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The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal

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"The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal" is a science fiction short story by Cordwainer Smith, set in Smith's "Instrumentality" universe. It was first published in Amazing Stories in May 1964, and is collected in The Rediscovery of Man compendium.

Contents

Plot

Commander Suzdal is a captain of "The Navy and the Instrumentality" sent on a "one man" mission of exploration (in actuality he is accompanied by several generations of "Turtle-People"). He hibernates in cryogenic sleep while long-lived turtle underpeople run the ship, until the need for a "true human" arises.

A deep space probe is found. It tells a brilliantly conceived but utterly false story about the plight of a group of settlers calling themselves the Arachosians. Suzdal is deceived and turns his ship towards the planet Arachosia and reenters hibernation.

When he arrives he learns the horrible truth. The original settlers nearly became extinct, succumbing to a plague that (in Smith's words) rendered "femininity carcinogenic." They were only able to save their women by chemically (and later genetically) making them male. However, the resulting society is deeply unbalanced by the lack of females and ordinary family structure. The Arachosians, not truly male or female and calling themselves "klopts", realize on an instinctive level what they are missing and as a result, hate normal human beings with unbridled fervor and regard them as abominations to be destroyed (even though they have not seen one in many generations). To carry out this plan, they have dispatched traps in the form of messages, such as the one Suzdal encountered, throughout the galaxy.

When Suzdal wakes up, the Arachosians are already crawling over the outside of his ship. On the advice of an artificial security officer, he uses an emergency device intended to send his large spacecraft back a few seconds in time to instead hurl feline genetic material (coded to evolve for intelligence and to obey Suzdal) millions of years back on the far side of the local moon. A race of advanced, space-faring cat-descendants appears instantaneously and hail Suzdal as their god and creator. They engage the Arachosians at his order, allowing him to escape.

Despite saving the ship and successfully concealing Earth's location from the Arachosians, Suzdal is stripped of rank, name, life and finally death, finding himself sentenced to the prison planet Shayol for his misuse of the time device. He is later seen in the story "A Planet Named Shayol". Meanwhile the Instrumentality officially declares all accounts of his story to be lies, including the text at hand.

Reception

Thomas Clareson has described "Commander Suzdal" as "more parable than story", while Eliot Borenstein considers it "an oblique cautionary tale about men's attempts to manage without women."

Rich Horton, writing for Black Gate, calls the story "odd", "decidedly weird" and "disquieting", comparing the Arachosians disfavorably to the all-male society in Lois McMaster Bujold's Ethan of Athos, but conceding that it has "some of the incantatory power Smith always strove for".

References

The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal Wikipedia


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