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Friday, June 14, 2013

"The Game of Rat and Dragon" by Cordwainer Smith

Bibliography: First appeared in H. L. Gold's Galaxy.  Available online.  Also part of Dozois' ebook, Magicats, and in a number of major anthologies:  Dikty's Best SF; Robert Silverberg's The Mirror of Infinity: A Critics' Anthology of Science Fiction; Patricia Warrick, Martin Harry Greenberg, Joseph Olander's  Science Fiction: Contemporary Mythology, James Gunn's The Road to Science Fiction #3: From Heinlein to Here; Kingsley Amis' The Golden Age of Science Fiction; Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg's Great SF Stories: #17 (1955); Robert Silverberg's Century of Science Fiction 1950-1959; Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction; Pat Cadigan's The Ultimate Cyberpunk; David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer's The Space Opera Renaissance.

The above list ranks this as a major story in the field.  Interestingly, not only is this important, but Cadigan lists it as a forefather to cyberpunk and Hartwell/Cramer to space opera.  It is due in large part to its inventiveness--inventive with amazing if dizzying economy:

"Pinlighting is a hell of a way to earn a living."
What kind of occupation is Pinlighting?

"As he waited for the pin-set to warm up, he remembered the girl in the outer corridor. She had looked at it, then looked at him scornfully.
" 'Meow.' That was all she had said. Yet it had cut him like a knife."
Girl = cat?

"As he relaxed, the comforting solidity of the Sun, the clock-work of the familiar planets and the Moon rang in on him."

Comforting solidity of the Sun?  This is the strangeness that pushes away some readers, but pulls in the true-blue, the die-hards.

Underhill pinlights with his cat, where they mind-meld and hunt creatures they call dragons in space.  Only cats are fast enough to kill the dragons.  They kill off dragons.

Curiously, like Fredric Brown's "Mouse", the cat measures favorably against women (hinted at in the above, early quote.

Tobias Buckell recently did a semi-controversial homage to Smith at Lightspeed:  "A Game of Rats and Dragon".


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