A Planet named Shayol is a short story by Cordwainer Smith, set in his Instrumentality story arc, detailing a planet named Shayol, where people are sent to be punished.

All of Cordwainer Smith's fiction that made it into print is good, but this book's prose and story carry it beyond his average story. His prose seems to be cut loose, until in a thirty page story he paints a picture of pleasure and terror that comes across as the written equivalent of Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights.

The story takes place late in the history of the Instrumentality, when an Empire has become the public face of power (while the Instrumentality as always controls things from the shadows). The Empire sends its worst criminals to a planet called Shayol, where an unknown punishment awaits them.

The story descibes what this punishment is: after some preliminary treatment in an orbiting space station, the prisoners are sent down to the planets surface, where some form of symbiote infects them, taking care of all their bodily needs, but at the same time causing them to grow extra body parts: arms, legs, fingers, internal organs, torsos and even heads. A cowman underperson comes and trims the extra body parts off the people, and sends these back to the space station, where they are then exported throughout the entire galaxy. The people trapped on the planet tolerate (and even enjoy) their lives as malformed organ generators because the cowman also supplies them with Condamine, an opiate derivative so powerful that its very existence is kept a secret by the Instrumentality. (The descriptions of the drugs effects are so well detailed, that it seems probable that the author had some kind of experience with opiates).The people live in a state of drugged contentment on the surface of the planet for possibly hundreds of years.

The story ends happily, with the Instrumentality rediscovering the people on the planet, not having known of their existence, and freeing them from their cycle of implantation and drug use. Most of the people are able to rejoin the world in a manner of speaking, even after hundreds of years.

The story could be interpreted in a number of ways: as a comment on the possibility (now very possible) of using people as living organ banks; of the social reality of keeping people under control in even the worse circumstances by using narcotics to dull their mind; or a psychological essay on whether people still keep their minds fixed on values such as progress, morality and sanity even after a hudnred years of drugs and physical transformation. Above all of these, I think, is the religious issue. Shayol is a form of the name Sheol, the Hebrew word for Hell. However, as bizarre as the physical transformations are, the people don't experience any physical pain, or, for that matter, any psychological discomfort. Smith may be suggesting that Hell is not a state of suffering as much as it is a state of stagnation, and of people not being able to live in a human fashion.

In any case, analysis doesn't do this story much good. The understated, yet brutal descriptions of fundamental alterations to people's bodies and minds have to be read to be understood.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.