(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

This book is the only novel in Smith’s future history, usually called the Instrumentality of Mankind. Most of his science-fiction writings are set within this future history. In it, humanity has conquered the stars and settled on a thousand planets in the galaxy. Smith shows that there is more to a future history than political and economic systems.

The Instrumentality has its own myths and unusual subcultures, and McBan becomes one of the myths. In a scene set ten years after McBan’s return to Norstrilia, someone claims that he was not from Norstrilia at all, but is instead a pirate. Norstrilia and the Underpeople are only two examples of strange subcultures that lie within the Instrumentality.

Although his purpose is satirical, Smith develops the Instrumentality’s economic system as thoroughly as any writer of science fiction. This system is integral to the story. Most “space opera” fiction pays little attention to the economic environment in which adventures are set. Smith’s universe, in contrast, has currency exchanges, commodity futures, stock markets, insurance, monopolies, taxation, and banks. The McBan computer can manipulate the interstellar economy to the point of economic crisis. Smith uses faster-than-light travel in this book, and he explores its monetary costs and economic benefits. Financial analysts must factor in these costs and benefits when they calculate the relative values of goods on different planets....

(The entire section is 440 words.)