and charged with ensuring mankind's survival. A bit arbitrary at times, they are benign overlords who can resort to the most callous brutality when needed. But they maintain an ultra-strict code and any one of them can put another to death if need be. They police themselves as much as they police the worlds they rule over. The quote at the start of this post from Drunkboat spells it all out pretty nicely. These aren't doddering incompetents or political appointees within a celestial bureaucracy--the Lords and Ladies of
http://www.cordwainer-smith.com/ There just aren't that many sites devoted to Cordwainer Smith at present. He appears to have been forgotten, overlooked, like so many other wonderful authors who now languish in obscurity so that we can have such enduring treasures as the latest angsty teen vampire epic.
(La Tempête) French artist Pierre Auguste Cot