The Instrumentality of Mankind Essay - Critical Essays

Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger


The stories in this collection fill in some of the blanks in Cordwainer Smith’s future history, particularly events occurring in the forgotten First Age of Space and in the aftermath of the Ancient Wars. Smith gives details on that era, during which animals acquired human capabilities, speech in particular. These animals are similar to the beings that, in The Best of Cordwainer Smith (1975) and the novel Norstrilia (1975), are presented as the underpeople.

The Instrumentality of the title is perhaps a theological term, indicating the power vested in the priest who carries out the will of God. In Smiths work the Instrumentality is a priestly bureaucracy leading humankind through its travails. Although the stories of The Best of Cordwainer Smith are more important in characterizing the Instrumentality, The Instrumentality of Mankind fills in important details on its early history and its inner working.

War No. 81-Q suggests a sterile, bureaucratized future, but the stories otherwise show the tremendous drama inherent in the future. Rogovs wife stops unethical experiments when she sees the beautiful thing that the future will become.

These stories show the power of love, a common theme in Smiths work. For love, Laird forgos the rejuvenation that will extend his life. Dobyns Bennett finds love in the midst of 83 million parachuting Chinesians, love is behind Veeseys dangerous situation in the depths of interstellar space, and Rambo jumps a galaxy to reach his beloved Elizabeth.

The stories also celebrate simplicity and innocence. Rambo is a simple soul, and it is a child who is able to recover Colonel Harkening. The animal people in “Mark Elf” (1957) and “The Queen of the Afternoon” (1978) exude innocence. These two stories mark an evolution in Smith’s style. Written with the simplicity of a childs tale, they elicit a rich imaginary world in which the improbable and the possible mix and become real. This is the essence of Smith’s work.