The Game of Rat and Dragon • 1955 • Space Opera short story by Cordwainer Smith

★★★☆☆

This is another entry for Little Red Reviewer’s blog for #VintageSciFiMonth.

Synopsis: Humans are fighting an alien race, the “dragons”, in space. Men are loosing, because their reactions are too slow.

That’s where uplifted cats come in, because they have superior reactions. They get their own mini-spaceships and it’s no problem for them to win the space battles against the alien “rats” (from their point of view), cooperating telepathically with linked humans.

Review: Cute, isn’t it? Cats are everybody’s darlings, and the internet mostly consists of cat videos (and porn). This is a short story involving cats in a prominent role. Oops, did I say “cat”? No, that’s wrong of me, because they are officially “partners”.

The author had the ingenious idea to combine SF space battles with cats, and how can one not like this? Fine enough, but Smith didn’t exploit cats’ natures to the fullest: They don’t play with their conquests, as they do with mice. They don’t go their own way but cooperate too readily with their humans. In summary, the story is weak with characterizing those “partners”.

Everything else feels more like a far future version of WWII’s dog fights in the air. Fighting is manual, and doesn’t transport well in our mindsets of full automation.

There is the heat of the battle, the raw instinctual emotions, but also the letdown after the fights.

A good enough story which wrought itself into the heart of SF fans, as the Locus reading list proves. Maybe also one for you?

Meta: isfdb. Available online. I’ve read it in James Gunn’s “Road to SF #3”, and in the Big Book of SF.

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27 Responses to The Game of Rat and Dragon • 1955 • Space Opera short story by Cordwainer Smith

  1. Oh I liked this one. Most of Cordwainer Smith’s stories are worth it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. pdtillman says:

    Maybe you need to be a cat person to love this one? Meow!
    5-stars for me! One of his greats.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ola G says:

    I shudder to think of the story the next aspiring writer will concoct… Cats and porn! 🙀

    Liked by 1 person

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