Reviews: Niven, Larry

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A World Out of Time — Larry Niven

ISFDB lists 1976’s A World Out of Time as one of Larry Niven’s State novels1, which it is. I liked to think of it as the last fun Niven novel. Having reread it, I am not so sure that’s right.

Jerome Branch Corbell had himself frozen in 1970 in a desperate bid to escape terminal cancer. In 2190, a man with Corbell’s memories woke up to discover a world unlike any Corbell had expected back in 1970, a world that expected him to expiate a crime he had no memory of committing … with a mission that would consume three centuries.

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And I Think to Myself, What a Wonderful World

Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven — Larry Niven

1975’s Tales of Known Space: the Universe of Larry Niven was Larry Niven’s sixth collection (if you don’t count the British-only Inconstant Moon and the Dutch De Stranden van Sirius Vier) or his eighth (if you do.). It is the fourth instalment in an informal series I call “the essential collections of Larry Niven [1], being an irregular review series I may not even get around to finishing or continuing” (or tagging or giving its own formal series name in the sidebar).

An unkind reviewer might call this “the Known Space stories that weren’t good enough to make it into Neutron Star. ” That’s not entirely true … but Niven himself acknowledges that a couple of the stories are not very good. Rather than bury them and try to conceal that they ever existed, he opted for completism (although it took another couple of collections to accomplish that goal).

There’s a very good reason beyond being a Niven fanboy as a teen that I picked this up. I will explain my reasoning at the end of the review.

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Exhibit A

The Flying Sorcerers — David Gerrold & Larry Niven

David Gerrold and Larry Niven’s 1971 standalone novel, The Flying Sorcerers, was Gerrold’s first published novel and Niven’s fourth. Even though this book uses the vernacular of fantasy, it is a science fiction comedy. More on that last bit later.

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The dead man, the teleporter and the bartender

A Hole in Space — Larry Niven

This is my third foray into what I have decided to call “the essential collections of Larry Niven, being an irregular review series I may not even get around to finishing or continuing” (or, as it turned out, tagging or giving its own formal series name in the sidebar).

The actual physical book I am reviewing is something of a mystery, because I have no idea how I ended up with a copy of the 1974 printing of A Hole in Space . I clearly remember that the first Niven book I bought was the 1975 edition of Neutron Star


I liked it enough to snap up all the subsequent Niven collections. The book sitting on my desk is clearly the 1974 printing and was purchased new; both the price and the absence of the distinctive cover format Ballantine/Del Rey used for Niven in the latter half of the 1970 make that clear. Did I buy an old, but previously unsold copy that had lingered on bookstore shelves?

At first I thought that this book might be a relic of the failed commune that trashed my family’s farm. (Bad decision to rent to them, bad, bad.) They left behind a lot of junk. My copy of Beyond This Horizon is a hippy relic. But on second thought, I realized that we had cleared away the last remnants of the commune by 1971, or 1972 at the latest. Unless the hippies had developed a time machine just for buying books from the future, this book could not have been left by them. It’s a puzzle I will probably never solve.

(Trivial? Well, it matters to me, OK? Provenance is important to collectors.)

This was for many years my favourite Niven collection. Has time been kind to it?

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Remember when Niven was fun?

All the Myriad Ways — Larry Niven

I will be blunt: this second foray into what I have decided to call “the essential collections of Larry Niven, being an irregular review series I may not even get around to finishing or continuing” is an attempt to get the taste of Vernor Vinge’s The Witling out of my mouth.

1971’s All the Myriad Ways was Niven’s third collection after 1968’s Neutron Star and 1969’s The Shape of Space (which I will not bother to review, because I’ve never seen a copy and anyway all the stories were repeated in later collections; it’s not essential). All the Myriad Ways collects stories published between 1965 and 1971, most of them from the later years of that span 1.


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Man versus Motie

The Mote in God’s Eye — Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
Moties, book 1

1974’s Mote in God’s Eye was the first collaboration between Niven, by then a winner of multiple Hugo Awards, and Pournelle, the winner of the 1973 Campbell for Best New Writer. Readers could be excused for expecting a lot from this novel given who wrote it. They must have liked what they found, because this earned nominations for both the Best Novel Hugo (losing to Le Guin’s The Dispossessed) and the Best Novel Nebula (losing to Haldeman’s The Forever War). Forty-one years later, does it still stand up?

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Lucifer’s Hammer

Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

The 1970s were a golden age of disaster movies and books; skyscrapers burned down, nuclear reactors melted down, and earthquakes leveled cities. First published in 1977, Lucifer’s Hammer was a late entry into that genre0 but what it lacked in timing it made up for in scale; where previous entries had wrecked cities, Hammer smashed the planet and where others killed hundreds, Hammer killed billions. It’s a shame, therefore, that one could easily envision D.W. Griffith filming it and not for the spectacle.

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Footfall

Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

I remembered Footfall as one of those excessively long science fiction novels of the pre-Aught Three and when I picked it up I was surprised to see that my May 1986 Del Rey mass market paperback was only 582 pages (including the authors’ bios at the end), barely an evening’s read. When I put the book back down eight long hours later, I was still surprised that Footfall was only 582 pages because the authors managed cram in the mediocrity and tedium of a much longer novel.

It’s still better than a lot of the competition.

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Neutron Star

Larry Niven

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.

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