Saturday, 14 June 2014

Scanners Live in Vain by Cordwainer Smith - A Short Story Review

Oh my God!  It's the freaking Borg!

Yes my friends, this story first saw the light of day in 1950, although it shows a copyright date of 1946, and tells the story about one Scanner on a very important day.  Scanners are part robot part human and are tasked with ensuring humans are safe during space flight.  Humans travel in suspended animation while the Scanners look after the ship functions.  Humans have spread out to other star systems without the ability to travel faster than light.  Without constant oversight trips of this length would be incredibly dangerous.

The story does not go into how the Scanners came to be but we do know that some Scanners have been forced into existence; criminals have undergone the procedure but there are some people who volunteered to be transformed.  In all of this a Scanners' humanity is not lost however they spend most of their time in a robot state.  A scanner can enjoy a type of holiday (or shore leave) by undergoing a temporary procedure that restores his humanity and full cognitive function.

We follow Martel, who is on his shore leave at a critical time in the history of Scanners.  By this time in the future Scanners occupy a strange position in human society, neither part of nor excluded from it.  Along comes a scientist who discovers FTL and threatens the Scanners way of life.

As in all of these vintage stories, I first found the language a bit stiff but it did not take long to get past it.  I just loved this early take on a species that Star Trek fans love -  The Borg.  These guys are definitely just like the Borg; surgically altered to be part machine and part human, allowing them to work in space unprotected, making long-duration space flight possible.

I just love discovering stories like this one; it goes to show that some things we thought were completely original have been around for longer than we imagined.

It was a fun read.

Smith's website is HERE.

Cordwainer Smith
Fantasy Book No. 6

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