Welcome to Old North Australia, or Norstrilia, the only planet that has "stroon," a substance that indefinitely delays aging in humans. Stroon is cultivated from huge, deformed sheep farmed by the wealthiest estate owners to ever exist in all of humanity's existence.
Rod McBan is the last of one of the oldest and most honorable families on Norstrilia. But he himself has shortcomings that would normally have led to his death under the strict laws governing population control on a planet where immortality is cheap and imperfect citizens are ruthlessly "culled" to make way for more productive members of society.
But even McBan's vaunted stature in the society is not enough to save him from the basest of human emotions-jealousy- as the enmity of a former friend forces him to escape to Earth, where McBan's unprecedented fortune quickly makes him a magnet for all manner of crooks and revolutionaries.
Cordwainer Smith, pseudonym of the late Paul Linebarger, a professor and part-time spy, wrote only one SF novel, but it is in keeping with the picture of a future world he built in his other fiction. This novel, originally conceived and published in two parts in 1964 and '68, and later issued in paperback by Ballantine in 1975, begins like a more traditional SF tale. Protagonist Rod McBan's Norstrilian peers consider him inferior because he lacks their telepathic abilities. Nearly ``culled'' as part of the strictly regulated society's population control, McBan uses a computer to arbitrage the galactic financial markets, enabling him, literally, to buy Earth. While the first half would merely have made an interesting novel, the second, more lyrical part displays Smith's superior writing abilities as he describes both the Underpeople (genetically designed combinations of humans and other species-and the Instrumentality (an organization for keeping humanity from becoming stagnant). The result: a novel that transcends its time. Though not a scholarly edition (the variorum is incomplete and the introduction leaves much to be desired), this composite text, ably edited by James A. Mann, is a fine companion to the author's complete short fiction, The Rediscovery of Man.