Friday 24 June 2011

Fleet of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

I loved Larry Niven's Known Space series when I first encountered the stories in the late 1960s, and the jewel in that crown - Ringworld - remains one of my favourite SF novels. I thoroughly enjoyed a re-read a few years ago. It's been a long time since I read a new one, though, and I approached Fleet of Worlds with some trepidation. Not only because of the length of time since the concept was fresh but also because this one (first published 2007) was written in partnership with another author. In my experience, sequels of much-loved books written in these circumstances are generally not worth bothering with. Fortunately, this one proved to be better than I feared. However, prospective readers should read Ringworld and preferably some of the earlier Known Space stories first, otherwise they will miss a lot of the references.

The story is set 200 years before Ringworld but the prologue takes place 500 years earlier still, on a human sub-light speed starship with a cargo of thousands of embryos on its way to colonise a planet of a distant sun - a voyage which is abruptly interrupted. The setting then jumps forward 500 years to the Puppeteers' cluster of Home Worlds in their long flight from the supernova explosion in the galactic core (as described in Ringworld). But the Puppeteers are not the only inhabitants of their worlds - one of them contains a large colony of humans who work for them. It becomes apparent that the humans are the descendents of the colonists in the starship. The Puppeteers had taught them English but, anxious to keep the location of their Home Worlds a secret from any potential threat, had preventing them from discovering anything about their origins or the location of Earth.

The plot concerns the efforts of some of the humans to outwit the Puppeteers and discover their origins, mixed with internal politics of the Puppeteers (in which the character of Nessus, familiar from Ringworld, has a starring role). There is also some Puppeteer meddling with affairs on Earth, where they are already known for selling the invulnerable General Products spaceship hulls. The paranoid Puppeteers are desperate to prevent their tame humans and the Earth humans from finding out about each other, for fear of the reactions on both sides. They are prepared to go to any lengths to preserve their security, revealing a darker side to their engaging personalities.

Inevitably, the story lacks the freshness and originality - and the sheer sense of fun - of Ringworld and the other original Known Space books and it took me a while to get into it, but I became increasingly engaged as I read on. Not a ground-breaker, but worth the read. I note that there have been three sequels: Juggler of Worlds published in 2008, Destroyer of Worlds in 2009, and Betrayer of Worlds in 2010. I'm not going to be buying all of these in one go, but I think I'll try the next one to see how the series develops.


Chimeradave said...

It sounds like a neat book. I always wanted to explore the Puppeteers culture more.

Carl V. Anderson said...

Thanks for reviewing this. I have the most recent book, a review copy from Tor Books, but of course have no desire to read it without reading the others first. I've been wondering about Fleet of Worlds.

Other than a short story or two, the only Known Universe story I have read is Ringworld. I was very impressed by it and want to read Ringworld Engineers and some of the other books at some point. There is always too much to read.

Glad to know that once I get to this I have a decent chance of enjoying it.

Anthony G Williams said...

Carl, Ringworld Engineers is OK, but not as good as Ringworld, and Ringworld Throne slips further down still.

You might want to try to earlier Known World books, like World of Ptavvs, Protector, A Gift From Earth, Neutron Star (short stories). They're all great fun.

Bill Garthright said...

Hmm,... it sounds like the "pro-life" movement has been wildly successful in this future, Tony, if embryos are out colonizing new planets. :)

I loved Ringworld, and I enjoyed the early Known Space stories, too. But like you, I wondered about this one.

I still don't know. These days, a book pretty well has to hook me immediately. I just have no patience anymore. And I do want a book with a real "sense of fun." But still, it sounds intriguing.

Thanks for the review!

Fred said...

I agree with your evaluation of the "Ringworld" series. The first is excellent, but the quality drops off with each successive sequel.

Two of Niven's collections of short works that I really enjoyed are

_Flatlanders_--all of the stories about Gil the Arm--a cop who fights organleggers on an Earth where the penalty for all crimes is the death penalty and the organs are reserved for transplants


_Crashlander--all of the stories about Beowulf Schaeffer, the main character in "Neutron Star" and many of the "Known World" tales.

Anthony G Williams said...

Agreed Fred, I don't normally buy anthologies of short stories, but Niven's Known Space books I made an exception for. He was a red-hot author at that period and I loved everything he wrote.