Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

‘The Game Of Rat And Dragon’ by Cordwainer Smith

with 5 comments

Interstellar travel is the defining trope of space opera. Sometimes (mostly) it is achieved instantaneously with the flick of a switch, sometimes the void must patiently be slept through. Sometimes, however, space is far stranger and more dangerous than simple emptiness:

In the fraction of a second between the telepaths’ awareness of a hostile something out in the black, hollow nothingness of space and the impact of a ferocious, ruinous psychic blow against all living things within the ship, the telepaths had sensed entities something like the Dragons of ancient human lore, beasts more clever than beasts, demons more tangible than demon, hungry vortices of aliveness and hate compounded by unknown means out of the thin, tenuous matter between the stars.

These hungry vortices of hate can be destroyed by light and the game of rat and dragon is therefore the escalating battle between them and the bomber-telepaths for the souls of the passengers of the “planoforming” ships. “Dragon” because that is how humans perceive them, “rat” because that is how humanities much swifter Partners perceive them. Yes, the Partners are cats. Hartwell and Cramer let the, er cat out of the bag in their introduction and the story is famous enough that you probably knew that anyway. Still, as an avowed hater of hater of cats and a double hater of cats in SF, I was impressed by Smith’s skill revealing and then depicting this alliance. This is particularly true of the central pseudo-sexual relationship between the protagonist and his Partner, the Lady May: “O warm, O generous, O gigantic man! O brave, O friendly, O tender and huge Partner. O wonderful with you, with you so good, good, good, warm, warm, now to fight, now to go, good with you…” Towards the end the emotional register becomes a little extreme and the point belaboured but it is sharp little story.

Quality: ***
Operaticality: ***

‘The Game Of Rat And Dragon’ is part of Smith’s Instrumentality of Man universe, collected in The Rediscovery Of Man. I failed to finish that collection last time I read it but perhaps I should try again.

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Written by Martin

13 May 2012 at 15:18

5 Responses

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  1. A story which has stayed with me since i first read it, aged about 7

    Alison

    13 May 2012 at 17:18

  2. The problem with Cordwainer Smith’s cats is that the pro-felinist sect in SF&F use his work to justify the mass of vastly inferior but all-too-ubiquitous free-roaming felines in genre. While I’m not usually in favour of banning books, I have often wondered if it wouldn’t serve the greater good if his work was quietly supressed. Harsh, perhaps, (and (probably) unpopular with wishy-washy liberals) but sometimes we have to make tough choices.

  3. It hadn’t occurred to me that Smith was the fountainhead. In that case I would happily see the story suppressed for the greater good (the greater good).

    Martin

    13 May 2012 at 19:29

  4. Cordwainder Smith is an author in a curious position for me. If you take the descriptions of most of his stories and strip them of the actual implementation, I’d expect to hate what he writes. The contents sound like they ought to bother me in all sorts of ways. And yet in practice I’m a sucker for his stories, and can’t get enough of them, even the dregs.

    Joseph Nebus

    16 May 2012 at 02:17

  5. Hm. There’s the complete stories version of The Rediscovery of Man, and then there’s the SF Masterworks version. I wouldn’t read all the stories (um, there’s a reason why some are waaay more famous than others) but if you have the SF Masterworks version, then yeah, I’d encourage you to read all of those stories, all of them are fabulous. Rather what Joseph Nebus said.

    ca

    17 May 2012 at 00:36


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