Martel was angry.

February 15th, 2014, 7am

He did not even adjust his blood level away from anger. He stamped across the room by judgement, not by sight. . . . Scanner to the core, he had to scan himself. The inventory included his legs, abdomen, chestbox of instruments, hands, arms, face and back . . . Only then did Martel go back to being angry. . . . “I must cranch. I have to cranch. It’s my worry, isn’t it? . . . To feel again — to feel my feet on the ground, to feel the air move against my face? Don’t you know what it means?” Scanners Live in Vain (1950) Cordwainer Smith

Cordwainer Smith’s famous short story was published in 1950, after the manuscript had circulated among publishers for five years. Had it not been published then, the entire Instrumentality of Mankind series might never have seen the light of day. What a loss that would have been for us all. Smith’s oeuvre was not large, mostly short stories (30 some) and one novel, but within that compass, he imagined a future history of humanity (both mankind and animal-derived underpeople) that stretched over 15,000 years.

My favorite tale is The Ballad of Lost C’mell, a love story that has stayed with me like no other in all literature. I know, I know — a ludicrous idea, but I was a teenager, and I still remember the cat/woman C’mell who loved Jestocost.

At last his own time came, and he knew that he was dying, and he was not sorry. He had had a wife, hundreds of years ago, and had loved her well; their children had passed into the generations of man. In the ending, he wanted to know something, and he called to a nameless one . . .

I have helped your people.

”Yes came back the faintest of faraway whispers, inside his head.”

I am dying. I must know. Did she love me?

”She went on without you, so much did she love you. She let you go, for your sake, not for hers. She really loved you. More than death. More than life. More than time. You will never be apart.”

Never apart?

”Not, not in the memory of man,” said the voice, and was then still.

She got the which of the what-she-did,/ *Hid the bell with a blot, she did,/ *But she fell in love with a hominid./ *Where is the which of the what-she-did?/ From the Ballad of the Lost C’mell

This is the third of a series of Science Fiction titles called to mind from youth — stories that made me, or at least contributed to what I was destined to become. My project is to create images that depict, or at least in some way relate to, those well remembered novels or stories. See also: Dark Universe, Portal to Other Worlds

Sanna, Philippe, Michael, Adrian and 3 others said thanks.

Share this moment

David Wade Chambers

Born in Oklahoma: 30 years in US. 6 years in Canada, 40 years in Australia. Academic field: history and philosophy of science. Currently, teach indigenous studies online at Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM) and Brandon University (Manitoba). Come visit our B&B on Australia's Great Ocean Road. Mate's Rates for Hi community! (

Create a free account

Have an account? Sign in.

Sign up with Facebook