Adventures in Science Fiction Interior Art: Monday Maps and Diagrams 2/22/21: Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality of Mankind Timeline

Detail from Darrel K. Sweet’s cover for the 1st paperback edition of The Best from Cordwainer Smith (1975)

Today’s installment of my occasional Monday Maps and Diagrams series is a self-reminder that I must get over the poor taste left in my mouth by two forgettable Cordwainer Smith short stories and dive into the meat of his Instrumentality of Mankind sequence. Which should I have read?

I’m a sucker for future history timelines (Olaf Stapledon, Robert A. Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov come to mind). They add a sense of time and scope to what, at first glance, might seem like disparate pieces. I often wonder how much an author plans out a timeline. This one, scanned from The Best of Cordwainer Smith (1975), places each of the Instrumentality of Mankind stories into a functional timeline. I’m assuming it adds to the series’ sense of historical development and societal evolution?

Let me know what you think of the series and the timeline in the comments!

John J. Pierce’s timeline (he wrote the intro article) in the 1975 Ballantine Paperback edition note on the timeline’s publication history: “There are (at least) 2 variants of this timeline. A table version titled The Instrumentality of Mankind appears in the original July 1975 Nelson Doubleday hardcover. A reformatted graphical version titled Timeline from THE INSTRUMENTALITY OF MANKIND appears in both the September 1975 Ballantine paperback and the 1988 Gollancz hardcover. Both variants list the “Stories” and “Surrounding Events” for each millennium from 2,000 A.D. to 16,000 A.D. However, the later graphical version has several differences in events and story order, which may be corrections to the original Nelson Doubleday table version.”

The above map was scanned from the 1975 Ballantine paperback edition edition:

Darrell K. Sweet’s cover for the 1st paperback edition (1975)

Series blurb: In my occasional Monday Maps and Diagrams series, I showcase scans of SF maps and diagrams from my personal collection. As a kid I was primarily a fantasy reader and I judged books on the quality of their maps. When my reading interests shifted to science fiction, for years I still excitedly peeked at the first few pages… there could be a map!

Earlier Posts in the Series:

Monday Maps and Diagrams 7/25/19: Greg Bear’s Hegira (1979)

Monday Maps and Diagrams 3/15/19: A French edition of Mark S. Geston’s Lords of the Starship (1967) and Out of the Mouth of the Dragon (1969)

Monday Maps and Diagrams 2/18/19: David Brin’s Sundiver (1980)

Monday Maps and Diagrams 1/21/19: Larry Niven’s The Integral Trees (1984)

Monday Maps and Diagrams 1/14/19: Alan Dean Foster’s Voyage to the City of the Dead (1984)

Monday Maps and Diagrams 12/24/18: C. J. Cherryh’s Forty Thousand in Gehenna (1983)

Monday Maps and Diagrams 12/17/18: Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (1980)

Monday Maps and Diagrams 12/10/18: Suzy McKee Charnas’ Walk to the End of the World  (1974)

Monday Maps and Diagrams 11/26/18: Mark S. Geston’s The Lords of the Starship (1967)

Monday Maps and Diagrams 12/3/18: Jack Vance’s Trullion: Alastor 2262 (1973)

For a more detailed article on the visual and graphic elements of SF consult Charts, Diagrams, and Tables in Science Fiction.

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

For additional articles consult the INDEX

39 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Interior Art: Monday Maps and Diagrams 2/22/21: Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality of Mankind Timeline

  1. My Young Gentleman Caller relieved me of all my Cordwainer Smith books some time ago, but I was already au fait with the series. (I’ve always idly toyed with the notion of getting him a copy of Linebarger’s PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE to complete the Instrumentality’s background; I don’t think the Sun Yat-Sen stuff counts as part of it. Though now that I’ve typed the words, I realize I can’t explain why at all.)

    As best I know, the graphical timeline is a corrected and authoritative version of the Instrumentality’s doings. I’m reasonably sure that knowledge came from a (fan? probably) publication’s review of THE BEST OF… somewhere in the middle 70s.

    • I’m pretty sure that I have the corrected version (the 1975 Ballantine Paperback). I included’s note on the timeline correction between the hardback and the paperback.

      Do any of the stories deal with psychological warfare? I don’t know which ones to (re)start with.

      I tried to read the first two stories in Space Lords (1965) — “Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons” (1961) and “The Dead Lady of Clown Town” (1964). Neither of which I could finish.

      I think we discussed it before, BUT, “Scanners Live in Vain” (1950) sounds like the one I should dive into due to my ongoing astronaut series…

      • I think we discussed it before, BUT, “Scanners Live in Vain” (1950) sounds like the one I should dive into due to my ongoing astronaut series…

        I’ve contended Yes to this question, but another of your regular commenters did not concur.

            • Expendable Mudge: ‘but another of your regular commenters did not concur.’

              That might have been moi. And my objection — more a quibble or question — was that ‘Scanners’ is set in a future and a society so far removed from our own that space travel as Smith/Linebarger depicted it in his story is hard to relate to any of the last century’s (or today’s) ideas of what a space program (or being critical of it) would look like.

              I did, though, think of another (quite notable) short story from the 1960s that’s absolutely within the context that you, JB, have assigned yourself — stories critical of the space program. You’ve already reviewed it very briefly; I suppose you can take a longer look or not, as you feel inclined. The story is Samuel R. Delany’s ‘Aye, and Gomorrah …’

              … And I’ve just glanced at the wiki on Delany’s story and apparently one recent critic, Graham Sleight, has described it as a “revisionist take” on Cordwainer Smith’s story ‘Scanners Live in Vain.’ Huh.

            • And, I think I mentioned, that even far future could be an arena for contemporary commentary!

              As for Delany, you are correct — “Aye, and Gomorrah…” would 100% fit and it’s on a list I’ve been compiling. I remember the story quite well. I read but never reviewed all the stories in Driftglass.

              I enjoyed “Aye, and Gomorrah…” although the story is a point of contention in my orbit A certain someone I know thinks it’s terribly written… haha. I won’t go into more detail.

              Not having read “Scanners,” not sure where that critic is coming from. But from afar I don’t see the connection.

            • (Replying more to Mark Pontin) “Scanners Live in Vain” is a very powerful story, in my opinion, though the style isn’t up to Smith’s best later efforts.

              I detected in “Aye, and Gomorrah” echoes of a response ot “Scanners Live in Vain”, yes. I like “Aye, and Gomorrah” a great deal.

            • Rich H. wrote: ‘I detected in “Aye, and Gomorrah” echoes of a response to “Scanners Live in Vain”, yes. ‘

              I do, too. The astronauts in Delany’s story are neuters because of the effects of cosmic radiation, and the whole set up in ‘Scanners’ likewise derives from that. It just never struck me before reading that Graham Sleight comment.

      • Paul Linebarger (his real name) wrote a psychological warfare handbook for the young CIA (at time) not a fiction work.

        Some short stories are missing in this timeline as “Down to a sunless sea” representative of “the lords of the afternoon”. It’s an early version.

        According to me, his masterpiece is “The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal” (an astronaut story), concise but powerful in its style.

        • Yeah, I read a bit about his background a while back.

          Tell me more about his astronaut story. Is it critical in anyway of the space agency, the behavior of astronauts, or the culture that produced them? I have an ongoing read-along series on that theme on this site.

          Here’s installment 1 (with links to each subsequent review):

          • Smith is not a Syfy writer in the “hard science” way, he used fairy tale and poetry figures. “The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal” is more a space opera story about an explorer, his loneliness and responsability.

            The short story “The Nancy Routine” must fit better with your theme. It deals more with the public utility of an astronaut (You need heroes, but at which cost?)

            Some C. Smith works (loosely) related to astronauts:

            Scanners Live in Vain

            The Lady who Sailed the Soul

            The Colonel Came Back from the Nothing-at-all

            The Burning of the Brain

            Himself in Anachron


            The Good Friends

            • Thank you!

              I put “The Nancy Routine” (which I had not heard about) on my list. It’s been a lot of fun charting a territory.

              As for “soft” vs. “hard” SF — definitely prefer the former! So it’s all good there!

    • Thank you for the image! It’s far easier to read in the paperback edition for sure.

      I think the format of the paperback edition is directly modeled on a similar diagram for Heinlein’s future history. I need to track it down….

  2. I most recently looked at the timeline in the 1979 Del Rey paperback edition of THE INSTRUMENTALITY OF MANKIND. Presumably by John J. Pierce, who did the original timeline, and I imagine it’s the same as the paperback version of the BEST OF timeline. (I only have the hardcover.)

    Frankly, I’m unconvinced by some of this, particularly the 1979 version shoehorning in “No, No, Not Rogov!” (based I suppose on the far-future visions in that story) — I don’t think that story is usefully regarded as an Instrumentality story. That book (THE INSTRUMENTALITY OF MANKIND) also includes “Angerhelm”, but I note that Pierce’s timeline omits it (correctly, I’d say.)

    I am not normally a fan of Darrell K. Sweet’s drawings of humans, but these are fine. I do like his use of color, and this must be one of his best paintings.

    • I must confess, as I’ve only read two stories in the series I can’t in any way comment on its veracity.

      So it’s not helpful in anyway?

      As for Sweet, I like all the details in the image (I suspect they’re references to specific Smith stories?). I’m not convinced by its overall composition. He has created some stunning covers…. Hm…. Let me browse a bit and I’ll get back to you.

      • Rich H. wrote: I don’t think that story is usefully regarded as an Instrumentality story.

        ‘No, No, Not Rogov!’ is worth a read, in my view, because:

        [1] It’s Smith/Linebarger clearing his throat before he launched into the main run of Instrumentality stories. The vision of the future (in italics) that’s driven Rogov mad (and killed him) at the story’s end is explicitly stated to be from the time of Instrumentality, as I recall.

        [2] I reread it a couple of years back. What struck me then was how it’s actually a very competent story — technically much more in the mainstream of mid-1950s American magazine SF than the rest of the singularly mannerized stories Smith/Linebarger is (rightly) known for. Putting it another way, this was a story on a level with, say, some of the Pohl/Kornbluth collaborations of that time, proving that if its author had wanted to do that kind of thing, he could have.

        As for the Darrel Sweet cover, I absolutely agree. Sweet usually had kind of twee compositions, and his humans and sense of perspective leave something to be desired. This one works, though.

        And yes, JB, those are details from the stories.

          • JB: Tell me about the oxen animal with the fun suit contraption. I have it as my twitter picture. Is it nice? Evil? Enslaved?

            The ox-man is absolutely the best part of that cover as far as I’m concerned. He’s illustrator Sweet’s depiction of a cattle-derived underperson and has a seriously disgruntled attitude — based on the look in his eyes that Sweet gives him — because he couldn’t be more enslaved.

            Evil? He couldn’t have more justification for a bad attitude towards humanity. The Instrumentality has for many thousands of years used various strains of intelligence-enhanced animal like himself as casually and savagely as we use, well, cattle. Slaves in the antebellum South had it far better.

            Yet he’s devoted to serving humanity. Or, anyway, to serving the greater good. Because he’s programmed to be good — humanity and the Instrumentality made him that way.

            Also, his name will be prefixed B’ as in B’Name. In the story, ‘A Planet Named Shayol’, there’s a cattle-man — a bull-man called B’Dikkat, described, IIRC, as about four times a normal human man’s size (so not the ox-man as Sweet depicts him). The C’Mell of other Smith/Linebarger stories is cat-derived, similarly.

            In every decade, some publisher resurrects the Cordwainer Smith stories. Most recently, Baen (!) brought them out in a couple of thick paperback volumes. One volume they titled WE, THE UNDERPEOPLE. Great title that gets straight at the fact that the condition of the underpeople is probably the primary story generator in the majority of Smith/Linebarger’s SF stories, though simultaneously that condition is inseparably linked with that of human people.

            It’s amazing. I mostly haven’t re-read these stories for a half-century and they’re indelibly laminated on my mind. It makes you wonder, given that Linebarger/Smith could do that with just words on paper, what he did in terms of actual psychological warfare when he had government support?

          • The oxen character is obviously B’Dikkat from “A planet called Shayol”. It’s an incarnation of kindness and devotion. Enslaved but true good. A great character, specially in the context of the short story.

            The love you found in Hell.

            • Thanks for stopping by! I really treasure the community of commenters that stop by. They are a major reason I keep doing what I’m doing.

              So “A planet called Shayol” is the story with B’Dikkat? I’ll pop that on the list to read.

              I struggled through “Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons” (1961) and “The Dead Lady of Clown Town” (1964) which is why I haven’t returned to his work in more than a decade.

        • I recently reread the original version of “No! No! Not Rogov” from IF. It does not explicitly mention the Instrumentality, though it does explicitly mention a year (13,582 AD) which is consistent with the Instrumentality timeline. Possibly an Instrumentality reference was inserted into later revisions of the story? (I don’t think the depicted future setting is that consistent with the Instrumentality in most of the stories, though you could shoehorn it in I guess.)

          • @ Rich H. —

            You’re right, I’m wrong. ‘No, No — Not Rogov!’ does not explicitly mention the Instrumentality. (Just looked at the NESFA edition.)

            But Smith-Linebarger did place it right at the front of YOU WILL NEVER BE THE SAME (1963), as the first entry in the first anthology of his stories assembled during his lifetime (he died in Aug. 1966), and the other stories are all Instrumentality stories.


            So if any shoehorning was involved, it was almost certainly done by Smith-Linebarger himself.

  3. Cordwainer Smith was an absolute master in my opinion. I have the Baen editions that collect all of his sci-fi together. I don’t know what the best reading order would be, but I just read those front to back, and since I first read them, I’ve read them all twice, going on three times.

    I guess for me a great starting point would be “The Ballad of Lost C’Mell,” though all of the stories intertwine so much and build upon each other that it’s hard to pick a right or wrong place in my opinion. “The Scanners Live in Vain” is excellent. Norstrilia is a huge favorite of mine, but I think a full appreciation of it requires some familiarity with the related short stories.

    • Thanks for stopping by!

      For me, the wrong place was “Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons” (1961) and “The Dead Lady of Clown Town” (1964). Neither of which I could finish (albeit, this was a decade ago).

      I think “Scanners Live in Vain” (1950) is the next one I’ll read as I’m currently writing my 7th post in a review series/read through of ““SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” And there’s word in the air that it might, at least tangentially, fit!

      If you’re curious about the series (and if you want to read any of the stories I’ve covered), I started with Walter M. Miller Jr.’s “Death of an Astronaut” (1954) and reviewed Theodore L. Thomas’ “Broken Tool” (1959) a few days ago. Links to the stories online can be found in each post.

      • JB wrote: For me, the wrong place was “Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons” (1961) and “The Dead Lady of Clown Town” (1964). Neither of which I could finish (albeit, this was a decade ago).

        It may be Cordwainer Smith is an author you just don’t cotton to and will continue to bounce off of. I can see someone disliking ‘The Dead Lady of Clown Town’ — which is at the outer edge of this author’s operating style and assumptions — but ‘Mother Hitton’s etc’ is regular Cordwainer Smith.

        This is an author whose first submitted story, ‘Scanners Live In Vain,’ was rejected by John W. Campbell as being “too extreme,” after all. He didn’t get less affected, stylized, or weird.

        If you do get beyond “Scanners,” you might try this order of reading the following four stories (which are the ones that turned most of us on to Smith).

        ‘Alpha Ralpha Boulevard’ (1961)
        ‘The Ballad of Lost C’Mell’ (1962)
        ‘A Planet Named Shayol’ (1961)
        ‘Under Old Earth’ 1966)

        • You might be right. Sometimes I think I’ll warm to an author — like Sturgeon. The first Sturgeon short stories I read were “The Hurkle Is a Happy Beast” (1949) and “Killdozer!” (1944) first. Neither which I like. Argh!

          • JB: ‘The first Sturgeon short stories I read were “The Hurkle Is a Happy Beast” (1949) and “Killdozer!” (1944) first. Neither which I like. Argh!

            ‘Hurkle’ is tedious 1940s shite.

            ‘Killdozer’ has a certain (early) 1940s period charm, if you can get into the right historical mind space. I can, sort of, in terms of appreciating that Sturgeon was the first SF author to deploy that particular trope — he may have created it, indeed. And it’s a strong, simple idea: as with Campbell’s ‘Who Goes There’ and John Carpenter’s THE THING, a good director with the right script could conceivably film ‘Killdozer’ today and have a hit. (It’s very much a progenitor of the kind of the stuff that Stephen King has made bank on.)

            There are other classic SF tropes Sturgeon seems to have done first, too — for instance, ‘Microcosmic God’ from 1941 is H.G. Wells-level ideation. Also, he did occasional stories — and did them increasingly, as time passed — that were contrarian in terms of the dominant commercial and gender ideologies of the day, i.e. ‘Bianca’s Hands’ and ‘The World Well Lost.’

            So I can see how he might have seemed a big deal in the 1940s and the 1950s. Indeed, if you listen to Samuel R. Delany carry on about Sturgeon, he’s one of the great American writers of the 20th century. Personally, I don’t buy it: in a lot of Sturgeon’s stories I find the prose and characterization mawkish and overly sentimental and, I guess, too much like SF pulp prose of those decades trying too hard to be adult.

            But then again, there are individual Sturgeon stories where it does all come together, like ‘The Man Who Lost the Sea’ and ‘Bulkhead.’

  4. JB: ‘I understand the historical importance of “Killdozer!” in the development of the subgenre of SF horror. But I struggled to read it.’

    Sure. When it comes to appreciating Sturgeon, you and I may be at a historical disadvantage.

    Analogously, after seventy years of movies and TV shows with scenes set in a city at night that have a muted trumpet playing sparely and mournfully in the background music, it’s hard to appreciate that that sound and way of playing was invented by one man, Miles Davis, and it was a profoundly individual, creative thing when he did it. It’s just hard for us to realize that now because that sound has been so copied.

    Similarly with Sturgeon, maybe. In that same subgenre of SF horror as ‘Killdozer!’, another early Sturgeon story that also created a trope (and whose title I was struggling to recall last night after a couple of glasses of wine) was ‘It!’ from 1940, from which all characters in comics and the movies like the Swamp Thing, the Man Thing, and the Heap derive!_(short_story)

    Thus, between ‘It!’, ‘Killdozer!’ and ‘Microcosmic God’ in a couple of years, Sturgeon would have seemed a big deal in the early 1940s.

  5. Idle Thoughts: “It” and “Killdozer” were mainstays in my youth, constantly reprinted, and constantly read, and constantly enjoyed. I also read quite a number of Smith stories, and liked them, “The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal” was a favorite. I didn’t read “Scanners Live In Vain” until my adulthood, and hated the paranoid, demonization, and anti-union attitude of the story. Yet, it’s a classic, go figure. PKD just leaves me cold, no matter what, as does Smith to you. No matter the raving of your readers will ever change that. That’s what makes us “hoomaan”.

    Ya gotta admit it though. “The Dead Lady of Clown Town” is a helluva title for a story, regardless of the story turned out.

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