These days Larry Niven is perhaps best known for turgid, lifeless prose, advocacy of race-based medical fraud and other choice examples of right-wing cane-wavery, but extraordinary as it may seem to younger readers, there was a time in the long long ago when readers willingly picked up his books for reasons other than desire for self-flagellation.
I first encountered Niven in the August 1970 issue of Playboy, where his Svetz story “Leviathan” appeared, and while it held my attention long enough to finish the story, I don’t think I took note of his name at the time. What got me hooked on Niven was this collection, first published in 1968; my edition is from 1975 and it was almost certainly the Rick Sternbach cover that got me to pick it up, but it was the stories inside that got me to keep picking up his books.
I know my comments are going to come off as half-hearted for the most part but in the two years between when I bought this and when I apparently stalled in mid-book (going by the two library slips I found between the pages) I read this until it was battered and scuffed. Part of the issue is it is hard to read these stories as naively as I did when I was 14 but I think it’s also possible I reread this so often I buffed off my Heinlein receptors.
I bought this in the summer of 1977 and while I don’t remember buying it I do remember reading it next to Columbia Lake at the University of Waterloo. I think the lake had been closed to swimmers 1 by then but maybe we dropped by to hang out next to it on the bank.
What impressed me at the time about this book was the sweep of history, as the immortal protagonist witnesses a thousand years of history. Why it was this book that struck me that way and not, say, the Foundation series I am not sure but it could have been that Foundation changes points of view as it changes eras.
I don’t know for a fact this was overlooked when it came out a decade ago but I remember that Bantam Spectra didn’t seem to be doing a stellar job of promoting their authors at the time and Williams move to Night Shade is at least suggestive.
What I actually set out to read what Williams’ Banner of Souls but whatever place I thought was an intuitively obvious place to file it wasn’t the W section of my paperback/trade/ARC F&SF library. I hope to stumble over Banner of Souls at some point but until then have a review of an entirely different book. As it turns out I have apparently been confusing by copy of this with my copy of Banner for over a decade and had never actually read it so this really worked out in my favour. Although I still want to reread Banner of Souls.
Although Laumer is probably best known for his Retief and his Bolo stories or perhaps the medical calamity that overshadowed the majority of his career, this particular book is significant to me because it happens to be the very first Laumer I ever encountered, spotted during of my covert forays up into the adult section of Waterloo Public Library.
Right after the superfluous prologue we get a hint Things Have Changed from the date: Sarday, Ma 35, 2190. Ban Tarleton is a loyal, excessively loyal, officer in the United Planetary Navy, taking the claims of his superiors at face value and interpreting what he sees in light of the lies he has been raised on.
This is the book that made me ask on Facebook if it makes sense to talk about an Andre Norton lineage of SF writers. In many ways it’s what you might get if Norton had been a better writer. In others, it’s what you might get if the X-Men used a draft to gain recruits.
Well, this didn’t play out the way I expected. This was for many years my go-to book for how not to write hard SF but on rereading after a lapse of 20 years I find a book that while flawed definitely has strengths.