Monday, August 1, 2011
These two paperbacks were tucked into the wonderful box of Philip K. Dick books sent by college friend Doug Robillard! I read two of the Dick books earlier this summer with a vague feeling of having read them before, and the same thing happened with Cordwainer Smith, along with the feeling that I understood and appreciated these stories much more the second time around.
For one thing, I read the introductions, which told me that Cordwainer Smith was the pseudonym of Paul Linebarger, a multilingual scholar and expert on Asiatic politics, foreign affairs, and psychological warfare, and a consultant on numerous small wars, but not Vietnam, as he thought it was a mistake for the USA to be involved in that one. So this time around, I read not just for plot and character, as I must have done as an adolescent, but for his human insights and worldview.
I was wowed.
And moved all over again by "The Lady Who Sailed The Soul," the story of Helen America, "girl" sailor. You can read it online here, if you want.
Helen America had a tough life, but as she is getting ready to sail The Soul into space, she is advised to avoid drama. "Tragedy is not the hard part. The hard part is when you don't quite succeed and you have to keep on fighting." That struck me as deeply true. And then this: "When you must keep going on and on and on in the face of really hopeless odds, of real temptations to despair."
How many humans, in all kinds of lives, past, present, and future, can identify with that?!
There's a specific science fiction space travel context for this advice to Helen, and particular kinds of physical and psychological pain she will encounter, but this lives very well outside that context, too. And that even parallels a plot aspect, one kind of travel--sailing--being superseded by another, easier, safer kind of space travel--planoforming.