Friday, October 26, 2007

Fleet of Worlds

I'm an unabashed Larry Niven fan.

Ringworld is still one of my very favorite novels in any genre - and I actually own a first edition copy, the one in which Niven mistakenly has the Earth rotating in the wrong direction, it's a rare and valuable book. I'm a huge fan of the Known Space series. For years I eagerly bought anything with Niven's name on the cover. I loved his clean, crisp writing style. I thought his characters and especially the alien worlds he created were incredibly interesting - I still want to visit Mount Lookatthat and stare down into the 'vast searing black calm' of Plateau. And I want to explore the Ringworld via skycycle under the light of the heaven spanning arch. I want to battle the Kzinti and fly between the stars in a ramscoop.

Then, somehow, somewhere in the nineties, I started to become a little less enthusiastic about Niven's work, somehow the characters in his books started making intuitive leaps that I just couldn't follow, Ringworld Throne was dammed near incomprehensible to me. There were strange jumps of logic in The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring, I enjoyed both books but there were some chapters where I just had no idea how the characters made the leaps of logic that they had. I still don't get it, despite careful rereading. Crashlander, the fixup of Beowulf Shaeffer stories tied together with the story Ghost, was the same. The characters kept making logic leaps that I just couldn't follow, it became frustrating.

Maybe the change was Niven, or maybe my mind was just no longer agile enough to follow him, but somewhere a few years back I stopped buying Niven in hardcover. I still read him, but I waited until the cheaper paperbacks came out.

Then something funny happened. He wrote Ringworld's Children, I read it in paperback. Then went out and bought the hardcover, because I enjoyed it so much. Then came Building Harlequin's Moon, which he co-wrote with Brenda Cooper, and which was one of the best SciFi books I've read in years. Moon reminded me of the very best of the Niven and Pournelle collaborations. I went back to pre-ordering hardcovers.

Two weeks ago I got my copy of Fleet of Worlds, set in Niven's Known Space, two hundred years before the events described in Ringworld. Co-written with Edward M. Lerner. Once again, Niven shows that his very best work comes when he is working with somebody else. FOWs is outstanding For those who are fans of Known Space, FOWs is a complex tale of deceit, betrayal, furry alien love, freedom, adventure amongst flying worlds, exploding galaxies, and Puppeteers.

The story revolves around what is essentially a group of human servants, descended from a lost colony and enslaved by the deceitfully paranoid alien Puppeteers. The story ties together many loose ends from the Known Space series, reshapes things you thought you knew in strange and interesting ways, and revisits some characters that have appeared elsewhere in Known Space.

I will say that while the story does stand on its own, it will probably be somewhat less enjoyable if you haven't read Ringworld and the Beowulf Shaeffer stories. Also, the ending(s) is/are a little odd. Not the way the story ends, but that there are at least three small chapters past what I thought was the logical end of the book. I'm not complaining actually, I enjoyed those extra chapters and they provided some detail about things I wanted to know - but it really felt like the authors where doing the "oh yeah, and another thing" bit. Still, overall I thought Fleet of Worlds was outstanding, and very much a worthy addition to the annuals of Known Space. I sincerely hope Niven and Lerner do more work together in this universe.

I won't spoil Fleet of Worlds for you. If you're not a Known Space fan, you won't care. And if you are, you'll go buy this book right now.


  1. John almost mugged me when I came home with his copy, I haven't got around to reading it (this weekend I will), but Super Spouse enjoyed the book very much.

    Now he's especially looking forward to the next book, as it will have Pak/Protectors in it. I'm married to a man who loves to practice saying "Phssthpok". I'm intrigued by what they'll put in book three.

  2. "Phssthpok"

    Me too.

    And Protector is still one of my favorite Niven novels. I think I like you husband, he sounds like my kind of people.

    Other fun Niven words: Tnuctipun and Halrloprillalar.

  3. Halrloprillalar is one that I have spent way too much time practicing saying.

    The husband is a good guy, and I'm sure he'd like you too. He's a lineman, so he's outside all day long and doesn't spend much time online.


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