Cordwainer Smith ~ The Romantic Who Wrote The Weirdest And Most Beautiful Science Fiction Of All Time
Discovering the writings of Corwainer Smith in the early 1970’s was a life-changing revelation. At that time, neither his one novel, Norstrilia,nor any comprehensive compilation of his incredible short stories were in print.
For years, I would scour used bookstores in search of his stories, finding one of his stories in this or that compilation, in print, not in print, whatever. Needless to say, his writing had a profound effect on me and I have striven to create worlds, in music and art and words, as strange, as haunting, and, I hope, as full of love as his works, amidst the weirdness. Not that I come close in that regard: but one must aim high. Smith’s stories do not grow old. Interestingly, although he was almost unknown 40 years ago, he is regularly deemed the most influential science fiction writer of all time now. I recommend his books, Norstrilia and The Rediscovery of Man without hesitation.
From 1950 to 1966, stories appeared in mainstream science fiction magazines by an author named “Cordwainer Smith“. From the first to the last, these stories were acclaimed as among the most inventive and striking ever written, and that in a field specializing in the inventive and the striking.
Their author was a very private man who did not want his real name to be known because he did not want to be pursued by SF fans. It was only after his death in 1966 that more than a handful of people knew that
“Cordwainer Smith” was in real life Paul M. L. Linebarger.
Here is an article I found many many years ago and saved. I cannot find it anywhere else anymore, so I am taking the liberty of publishing it here. I make absolutely no claim to ownership or copyright. I am just publishing as a public service.
Christianity And The Science Fiction Of Cordwainer Smith
by James B. Jordan
Copyright © 1991 Originally published in Contra Mundum No. 2 Winter 1992
Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger
Paul Linebarger was born in 1913, the grandson of a clergyman. His
father, an eccentric man, had served as a Federal District Judge in the
Philippines, but had left this post to work full time for the cause of
the Chinese republican reformer Sun Yat Sen, who became Paul’s
godfather. Paul Linebarger grew up in the retinue of Sun Yat Sen, for
his father stayed with Sen during his exile in Japan and throughout his
career in China.
Linebarger spent his formative years in Japan, China, France, and
Germany. By the time he grew up, he knew six languages and had become
intimate with several cultures, both Oriental and Occidental.
He was only twenty-three when he earned his Ph.D. in political science
at Johns Hopkins University, where he was later Professor of Asiatic
politics for many years. Shortly thereafter, he graduated from editing
his father’s books to publishing his own highly regarded works on Far
Eastern affairs. 
After graduating from Johns Hopkins, Linebarger taught at Duke
University from 1937 to 1946, but he also served actively in the Army
during World War II as a second lieutenant. Pierce writes that “As a
Far East specialist he was involved in the formation of the Office of
War Information and of the Operation Planning and Intelligence Board.
He also helped organize the Army’s first psychological warfare
section.”  He was sent to China and put in charge of psychological
warfare and of coordinating Anglo- American and Chinese military
activities. By the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of major.
World’s Night is the third to the last song on the album, Flight of the Atom Bee, following The Blue Man Wept and preceding When We Were Machines.
World’s Night began, that is to say, the initial inspiration came from the drums, specifically the kick drum pattern that opens the song. I was using the Emu SP-1200 drum machine and programming it from my Mac using that great old program StudioVision from Opcode (and may the dweebs of my generation at the Gibson Guitar Company be forced to listen to an eternity of Vanilla Ice songs for buying Opcode for the hardware and letting its excellent software die).
I started building on that, adding the second kick and then the bass organ part, the flute and Moog synth lines. (I later discovered a similar flute/bass arrangement on a Massive Attack song, Karmacoma from Protection, but maybe I should just put it in the “great minds swimming same currents” category. I love what they did there.)
The bass organ came from the workhorse Roland JX-8P. The flute and the faux Moog lead line came from a Roland D-110. Somehow the Moog patch got deleted and when I went to re-record the song due to the line noise in this version, I was unable to recreate the patch, so I was stuck with this noisy version. Hence the addition of vinyl surface crackle and pops to mask the noise in the intro and outro. It also gave the song a vintage sound to evoke the recording technology of that era.
I had read, a couple years earlier, a wonderful book entitled Witness To The Fire: Creativity and the Veil of Addiction, by Linda Schierse Leonard, where she had quoted the theologian/philosopher Martin Heidegger quite extensively. Heidegger talked much of the World’s Night in his work. The quote I remember from the book, which I do not have at hand, having given away many copies over the years, was about how God could not return until we made a place for Him. It had stuck with me.
The gods who “were once there,” “return” only at the “right time”—that is, when there has been a turn among men in the right place, in the right way. For this reason Holderlin, in the unfinished hymn “Mnemosyne,” written soon after the elegy “Bread and Wine,” writes (IV, 225):
“. . . The heavenly powers
Cannot do all things. It is the mortals
Who reach sooner into the abyss. So the turn is
With these. Long is
The time, but the true comes into
As I was working on this song, early on, I knew the title would be World’s Night and the title shaped the song. His perception of the dimming of the Light of the World, I’m sure, came from the two world wars of the twentieth century, Stalin’s holocaust, and other atrocities.
The image I had the whole time as the song emerged was that of a battleship knifing through the darkened grey-green and white-capped currents of the North Atlantic ocean.
Obviously, the song was rather stark in its conception, and very simple, really, built on simple parts, driven by the rhythm section.
In the middle part where almost everything drops out, save the bass and Moog line, it was my hope to evoke a burst of light, however small, into the darkness, followed by the cascading flute figures in the final bars of the song. The beginning of the end of the World’s Night, the turning.
Heidegger’s writings predated the assassination of John Kennedy, of which the fiftieth anniversary is today as I finish writing this piece.
The rest of this article is all from Martin Heidegger himself:
The world’s night is spreading its darkness. The era is defined by the god’s failure to arrive, by the ‘default of God,’ … [which means that] no god any longer gathers men and things unto himself, visibly and unequivocally, and by such gathering disposes the world’s history and man’s sojourn in it. …
Poets are the mortals who, singing earnestly of the wine-god, sense the trace of the fugitive gods, stay on the gods’ tracks, and so trace for their kindred mortals the way toward the turning … To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world’s night utters the holy. This is why, in Holderlin’s language, the world’s night is the holy night. [Emphasis mine]
The closer the world’s night draws toward midnight, the more exclusively does the destitute prevail, in such a way that it withdraws its very nature and presence. Not only is the holy lost as the track toward the godhead; even the traces leading to that lost track are well-nigh obliterated. The more obscure the traces become the less can a single mortal, reaching into the abyss, attend there to intimations and signs. It is then all the more strictly true that each man gets farthest if he goes only as far as he can go along the way allotted to him. The third stanza of the same elegy that raises the question—”What are poets for in a destitute time?”
We have a way out of this wasteland. While “song still lingers over their desolate land,” there is still the possibility of hearing and heeding this call.
The singer’s word still keeps to the trace of the holy. The song in Holderlin’s Sonnets to Orpheus (Part I, 19) says it:
Though swiftly the world converts,
like cloud-shapes’ upheaval,
everything perfect reverts
to the primeval.
Over the change abounding
farther and freer
your preluding song keeps sounding
God with the lyre.
Suffering is not discerned,
neither has love been learned,
and what removes us in death,
Only the song’s high breath
hallows and hails.
The Blue Man Wept was one of the last songs I did for Flight of the Atom Bee, but I had written it many years earlier, as a solo classical guitar piece. In fact, beyond the huge Orbital influence on the piece in terms of tonal texture and coloration, the thing that makes this piece unique, from my end, anyway, was that I recorded the main parts via midi using an early midi guitar.
The Blue Man Wept was indeed one of the last pieces of instrumental music I actually wrote on a guitar, a nylon string classical guitar, of course. In terms of structure, I suppose it was, and remains, a mess. As with most pieces I wrote on the guitar, I would just start with something that sounded good and then find somewhere to take it, trial and error, my imagination limited by my guitar technique, which has always been sketchy at best.
I had an early midi guitar which was quite cumbersome in the sense that there was absolutely no give in the fingering: you had to hit every note just right, or the thing would start misfiring in the worst ways. That said, I used to string two or three synths off the guitar and play them all simultaneously, creating a glorious din. As with many of my early electronic music experiments and explorations, I truly regret not committing these sessions to tape or disk.
Once I had recorded the main part from the guitar as a midi file, I assigned an overblown flute and later plucked harp sound to the part and I had to quantize the notes by hand. As I recall, this took a while. I’ve always been a little loose with time. But the effect is very nice: it still sounds played by hand, not machine.
Then I began building out parts: drums, synth pads, secondary melodic parts and effects. The whole point was to expand the extra-dimensional world from which the song came, moody, mysterious, of muted blues and greys and greens, purples and taupe in the twilight, a tone poem of melancholy from which an occasional burst of hope glimmers.
The instrumentation was built on three synths: the plucked sound was a sample from the Emulator II, the thick organ pad was the Roland JX-8P, and everything else, I am fairly certain, including the drums, came from a Roland D-110 rackmount synth I was using a lot at the time. As always, I did all my arranging and mixing in real time, recording all parts in one pass to digital audio tape. Not the best way to go, but I was always pushing the limits of my musical knowledge as well as my understanding of how a studio was supposed to work.
I like to think this method gave my music a unique feel, but the elementary process certainly had its limitations and created challenges at times.
I had thought about adding a vocal at one point, as Pink Floyd might, after ten minutes. These lyrics floated in my head as I arranged the song:
Across the sky, the bozo flew
The blue man wept
And so did you
Controlled the tides
But nothing much more ever came to me in terms of lyrics, no matter how much I thought about it, and I couldn’t force it, so I forwent the idea of a vocal segment. Nonetheless the imagery in the words informed the arrangement as I worked away, of that I am certain.
A friend, upon hearing Flight of the Atom Bee the first time, summarily dismissed the album as a “bunch of ambient noodling.” I am certain The Blue Man Wept was the piece that cemented this estimation firmly in his mind.
I find The Blue Man Wept to be every bit as lovely as when I first finished it. It takes me right back into the Blue Man’s realm. I wouldn’t change a thing now, many years later.Read More
In 1988, The KLF, a British Duo, released a single named “Doctorin’ The Tardis,” an homage to the Dr. Who TV series (for a detailed history of the song, click here).
According to the Wikipedia:
“Doctorin’ the Tardis” is a 1988 electronic novelty pop single by The Timelords (“Time Boy” and “Lord Rock”, aliases of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, better known as The KLF). The song is predominantly a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme music, Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part Two)” with sections from “Blockbuster!” by Sweet and “Let’s Get Together Tonite” by Steve Walsh. The single was panned by critics but became a commercial success, reaching number 1 in the UK Singles Chart and in New Zealand, and charting in the Top 10 in Australia and Norway.
After achieving the pop pinnacle of a number one hit, Drummond and Cauty, a very interesting pair in my book, decided to write the definitive guide on how to get a number one hit. It is the most hilarious and insightful takedown of the music business I have ever read.
Download the pdf of the book here. And here is a tiny scattering of excerpts. I highly recommend you read the whole book. I couldn’t put it down, ten years ago or today.
So how do you go about achieving a U.K. Number One? Follow this simple step by step guide:
Firstly, you must be skint and on the dole. Anybody with a proper job or tied up with full time education will not have the time to devote to see it through. Also, being on the dole gives you a clearer perspective on how much of society is run. If you are already a musician stop playing your instrument.
The myth of a band being gang of lads out “against” the world (read as “to change”, “to shag” or “to save the world”) is pure wishful thinking to keep us all buying the records and reading the journals. Mind you, it’s a myth that many band members want to believe themselves. So if in a band, quit. Get out. Now.
The best place to find the groove that 7” single buyers will want to be tapping their toes to in three months time is to get down to the hippest club in your part of the country that is playing import American black dance records. The unknown track the DJ plays that gets both the biggest response on the floor and has you joining the throng will have the groove you are looking for.
As we have already mentioned, the Golden Rule for a classic Number One single is intro, verse one, chorus one, verse two, chorus two, breakdown section, double chorus, outro.
Singers – good or bad – are invariably a problem. They not only make incredibly bad time keepers which can lead to disasterous consequences when you are facing a jam-packed schedule during the period when your record has entered the Top 30 but not yet made Number One, they also tend to confuse their role as singer of songs with that of would-be world leaders.
Videos are the disease of our time; adverts pretending to be art, made by arseholes pretending to be artists. Of course, the lovers of kitch in the next century will adore them, social historians dissect them. Shoot the lot we say.
Sunday evening. Five minutes to seven. You are now at Number One. This is forever. It is now totally out of your hands. Your body still looks the same but everything inside it is a million miles apart. Sunday evening. Twenty past seven. Rockman opens another bottle of Champagne. King Boy watches lapwings fly past the setting Sun.
You do what you need to do. There was nothing behind the green door but an old piano. So why? What have you learnt? If you can have a Number One, anything is possible. Don’t forget to sign on.*
*Sign on: for dole benefits.Read More
March of the Molecule Men was one of the last songs I wrote for Flight of the Atom Bee. I had decided that the whole album skewed to the experimental and artsy and what I really needed was a straight up easy-listening four-on-the-floor piece of ambient techno.
The problem with four-on-the-floor (a kick drum hitting each beat in the measure 1-2-3-4) is that it’s boring, so I very quickly and quite unintentionally veered off the straight and narrow with this piece.
I created the squishy bassline on my mac with an application called ReBirth that emulated the unique sound the classic Roland TB-303 Bassline synthsizer. It was a very simple pattern, four or five notes, two measures long, in D major, and it drops in and out for the course of the song. I put a slight delay on it.
I was using an Emu SP-1200 drum machine at this time. I believe I talked about it a little bit in my piece on Wild Pink Yonder. I wrote every note of the drum part – no loops were involved. In fact, I have never used drum loops or audio loops for bass lines in any piece I’ve ever written: these parts are way too important to the song and if one uses clip-art audio, one gets a clip-art song. Many of the little percussive sounds in this piece were created by hitting everyday household objects together, sampling them, editing if necessary, loading into the SP-1200 and using for percussion.
Normally, when I arrange pieces, I block out sections and usually try to hew to an approximation of a 32-bar pop song for structure: intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle eight (or breakdown)-verse-chorus-outro. But that leaves one with a lot of room for play and exploration. Sometime I would have an event of some kind in mind and the challenge would be how to get to it in a musical and emotionally evocative manner.
My particular challenge in this piece was to build the piece rhythmically, leading up to the explosive cartoon bursts at the end.
Early on, as I worked on the piece, the cartoons of Sally Cruikshank popped in my head. I had seen a few of them at an animation festival in Berkeley in the mid-seventies and the visuals had stayed in my head for decades. So March of the Molecule Men became a soundtrack for an imaginary Sally Cruikshank cartoon. Below is one her amazing works. What an amazing and original talent. I highly recommend you buy her DVD (you can find a link to it on YouTube).
As I mentioned, I veered off the four-on-the-floor aesthetic almost immediately with this piece. Rhythmically, I was quite influenced by late Captain Beefheart here. Around the four-minute, you will hear a series of drum rolls, the first one slightly stuttered, the next a little more steady, and the last smooth and steady. This really bothered a friend of mine. I had to explain that it was the drum machine learning how to do a drum roll, that it took a couple of tries to get it right.
Now, to something very important. My good friend, Gustavo, founder of Nude Photo Music, had, around this time, informed me that a good house/techno track had handclaps on the two and the four beats. This seemed very important, so I set about creating an awesome hand clap sound. I wanted it to be BIG. I’m a little vague on what I actually did to the sound, but I know I ran it through a high-end reverb and also put some slap-back echo on it. There were probably a couple other things I did to the sound, but I cannot recall them through the mists of time.
When I published my novel, Flapping, I included a variation of the Flight of the Atom Bee cd, with some added songs, attempting to make it more commercial. In the notes on the cd at the end of the book, I said this about the clap sound:
The clap sound evolved through many steps. One could make the argument that it is the “definitive” clap sound, as well as being a perfect deconstruction of a clap, as well as being a satire of said clap, with self-referential reverb and slap-back echo.
The clap sound to this day bugs Gustavo. It is dedicated to him.
The swirling arpeggio you hear intermittently and at the very end of the piece was done with the Korg DW-8000. It’s great for such things.
All of the other sounds in the song, all the electronic noise, fragments, melodic bits, sweeps, plinks, and spurts, came from a Roland Jupiter 6, an amazing machine.
I either taped down a number of keys, or just created an arpeggio, synced via beat clock from my mac to lock to the song, and set the Jupiter 6 to hold it. I then manipulated the sound in real time, playing with attack, decay, filter settings, using sliders and knobs on the Jupiter 6 to get all sorts of strange and brightly colored—this piece is a rainbow—fragments of melody and noise. I recorded everything to digital audio tape and then transferred digitally to my mac and began the long and thoroughly enjoyable process of slicing the audio file into usable bits and moving them around, arranging and creating the flow of the piece.
I forget how many days it took to finish the song, but once I started the arranging part, I could easily work for sixteen hours, breaking for meals and coffee once in a while.
I also experimented with time-stretching sounds on this piece: you can hear the results near the climax of the composition—as is often the case, March of the the Molecule Men is about sex, the title a reference to the passage through and the eruption of bodily fluid from one body into another, to be truthful—I particularly like how certain harmonics emerge in the sounds.
So, that is how the easy-listening, almost four-on-the-four composition, March of the the Molecule Men, came to be.Read More