Reviews of Scanners Live in Vain (1948)
Review by ropie (2007-01-24)
The Scanners of the title are cyborgs (part man, part machine) who have been adapted for life in space. Their primary function is to assist in the transportation of passengers on long-distance space journeys and as such their bodies have been disconnected from their minds to allow them to deal with the 'pain of space'.
This is a very odd tale with strange details. It starts extremely well with a fascinating enactment of a Scanner involved in an argument with his wife. For me it faded a little as the plot to foil the murder of a scientist took over. This is the scientist who has discovered a way for people to travel in space unaided by Scanners (hence, 'Scanners live in vain'). The Scanners want him dead of course, but a rogue Scanner who has 'cranched' (been artificially reconnected to his body using an electric wire invented by one Mary Cranch!) decides that the murder will be detrimental to humankind.
The kind of details mentioned above are what make the story fascinating. It is worth noting that cyborgs were a very new idea at the time Smith wrote this piece, and also that any form of space travel was still just a concept. His notion of the 'pain of space' may sound odd but the use of vague terms like this lends the story a somehwat disjointed sense of authenticity today.
When read as part of Smith's canon of short fiction the story makes more sense. There are familiar elements, such as his use of a deconstructed German language for keys words (in this case, the habermans - the definition for someone who has had their mind and body disconnected, of whom the Scanners are the highest rank). Smith is a fascinating and unique writer and all SF fans should investigate his work.