Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mythic Structures in Cordwainer Smith's Game of Rat and Dragon - Gary K. Wolfe

In Science-Fiction Studies, in 1977

"All three themes are evident in the short and widely anthologized story "The Game of Rat and Dragon." While this story on one level is a highly imaginative treatment of conventional themes of romance and heroism, it is also a revealing treatment of science fiction as a codification, perhaps "mythification," of contemporary beliefs and concerns. There are four principal sets of actors in the tale: "pinlighters," or telepathic humans; "partners," or intelligent cats used to assist the pinlighters in their dangerous duties; "dragons" or "rats," primeval interstellar beings that destroy or drive mad humans in space; and the ordinary humans whom 'the pinlighters and their cats serve to protect from the dragons. Each set of actors plays a particular symbolic role in the antinomy of known-unknown. The known is represented by the ordinary humans and their planetary environments-the "`same old ticking world,"' says the pinlighter protagonist Underhill. "`Down here with the hot sun around us, it feels so good and quiet. You can feel everything spinning and turning. It's nice and sharp and compact. It's sort of like sitting around home."' The unknown is clearly the realm of the dragons, which Smith de-scribes in images of elemental chaos: "entities something like the dragons of ancient human lore, beasts more clever than beasts, demons more tangible than demons, hungry vortices of aliveness and hate compounded by unknown means out of the thin, tenuous matter between the stars." When telepaths try to read the minds of those damaged by dragons, they find only "vivid spouting columns of fiery terror bursting from the primordial id itself, the volcanic source of life.""

3.5 out of 5

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