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Old 12-11-2009, 11:36 AM   #1
Astromancer
 
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Default Cordwainer Smith: Transhumanist when Transhumanism wasn't Cool

I recently bought a copy of The Rediscovery of Man . This reminded me not only of the tragic fact that most young gamers know nothing about great stories like "The Dead Lady of Clown Town" and "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell," but that Cordwainer Smith explored many Transhumanist tropes FiRST! Often by close to thirty years first.

How many folks on this board even know about this sci-fi treasure?
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Old 12-11-2009, 12:17 PM   #2
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Default Re: Cordwainer Smith: Transhumanist when Transhumanism wasn't Cool

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How many folks on this board even know about this sci-fi treasure?
I read a couple of them in original magazine publication, and many of the rest when they came out in mass market paperback in the 1960s. "The Game of Rat and Dragon" is one of my favorite science fiction stories.

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Old 12-11-2009, 03:36 PM   #3
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Default Re: Cordwainer Smith: Transhumanist when Transhumanism wasn't Cool

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How many folks on this board even know about this sci-fi treasure?
Been a fan since about '80 or '81. So much so that whswhs says (rather dishearteningly) that the Cordwainer Smith sticks out all over my usual SF RPG setting.
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Old 12-11-2009, 08:53 PM   #4
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Default Re: Cordwainer Smith: Transhumanist when Transhumanism wasn't Cool

Linebarger's daughter has a tribute page up. There are some pictures of the guy.

Now, when I read that "Smith" was in real life a government wonk who wrote a textbook about psychological warfare, I pictured a square-jawed academic type.

Well. By looks, at least, he's a total geek.

I like him even more.

Transhumanist? Well, it has been many years since I devoured his stuff, but I find the connection a little hard to make.

For me, the modern notion of transhuman was established in Frederik Pohl's 1967 short story "Day Million," which describes a love affair between a metal-skinned cyborg and a prenatally transgendered otter-woman. Love affair = exchange "analogues" of each other so they can have what amounts to virtual reality sex.
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Old 12-11-2009, 11:12 PM   #5
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Default Re: Cordwainer Smith: Transhumanist when Transhumanism wasn't Cool

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For me, the modern notion of transhuman was established in Frederik Pohl's 1967 short story "Day Million," which describes a love affair between a metal-skinned cyborg and a prenatally transgendered otter-woman. Love affair = exchange "analogues" of each other so they can have what amounts to virtual reality sex.
Transhumanism goes back at least to Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men, a future history something like two billion years long, originally published in 1930. His Third Men, a species of naturally gifted geneticists and biologists, undertake the creation of the Fourth Men, a race of gigantic brains with superhuman intelligence and almost purely intellectual motives. Later on in his future history, other races undertake the creation of their superior successors, culminating in the Eighteenth Men, who represent his vision of a perfected humanity—but perfected through scientific transformation. Of course, Stapledon didn't have a clue about computer science, molecular genetics, or any of the other technologies that are the basis of THS. . . .

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Old 12-11-2009, 11:46 PM   #6
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Default Re: Cordwainer Smith: Transhumanist when Transhumanism wasn't Cool

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Transhumanist? Well, it has been many years since I devoured his stuff, but I find the connection a little hard to make.
I almost want to say it's more like biotech cyberpunk, though I never read that much. You do have some H+ technologies -- the animal-incorporating Underpeople C'Mell are parahumans, and you've got the immortality drug. Yet overall it feels grim and subdued.

(wikipedia)
Sheol, a prison planet where prisoners have their organs removed and regrown for transplants. Niven didn't go that far.

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For me, the modern notion of transhuman was established in Frederik Pohl's 1967 short story "Day Million," which describes a love affair between a metal-skinned cyborg and a prenatally transgendered otter-woman. Love affair = exchange "analogues" of each other so they can have what amounts to virtual reality sex.
Heh. As a kid, I think my first real transhumanism, not called as such, was Pohl's Gateway books. It starts out hardscrabble alien space tech prospecting dystopia, but things get better. Synthetic food, people born in cows, uploads, full-blown posthumanity. Maybe not superintelligence as such.

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Transhumanism goes back at least to Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men, a future history something like two billion years long, originally published in 1930. His Third Men, a species of naturally gifted geneticists and biologists, undertake the creation of the Fourth Men, a race of gigantic brains with superhuman intelligence and almost purely intellectual motives. Later on in his future history, other races undertake the creation of their superior successors, culminating in the Eighteenth Men, who represent his vision of a perfected humanity—but perfected through scientific transformation. Of course, Stapledon didn't have a clue about computer science, molecular genetics, or any of the other technologies that are the basis of THS. . . .
Cool. I've only read Star Maker.

As for the history of the idea, you can get precursors a few centuries back, like Condorcet and Ben Franklin:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhumanism#History

Last edited by mindstalk; 12-11-2009 at 11:50 PM.
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Old 12-12-2009, 04:42 AM   #7
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Default Re: Cordwainer Smith: Transhumanist when Transhumanism wasn't Cool

I'm a "The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal" man myself. But claiming Smith as a founding figure for transhumanism always strikes me as a bit shaky; he's more of part of the far-future "everything will be different, except maybe human nature" tradition, somewhere between Vance and Wolfe. The Episcopalian element in his work complicates the issue, too.

But I keep meaning to try the research that'd be necessary to do a GURPS write-up of Smith. Anyone whose quirks would apparently include "Values a good argument above anything else - even with his own children" and "Wears a stars-and-stripes glass eye on special occasions" has an interesting character sheet, and he'd drop right into an Atomic Horror campaign as the government advisor who can out-think the weird alien brain. I think he could also appear in pre-war pulp scenarios set in Shanghai, albeit rather young.

As to founding transhumanists - you can push things back or pull them forward as you see fit, but I think that the inter-war bio-tech visionaries like Haldane, the Huxleys, and Bernal may have been the first to really fit the modern pattern (way ahead of the genre SF writers of the period). Julian Huxley seems to have invented the term, after all, and I've only skimmed Bernal's The World, The Flesh, and the Devil, but it's a great source of pull-quotes for TS books. ("The dissimilarity between the conditions of life in space and on the earth would in itself be sufficient to cause perfectly normal, unassisted, evolutionary changes in human beings, but obviously spatial conditions would be more favorable to mechanized than to organic man.")

Which means that transhumanism has Marxist roots, by the way.
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Old 12-12-2009, 08:33 AM   #8
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Default Re: Cordwainer Smith: Transhumanist when Transhumanism wasn't Cool

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Which means that transhumanism has Marxist roots, by the way.
This is surprising how, exactly?
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Old 12-12-2009, 09:27 AM   #9
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Default Re: Cordwainer Smith: Transhumanist when Transhumanism wasn't Cool

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This is surprising how, exactly?
Bernal was an unrepentant Soviet sympathizer, it seems. Lysenkoist, even.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_De...tical_activism

Less extreme, but Julian Huxley who coined the term was into central planning:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_...enics_and_race
Huh, coined "ethnic group" too. Was left wing in general though not Soviet -- first UNESCO director, and founded World Wildlife Fund. NOT a Lysenkoist.
J. B. S. Haldane was Marxist as wel
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J.B.S._...olitical_views
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Old 12-12-2009, 12:18 PM   #10
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Default Re: Cordwainer Smith: Transhumanist when Transhumanism wasn't Cool

State of intellectual play back then, to a significant extent, of course. (One might contrast Cordwainer Smith, who was a politically conservative member of the US military-intelligence establishment and godson of Sun Yat Sen.) But back then, being an unambiguous materialist who believed that the human species was inherently malleable, that "human nature" was a contingent product of its its environment as much as anything, and that transformative change was the essence of history, would probably make someone a Marxist by default.
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