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The Game of Rat and Dragon by Cordwainer Smith

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“The Game of Rat and Dragon” is a 1955 science fiction short story by Cordwainer Smith. It is about the telepaths, and their partners, who use mind altering pin-sets to protect spaceships traveling in interstellar space.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

Cat with prey (by Mark Marek Photography)Underhill is a human who engages in pinlighting – a very dangerous occupation that allows him to expand his telepathic mind to search millions of square miles for ruthless entities known as Dragons. The Dragons live in deep space, far from sunlight and warmth, and can prey on entire ships of humans in a matter of milliseconds! Because of the Dragons’ speed and deadly skills the humans are forced to team up with the Partners, small life forms whose reactions to the Dragons are infinitely quicker. As Underhill and his crew prepare for a journey to the Caledonia space port he draws a Partner whose amazing mind will prove most useful.

Then came the Partners.

Man and Partner could do together what man could not do alone. Men had the intellect. Partners had the speed.

The Partners rode their tiny craft, no larger than footballs, outside the spaceships. They planoformed with the ships. They rode beside them in their six-pound craft ready to attack.

The tiny ships of the Partners were swift. Each carried a dozen pinlights, bombs no bigger than thimbles.

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • The idea of both the Dragons and the Partners was very cool and something I had never come across before. Bravo!
  • Cordwainer Smith is an excellent writer, and the descriptions he gives of pinlighting are super – detailed enough to make me never want to do it!
  • Did I say that this story has a very unique and absolutely enjoyable storyline? Well, it’s worth saying again – “The Game of Rat and Dragon” is a great story!

• The bad:

  • Honestly, there wasn’t anything I disliked about this story.

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 9
“The Game of Rat and Dragon” garnered the following awards:

  • “The Game of Rat and Dragon” placed 7th in the 1999 Locus All-Time Poll for best short story.
  • It placed 26th in the 1971 Astounding / Analog All-Time Poll for short fiction.

Where you can find “The Game of Rat and Dragon”:

  • This short story first appeared in the October 1955 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.
  • “The Game of Rat and Dragon” is included in the excellent collection of short stories The Space Opera Renaissance By David G. Hartwell, Kathryn Cramer.
  • It is also included in When the People Fell , a great collection of Cordwainer Smith stories.
  • You can download this story (in several different formats) from
  • You can read a nice HTML version at The Project Gutenberg.
  • If you are in the USA, you can read a free online version of “The Game of Rat and Dragon” at the Google book preview of The Space Opera Renaissance. (You have to scroll down to page 141 to read the story.)

Some Interesting Links:

  • Did you know that Cordwainer Smith is actually a pseudonym used by American author Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger? Yep. You can learn more about this excellent science fiction author at Wikipedia.
  • Special thanks to Dave Tackett of QuasarDragon for pointing out this great story!

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like A Martian Odyssey, about an astronaut who walks several hundred miles across the Martian landscape, and the amazing life forms he encounters there, by Stanley G. Weinbaum.

8 thoughts to “The Game of Rat and Dragon by Cordwainer Smith”

  1. True – after reading this awesome story I am definitely going to read more of his stuff. Any recommendations?

  2. An excellent story is Scanners Live in Vain. Mother Hittuns Littlu Kittens is great too, but personally I love most of Smith’s works. NESFA published a collection of all of his SF save for his one novel, Norstrillia, and that book is incredibly well done. I’m in the process of reading it for a review my own website.

  3. Omphalos,

    Yeah, Cordwainer Smith has some great novels and stories. Those ones you mentioned look really cool, I’ll have to try them out.

  4. This was great. After my recent joyful experience in reading the Space Lords collection of stories, I have been itching to read more Cordwainer Smith. You are spot on in your assessment that pin-lighting sounds like something that would be really interesting to do. Smith did a fantastic job of describing this in detail while not making it an info-dump. He just wove the details into the tapestry of the story. He was good…boy was he ever good!

  5. The Death of the Lady of Clown Town ranks right up there with Cold Equations as one of my favorite science fiction short stories, if not one of my favorite overall stories, of all time.

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