The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Although portions of Norstrilia were published during Cordwainer Smith’s lifetime, the complete novel was published only after his death. It is the story of Rod McBan, a native of the planet Norstrilia. In the first half of the book, he is threatened by a government official and fights back by having the McBan family computer manipulate interplanetary financial markets so that he can buy most of Earth. In the second half, he travels to Earth and has a series of adventures and experiences with surgically and genetically engineered animals called Underpeople.

Rod is a member of the property-owning class on Norstrilia, the name of which is derived from Old North Australia. The planet is dry, is hilly but not mountainous, and has gray rather than green grass. Its inhabitants are descended from Australian sheepherders. They are the richest people in the Instrumentality because they have a monopoly on a drug called stroon. Generated by sick, gigantic sheep, stroon can extend life indefinitely. To control population, Norstrilians routinely practice euthanasia. Each sixteen-year-old must undergo a test; failure means death.

Because Rod’s telepathic powers were below the norm for Norstrilians, his parents were afraid he would fail the crucial test. Taking advantage of a Norstrilian law, on three occasions they had Rod’s memory erased before he was to take the test, with the result that Rod went through four childhoods. After his parents...

(The entire section is 490 words.)