“No, no, not Rogov!” Cordwainer Smith, 1950 – Cherpas and Rogov are good Soviets who doggedly carry out Stalin’s orders for a machine that can read all EM radiation, including thoughts, for the purpose of spying and suppressing thought. With uber-couple Cherpas and Rogov at the helm, the project continues after Stalin dies and is eventually somewhat successful. When tests of their device cause mass hallucinations and suicides in a nearby village, their superiors are cheered; this indicates the projector is working and impresses Khrushchev. Ultimately, they test the receiver on Rogov. Once inside the telepathic helmet, he’s thrust into the future, where the sublime beauty of the art and expressive dance of a competitor in an Inter-World Dance Festival drives him mad.
During the development of the project, Cherpas and Rogov have been closely watched by two agents assigned by Stalin to keep tabs on the couple. Gausgofer and Gauck are as intelligent as they are bloodless–though Gausgofer has always been infatuated with Rogov and hated Cherpas as a result. Gausgofer uses her influence with an investigator, Karper, to get permission to try to follow Rogov to wherever his mind has gone, even though Cherpas believes that she, as his wife, should have this option. Fortunately for Cherpas, Gausgofer is allowed to proceed and, when she dons the telepathic helmet, she’s instantly driven mad. She leaps from the chair; suddenly disconnected from the machine, she dies. However, Cherpas is able to eavesdrop on Gausgofer for the short time she’s connected to the machine. She knows that Gausgofer has gone to the future; she also reasons that Rogov has seen something so alien that he will not return to his former self. She falls to the ground at his feet, crying out. The project is canceled.
The story closes with the dancer dancing “The Glory and Affirmation of Man” before the Inter-World Dance Festival. She is mournful at its conclusion, wondering how she’ll go on until the next dance.
Comments: Read in Best of the Best. Some black humor. Themes of telepathy, dogma vs. intellectual freedom, Russian materialism, intelligence, power, dance/art as a symbol of evolved civilization. Depiction of a close, highly intelligent couple and a formidable female scientist in Rogov’s wife. A twist on romantic tropes; initially positions them as romantic leads in competition with each other and sets up a conventional love story.
From Cordwainer Smith(oloy): “[This] is his only sf story set in contemporary times. It is in the mode of invention fiction, but is set in the Soviet Union during the 1940s and beyond. It explores the work of science under totalitarian political conditions, a subject that Linebarger knew well. The setting reflects the ambiguous attitude toward the linkage of the military and scientific establishments that has characterized post-atomic bomb sf. The political/psychological portraits may be assumed to be accurate. It is also a link between the present and his visionary future of the Instrumentality.
The portrayal of experimental science is a chilling parallel to Tiptree’s ‘The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Awful Things to Rats.’ And the portrait of the scientist as a partly-willing political prisoner is an ironic contrast to Kornbluth’s ‘Gomez.’ It is a work that explodes into something visionary and transcendent and shows Cordwainer Smith’s distinctive and unusual voice in sf.”
Author: Wikipedia: “Cordwainer Smith…was the pseudonym used by American author Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (July 11, 1913–August 6, 1966) for his science fiction works. Linebarger was a noted East Asia scholar and expert in psychological warfare…Linebarger was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father was Paul M. W. Linebarger, a lawyer and political activist with close ties to the leaders of the Chinese revolution of 1911. As a result of those connections, Linebarger’s godfather was Sun Yat-sen, considered the father of Chinese nationalism.” See also Carol McGuirk’s “The Rediscovery of Cordwainer Smith” in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Jul., 2001), pp. 161-200.