is a science fiction short story written by Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger, under the pseudonym Cordwainer Smith. The story was first published in 1955 in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine and has since become a classic of the genre. This introduction will provide an overview of the story’s major themes and discuss its significance in the history of science fiction.
The story is set in a future where humanity has colonized space and is at war with mysterious alien creatures known as the Dragons. The Dragons are able to move through space faster than light and attack human ships using a method called “screaming,” which causes extreme mental distress to the crew. In order to combat the Dragons, humans have developed a unique defense system that involves using telepathic animals called “cats” and “rats” to form a symbiotic link with human telepaths.
The story’s title refers to a dangerous game that telepaths play in order to hone their skills and prepare for combat with the Dragons. The game involves “riding the dragons,” which are actually energy waves that are emitted by the Dragons as they move through space. The telepaths must ride the dragons in order to attack and destroy them, but the game is risky and often leads to the death of the telepath.
One of the major themes of the story is the idea of sacrifice. The telepaths who play the game of rat and dragon know that they are risking their lives, but they also know that their sacrifice is necessary in order to protect humanity. The telepaths are often viewed as heroes by the rest of society, but they themselves view their actions as simply part of their duty.
Another theme of the story is the power of the mind. The telepaths in the story are able to use their mental powers to communicate with the animals, ride the dragons, and ultimately defeat the Dragons. The story suggests that the power of the mind is just as important as physical strength in the fight against the Dragons.
The story also explores the idea of teamwork and collaboration. The telepaths must work together with the cats and rats in order to defeat the Dragons. The cats and rats are unable to communicate with humans directly, but the telepaths are able to bridge the gap and form a symbiotic relationship with the animals. The story suggests that the power of cooperation is essential in the fight against a common enemy.
One of the most striking aspects of the story is its use of language. Cordwainer Smith was a master of creating unique and memorable names for characters, animals, and technologies. The telepaths are called “Pinlighters,” and the energy waves they ride are called “thistledowns.” The story’s use of language creates a vivid and immersive world that feels both familiar and alien at the same time.
In conclusion, “The Game of Rat and Dragon” is a classic science fiction story that explores themes of sacrifice, teamwork, and the power of the mind. The story’s unique setting and use of language create a vivid and unforgettable world that has inspired countless other science fiction stories and films. Cordwainer Smith’s innovative ideas and writing style have made “The Game of Rat and Dragon” a beloved and enduring classic of the genre.