“Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons,” Cordwainer Smith, 1961 – Benjacomin Bozart, a criminal from a once wealthy but now marginalized world, attempts to become a hero to his people by stealing from the wealthy world, Norstrilia (Old North Australia). Nostrilia has cornered the market on the immortality drug, Stroon, which only its “sick sheep” can produce, and dominates the Instrumentality’s economy. Bozart has trained his entire life to infiltrate Norstrilia, but he fails due to precautions the community has taken to identify outsiders and thieves. He interrogates and kills a Nostrilian child, learning nothing more about Nostrilia’s defenses than the enigmatic phrase: “Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons.” He scours Nostrilian computer databases for mention of the phrase, a red flag for the Nostrilian intelligence community which immediately goes on alert. They lead Bozart on a merry chase, with the deadly “littul kittons” as his prize.
Comments: A story of language, body data, “outsiders,” shibboleths, spies, bio-engineering, warring economies, national security, and psychological warfare. Another marvelously weird story by Smith. Some imagery of margins/center here. For me, has a bit of a fairy tale feel. Also reminds me of later cyberpunk in which a misfit from the underworld attempts to break into the proverbial walled city. In cyberpunk, the city is the gleaming corporation and the moat its superior tech; here, the palace defends itself with its culture and language, which Smith’s “hacker” fails to penetrate. Begins with the epigraph from “Van Broom”: “Poor communications deter theft; good communications promote theft; perfect communications stop theft.” Read in Modern Classics of Science Fiction. Gardner Dozois states that “Smith created a baroque cosmology unrivaled even today for its scope and complexity: a millennia-spanning Future History, logically outlandish and elegantly strange, set against a vivid, richly colored, mythically intense universe where animals assume the shape of men, vast planoform ships whisper through multi-dimensional space, immense sick sheep are the most valuable objects in the universe, immortality can be bought, and the mysterious Lords of the Instrumentality rule a hunted Earth too old for history…” “Here Smith takes us along on a thief’s desperate quest to steal eternal life…and only the childish-sounding ‘littul kittons’ to bar the way…”
Author: Wikipedia: “Cordwainer Smith…was the pseudonym used by American author Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (July 11, 1913–August 6, 1966) for his science fiction works. Linebarger was a noted East Asia scholar and expert in psychological warfare…Linebarger was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father was Paul M. W. Linebarger, a lawyer and political activist with close ties to the leaders of the Chinese revolution of 1911. As a result of those connections, Linebarger’s godfather was Sun Yat-sen, considered the father of Chinese nationalism.” See also Carol McGuirk’s “The Rediscovery of Cordwainer Smith” in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Jul., 2001), pp. 161-200.