REVIEW SUMMARY: A great hard science fiction story that delivers more ideas in a single novel than most do in a series. Niven is a great writer, and this is a great collaboration.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Fleeing a chain-reaction supernovae in the galactic core, the Citizens (Puppeteers from Niven’s other books) take their planets and head out. This fleet of worlds comes across a human colony ship and turns the embryos they find into a race of slaves. Kirsten is one of the best and brightest and is eventually sent out to scout ahead of the fleet looking for danger. What she ends up discovering involves the history of her race and threatens to send the Citizen planets spinning out of control.
PROS: Niven and Lerner turn in a fantastic collaboration. Even if you haven’t read any of Niven’s known space novels you’ll find a lot to like here. Excellent set of ideas around the alternative evolution of life, exploiting teleportation, starship construction, and much more.
CONS: You really need to be a fan of science fiction to enjoy this book.
BOTTOM LINE: Set in the universe of the Ringworld novels, this book stands very well on its own and delivers a very strong hard science fiction experience. It is a great novel that is not to be missed.
Set 200 years before the discovery of the Ringworld, Niven and Lerner do a great job putting together a reasonable prequel. The story fits with the rest of the universe, but it isn’t necessary to have read any of the earlier works. I’m confident you will enjoy reading them in any order.
The alien creatures Niven has dreamed up are nothing short of fantastic. The Puppeteers are just as alien as ever with actions that are remorseless, back-stabbing, and cowardly. They aren’t evil, but act out of so much self-interest that they are a threat to any other race they encounter. In their mind, it is better to destroy a proto-race that might be a threat in several years than it is to take the risk of letting them proceed naturally. They also introduce an alien species that evolved entirely in the water under a moon crusted with ice.
My favorite part of the novel involve describing the pedestrian use of teleportation technology and all the various uses to which it might be put. From transferring cargo to crossing planets to getting food on the table the authors take a good look at the many ways something like this might be used. Should teleportation ever become viable for humans, they would do well to look at the ideas from this book.
I have read the other Known Space novels but it has been many years since I read one. As a result, some concepts are familiar but I’m not intimate with the series. I had no troubles reading this book and enjoying it and can’t see why somebody who hasn’t read any of the other books would find this one a challenge. However, I saw one reviewer indicate that he felt the opposite – that if you hadn’t read the previous books you would find this confusing. Certainly it is a valid opinion, but I might suggest that somebody who hasn’t read any of Niven’s other novels would be a better judge of this. My qualification is suspect here for the same reason.
I found this a great book to read and recommend it to others. This is the first of a two-volume series and has me anxiously awaiting the concluding chapters.