Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Larry Niven

Today is SFWA Grand Master Larry Niven's 81st birthday. I figured I'd compile a selection of my reviews of his work -- problem is, he hasn't done all that much short fiction during my time at Locus. But I do have some reviews of some of his older work from articles I've done for Black Gate over time. So there's enough ...

Problem is, this doesn't really capture how fun his work was when I was reading it in the mid-70s. I really loved his stuff -- the short stories like "Neutron Star" and "Not Long Before the End" and "Rammer" and "The Fourth Profession" and "Inconstant Moon". The Gil the Arm stories. All the Known Space novels, like A Gift From Earth and Protector. Unfortunately, none of those are covered below -- but they're good stuff, yes they are. Here's what I do have something written about:

Galaxy, October 1968

The one truly famous piece in this issue is Larry Niven's "All the Myriad Ways", in which a policeman puzzled by the recent wave of suicides ties them to the recent realization that there are infinite parallel worlds in which we each make slightly different decisions. The implication is that any decision we ourselves make is meaningless -- because "we" will make every possible different decision anyway, in another world. So, why not commit suicide? I remember being really blown away the first time I read the story, but somehow it didn't have the same impact on rereading, and somehow the logic that seemed inevitable on the first reading doesn't convince me now.

Vertex, August 1974

Niven's "Night on Mispek Moor" is set during another company war, this one on a planet of the Leshy circuit. The protagonist is a mercenary from another planet, trapped on the title moor and attacked by zombies. Not a bad story, nothing great.

Cosmos, May 1977

The three Niven pieces were the first three Draco Tavern stories he published. This has become a rather long series of short-shorts, continued to this day in Analog, featuring a first-person narrator named Rick Schumann, who owns a bar in Siberia which caters to a broad range of alien patrons, particularly the insect-like Chirpsithra, who claim to rule the Galaxy. These stories are "Cruel and Unusual", "The Subject is Closed", and "Grammar Lesson". All are slight as may be expected -- perhaps the best is "The Subject is Closed", in which a priest asks the Chirpsithra about life after death.

Odyssey, Summer 1976

(Cover by Boris Vallejo)
The lead story is Larry Niven's long novella, "The Magic Goes Away", about 26,000 words in this version. (It was published as an illustrated trade paperback from Ace in 1978 -- I believe that version is revised, and seems to be about 33,000 words.) The Niven novella is set in the world of his well-known story "Not Long Before the End", in which magic is real but the source of magic, mana, is running out. A swordsman named Orolandes is involved in the last burst of magical power. I remember enjoying it a fair bit as a teenager.

Tangent review of Analog, July-August 2000

The short stories are also a mixed, but decently solid, assortment.  Larry Niven's "The Wisdom of Demons" is a Draco Tavern story, the first I've seen in some years.  The tavern's owner, Dr. Rick Schumann, tells of a man who met an alien that really wanted to understand humans, and was willing to give the man whatever he wanted, in the form of one wish.  It's a fairly insubstantial story, but the result of the wish is clever enough.

Locus, August 2002

Also in the August Asimov's, a first rate issue, Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper offer a sequel to last year's "Ice and Mirrors". "Free Floaters" is set about a decade later.  Kimber and Eric are still partners and sometime lovers.  This story is told from Eric's POV, as they are given a new job, trying to make contact with a strange alien race which lives in the clouds of an isolated "free floating" Jovian world.  The story fairly entertainingly presents an unusual alien race, and perhaps less convincingly examines Kimber and Eric's relationship at a critical stage.

Locus, August 2005

Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper offer, in "Kath and Quicksilver", a fairly enjoyable far-future piece about a girl marooned on doomed Mercury as the Sun expands, and her interesting means of escape. But it fails to convince in its depiction of the far-future posthuman society. (I will say that I was amused by an apparent reference to a famous "mistake" in Niven's first published story, "The Coldest Place", in which Mercury was depicted as keeping one side always toward the Sun. This was "correct" as of time of writing, but obsolete by the time the story was published. In this story, the authors contrive to have Mercury once again orbiting the Sun with one side always facing it.)

Locus, November 2003

In the November Analog the two novelettes are probably the most interesting pieces. Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper offer "The Trellis", about a scientific station on Pluto, and the curious bio-engineered "trellis" of plants linking Pluto and Charon. An adventurous teenaged girl gets trapped on the trellis, and her father and an old man mount a rescue, hampered by the decaying equipment of the station. The twist is that the rescue is broadcast as a sort of virtual adventure entertainment, but this seemed to point an almost trivial moral.

No comments:

Post a Comment