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?
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.
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.
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.