kay, write a short story that glorifies space fighters and cats and you’ve got me hooked.
The Game of Rat and Dragon is a fascinating short story from the old Space Fighter’s analogy by Joe Haldeman (story by Cordwainer Smith). What caught me, when I looked it back up, was that it was written in 1955. See, I think of that time as the end of the “rocket ship with three tailfins” sort of scifi, stories where authors didn’t know WTF space was, how we could work it, and what it would be really like to fly in it. But then comes Rat and Dragon and I find myself eating my words. Or Mr. Smith’s words, which were so wonderfully served up.
See, we as humans have started spreading out, colonizing new worlds and shipping between them. But as we did, we learned that massive things, psych creatures of sorts, existed in the black void (held off by the hot, burning stars). Humans, using PSI equipment, saw them as dragons, our mythological fearsome enemies. Yet we sucked at fighting them… alone.
Then, so the story goes, we learned that putting trained cats into a tiny sphere (which we would use to thrust them into combat before us) would work. The cats didn’t see the creatures as dragons, no, but as rats. And they looooove killing rats.
I believe this was part of a larger series of stories, this poor orphan that I found in this collection, but I must say that I really enjoyed it. The idea that pilots randomly drew their companions each mission, that they had descriptive names for the cats (some were hunters, some toms, some felines, some bold, some careful, just like cats) was wonderful. And how combat is described, a short of pseudo-reality where battle is mostly imaginary and death can come in a millisecond. Masterful.
Like I said, it’s a shorty and I happened to find it (just now) looking through Project Gutenberg (here) so you can download it for your ereader or even text for windows – hey, it’s not that long a story – you can go through it the “old fashion way”. Anyway, I’m telling you, it’s good, it’s short, and it’s free. You’d be an idiot not to take me up on this one.