For my birthday, I received the big hardcover collection of Cordwainer Smith stories, The Rediscovery of Man from my siblings. (And also a board game about the Cold War.) I don’t know all that much about Mr. Smith, a sci-fi author from the 50s who seems to have written idiosyncratic far-future histories. Also he was, when not working under pen name, a well-regarded academic and the foremost expert on psychological warfare. I read an appreciation of his work some time back, googled around a bit, and found this story: “Scanners Live in Vain.” Then I asked for the book.
The first paragraph is a real gem of speculative writing: a concise, swift dramatization of a life spent as a Scanner, a person with a nervous system modified to endure the Great Pain of Space…
Martel was angry. He did not even adjust his blood away from anger. He stamped across the room by judgment, not by sight. When he saw the table hit the floor, and could tell by the expression on Lûci’s face that the table must have made a loud crash, he looked down to see if his leg were broken. It was not. Scanner to the core, he had to scan himself. The action was reflex and automatic. The inventory included his legs, abdomen, Chestbox of instruments, hands, arms, face, and back with the mirror. Only then did Martel go back to being angry. He talked with his voice, even though he knew that his wife hated its blare and preferred to have him write.
“I tell you, I must cranch. I have to cranch. It’s my worry, isn’t it?”
When Lûci answered, he saw only a part of her words as he read her lips: “Darling . . . you’re my husband . . . right to love you . . . dangerous . . . do it . . . dangerous . . . wait. . . .”
He faced her, but put sound in his voice, letting the blare hurt her again: “I tell you, I am going to cranch.”
Read the rest. It’s not all that long. Then we’ll discuss.
- MORE: I’ve written about sf short stories before, and it’s something I aim to do more of starting now. Here’s a post about a truly great, very short Heinlein story about time travel.