Friday 4 January 2013

Juggler of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

Juggler of Worlds is the second of these authors' World series (there are four so far) and is the sequel to Fleet of Worlds, reviewed here in June 2011. JoW continues the story of the Puppeteers and their attempts to keep their "tame" human servants and the "wild" humans of Known Space (Earth and its independent colony worlds) from discovering each other's existence. However, there is a significant shift of focus from that in FoW, which concentrates on the story of the tame humans and their attempts to discover their origins and obtain their freedom as well as going into far more detail concerning the Puppeteers and their society and politics. While FoW fits into the long-established Known Space sequence, the material in it is mostly new.

In contrast, JoW is principally seen through the eyes of the Earth-based paranoid ARM agent Sigmund Ausfaller, as he attempts to discover what the Puppeteers are up to and why they have suddenly closed down all of their businesses on other planets and disappeared. A number of characters familiar from Niven's original Known Space stories re-emerge, especially Beowulf Shaeffer and Carlos Wu. Not only that, but a number of familiar stories are repeated (including Shaeffer's epic flight to the galactic core and the discovery by Shaeffer and Gregory Pelton of an anti-matter star system) only this time mainly from Ausfaller's viewpoint. This is the principal weakness of JoW; much of it seems concerned with recycling familiar events to fit into the book's framework rather than telling a new story.

As a result, I found that I was constantly distracted as I read the novel and realised I had read parts of it before in other contexts, and kept trying to recall what had happened then. This gave a very disjointed feel to the story and made it difficult for me to get involved in it. Ominously, I found that I kept losing the thread and forgetting the minor characters from one day to the next and needed to refresh my memory at the start of each reading session; a sure sign that it wasn't gripping me. I did grit my teeth and persevere with it, and fortunately was mildly rewarded at the end when the plot returned to the Puppeteer worlds and their tame humans for a dramatic finale - which also, of course, sets up the next volume.

Despite the satisfactory ending my main feeling was relief at having finished it. I found it disappointing and will probably not bother to read the next two books in the series.


Bill Garthright said...

That's a shame, Tony, though it doesn't surprise me too much. I was a huge fan of Larry Niven's early Known Space stories, but he lost me in later years.

I was waiting to hear that these were wonderful, which is what it would have taken to get me interested again. Oh, well, I really didn't expect that.

Thanks for the reviews!

Anthony G Williams said...

You're welcome, Bill!

Fleet of Worlds was a lot more promising, but it would probably be too much to expect the same sense of magical wonder as in the original stories from over 40 years ago.