The Surprising Worlds Of Larry Niven

Copyright 2010-2013, 2015, 2018, 2020 by Richard J. Ballard -- All Rights Reserved.

I read science fiction novels (e.g., author Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy) and fantasy novels (e.g., author J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings trilogy) while in college. Larry Niven's Known Space novels greatly expanded my science fiction repertoire: Known Space provided sentient being and culture detailed descriptions for a number of planets spread along our galactic arm. Larry's novels also played with technology outside Known Space, examining how technological innovation would alter sentient behavior and culture.

Larry Niven is an extremely prolific author who brings diverse and imaginative viewpoints to his works. Larry's collaborative efforts with other authors benefit both from synergism and also from diverse perspectives: collaborations with favorite co-author Jerry Pournelle feature military perspectives; collaborations with favorite co-author Steven Barnes feature physical conditioning, martial arts and non-Western cultures; and Larry's five-volume collaboration with Edward M. Lerner coalesces human and Puppeteer history from the time of Beowulf Shaeffer's discovery of the galactic core explosion past the restoration of the Ringworld. Reading Larry's collected works is like undertaking an interesting enjoyable quest.


Larry Niven's Known Space Novels

World Of Ptavvs [1966]
Kzanol is a thrint, a naturally telepathic sentient being whose mind can control and enslave other sentient beings. Kzanol is seeking worlds to conquer when his spaceship fails. Kzanol programs a crash landing on the nearest food planet, thinking that his rescue will be very expensive. Kzanol then activates his spacesuit's mirrored zero time field ...

Two billion years later, humans have invented a mirrored time retarder field and have recognized The Sea Statue as an extraterrestrial being encased in its own time retarder field. Larry Greenburg, a telepathic sensitive human, is present at The Sea Statue's time field deactivation; Larry will read the extraterrestrial's mind. Deactivation is successful but Larry goes crazy; Larry believes that he is Kzanol the thrint. With Earth and Belt forces in hot pursuit, Kzanol and Larry both race to find Kzanol's spaceship remains; with Kzanol's amplifier helmet either can enslave all of humanity.

World Of Ptavvs has theme similarity to John Brunner's 1960 novel The Atlantic Abomination. In Issac Asimov's award-winning 1952 novel Foundation And Empire, a human mutant calling himself The Mule (a Missouri favorite) exerts total emotional control over other humans. And throughout my adult life, the tale of adolescent Kzanol's Power public awakening has reminded me to choose my words carefully.

A Gift From Earth [1968]
Larry Niven's other novels emphasize astrophysics, alien cultures, planetary environments, and their effects on human culture. A Gift From Earth is an action story emphasizing motivational psychology as different people attempt to out-think others in a revolutionary social environment. And A Gift From Earth presents a Tau Ceti colonization different history than The Legacy Of Heorot (later).

After exploratory ramrobot #4 finds a planetary livable environment on Mount Lookitthat, Earth sends a colonization ship operated by six crew and carrying fifty colonists in suspended animation. The crew controls the ship's energy, the weapons and the hospital facilities. Upon arrival the crew establishes a hereditary dictatorship where every crime's punishment is disassembly into the hospital's transplant organ banks. Ramrobot #143 later brings a biotechnology package that threatens to obsolete the Mount Lookitthat legal system; the government goes on full alert.

Matthew Leigh Keller is a twenty-one year old frustrated male virgin. Throughout his adolescence whenever Matt approaches intimacy with a woman, the woman suddenly loses interest and wanders away. A male school chum invites Matt to an open house drunken party; finally Matt scores. Then the police raid the party and everybody else is taken in as suspected anti-government terrorists; Matt evades capture. Now Matt wants to save his new girlfriend ...

Neutron Star [1968]
Neutron Star is Larry Niven's first Known Space short story collection. Niven originally developed Known Space in a series of science fiction magazine short stories; his stories often revolved around physical theories, presenting astronautical concepts to Apollo-era readers. Neutron Star describes the nine known sentient alien lifeforms inhabiting Known Space, and it describes how the Known Space worlds affect their human settlers' physiology. Many of the stories feature the deep space entrepreneur Beowulf Shaffer. Neutron Star also introduces Nessus the insane Puppeteer.

Ringworld [1970]
The Puppeteers, an alien race of cowardly entrepreneurs, discover an awesome artifact: an immense ring-shaped construct occupying an entire planetary orbit around a distant star. The Ringworld is an artificial world with an Earth-like ecology and three million times Earth's surface area. Fearing the Ringworld builders, the Puppeteers assemble a Ringworld exploration team: Nessus, an insane Puppeteer whose manic phases give him sufficient courage to deal directly with other alien races; Louis Wu, a 200 year old human self-styled interplanetary explorer; Speaker-To-Animals, the Kzinti ambassador to the UN, an eight foot tall bellicose carnivorous alien whose diplomatic skills permit peaceful coexistence with other alien races; and Teela Brown, a twenty year old human female whose great-great-grandmother once was Louis Wu's love. Louis Wu is chosen for his genuine fondness of alien companionship and for his age-proven survival competence; Speaker-To-Animals is chosen for his military fighting potential; and Teela Brown is chosen because the Puppeteers believe that Teela's ancestral breeding (five generations of Birthright Lottery winners) naturally is lucky.

Upon reaching the Ringworld, the explorers learn that the Ringworld's builders included automatic defenses to protect the Ringworld. The explorers survey a region of the Ringworld, and learn about its inhabitants and their culture. Later the explorers learn that the Ringworld builders did not anticipate all possible contingencies; the Ringworld's ecology is experiencing big problems. And the exploration team has its own problem: are the explorers stranded on the Ringworld?

[Comment: IMO Larry Niven has understated the impact of Fist-of-God mountain's creation, an event with consequences similar to the November 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse. Unless the scrith-puncturing impact was perfectly centered along the Ringworld's one million mile width, the impact would cause local twisting of the scrith foundation. The impact also would displace radially the Ringworld's surface. Both the twisting and the radial displacement would propagate bidirectionally with gradual dampening as ringquakes (sinusoidal vibrations of the Ringworld's surface). The ringquakes would cause tsunamis in the Ringworld's shallow oceans, further dampening the ringquakes' amplitudes. The ringquakes would reflect mutually ~180 degrees around the Ringworld's surface from Fist-of-God mountain, and the ringquakes would continue until the vibrations damped out.]

Protector [1973]
Humanity has planned long for its first extraterrestrial contact. The Pak, a tribal warrior race, are the first alien species to approach humanity. While the Belt's government readies its reception, Phssthpok the Pak alters course and intercepts the spacecraft of Jack Brennan, a Belt smuggler; Phssthpok meets no government representatives.

Protector is a well-written imaginative story that IMO is remarkable for two reasons. In describing Pak physiology and culture, Larry Niven offers an alternative explanation for human geriatric physiology and culture. The story also conforms to an interesting constraint: Individual goals usually are motivated culturally, but does free will exist for an intelligent being sufficiently logical to always recognize the best answer?

Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven [1975]
This second Known Space short story collection spans times from the late 20th Century to the 31st Century. Hindsight from NASA discoveries IMO casts an old-fashioned light on some of Niven's early stories (At the Bottom of a Hole). Yet Niven optimistically predicted some human exploration of nearby planets (Becalmed in Hell) during the late 20th Century. IMO Niven's optimism was based upon mining and vacuum-enhanced free fall manufacturing profitable activities not realized today. Niven's Known Space effectively divides humanity into spacers and flatlanders: spacers must develop a keen mental edge merely to survive, while Earth is an overcrowded but benign park that [with the help of the organ banks (The Jigsaw Man)] coddles its complacent flatlander inhabitants (Cloak of Anarchy).

The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton [1976]
Gil Hamilton has a third arm, a psionic arm that can reach through and feel inside objects. Gil Hamilton is an ARM, a 22nd Century UN policeman who investigates organleggers (organ transplant illicit dealers), new technologies' implications, and fertility law violations. In Death By Ecstasy, Gil cannot believe that his Belter friend committed suicide by brain direct electrical stimulation. In The Defenseless Dead, Gil investigates which corpsicle heirs will be most affected by the second Freezer Bill's passage. And ARM is a locked room mystery following a reclusive inventor's bizarre murder.

the Patchwork Girl [1980]
Larry Niven incorporates the save the princess subplot into a lunar murder mystery: Gil "The ARM" Hamilton struggles to find a different murder suspect and to prevent former girlfriend Naomi Mitchison from being convicted and being broken up in the lunar organ banks. The investigation is complicated by differences in the Earth, Moon and Belt's cultures, sexual moralities and fertility laws.

The Ringworld Engineers [1980]
Twenty years after their return from the Ringworld, Louis Wu and Speaker-To-Animals (now renamed Chmeee) are shanghaied. The Hindmost (the deposed Puppeteer leader) kidnaps Louis Wu and Chmeee for a Ringworld return expedition; the Hindmost hopes to recover Ringworld technology treasures and to regain his Puppeteer leadership position. Upon arrival, the explorers learn that the Ringworld has drifted off-center; within months the Ringworld's sun will burn it. Louis Wu successfully mutinies, and the explorer team's new mission is to save the Ringworld.

The Ringworld Engineers is good imaginative science fiction, providing technical details of the Ringworld's construction and also depicting the many hominid species (e.g., vampires, ghouls and big-eyed night hunters) that have evolved since the Ringworld's creation. But this novel lacks the personality interplay among Nessus, Louis Wu, Speaker-To-Animals and Teela Brown that IMO made the (earlier) Ringworld novel fun reading.

Crashlander [1994]
Beowulf Schaeffer, a nearly seven foot tall albino from We Made It, is one of Larry Niven's most memorable characters. Former chief pilot for (bankrupted) Nakamura Lines and self-described professional tourist, Beowulf Schaeffer also is a reluctant adventurer who repeatedly must extract himself from other peoples' situations. Crashlander collects the Beowulf Schaeffer stories from Neutron Star (earlier) and from Tales Of Known Space (earlier), appends a new story (you will remember the story Procrustes the next time you flip a coin) that reunites many of the earlier stories' characters, and superimposes a multi-part framing narrative that sequences each of the individual stories into the overall novel.

Crashlander is wonderful reading by itself, but five of its six stories are previously published material. This extensive repetition somewhat detracts from Crashlander's enjoyment for Larry Niven devoted fans.

Flatlander [1995]
Gil "The ARM" Hamilton is Larry Niven's vehicle for detective stories. Flatlander reprints The Long Arm Of Gil Hamilton (discussed earlier but with an updated Afterwords section) and reprints the Patchwork Girl (discussed earlier) plus adds a new story: The Woman In The Del Rey Crater is set in a radioactive waste disposal field.

Flatlander is wonderful reading by itself, but the extensive repetition somewhat detracts from Flatlander's enjoyment for Larry Niven devoted fans.

The Ringworld Throne [1996]
This third Ringworld novel starts with the Hindmost Puppeteer sheltered within his magma-entombed spacecraft; numerous webeyes provide monitoring and communications with the Ringworld's surface and surrounding space, while stepping discs provide portals. Louis Wu and the Kzin Chmeee both have rebelled; for two years Louis Wu and Chmeee have traveled the Ringworld's surface. Chmeee decides that traveling to the Ringworld's Map Of Kzin and conquering a fiefdom is his destiny; Louis Wu and Chmeee must part company, and Louis Wu decides to go native.

Genetic drift and different ecology have diversified further the Ringworld's original hominid inhabitants. Some species are gregarious and social, other species are aloof outside their own tribe. All species share a common enemy: a vampire species with barely enough intelligence to hunt in packs, yet their sonic lures (analogous to the mythical Sirens' singing) and their olfactory lures (analogous to naturally occurring pheromones) make the vampires effective lethal hunters. In recent years a vampire population explosion has infested the Ringworld. Louis Wu's former native companions mount a crusade to eliminate the vampire scourge.

Simultaneously, the Hindmost observes the destruction of several spaceships approaching the Ringworld; a Protector is guarding the Ringworld against alien invaders. The Protector's existence threatens the Hindmost; the Hindmost uses Louis Wu's idealism plus the promise of autodoc medical rejuvenation to arouse Louis Wu from his native lifestyle. The pair are joined by Acolyte, the Kzin adolescent son of Chmeee, and together the trio meets the Ringworld's Protector. The Protector enslaves the trio, and they learn that multiple Protectors each are vying to control the Ringworld. While the Protectors skirmish, Louis Wu and his friends scheme to regain their freedom.

The Ringworld Throne is complicated reading; I had difficulty distinguishing the several characters having polysyllabic long names. The novel is promoted as the answer to Who will rule the Ringworld? IMO the novel's wealth of detail obscures the answer.

Ringworld's Children [2005]
The fourth Ringworld novel begins with Louis Wu emerging rejuvenated after extended treatment in the Hindmost's autodoc. Louis Wu finds that Tunesmith, the ghoul Protector, now completely dominates the expedition. All of the Hindmost's defenses have been breached, the Hindmost is in a state of Puppeteer catatonic withdrawal, and the Kzin Acolyte is performing an exploratory wild goose chase on the Ringworld's surface. During Louis Wu's autodoc treatment, Tunesmith has mastered all of the Puppeteer's technologies and all of the Ringworld's technologies. Now Tunesmith is modifying these technologies and is manufacturing his own solutions.

An armada of spaceships from throughout Known Space now encircles the Ringworld. The various worlds view the Ringworld as a laboratory to be conquered and plundered for its technology with little regard for the Ringworld's inhabitants. This armada presents several problems for Tunesmith and Louis Wu's friends: how to keep the armada off the Ringworld; how to deal with the myriad different Ringworld Protector species that appear in response to the armada's siege; and how to end the siege without destroying the Ringworld. Throughout the novel Louis Wu and his friends are valued for their understanding of the armada worlds' cultures, but they are treated like slaves to Ringworld Protectors. Louis Wu and his friends want their own lives back.

IMO Ringworld's Children suffers from the success of the Ringworld novel series. Throughout the four novels Larry Niven outlines the Ringworld's technological wealth in increasing detail. And throughout the third and fourth novels Puppeteer technology is added to the Ringworld as Protectors incorporate Puppeteer technology into their Ringworld operations. Midway through Ringworld's Children Tunesmith's manufacturing efforts have created sufficient Puppeteer technology to solve most encountered difficulties. But there is no mining on the Ringworld; what is the raw materials source for this manufactured wealth? And when did xenophobic Protectors (the title's referenced Ringworld's Children) form orderly military coalitions? Ringworld's Children is a good read, but IMO this novel parallels the space war depictions of 1993's The Gripping Hand (later).

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The Prehistory of Known Space

Larry Niven's 1970 novel Ringworld (earlier) presents an immense ring-shaped artificial living environment occupying an entire planetary orbit and capable of supporting a trillion sentient beings from different cultures. The five Ringworld novels explore the Ringworld's living environment and socialization, but those novels don't explain the Ringworld's creation. Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner have written a series of Known Space prehistory novels that describe the galactic cataclysm and the sentient beings' flight that preceded the Ringworld's creation.

Fleet Of Worlds with Edward M. Lerner [2007]
I began reading Larry Niven's novels in the mid-1970s, but I am an eclectic reader. It took a long time for me to reach the Fleet Of Worlds series.

Fleet Of Worlds, a collaboration with Edward M. Lerner, is a prequel set 200 years before the novel Ringworld (earlier). Known Space's governments have learned that the galactic hub has exploded and sterilizing radiation is spreading throughout the galaxy. The Puppeteers' General Products Corporation has closed business as its staff disappears; human commerce is severely disrupted when GP stops selling indestructible spaceship hulls, and humanity hunts the Puppeteers for both commercial and strategic reasons. Using reactionless drives, the Puppeteers move entire planets to flee the galactic hub. On their journey they rescue a human colonist expedition, an act discussed more in fable than in fact. The human colonists have a settlement on one Puppeteer world and they live as farmers, recipients of Puppeteer hand-me-down technology. The human colonists' leaders are not happy with their inferior status.

This well-written prequel tells a good story, but its principal contribution IMO is furnishing Puppeteer cultural and governmental details. Our Ringworld Puppeteer prior acquaintance Nessus is reintroduced here, and Puppeteers no longer are physically distinctive but incomprehensible aliens; readers can understand Puppeteer society and motivations. Perhaps the only disconnect is in Nessus' characterization: the Nessus we view in this prequel is different than the quivering timid Nessus we meet 200 years later in the novel Ringworld.

Juggler Of Worlds with Edward M. Lerner [2008]

Juggler Of Worlds has its own worthwhile plot, but reading the novel is like a hyperdrive journey through Larry Niven's Known Space early novels. This novel is a spoiler if you've not yet read those earlier novels.

Sigmund Ausfaller is a UN financial analyst; he's also wealthy and brilliant but with naturally paranoid tendencies. (Paranoid people perceive plots everywhere.) Sigmund's investigations arouse the attention of the UN's intelligence agency, the Amalgamated Regional Militia (ARM), and ARM deliberately recruits Sigmund. General Products Corporation with most of their Puppeteer staff are departing human space, severely disrupting commerce throughout human space. But GP traces still linger, and those traces wield both money and chaotic intentions.

Juggler Of Worlds revolves around Sigmund Ausfaller's Puppeteer-related investigations, trying to learn where the Puppeteers have gone and how the Puppeteers are using their resources; at all times the ARM agents consciously acknowledge, channel and constrain their paranoia. The Puppeteers' highest priority is hiding their departing fleet of worlds from the so-called wild humans of Known Space: the Puppeteers deliberately employ clever tricks and chaotic interventions (Who can you trust?) to distract Sigmund's team from pursuit. Within this barrage of clever tricks and chaotic interventions appear old friends from Larry Niven's early Known Space stories: Carlos Wu, Beowulf Schaeffer, Gregory Pelton, Julian Forward, the Kzin Chuft-Captain and the Puppeteer Nessus. Simultaneously, new understanding on the Puppeteer fleet of worlds renews conflict between the human colonist world and the Puppeteer rosette of worlds, a conflict that requires the Outsiders' intervention to resolve.

Juggler Of Worlds provides Puppeteer remarkable additional characterizations: various social deviations are possible once a Puppeteer overcomes the herd's inbred mindset. We meet Nike, charismatic leader of the Puppeteer Experimentalist party's Permanent Emergency faction; Nike hopes to exploit political chaos to elevate himself to Puppeteer Hindmost. We learn that Nessus obsessively admires Nike, and that Nessus hopes to endear himself to Nike through Nessus' scouting insane activities. We meet Achilles, another Puppeteer scout who aspires to become Puppeteer Hindmost and who obsessively hates all competition; Achilles will create interplanetary chaos to realize his ambition. And we meet Baedeker, the Puppeteer former chief engineer of General Products Corporation; Baedeker learns [just like Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince] that if you screw up royally you are exiled herdless to one of the rosette agricultural worlds, sentenced to grow food for the herd.

Destroyer Of Worlds with Edward M. Lerner [2009]
This novel begins with an uneasy truce between the Concordance (the Puppeteer rosette of worlds) and human planet New Terra. The truce enables a Fleet Of Worlds reunion: Sigmund Ausfaller, formerly an Earth ARM agent, now is New Terra's Defense Minister; he also has created and leads its clandestine intelligence service. His former pilot Kirsten Quinn-Kovacs and his former engineer Eric Huang-Mbeke now are married and both work for Sigmund. Sigmund is married with two children on New Terra; Earth is but a distant memory for Sigmund. Fleet Of World's Puppeteers also are present: Nessus now is a renowned (legitimately insane) Concordance scout; while the GP former engineer Baedeker, recalled from exile with his reputation restored, is a reluctant asset for Sigmund as Baedeker lives quietly in New Terra self-exile.

A distress message from the Gw'oth, a technologically-emergent alien aquatic race resembling starfishes (first discovered in Fleet Of Worlds) shatters New Terra's tranquility. Sigmund, Kirsten, Eric and Baedeker journey to the Gw'oth ice moon and discover unprecedentedly rapid technological advancement: the Gw'oth have evolved from a technically-rudimentary aquatic culture to a near-space-faring nuclear culture in a few decades. And the Gw'oth have become superb astronomers; they have detected ramship fleets fleeing the galactic core explosion, traveling in the direction of the Concordance, New Terra and Gw'oth. Adding a Gw'otesht-16 grouping (a physical mind-meld of 16 individual Gw'oth) to his crew, Sigmund begins a hyperspace journey to learn about the invading ramship fleet. Sigmund encounters the Pak, an extremely xenophobic alien race that humanity first encountered in Larry Niven's earlier novel Protector. To protect their breeder families the Pak will enslave or destroy any other alien culture that they encounter - no diplomacy.

Destroyer Of World's primary theme is team-building in a culturally diverse non-trusting environment. Timid Puppeteers will not battle the Pak, but the Concordance will not arm New Terra to battle the Pak either: the Concordance jealously guards its technology and resources from the New Terra humans (their former colonists); and the Concordance has wiped all navigational knowledge relating to Earth from human and computer memories because the Puppeteers fear that an Earth / New Terra human alliance deliberately would destroy the Concordance. A Gw'otesht-16 grouping has unprecedentedly intuitive analytic power, and the Gw'oth repeated save Sigmund's mission against the Pak; but the humans and the Puppeteers fear the Gw'oth ability to absorb new technology, while the Gw'oth skeptically observe the precedent of the human / Puppeteer covert alliance against the approaching alien fleet. And once Sigmund's crew manages to capture one Pak warrior, the crew faces ongoing struggle to understand Pak technology, culture and motivation while simultaneously hiding their own technology advances from the captured Pak warrior.

The authors spin a good story in Destroyer Of Worlds, but the characters IMO are guilty of overachievement, a critique I've made before when reviewing Larry Niven's collaboration Beowulf's Children. Here the characters are not explicitly genetically optimized, but everybody has unending motivation and stamina, leaders seeking resources are not bogged down by bureaucracy and mundane annoyances, Sigmund's natural paranoia provides endless insights and backup / contingency endless plans instead of annoying distraction, and the Gw'oth's melding of 16 minds creates inexplicable brilliance and insight (instead of parallel processing mere speed). The authors' optimism about human / alien capabilities and performance is greater than my optimism; perhaps I'm associating with the wrong beings.

Betrayer Of Worlds with Edward M. Lerner [2011]
The potential danger of the Pak ramship fleet has been diverted, but the Concordance now fears the Gw'oth, who have mastered Puppeteer / human space technology and who now occupy a distant new world blocking the Concordance's future path. While the Gw'oth worlds experience civil war (with the home world's Gw'oth dynast seeking to conquer the new world's Gw'oth rebels) New Terra remains overtly neutral. On the Puppeteer rosette of worlds, Baedeker has returned from self-exile and now serves as Hindmost; while Achilles, his Hindmost aspirations intact, has been rehabilitated from agricultural exile and Achilles now serves as Minister Of Science. The Puppeteer government frets over the Gw'oth warship fleets approaching their worlds, and in desperation the Concordance sends scout Nessus back to Known Space to retrieve human genius Carlos Wu. Nessus returns with the next best thing: Carlos' inexperienced son Lewis Wu.

Sigmund Ausfaller's last space adventure ruined him for further space travel; back on New Terra, Sigmund works as a diplomat, conferring with Nessus and Lewis Wu while they covertly provide information to their Gw'oth rebel former allies. And Achilles earlier sought to install himself as Viceroy of New Terra; Sigmund covertly confers with Nessus and Lewis Wu when Achilles uses his Ministry Of Science resources to declare a wartime state of emergency, using the approaching Gw'oth war fleet as an excuse to topple Baedeker's government and to install himself as Puppeteer Hindmost.

This novel bristles with intrigue and Lewis Wu is a refreshing addition, but this chaotic novel depicts two pairs of opposing forces fighting on the same battlefield. The principal weakness IMO is the Gw'oth characterization: the Gw'oths became technologically-aware only recently and Gw'oth society shuns joining into mind-melded tuples; but the Gw'oth isolated 8-tuples and 16-tuples are depicted as inexplicably brilliant and insightful, and the Gw'oth totally understand Puppeteer and human psychologies, while Gw'oth battle tactics unfold as if every possibility had been war-gamed and there is a Gw'oth contingency plan for every possible emergency. The Gw'oth IMO evolved too much and too quickly and IMO are not believable; perhaps my skepticism indicates that I'm associating with the wrong beings.

Fate Of Worlds with Edward M. Lerner [2013]
This volume is not merely the sequel to Betrayer Of Worlds. If you have not yet read Larry Niven's four Ringworld novels (Ringworld, The Ringworld Engineers, The Ringworld Throne and Ringworld's Children) then stop, take a deep breath, and read those four novels before you read this volume. Otherwise, you will miss some of Larry Niven's best writing and you won't understand why the Ringworld was sufficiently valuable to motivate interplanetary warfare.

Decades have passed since Betrayer Of Worlds. The Conservatives take over New Terra's government; New Terra off-world policy is deliberately non-aligned; Sigmund Ausfaller, now viewed as an interplanetary troublemaker, is forcibly retired; and New Terra has veered off the course traveled by the Concordance rosette of worlds. Conservatives now also rule the Concordance; but beneath political calm, the Gw'oth have first claim on the conservative Hindmost's attention, while the obsessed Puppeteer Achilles continues scheming to displace the Hindmost.

Everything changes when an immensely powerful space-time ripple disrupts the fabric of space. The Puppeteers recognize the ripple's origin as the Ringworld's location (which lies along their rosette of worlds' future path) but the Puppeteers don't know what caused the ripple. And as the ripple propagates through human-occupied space, expeditions both from Earth and from New Terra send explorers to investigate. All find the Ringworld gone; the Ringworld impossibly has vanished into hyperspace leaving a Kzinti war fleet and a Trinoc war fleet futilely searching for a war prize. The Kzinti are not easily dissuaded; the Kzinti discover and set course for the Concordance rosette of worlds.

At this point Fate Of Worlds gets bound up in intrigue and technology. Achilles is in charge of the Concordance's defense; he sees the Kzinti upcoming attack as an opportunity to reinforce the Concordance's AI-based defenses, (uncharacteristically for Puppeteers) to win the upcoming war, and to depose the conservative Hindmost. The Gw'oth tire of dealing with the Concordance factions and the traveling rosette of worlds now are far past Gw'oth-occupied space; the Gw'oth are reluctant players in this interplanetary intrigue. Humans both from Earth and from New Terra lurk around the battlefield edges, wanting to observe without being observed; and awkward first contact is established between Earth and New Terra forces. Louis Wu, and Puppeteers Nessus and Baedeker act as free agents within this interplanetary fracas, seeking technology solutions to escape the upcoming war while Achilles continues reinforcing beyond comprehension the Concordance's AI-based defenses. [Hint: Be suspicious when an AI repeatedly requests additional resources.]

Fate Of Worlds is advertised as the finale for two sets of four novels; that's a multitude of loose ends to whip, and at times the writing becomes mechanical. The authors wax eloquently on the Gw'oth love for pure mathematics while somewhat neglecting to depict the Kzinti and Trinoc cultures; and the authors IMO confuse parallel processing speed [even massively-parallel neural networks (pattern matchers)] with intelligence. But the authors hit their mark when depicting Puppeteer politics, showing timid herd animals with different priorities (usually) cooperating effectively when they'd really rather run and hide.

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Larry Niven's Other Worlds

All The Myriad Ways [1971]
This short story early collection contains IMO some of Larry Niven's best work. Three of the stories (Wait It Out, The Jigsaw Man and Becalmed In Hell) again appear in 1975's Tales Of Known Space (discussed earlier). And while Larry Niven's Limits later short story collection emphasizes limitations, All The Myriad Ways discusses the limitations of teleportation and of time travel, discusses how Superman's alien physiology limits his sexuality (Man Of Steel, Woman Of Kleenex) and discusses how these limitations constrain writers. Two stories (All The Myriad Ways and For A Foggy Night) discuss parallel universes that branch each way at each possible decision point: how are personal ethics limited if every possible decision outcome is realized?

This collection also includes several non-theme distinctive short stories. The Hugo-Award-winning story Inconstant Moon discusses not wasting the impending end of the world. Not Long Before The End originates Larry Niven's magic-enabling mana stories (e.g., The Magic Goes Away discussed later), and also is IMO a valid allegory for an educated professional struggling in a declining economy where the few new opportunities are entry-level and working class. (I.e., whirling to exhaustion is not a sustainable strategy.) And What Can You Say About Chocolate Covered Manhole Covers? suggests an underlying purpose for those long-winded conversational parties.

The Flight Of The Horse [1973]
The Flight Of The Horse begins with several short stories about Hanville Svetz, the time retrieval expert. Svetz is a civil servant in a pollution-devastated future Earth. Svetz's supervisor justifies his departmental budget by sending Svetz to retrieve extinct animals for the zoo. But Svetz's time travel destinations are not wholly predictable; and Svetz is a timid fellow, a xenophobe who hates animals ... The Flight Of The Horse continues with two novelettes: Flash Crowd supposes the creation of a teleportation booth public network; the network obsoletes vehicular traffic, but the new technology creates new problems. What Good Is A Glass Dagger? presents a workable solution for assembling an army of trolls, and depicts a dark solution for a world being depleted of its magic-enabling mana; again, the new solutions create new problems.

A Hole in Space [1974]
Again showing his writing range, this short story collection is named after Larry Niven's 1973 Hugo-Award-winning story The Hole Man, a tale where conflict between academic eccentricity and military discipline has planetary consequences. The 1971 short story Rammer introduces Jaybee Corbell, a frozen corpsicle who is reanimated by the despotic State and is trained as a ramship pilot; Rammer is the foundation for Niven's 1976 novel A World Out Of Time. The 1968 story There Is A Tide introduces Louis Gridley Wu and details how Louis Wu becomes the first human known to meet a sentient alien; in the 1970 novel Ringworld (discussed earlier) Louis Wu is chosen as the explorer team's survival expert.

This collection contains several stories discussing the societal implications of affordable dependable teleportation technology; I am not surprised that The Alibi Machine, The Last Days Of The Permanent Floating Riot Club and A Kind Of Murder are crime stories. The 1971 short story The Fourth Profession (the best bar story I know) depicts an alien encounter at The Long Spoon bar, and suggests fertile ground for Niven's The Draco Tavern later stories.

A World Out Of Time [1976]
The corpsicle concept runs through several Larry Niven novels (The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton, the Patchwork Girl, The Integral Trees, and The Smoke Ring) but corpsicle is explained best within A World Out Of Time. Corpsicles (a word variation on the frozen dessert popsicles) are people who (usually for medical reasons) chose to be frozen cryogenically. Some corpsicles left trust funds; the funds were liquidated later under the second Freezer Bill. Other corpsicles hoped that a future wealthy society would revive and nurture them. All corpsicles assumed that they would not be revived if future society were poor: why would a future poor society need indentured servants?

Jaybee Corbell was a cancer-laden corpsicle. After 200 years on ice, the State injected Corbell's memory- and personality-laden RNA into the body of a brain-wiped criminal. In social isolation Corbell was trained as a starship pilot and was sent solo on an interplanetary terraforming mission; Corbell would return to Earth in his old age. After blastoff Corbell rebelled. Struggling constantly against his ever-present shipboard computerized guardian, Corbell embarked on a galactic tourist voyage, planning to return to Earth later than planned and relativistically younger than planned.

After three million years normal time, Corbell returns to a very changed solar system and Earth: some planets and moons have disappeared, some planets are in very different orbits, Earth's oceans have shrunk due to extreme global warming, and the State is gone. In temperate Antarctica Corbell locates a human society where superior intelligence ageless Boys rule and maintain the surviving infrastructure, while a minority of fertile adults provide new recruits for the Boy tribes. Corbell seeks his own happiness and longevity while his shipboard computerized guardian works independently to recreate the State.

This novel's complicated plot IMO has similarities to A. E. van Vogt's 1945 novel The World of Null-A. IMO A World Out Of Time's complexity makes it less entertaining but more thought-provoking than Niven's other novels.

The Magic Goes Away [1978]
This 1978 novel expands the magical characters presented within All The Myriad Ways (earlier) and The Flight Of The Horse (earlier). The mana supply is dwindling in a world where the resource mana powers all magic. Magic fails in mana-barren regions and the world's magic-based civilization is crumbling. The Warlock and his American Indian friend Clubfoot call a magician's conference to seek new mana sources. While reanimating the skull of the necromancer Wavyhill, they encounter the disheartened swordsman Orolandes who is trying to understand his own role in the recent destruction of Atlantis. Aided by the witch Mirandee the group quests to transfer the moon's mana down to earth.

IMO it is easy to equate dwindling mana with dwindling petroleum resources, but equating dwindling mana with dwindling societal resources IMO is a better analogy. In a dwindling resource environment, accomplishment requires greater struggle and charm becomes less affordable while impoverished fatigue saps emotion; the end brings exhausted resignation with no other practical options (in effect emotionally beaten to death). The whirling Warlock's Wheel is a magical device common to these stories which is designed specifically to exhaust a region's mana; The Warlock's Wheel construction details IMO reinforce the emotionally exhausted resignation ending. Let sleeping gods lie -- they spoil your reunion.

Convergent Series [1979]
Convergent Series is a short story mixed bag: half stories already out-of-print in 1979, and half new stories. The stories feature problems complicated by uncommon situations or by uncommon viewpoints; IMO the unifying theme is: When things go wrong, they really go wrong. The title story Convergent Series addresses evading a deal made with a demon (spoiler: force the demon to fight his stomach). The five Draco Tavern stories depict alien viewpoints nullifying human common sense. The Meddler is a detective story complicated by alien influence. And The Nonesuch and Transfer Of Power both illustrate that what you don't know can hurt you: utilize due diligence while you differentiate reality versus drama.

The Integral Trees [1983]
The Integral Trees is remarkable for its nonplanetary living environment. The crew of an interplanetary terraforming ship encounters an uninhabited living environment: a breathable gas torus rotating around a neutron star. The torus contains no planets but includes a plenitude of asteroid-sized orbiting trees. The crew mutinies and abandons ship. Five centuries later, the crew's ancestors live among half-understood relics of space age technology, but the free fall ecology and population pressure have changed the ancestors' bodies and their culture.

Limits [1985]
This short story collection examines limits: human limitations, and the limitations of machines, of technology and of magic. Notable examples include: Spirals predicts one possible ending to the space program (notice the Jack and Jill play); The Lion in His Attic highlights greedy envy as a limitation of magic, while Talisman also stresses choosing one's words carefully; Flare Time depicts the economics of an alien ecology that is not fun; and War Movie depicts the power of embarrassment.

The Smoke Ring [1987]
In this sequel to The Integral Trees (earlier), Larry Niven fleshes out The Smoke Ring's free fall ecology and its human culture. The tribe hears about a marketplace settlement that has retained Earth agriculture and space age knowledge. The tribe mounts a foraging expedition seeking trade goods for the marketplace. Upon arrival the expedition learns that the marketplace is an organized military power that wants more than their trade goods. And the original terraforming spaceship's computer schemes in the background to regain control of the mutineers.

N-Space [1990]
The bookshelves are full of Best Of ... anthologies, but few authors are sufficiently prolific to create their own twenty-five year retrospective volume. Larry Niven's 693 page N-Space is such a volume. Approximately sixty percent of N-Space is selected short stories and novel excerpts reprinted from Larry's other books. The remaining forty percent are Larry's selected short stories reprinted from science fiction magazines, plus Larry's essays describing science fiction events and fandom enthusiasm during NASA's heyday era. N-Space is a good read by itself, and N-Space is the best Larry Niven introduction that I have encountered.

Playgrounds Of The Mind [1992]
The sequel to N-Space.

Destiny's Road [1997]
The Tau Ceti Four colonization expedition (discussed later in The Legacy Of Heorot) heavily taxed Earth's resources. The Tau Ceti Four expedition encountered fauna problems, and contact with Earth gradually dwindled. After a two hundred twenty year lapse, Earth sent a colonization expedition to Destiny, a different planet orbiting a cooler redder star. This second expedition deliberately minimized cryosleep-related problems and established a Destiny peninsula colony. But Destiny's geology and flora effected nutritional deficiencies upon the colonists, deficiencies that untreated caused severe mental retardation. The space ship's crew mutinied, taking the ship with most of its technology back into space and leaving the colonists to solve their own nutritional problems. The Road and Destiny's merchant caravans were the autocratic solution.

Adolescent Jemmy Bloocher lives in a pastoral town at The Road's end. Drawn into a tavern fight, Jemmy kills a man and becomes a lifetime fugitive. Jemmy observes different social structures as he travels The Road. Jemmy's growing knowledge motivates him to understand what shaped Destiny's human society.

IMO Destiny's Road is extremely well-written. The characters are interesting, and are poortrayed against a detailed background of an alien planet's ecology and its colonization.

Scatterbrain [2003]
A Larry Niven memorabilia collection.

The Draco Tavern [2006]
This short story collection expands the five Draco Tavern stories presented earlier in Convergent Series into a new future timeline. Human society changes when the Chirpsithra (eleven foot tall red exoskeletoned aliens that somewhat resemble lobsters) place their interstellar spacecraft in orbit around Earth's moon and descend in magnetic landers at Siberia's Mount Forel. After negotiating concessions with the United Nations, the Chirpsithra create a Mount Forel permanent spaceport, a town rises around the spaceport, and some people (including Rick Schumann) get very wealthy from secrets learned during discussions with aliens. Rick Schumann uses his wealth to partner with the Chirpsithra in creating the Draco Tavern, a watering hole for alien passengers traveling aboard Chirpsithra visiting spacecraft. His bar tending duties make Rich Schumann humanity's de facto envoy to the Chirpsithra and their alien passengers.

IMO it is natural to dismiss The Draco Tavern as an elaboration of the alien tavern depicted in the Star Wars film, but the twenty-six Draco Tavern stories form convenient vehicles for Larry Niven to address societal concepts. The Chirpsithra's domination of interstellar travel is one example: The Chirpsithra are a very ancient alien race, the Chirpsithra first developed affordable interstellar spacecraft, and when the Chirpsithra first visit another alien race's star system, that alien race's space program atrophies. The Chirpsithra's economic monopoly on interstellar space travel gives them judicial power between any alien races wanting to travel as passengers aboard Chirpsithra spacecraft.

Humanity is confronted with ancient alien races whose collective history can answer many of humanity's unanswered questions, but is humanity prepared to accept the answers? And how does human society appear to these ancient alien races? The Draco Tavern depicts Rich Schumann playing with the big boys: Rick has greater alien experience than nearly any other human, but Rick often is forced to improvise when facing alien problems. The combination of Rick Schumann improvising while human society confronts alien superior knowledge IMO makes The Draco Tavern a delightful read.

Stars and Gods [2010]
A Larry Niven memorabilia second collection: the sequel to Scatterbrain.

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Larry Niven's Collaborations

The Flying Sorcerers with David Gerrold [1971] The Flying Sorcerers is a deliberate comedy of errors, a story told from the viewpoint of a naive alien hominid. An interstellar explorer brings his landing craft to an alien planet. As he begins his ecological survey the explorer is approached by two local hominids, Shoogar the magician and Lant the bonemonger. The explorer's translation device assimilates the local language as the explorer performs his survey, but the initial translations are awkward; the explorer (mistakenly named Purple) is not aware that Shoogar the magician is furious. Shoogar is the reining local magician and Shoogar mistakes Purple's survey instruments for magical paraphernalia, but Purple has not purchased Shoogar's favor with a magical gift. Shoogar declares a magical duel and ritually fouls Purple's landing craft while Purple unknowingly conducts his ecological survey. The ritual fouling destroys Purple's landing craft, destroying the entire hominid village in the process, and the now homeless hominids are stuck with two feuding magicians.

Purple is stranded because he cannot recall his mother ship without traveling northward to the planet's equator. The solution is building a magical flying machine that will carry Purple northward, a difficult task for a Bronze Age tribal culture. But nobody is happy living with two feuding magicians. The hominids agree to build Purple's magical flying machine, a project that necessitates bringing assembly lines and mass production, electricity and currency concepts to a Bronze Age tribal culture. The disruptions these technological concepts inflict upon comfortable tribal culture are predictably funny.

The Mote In God's Eye with Jerry Pournelle [1974]
This novel presents the Galaxy's Trans-Coalsack Sector history in the 3000 A.D. era. The Alderson Drive exploits spatial wormholes permitting instantaneous travel between certain interplanetary locations; humans settle 200 planets. But the planets' desires for independence cause a devastatingly destructive Secession War and the human interplanetary empire wanes as war-devastated planets lose spaceflight capability. After several hundred years a human interplanetary second empire is rebuilding. The second empire is a hereditary monarchy with a Navy / Marine military space corps. The monarchy will not tolerate secession and ruthlessly crushes all rebellion.

Then an alien light sail spacecraft arrives from the unexplored region around the star Murcheson's Eye. The capsule's lone alien occupant arrives dead; it has somewhat mammalian physiology but asymmetrical features. Humans cautiously mount an expedition to Murcheson's Eye. Humans call the alien planetary system the Mote in Murcheson's Eye and call the aliens Moties. The Moties are intuitive engineers who might have greater intelligence than humans, but their ancient civilization has stripped the Mote of its metallic and radioactive resources. How will Motie contact and commerce affect rebuilding humanity's interplanetary empire?

The Mote In God's Eye is detailed and extremely well-written science fiction, but I find it a slow read. The novel's Navy / Marine orientation loads the story with military trappings ancillary to the plot. Also, because the planet New Scotland remained loyal throughout the Secession Wars, some naval personnel affect a Scottish brogue in the tradition of Star Trek's Scotty (actor James Doohan played engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott), but the brogue's severity better resembles Janitor Willie's dialect on The Simpsons and IMO detracts from the dialogue's flow. IMO it is worthwhile to speculate about the authors' 1974 concept model for the extremely competent Moties and their Fyunch(click) pairwise diplomacy.

Inferno with Jerry Pournelle [1976]
Author Allen Carpentier is entertaining his fans at a science fiction convention when an overdeveloped gag reflex proves his downfall. After time spent bottled up in limbo, Allen is revived by Benito, a solicitous fellow who informs Allen that he is dead, that he is lying on the ground of the Vestibule Of Hell, and the only exit to Purgatory is along the route depicted in Dante Aligheri's Inferno: traveling down through the Circles Of Hell to the icy center of the Circle Of Traitors. Allen Carpentier is agnostic and cannot understand his surroundings or their purpose, but Allen apparently is marooned in Hell. Allen agrees to accompany Benito on his quest for Purgatory.

Inferno is a descriptive novel in which Allen and Benito run the gauntlet of a modernized Hell that accommodates every modern weakness, and on their journey they encounter some of Allen's business and social former life acquaintances. Other questers, including Jesse James, Billy The Kid and former astronaut Jerome Leigh Corbett join Allen and Benito on their quest for Purgatory. Agnostic Allen repeatedly asks How? and Why? throughout their journey through Hell's futility. In the end, perhaps Walt Kelly's Pogo has the clearest answer.

Lucifer's Hammer with Jerry Pournelle [1977]
Probably the best apocalypse novel I have read, Lucifer's Hammer is remarkable for its depth of detail. This novel has everything, including Apollo / Soyuz astronauts, cannibal religious zealots, diabetes, mustard gas and a nuclear power plant, yet the novel is well-written and these diverse topics blend seamlessly. A comet hits Earth and creates massive earthquakes and tsunami, while impact-released dust and water vapor cause a non-atomic nuclear winter with glacial southward migration and with agricultural growing season shortening. Lucifer's Hammer emphasizes societal coping instead of technology: the immediate problems are eating and keeping what you have. Local fiefdoms emerge after civil authority crumbles amidst too many corpses to bury and too many survivor mouths to feed. Post-hammerfall fiefdom management revolves around determining how to survive the coming winter, determining who can contribute productively and deciding who will be fed.

This 1977 novel is well and believably written and is worthwhile reading, but recent events IMO have dulled its excitement. Since this novel was written, we have experienced the 2004 Indonesian tsunami; experienced the US Gulf Coast's scouring by hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike; and have experienced secular conflicts in Bosnia, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And in The Great Recession's Wake, 9.2 million US former workers (many mouths to feed) received state and Federal unemployment benefits during the first week of February 2011.

Oath Of Fealty with Jerry Pournelle [1981]
The Los Angeles riots left large burnt tracts that government could not afford to rebuild. A Swiss development corporation negotiated a contract to build a semi-autonomous arcology, a city in a box, over the wreckage. Todos Santos externally resembles a fort; its square base is two miles on a side, it is one thousand feet tall and it houses a quarter million residents. Todos Santos has its own energy and water sources; it provides financing for its entrepreneur residents (residents receiving financing must be 100% financially committed to the venture: pass / fail); its stores satisfy most residents and many Angelinos shopping needs; and the corporation, not the residents, pays income taxes. Todos Santos provides residents a secure and prosperous utopian living environment; but Angelino social ecologists protest that the beehive unfairly siphons resources from the less prosperous Los Angeles surrounding region, a conflict between dissimilar cultures.

Oath Of Fealty revolves around Todos Santos security. The arcology is private property with its own security force. Todos Santos security treats arcology residents paternally without emphasizing visible deterrent and arcology residents support our police force, but security forces also must protect arcology infrastructure from external threats. Angelino ecological protests are continuous and some protesters want to shut down the arcology. Solutions enabling paternal security within an industrial fiefdom and security response against heightened physical threats form the story's core.

Dream Park with Steven Barnes [1981]
Dream Park depicts a California amusement park that hosts several Gaming Areas in addition to the its regular amusements. Game Masters author and conduct holograph-assisted fantasy games within the Gaming Areas. Lore Masters lead Gamer groups through the fantasies and gain experience points towards becoming recognized Game Masters. Gamers gain experience points towards becoming recognized Lore Masters. Everybody has challenging fun while Dream Park and the Game Masters earn money.

Dream Park depicts the conduct of a New Guinea Melanesian fantasy game in which Gamers struggle to vanquish Cargo Cult magicians and to regain precious cargo. Concurrently, a Dream Park security guard dies during an industrial espionage attempt. Dream Park's security chief Alex Griffin joins the Cargo Cult fantasy game to investigate whether Gamers were involved in the espionage.

21st Century computer graphics somewhat have dimmed Dream Park's appeal. The holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation did not appear until 1987. In 1981 Space Invaders and Asteroids were the predominant computer arcade games, and Dungeons and Dragons fantasy games often were conducted using paper records and were played according to random numbers generated by throwing 6-, 8-, 10- and 12-sided dice. In this lower tech 1981 environment Dream Park depicted the fantasy environment that Gamers wanted to experience. Yet time has wrought irony: while 21st Century computer graphics dim Dream Park's appeal, the Cargo Cult mythos that was humorous in the 1980s is bittersweet in The Great Recession's Wake with US unemployment persistently high and with our commodities increasingly imported from overseas.

The Descent Of Anansi with Steven Barnes [1982]
A space piracy tale combining action with physics. Falling Angel Enterprises is a laboratory complex orbiting the Moon constructed from Space Shuttle expended booster shells. Falling Angel manufactures products in a near vacuum free fall environment. After seven years development Falling Angel has created a unique product: 1,400 km. of abnormally strong iron / epoxy composite construction cable. The cable is sold at auction, but the cable must be delivered Earthside and the losing bidders are not happy.

This novel revolves primarily around packaging and transporting the cable for a predictable safe delivery. Detailed procedures exist for everything, but things get interesting when the process goes astray. Then the Falling Angel crew must improvise to retain their cargo, their vessel and their lives.

Footfall with Jerry Pournelle [1985]
It is natural to compare the unviewed alien adversaries depicted in Orson Wells' 1938 War Of The Worlds with the adversaries depicted in Footfall; Footfall's scope is broader and is sociological. Footfall not only depicts both United States and Soviet military societies (adversaries who eventually ally against the alien invaders); the novel also depicts a sociology for the Snouts, sentient aliens somewhat resembling baby elephants. The Snouts are herd animals and the herd is first and foremost: Snouts cannot function outside the herd's approval. Deliberate shunning is a Snout punishment that often leads to morose insanity; during warfare captured Snouts wholeheartedly expect to join their captors' herd, and the Snout invaders expect humans to motivate similarly. These sociological differences are equally important to technology as humans and Snouts battle for dominance on the Earth and in the space surrounding it.

The Legacy of Heorot with Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes [1988]
A military adventure (Heorot was Beowulf's lodge) with ecological twists. Two hundred colonists endure a century of cryosleep while journeying to planet Tau Ceti Four; their goal is to establish humanity's first colony outside the solar system. The Tau Ceti Four ecology is Earthlike and the colonists choose an island colony location; the island's scarcity of fauna somewhat assures no significant natural predators. After months of progress the colonists encounter the island's significant natural predator and wage a military campaign to eradicate the predator, but the campaign solves the problem without addressing the problem's cause.

Cryosleep (frozen sleep) poses additional complications for the colonists. The journey's length dictates that most colonists travel in cryosleep both to conserve resources and also to retard colonist aging, but the cryosleep facilities are flawed. Several colonists do not survive cryosleep, leaving skill gaps within the colonist group. And some surviving colonists experience Hibernation Instability: drastic cases manifest as mental retardation while mild cases manifest as mental acuity impairment or as emotional impairment. Throughout the novel, colonists struggle with dulled effectiveness as thoughts slip away amidst constant perturbed distraction. [Here on Earth during the un(der)employment wake of The Great Recession, IMO it is worthwhile wondering if Hibernation Instability complicated by lost opportunity costs former professionals and other educated workers their competitive edges.]

The Barsoom Project with Steven Barnes [1989]
The Barsoom Project goal is to build a skyhook (i.e., a cabled elevator between the planet's surface and geosynchronous orbit height). The technology is understandable and (after construction) skyhook operation is very profitable, but the safety considerations are gruesome: with a snap, hundreds of miles of strong cable would plummet down to whip the planet's surface. Cowles Industries wants to construct a prototype skyhook on Mars both for safety experience and also to facilitate human settlement of Mars. Cowles Industries seeks investors for this project and stages a Dream Park international conference; wealthy investors and their families can enjoy a Dream Park vacation while receiving multimedia-enhanced briefings about the project's potential.

Simultaneously, Dream Park conducts a Live-Action Role-Playing (LARP) limited game in an adjacent gaming area: a Fimbulwinter-themed Fat Ripper Special. The limited game is an attempt to recycle a Fimbulwinter script that previously went inexplicably and horribly wrong, with Dream Park actors being both wounded and killed. Fimbulwinter has an Eskimo-themed plot: Alaskan Inuit radicals, sickened over European spoiling of Inuit lands and habitat, have seized magic power objects and have used those objects to weaken the Sun, pushing all of the Earth into another Ice Age and forcing any survivors to adopt Inuit customs and lifestyle. The radicals already have defeated their Inuit shamans; a refugee band from the last plane out of San Francisco is the only hope to stop the Inuit radicals and to reverse Fimbulwinter. Coincidentally, many of the selected players are chronically obese, and Fat Ripper Special play is loaded with psychology and aversion therapy to force obese players to ponder the food they eat, and to ponder what obesity does to their bodies and their personalities. If the rewrite is successful, Dream Park intends to cassette-market the Filbulwinter game as a dietary aid.

A bad penny then revives Dream Park old fears. A player from the Fimbulwinter original game reappears under an assumed name in the rewritten Fimbulwinter-themed Fat Ripper Special; she'd been hospitalized with a nervous breakdown after the original disaster. Some Dream Park executives believe the Fimbulwinter earlier disaster was an industrial-espionage attempt to bankrupt Cowles Industry before a hostile takeover. Now a former player reappears within the Fimbulwinter rewritten play; is this a second attempt to create a disaster that bankrupts Cowles Industries?

The original Dream Park (earlier) novel concentrates on technology and upon character development; the same technology and many of the original characters appear in this novel, and that ground is not replowed here. Instead, The Barsoom Project charmingly presents the Inuit mythos, develops the player characters engaged within the Fat Ripper Special, and depicts how psychology and persuasion instead of punishment can motivate personal change. And always in the background, knowledge that a bad penny reentered the game drives a who-done-it investigation showing how psychology and modern cybernetics has changed the art of sleuthing.

Fallen Angels with Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn [1991]
With some theme similarity to Robert Heinlein's classic 1966 novel The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, this 1991 novel uses fandom's comparative zaniness to buffer a sour subject: the public's decreasing support of the space program. Earth experiences a new era of shortages as a trough in the Sun's energy output 1,400 year cycle starts another Ice Age. Glaciated regions are depopulated, and in the United States the south-moving glaciers have reached mid-Wisconsin. Climatic change public horror has empowered and popularized Green Technology technophobes. Government is ever watchful for ecology-harming not appropriate activities: any and all petroleum drilling is not appropriate, but government-controlled computers are appropriate technology and Big Brother's databases are ever vigilant. Supporting Green Technology is politically correct and is socially safe, and effective government increasingly is local autocratic fiefdoms (small is beautiful, but small is poor). Science and materialistic technology advocates suffer workplace discrimination (That ain't gonna work!), suffer social shunning, and sometimes are subject to forced re-education or to forced mental conditioning.

US space station Freedom and Soviet space station Peace both orbit Earth, but the space stations declared their independence and confederated after their governments abandoned the space program. The space stations are energy rich but materials poor (a space station's ecology is not waste-free or perfectly closed). A Freedom scoop ship harvesting upper atmosphere over Greenland is hit by a missile (technophobes muttering Stealing our air!); the scoop ship crash lands in hostile territory on the depopulated North Dakota glacier. The space stations cannot rescue the two astronauts and the US government views the fallen astronauts as high value illegal aliens. A group of science fiction / fantasy fans (some having social outlaw tendencies) decide to rescue the fallen astronauts. As the rescue unfolds, short-term adventures give way to long-term problems ...

The fans' antics (including a gathering at the St. Louis Gateway Arch monument) make Fallen Angels a fun read, but the novel motivates thought-provoking questions: What are the economics of a sustainable space station, and how do mundane people react to acts of God impoverishment?

Achilles' Choice with Steven Barnes [1991]
Jillian Shomer faces the champion's option: choose a short glorious lifestyle at the risk of longevity. For ten years Jillian has trained for the Eleventh Olympiad, a contest both of physical prowness and of intellectual accomplishment that pits multinational business conglomerate athletes against geographic traditional country athletes. But Jillian competes against Boosted athletes, athletes who have undergone neural and endocrinal surgery that speeds their responses and their metabolisms. Boosted athletes achieve physical performance significant gains, but to retain normal longevity the Boosted athletes require computerized metabolism regulation (part of another surgery called becoming Linked). Becoming Linked is one leadership prize awarded to Olympiad gold medalists; other athletes' unregulated Boosted metabolisms are fatal within seven years. Is Jillian good enough to win her Olympiad events without being Boosted?

Achilles' Choice is thoughtfully written and Boris Vallejo's illustrations are remarkable. The transience of athletes and multinational conglomerate sports replacing warfare are themes that Achilles' Choice shares with the 1975 film Rollerball starring James Caan, John Houseman and Maud Adams. IMO the novel's greatest weakness is that its societal chaos minimization mechanism assumes surgical determinism: the Boosted and Linked neurological surgeries are error-free and cause no random health problems.

The California Voodoo Game with Steven Barnes [1992]
The California Voodoo Game is a quantum leap from Larry Niven and Steven Barnes' earlier Dream Park novel. Many Dream Park characters return, but fantasy gaming has grown into an international spectacle with competing corporate-sponsored teams similar to the 1975 film Rollerball.

After the Quake of 1995 devastated California, Cowles Industries acquired MIMIC, an arcology built near the California / Nevada border that was intended to absorb Los Angeles overflow population. MIMIC was damaged severely, but Cowles Industries recycled its infrastructure to support The Barsoom Project, an internationally-funded project to build a Mars colony. Barsoom still was in planning; Cowles Industries used nearly-vacant MIMIC to stage The California Voodoo Game, the most extensive fantasy game ever conducted: After the quake's devastation, MIMIC survivors (with the assistance of friendly aliens and their magic) formed a unified voodoo society within MIMIC's ruins. Yet as the voodoo culture matured, religious differences and resource competition motivated inter-tribal constant fighting. The fantasy gaming teams explore MIMIC seeking technology they can transfer to their own outside communities, but MIMIC's voodoo-enabled inhabitants have other priorities.

The California Voodoo Game novel is strongly written. The fantasy gaming and voodoo themes are fun reading, the multiple subplots are presented clearly, and all characters' personalities are developed well.

The Gripping Hand with Jerry Pournelle [1993]
Good science fiction often predicts a new technology and then explores that technology's societal potential consequences. This 1993 sequel to The Mote In God's Eye (earlier) follows that technology impact pattern without presenting additional new technology. The novel begins with a space blockade; the Imperial Navy has kept the technologically adept Motie aliens bottled in their isolated planetary system for twenty-five years. And for twenty-five years humanity has studied Moties, seeking to economically solve the Moties' population problem. Then a young human astrophysicist reinterprets old observations; it appears that the Imperial Navy blockade bottle is developing cracks that will release Moties into human space.

The novel's first one-third emphasizes Imperial bureaucracy; all the original Mote human visitors have achieved social position and affluence but big government moves slowly. When the Imperial Navy blockade failure appears imminent, only two Navy vessels and one trader vessel (owned by Horace Bury, a Muslim trader who became involved circumstantially in the original Mote expedition) are available to explore the potential breach site. During the twenty-five blockade years, the Moties studied the human classic literature left by the original Mote human expedition. When the breach occurs, the escaping Moties bypass human Imperial bureaucracy and request by name trader Horace Bury. After discussion, trader Horace Bury's party agree to act as diplomats and to accompany the Moties back into the Mote for discussions (with an Imperial Navy vessel escort). Both sides realize that initiating trade is only one of several possible options.

The novel's second one-third explores Mote societal changes. Population pressure wars have reduced Mote planetary society back to bricks and mortar with no spaceflight capability. But Motie advanced technology thrives both along the planetary orbit and also further out in space. The Motie space culture is family-based, seeks to control minerals within outer space volumes, and when necessary is nomadic; this Motie nomadic space culture somewhat identifies with Horace Bury's Islamic trader culture. The humans update their Motie cultural knowledge while the Motie families seek a common negotiating position. The Moties' failure to find a common negotiating position motivates the space war that occupies the novel's final one-third.

IMO space war descriptions are ponderous and The Gripping Hand presents few new concepts. Yet The Gripping Hand IMO is well-written fiction that presents a wealth of detail concerning the Imperial government and the Imperial Navy's decision processes and concerning Islamic civility. IMO many readers will gloss over this detail and IMO probably will miss the story significance within the authors' photograph included at the novel's end.

Beowulf's Children with Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes [1995]
Almost twenty years after The Legacy of Heorot (earlier) the generation gap rears its ugly head in utopia. The Tau Ceti Four colonists apparently have solved their predator problem, and have rebuilt and repopulated the island colony. The colonists' children, who call themselves the Star Born, now are teenagers who want to settle the main continent. The core of the eighty-plus Star Born are the Bottle Babies, nineteen children birthed in incubators from embryos brought from Earth; the Bottle Babies have no close ties outside their own group. And Hibernation Instability forms an ever-present barrier between the Star Born and the original colonists: any and all objections to the Star Borns' continental exploration plans are dismissed with a shrug and a Hibernation Instability comment: Ice on their minds.

Aaron Tragor leads the Bottle Babies and the Star Born. Aaron is handsome, is athletic, is a charismatic speaker and is overtly sensual. Aaron is ambitious; he believes that settling the continent is his destiny and Aaron uses all his abilities to influence his Star Born followers. Aaron's settlement plans reinforce the generation gap as the Star Born struggle for needed resources. And Tau Ceti Four's ecology retains a few surprises of its own ...

Utopian novels often are optimistic and Beowulf's Children is no exception. IMO in fewer than twenty years two hundred colonists burdened with raising children could not produce the industrial base and capabilities depicted in this novel. And (with some personal knowledge of computer-aided instruction) IMO the colony's educational infrastructure results are not credible: admitted socialization problems exist, but the colony's teenagers routinely function beyond college graduate competence level. And IMO the character Aaron Tragor is not believable (as the protagonist in John Brunner's 1974 novel Total Eclipse is not believable). {Skeptics are encouraged to place their hands adjacent and palms down on the ground, and to test how much torque they can generate over a substantial angular range without their hands slipping; next time try a break fast roll. Speaking generally, even given Aaron's optimized genetics, life's mundane annoyances [e.g., social time wasters (which Aaron utilized heavily) and shortages] prevent star-studded predictable performances in a resource-contention environment.}

The Burning City with Jerry Pournelle [2000]
The Burning City depicts feudal society within the mana-depleted world presented earlier in Larry Niven's The Magic Goes Away. Here the Lords, their soldiers and their retainers enforce a barony that collects taxes, makes laws and finances some public infrastructure. The kinless are taxpaying laboring serfs. And the Lordkin are organized gang families standing socially between the Lords and the kinless. The Lordkin manufacture nothing and are contemptuous of mundane labor. Instead (within limits tolerated by the Lords) the Lordkin openly rob the kinless, reinforcing the serfs' continued subjugation. The Lordkin are identifiable by their gang-specific tattoos. The kinless are identifiable by their different facial characteristics (e.g., ear shape) and by the cloth noose (reminiscent of the lanyard with ID badge so common in 21st Century US society) that in public the kinless are required to wear around their necks.

This novel revolves around the life of Whandall Placehold Feathersnake. Tep's Town is the domain of the fire god Yagen-Atep. Yagen-Atep normally prevents new fire lighting and prevents any fires from burning inside Tep's Town buildings, but periodically without warning Yagen-Atep possesses the Lordkin to burn kinless shops and kinless dwellings. Whandall begins as a Lordkin adolescent trying to understand Tep's Town; everyone except his grandmother is too busy to answer his questions and his grandmother is senile. Whandall grows from lurker (scout / spy) to pickpocket to fighting thief, and Whandall dreams of controlling his Tep's Town neighborhood. But encouraged by the wizard Morth of Atlantis, during a burning Whandall flees Tep's Town and he returns decades later as a trading caravan's wagonmaster equal to the Lords.

The authors' discussions of the nature of magic, the nature of mana, Morth of Atlantis' continuing search for mana (both for magical empowerment and also to revitalize his youthfulness) and Morth's quest to evade a vengeful water sprite IMO are The Burning City's best features. As in Beowulf's Children Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's characters IMO again appear unbelievably capable, but when communing favorably with shamans, with wizards and with gods such empowerment is reasonable.

Saturn's Race with Steven Barnes [2001]
Xanadu is an artificial island floating in the Indian Ocean north of the equator. A semi-autonomous international corporate entity, Xanadu is home to some of the world's wealthiest people, people who control vast corporate power. Xanadu has a high technology industrial base; it exports ocean-thermally-generated electric power, ocean-extracted minerals, fish meal protein, computer and engineering services, and medicines. Xanadu is generous with its fish meal protein and its medicines, maintaining good relationships with nearby nations.

Chaz Kato is a cybernetic genius specializing in linkages, fathomable virtual representations of cybernetic databases and of biological nervous systems. Linkages allow direct connection between computers and animal / human brains; linkages facilitate cybernetic augmentation. Invited to join Xanadu, Chaz Kato pledges to live by Xanadu's rules.

Arvad Minsky is Chaz Kato's oldest friend on Xanadu and is one of Xanadu's councilors, a member of Xanadu's board of directors. Arvad also is a biological genius who is perfecting cybernetic and physical augmentation for dolphins, for sharks and for killer whales. Arvad is not a detached academic; Arvad has augmented his own body with cybernetic implements that give him a physically grotesque appearance.

Lenore Myles, an attractive blonde woman, is a recent university graduate. On a recruiting trip to Xanadu Lenore becomes romantically involved with Chaz Kato. Chaz enthusiastically wants Lenore to join Xanadu; Chaz gives Lenore his security codes so that Lenore can explore Xanadu's library vast resources. During her exploration Lenore stumbles over files forbidden to Xanadu outsiders.

Clarisse Maibang is deputy security chief of Xanadu. A native of Java, Clarisse was raised and educated by missionaries, and then was recruited locally by Xanadu. Clarisse formerly had a Muta (live-in) one year contract with Chaz Kato, but Chaz did not renew the contract. Now Chaz Kato and Lenore Myles have become security problems.

Saturn's Race has setting similarities to Larry Niven's (earlier) Oath Of Fealty collaboration with Jerry Pournelle, and Chaz Kato somewhat elaborates Larry Niven's Known Space character Louis Wu. Saturn's Race IMO is uneven reading; some sections read very well while other sections meander. Yet Saturn's Race is a complex imaginative story that teaches Cultural exchanges are not one-way affairs.

The Magic Goes Away Collection:
The Magic Goes Away; The Magic May Return; and More Magic
with various other authors [2005]
This collection includes Larry's 1978 original novel The Magic Goes Away (earlier) plus two anthologies [1981's The Magic May Return and 1984's More Magic] edited by Larry containing stories set in Larry's mana-depleted magical world. The anthologies reprint three of Larry's short stories: Not Long Before The End, The Lion In His Attic and Talisman. The anthologies also present six new stories by other authors, including Dean Ing's Manaspell and Bob Shaw's Shadow Of Wings comparing court intrigue in mana-depleted and mana-rich kingdoms, respectively; Poul Anderson and Mildred Downy Broxon's Strength depicting hunting replacing culture in the mana-depleted North; and Roger Zelazny's Mana From Heaven depicting the 20th Century's surviving magicians disharmoniously anticipating mana's renewal.

Burning Tower with Jerry Pournelle [2005]
Burning Tower is the sequel to The Burning City (earlier). All mana has been drained from Tep's Town and the fire god Yangin-Atep now is myth, but flocks of terror birds (previously solitary, large flightless birds having serrated beaks and bladelike feathers) lethally begin attacking Tep's Town trade caravans. Realizing that the terror bird attacks threaten Tep's Town continued existence, the Tep's Town Lords mount a military and trading expedition to vanquish the terror bird flocks and to reopen the trading roads. The traders accompanying the expedition seek new markets and seek new merchandise possibilities.

This novel revolves around four characters. Lord Sandry, chief of the Tep's Town fire watch, is victorious during a terror bird early skirmish and is assigned to lead the military expedition. Burning Tower, daughter of Whandall Feathersnake, leads the trading expedition; chemistry exists between Lord Sandry and Burning Tower. Burning Tower's sister Clever Squirrel is a shaman who was conceived when Whandall Feathersnake was ridden (possessed) by the God Coyote; Clever Squirrel provides magical reinforcement as the expedition distances itself from mana-barren Tep's Town. And Lord Regapisk, Lord Sandry's cousin, is an inept Lord exiled from Lordshill and Tep's Town; Lord Regapisk (somewhat a scoundrel) has both magical and trading acumen and he reappears later in the story.

Jerry Pournelle strongly influences Burning Tower; the novel contains extensive descriptions of medieval armor, weapons and tactics. But Burning Tower is different from previous Niven / Pournelle novels because their previous novels contain no female strong characterization; the Burning Tower and the Clever Squirrel characters are strongly developed in this novel. There is little sexuality in this novel despite the medieval social environment: throughout the novel Burning Tower prides herself on being able to lead and to ride the unicorn Spike. Yet Burning Tower repeatedly reminds me of the pagan societies depicted in author Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty trilogy.

Building Harlequin's Moon with Brenda Cooper [2006]
Building Harlequin's Moon is an interstellar tragedy story. Humans flee the solar system after sentient AIs (Artificial Intelligences) controlling too much nanotechnology revolt against humanity. Three interstellar spaceships seek the pristine planet Ymir, intending to create a utopia without AIs. The first spaceship, the John Glenn, encounters interstellar radiation storms and expends its antimatter and its water reaction mass detouring to a solar system without habitable planets. No earthly assistance is available; before the John Glenn can continue to Ymir its crew must build a habitable planet plus an industrial society capable of restoring the John Glenn's depleted antimatter. Then the John Glenn's departure will leave the industrial society's moonbound inhabitants in harm's way.

The novel ingeniously depicts shepherding other planetoids into the planet Harlequin's moon Selene in order to build a geologically stable ecology, and ingeniously depicts using nanobot limited technology both to create fertile soil and to manufacture various materials from planetoid slag. But the novel dwells on inter-class and inter-generational conflict, there are too many viewpoints from too many strong personalities, and no strong personality is fully and believably developed within the novel. The novel is cold without any fully and believably developed personalities; instead of warming to the novel I dissected the novel, noting similarities to the autocratic crew versus colonist conflicts in A Gift From Earth, the generation gap conflicts in Beowulf's Children, and the clandestine connivance of evolving sentient AIs in Ray Bradbury's novel The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.

A theme pervading the novel is societal control by information control. Throughout this novel, industrial society members receive only the knowledge and the tools needed to perform their immediate tasks, and their communications are monitored constantly. Perhaps this theme has value in the post-9/11 era.

Escape From Hell with Jerry Pournelle [2009]
In this sequel to Inferno (earlier) science fiction writer Allen Carpentier awakens in Hell's Wood of Suicides; he sits leaning against a tree embodying the soul of suicidal contemporary poet Sylvia Plath. Carpentier describes to Sylvia his earlier wanderings through Hell with Benito. Carpentier then tells Sylvia that he has been spared to tell other damned souls how to escape Hell's torments. Terminally bored Sylvia decides she must follow Carpentier out of Hell. Allen painfully frees Sylvia from her arboreal encasing, they heal, and the pair begin their journey through the depths of Hell. On that journey Allen and Sylvia encounter demons and souls who Allen met in his earlier wanderings; they also meet historical figures and former life acquaintances.

In Inferno Carpentier regarded Hell as a puzzling construct built by an infinite power possessing infinite sadism, and Inferno concentrates on physical descriptions of modernized Hell's torments. In this sequel, Carpentier somehow has acquired (like Benito before him) a saintly status that allows Carpentier to travel freely through Hell. There is no direct evidence of Divine intervention, but during his conversations with Hell's administrators and with Hell's demons Carpentier concludes that Hell is part of God's Divine plan: i.e., even damned souls can be redeemed but damned souls first must learn to sincerely repent, and Hell's torments are powerful teaching tools. This redemption of damned souls concept is Escape From Hell's focus; the novel treats Hell's torments as teaching tools that eventually heal. Each reader IMO must decide if the authors convincingly depict Hell as a teaching laboratory [instead of obsessive cruelty motivated by poverty (This is all that we can afford) and reinforced with plausible deniability (We're merely following Orders)].

The Moon Maze Game with Steven Barnes [2011]
Complacency (i.e., the same formula will guarantee another success) is the downfall of sequels. The authors' earlier novels Dream Park and The California Voodoo Game introduced and popularized LARP (Live-Action Role-Playing) in a California setting. But those two earlier novels took great care to develop the participants' personalities and characters; the reader could somewhat identify with the individual characters. The Moon Maze Game presents a bigger better LARP, yet the novel's H.G. Wells mythos play is obscure instead of intuitive, while the novel emphasizes lunar technical infrastructure over character strong development. And midway though the novel the infrastructure descriptions become repetitive.

LARP has become big business in the decades following Dream Park, gaining broadcast popularity equivalent to the Olympics and generating hundreds of millions of dollars in off-site wager revenue. Cowles Industries continues to develop LARP, for the first time staging a LARP event on the moon (with its one-sixth terrestrial gravity). LARP play is by invitation only, but invitees are allowed to choose their own game partners. Game Master Xavier invites top player Angelique Chan, who in turn invites player (and fledgling Game Master) Wayne Gibson to join the lunar LARP; Xavier has unfinished business from his UCLA days with both Angelique and Wayne. A somewhat unknown Lore Master Ali also is invited to join the lunar LARP; Ali's father is the real-life king of the African state of Kikiya, and the king hires Scotty Griffin (son of Dream Park's Alex Griffin) to provide Ali's security during the lunar LARP.

The play starts when the players arrive on the moon, delighted with lunar weak gravity and with being part of this big event. Introductions and game start occur predictably, but the game goes haywire when terrorists seize the LARP lunar facility. Most power and communications are cut, and the terrorists capture the LARP players. Nobody understands the terrorists' goals, but the terrorists now completely control the LARP lunar facility and there's a new game in town: survive lunar terrorism.

The Moon Maze Game IMO settles into a mundane action story once terrorists seize the LARP lunar facility. Action stories are not necessarily bad, but the novel's character development is not sufficient to create good guy strong characters, and the terrorists bear a distinct resemblance to the terrorists from the 1988 film Die Hard. The rest of the novel depicts how the good guys improvise within lunar disabled infrastructure to outwit the terrorists. It's a well-written novel, but this novel differs from Larry Niven's usual fare.

The Goliath Stone with Matthew Joseph Harrington [2013]
This collaboration resembles a deli sandwich with a tasty multilayered plot. In the main plot line, twenty-five years ago Doctor Toby Glyer's Briareus Project sent a probe carrying nanobots (i.e., nanotechnology robots) to a close wandering asteroid; the nanobots were designed to divert the asteroid to Earth orbit where it could be profitably mined. The Briareus probe apparently failed upon reaching the asteroid, achieving no communication and no mission
progress, and in the intervening twenty-five years governments suppressed nanobot research and development. Astronomers then detect a much larger asteroid on a collision course with the Earth, and some suspect that the Briarus nanobots are guiding the sequel. World governments mobilize to counter the collision threat, including detaining all of the Briarus Project former participants; those former participants form an underground guerrilla movement seeking to avoid detention. Toby Glyer joins the underground and learns that one of his former researchers, William Connors, over the past twenty-five years has been actively developing nanobot technology with society-changing results.

Much of this novel revolves around nanobot potential capabilities achieved through both clustering and evolution. Nanobots are extremely small constructs (smaller than most biological cells) that are manufactured to perform a specific function often related to their chemical catalytic properties; in the foreseeable future, nanobots are not self-replicating and they are not cybernetics that can be reprogrammed. Yet the Briareus Project nanobots are both self-replicating and self-aware (essentially alive); through clustering they develop intelligence (a repetition of the Gw'oth clustering emergence discussed in Betrayer Of Worlds), redesign themselves to be smaller (resource conservation), absorb all technical knowledge incorporated within the Briareus Project probe's construction, and then continue evolving mentally (including achieving free will) while learning about human society by monitoring Earth broadcast media. Simultaneously, William Connors back on Earth has developed nanobots sufficiently advanced that they can act based upon their evaluation of an individual human's ethics. (I.e., deus ex nano-machina. Ponder that the next time you enjoy yogurt containing active cultures.) This novel's tone often reminds me of Robert Heinlein's classic novel Stranger In A Strange Land, and the William Connors character reminds me of musician / author Ed Sanders.

Suspending disbelief is good and appropriate when reading science fiction, but again (as in Betrayer Of Worlds) I cannot credence the organism's claimed capabilities. The clustered nanobots become remarkably brilliant and quick in their thinking and their physical actions, yet the nanobots are smaller than biological cells, and plants / animals (e.g., weeds and insects) are mentally- and physically-unremarkable cell clusters. My skepticism about nanobot potential distracted me from enjoying this novel. [Why are aliens always smarter than humans? If they're mentally superior to humans then they're aliens; otherwise they're plants / animals.]

As a garnish, the novel's dialog is loaded with Fandom (science fiction) references and trivia, usually in dialog where the characters play status games among themselves. I consider the included Fandom references and trivia to be a mixed blessing. A science fiction devoted fan will find the included references and trivia both clever and delightful. Yet a reader less versed in Fandom lore might remember that in an emergency you speak clearly and distinctly, and might regard the ever-present Fandom lore as a distracting excluding barrier against science fiction casual readers.

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