Inferno – Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

Author Allen Carpentier is at a science fiction convention when he falls out of the window of his hotel room. He finds himself in Hell. Determined to grasp control of the situation and achieve redemption, he starts on a journey through a slightly modified version of Dante‘s hell, guided by a man called Benito.

The idea behind this novel is classic. A modern retelling of Dante’s Inferno! Great fun despite the subject matter.

Ringworld’s Children – Larry Niven

In the fourth Ringworld novel, Louis Wu is, as usual, conscripted to do a powerful being’s bidding. In this case it is the Protector Tunesmith.

Ringworld and The Ringworld Engineers are some of the best hard SF books ever written. On the other hand, The Ringworld Throne was an enormous disappointment, and given that I expected to dislike this offering. I was pleasantly surprised. The characters are well defined as usual with Niven, and the story, while not too complex, runs along nicely.

The days of truly epic tales from Niven seem to be over. Nowadays, he writes little idea pieces like this one, or collaborates with other authors. If you enjoyed the first two Ringworld novels, you will like this one. However, I think it would be impossible to read without having first read the other ones, and probably some of the other Known Space stories.

The Flight of the Horse – Larry Niven

In this, hilarious short story collection, time traveller from the future Svetz has to go back in time and collect fauna from our time in order to populate the ruler’s zoo. Unfortunately, the time machine has the unexpected side effect of making him chase after mythical creatures. The horse is actually a unicorn and so on. The past is a fantasy version of the real past. Poor Svetz has to contend with quite a few mishaps with dragons and the like. A lot of fun, much of it with Svetz as the punchline.

The Flying Sorcerers – David Gerrold & Larry Niven

Shoogar is the greatest wizard his primitive village has ever known. Then a strange new wizard literally drops from the sky. Of course, they new wizard comes from a very advanced culture. Mayhem ensues.

There is a lot of humor in this book as magic meets technology. There are also many more or less good puns. I enjoyed it but it is far from a must read. The joke gets a bit old.

The Magic Goes Away – Larry Niven

In ancient times, there was magic in the world. But the supply of mana, on which magic is based, is dwindling. Creatures with magical metabolisms, such as dragons, are in serious trouble, and in general the world is becoming a less mystical place. A group of adventurers sets out to find the last remaining source of mana.

The idea underlying the novel is very clever. Unfortunately it is not very good. It is based on the short story Not Long Before the End but the idea doesn’t scale very well to a full length novel.

 

The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring – Larry Niven

Set in the same universe as A World out of Time but only very tenously connected to that novel, these series of two should be read as a set. The novels are set in which is not really a world. A “smoke rIng” of atmosphere and biomass orbits around a neutron star, forming a huge but habitable donut-shaped space. In other words, no gravity. Humans have colonised this “smoke ring” in various ways. Enjoyable, but more for the wickedly cool setting than for the stories.

Note: These are now also published in an omnibus edition.

A Gift from Earth – Larry Niven

Set in Niven’s Known Space, more specifically on the world of Plateau, where the only habitable location is Mount Lookitthat, an area half the size of California that rises above the toxic clouds that range the planet. The crew of the initial colony ship set up an elitist society in which “crew” are first class citizens and “colonists” are lower class. This distinction is particularly noticeable when it comes to medical care. Capital punishment is used even for small offenses. Convicted criminals are harvested for their organs, thus allowing “crew” to extend their lives with transplants. Then a ship comes from Earth with some disruptive new technology.

While not one of the more flamboyant Known Space novels, it is cleverly constructed around some very intriguing ideas. Classic Niven.

A World out of Time – Larry Niven

This novel is an expansion of the short story Rammer from the collection A Hole in Space. Jaybee Corbell wakes up after having being cryogenically frozen after death  Now he must repay his debt to society (being cured of his cancer and woken up cost a lot of money) by piloting an exploratory ramship to seed planets around the galaxy, a mission that will take centuries. He rebels and takes his ship on a long tour of the galaxy at relativistic speeds, ending up back on earth millions of years later. Reminded me a little of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, except for the lack of a means for return.

While the short story that formed the basis is fantastic, this novel length expansion, while solid, falls a bit short of the mark.

Man-Kzin Wars volumes I-XI – Created by Larry Niven

A long running anthology series with stories set during the Man-Kzin Wars in Larry Niven’s Known Space universe. Niven started this thing up because while the Wars were very significant in the history of Known Space, he himself was not adept at writing about conflict. Niven has written some of the stories but most are by other authors. The writing ranges from average to excellent. Recommended if you are a fan of Known Space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flatlander – Larry Niven

All the Gil “The Arm” Hamilton stories collected in one volume with a previously unpublished story. These are good SciFi murder mysteries set in the Known Space universe. It just goes to show that Niven has a devious mind. As he says himself, SciFi murder stories are tricky since the reader must know all the “rules” of the environment in order to have a shot at solving the mystery himself.

Note: Most of the stories were previously published in “The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton”.

The World of Ptaavs – Larry Niven

Chronologically the first of Niven‘s Known Space books, and also his first published novel. An alien who has been frozen in stasis for eons is awoken. He comes from a former master race (quite literally) and poses a grave danger to humanity.

Solid adventure SciFi with some very clever concepts.

Note: Various editions have the title with or without initial “The”.

The Bohr Maker; Deception Well; Vast – Linda Nagata

These three very loosely connected novels span thousand of years. Nagata writes competently about a future in which humanity is first technologically lifting itself off earth, and finally scattered about a hostile universe. I enjoyed them even though Nagata does two things which annoy me. The first is that the novels are in parts rather boring. Nothing much happens. The other thing is that she can be very  depressing. Vast especially makes me feel just a bit too small in a vast (heh) universe.

Building Harlequin’s Moon – Larry Niven & Brenda Cooper

Niven is at his best in collaboration, and this is no exception. Building Harlequin’s Moon is is a story in many layers. The main plot line is about the first interstellar starship, escaping a Sol System full of renegade AIs and nanotech, escaping to reclaim humanity. But there is a malfunction and the starship is stranded in a barren star system partway to its goal. More antimatter is needed to refuel the ship, and the colonists refuse to use nanotech due to their belief that nanotech leads to evil. The only option is to spend sixty thousand years (yes it’s a long time but they can extend their lifespans indefinitely) building a habitable moon out of smaller ones, and then populating it with flora, fauna, humans, and then finally industrializing and constructing a huge collider to make antimatter. Rachel is a “Moon Born” “Child”, basically a slave to the goal of ultimately fueling the ship. But what no colonist counted on was that the Children are human too, and once the cogs in the plan are live humans, you have to look them in the eye. The titanic endeavor is ambitious in the extreme, but is it worth the cost to their souls?

On another level, the story is about Rachel, from her rather innocent teenage years to her coming of age as a leader of her people. And on yet another level, it’s about what makes us human. Our values, our biology, our goals?

The rather slow style of the book suits the story well, and events are followed in a careful fashion as we move, never too fast, through the action.

Building Harlequin’s Moon is full of wonderful three dimensional characters. Niven & Cooper ensure that even the most seemingly irrational and heartless protagonist is well understood by the reader as they delve deeply into her motivations. This novel shows humans at their best and worst, and it is impossible not to be entranced by the adventures of Rachel, Gabriel and the others. This is quite simply a masterpiece.

Ringworld and The Ringworld Engineers – Larry Niven

Arguably Niven’s best solo novels, as well as the ultimate BDO (Big Dumb Object) story. Great adventure in an incredible setting with trademark Niven “quirky characters”. They’re not perfect but the sense of wonder created is second to none.

Interestingly, the premise of The Ringworld Engineers, that the Ringworld is unstable, was figured out by physicists after the first novel was published. At the 1971 World Science Fiction Convention, MIT students were chanting “The Ringword is unstable!” Hence why our heroes need to fix the problem.

The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

Arguably the best story about first contact ever written. A ship comes careening into a human system. The pilot is dead, and strange, and it has apparently traveled for years at sublight speeds to get there. Even more strange is the fact that the ship hardly seems enough to sustain it. Two ships are dispatched to a star system hidden inside a nebula to contact the aliens. The society of “Moties” they find is very strange, and very fascinating, almost as fascinating as the creatures themselves. What they fail to realize is that the truth behind Motie society is deeply disturbing and will be a danger to all humanity.

It has aged very slightly due to the its being written in the seventies, but this hardly detracts from the magnificence of this novel. Manages to capture the essence of encountering the truly alien, and how humans have a hard time not placing their own values and prejudices on that which they do not understand.