June 16, 2024


Science It Works

Let’s talk about science fiction and fantasy books that would make for great TV

Lavie: No science fiction writer was ever as weird, as brilliant and as unjustly neglected, perhaps, as Cordwainer Smith. It was the pen name of Paul Linebarger, a godson of Sun Yat-sen, an expert on psychological warfare and a self-described “visitor to small wars” — come to think of it, his life would make a good show! When Smith turned to science fiction, he created the most vivid, strange and fascinating far-future world — a world where the planet Norstrilia grows the immortality drug stroon from giant, diseased sheep. Where the underpeople — animals given human shape and intelligence and living as servants — are fomenting revolution against the Lords of the Instrumentality. It’s a world where cats pilot spaceships, ancient computers tell fortunes and a dog called D’joan can become the messiah. There was nothing like it in the 1960s. There is nothing like it now. You can pick up the collected stories in volumes such as “The Best of Cordwainer Smith” (1975) or “The Instrumentality of Mankind” (1979), or read “Norstrilia” (1975), Smith’s single novel in that world. With 10,000 years of history, distinct planets, worlds and cultures, and characters that are grotesque, cruel, kind, loving and whimsical, you have everything you’ll need to make a winning show. Forget “Dune” and bring on “The Dead Lady of Clown Town.”