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Tripping Cyborgs and Organ Farms: The Fictions of Cordwainer Smith
09.22.2010
02:40 pm
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When someone whose opinion you respect—in this case Steve Silberman of Wired News—sends you a link and the note “I promise you, the weirdest story you’ll read today (mine)” you take it seriously in my line of work. In this article for his new Neurotribes blog, Tripping Cyborgs and Organ Farms: The Fictions of Cordwainer Smith, Steve tells the unusual tale of Paul Linebarger, psychological-warfare expert and spy for the U.S. government. Writing under the pen name Cordwainer Smith, Linebarger wrote some unusually prescient science fiction tales that depicted bizarre advances in science and predicting dystopian futures as disturbing as anything in Philip K. Dick’s oeuvre:

After Scanners, Linebarger’s most unnerving creation was “A Planet Named Shayol.” (Sh’eol or שְׁאוֹל — “the pit” or “the abyss” — was the ancient Hebrew name for the land of the dead.) The story is one of the most haunting visions of an utter hell outside of Dante, with plot points anticipating current developments in tissue engineering and the infamous Vacanti earmouse that caused a flap at M.I.T. in 1996.

Published in 1961, it’s even druggier than Scanners, with a hipster nurse who gets her patients stoned on the fictional equivalent of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and a cow-faced organ farmer proffering a synthetic opiate called super-condamine. Linebarger writes about strung-out states of mind so convincingly, it’s clear that his experiences in the hospital as a kid left an indelible impression. One might even say that these experiences — along with his perpetual dislocation as the son of a spy — made the body itself, and all of culture, seem like an elaborate prosthesis imposed on the essential man. Ich bin ein Scanners, waiting for the next cranch.

Read more of Tripping Cyborgs and Organ Farms: The Fictions of Cordwainer Smith (NeuroTribes)
 
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Posted by Richard Metzger
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09.22.2010
02:40 pm
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