Mini-review: The Planet Buyer by Cordwainer Smith

The Planet BuyerThis started well with exciting narrative style; it broke rules and I was really looking forward to seeing where it took me. The book opens with Theme and Prologue. Check this out.

Story, place and time–these are the essentials.


The story is simple. There was a boy who bought the planet Earth. We know that to our cost. It only happened once, and we have taken pains that it will never happen again. He came to Earth, got what he wanted, and got away alive, in a series of remarkable adventures. That’s the story.

He goes on with a summary and scene-setting in a way that shouldn’t work, but absolutely does. It’s exciting and vivid writing. He ends the Theme and Prologue like so.


What happens in the story?
     Read it.
     Who’s there?
     It starts with Rod McBan–who had the real name of Roderick Frederick Ronald Arnold William MacArthur McBan. But you can’t tell a story if you call the main person by a name as long as Roderick Frederick Ronald Arnold William MacArthur McBan. You have to do what his neighbors did–call him Rod McBan. The old ladies always said, “Rod McBan the hundred and fifty-first…” and then sighed. Flurp a squirt at them, firnds. We don’t need numbers. We know his family was distinguished. We know the poor kid was born to troubles.
     Why shouldn’t he have troubles?
     He was born to inherit the Station of Doom.
     He almost failed the Garden of Death.
     The Onseck was after him.
     His father had died out in the dirty part of space, where people never find nice clean deaths.
     When he got in trouble, he trusted his computer.
     The computer gambled, and it won the Earth.
     He went to Earth.
     That was history itself–that and C’mell beside him.
     At long, long last he got his rights and came home.
     That’s the story. Except for the details.
     They follow.

One interesting idea after another leapt onto the page. Giant sheep which, through a virus, produce an immortality drug; underpeople, which are humans mixed with animal dna (though before the notion of dna is around); the Garden of Death…

And then, it just meandered and eventually fizzled out. It completely failed to live up to the promises of the beginning.

I was sad.

Edited to add: Mr. Sadhead informs me that the publishers split this book in half and that I just read part one. Ah. That makes more sense. I will now have to track down a copy of Norstrilia, which combines both books and adds some bridging material.

Did you know you can support Mary Robinette on Patreon!
Scroll to Top