“Scanners Live in Vain” was the first published work by the pseudonymous Cordwainer Smith, but not of the real person behind the pseudonym, Paul Linebarger. Linebarger had published numerous nonfiction works and three novels before writing “Scanners.”
Two of these, Ria and Carola, both published under the pen-name of Felix C. Forrest, were parts of a single extended story, told from the point of view of a central character who has the good fortune to just happen to be on the scene when and where all of the significant events of the mid-20th century are happening. This is a device several authors have employed when they wished to write a commentary on that period, and had elected to write in the form of fiction in the hope that doing so would get some intellectually lazier citizens to read it. (I don’t know how well the stratagem worked. Certainly I, as an omnivorous reader, had never heard of either book until Paul told me about them.) While not as attention-grabbing as the Cordwainer Smith stories, both of these were reasonably good, if not compelling, reads. (Paul had also published at least two other early books, a cloak-and-daggerish near-future story called Atomsk and a collection of poems, the title of which he may well have told me but I don’t remember, under yet a third and fourth pseudonym. But I haven’t read either of these. )
Since my own addiction to the use of pen-names was total for the first fifteen or so years of my professional writing career, I probably shouldn’t speculate about why other writers choose to hide under a nom d’escrit. But it happens I do know something in Paul’s psychic makeup which bears on that question.
Paul rarely came to New York, but my ramblings did occasionally take me to Washington, where he and his wife lived, in a nice house with a huge, red and gold congratulations-on-your-birth banner from no less than Sun Yat Sen himself on the wall. (Paul’s parents, along with infant Paul himself, had spent years in China, in the course of which they had come to know that founder of the modern Chinese republic.) The house was in the exclusive district that I think is called Rock Creek, and if you had to live in Washington that’s the part of the city where you would like best to live.
One of those expeditions came about in 1963 because the peripatetic annual Worldcon was being held in Washington that year. As soon as I got there for that weekend, I paid a call on Paul at his home. His stories in Galaxy, I told him, had been attracting a lot of attention and scores or hundreds of his most devoted readers would be at this con, barely a few miles away. Why not drop by and let a few of them get a look at you?
It was a simple enough suggestion, but it seemed to fill him with alarm. No, he said, no, no, that wouldn’t be possible. But I could make sure it was painless. I promised. I would get the con to give us a room somewhere with a service elevator nearby for easy escape after his appearance. Indeed, I could keep him away from possibly unruly fans, by escorting him directly to the SFWA suite, where as a past president I could arrange a closed-door session with his science-fiction writing colleagues —