Published by Tor
Larry Niven: http://www.larryniven.org
Edward M. Lerner http://www.sfwa.org/members/lerner/
In all my genre readings, some of the classics (both writers and books) slip by me or I never get around to them. Such is the case with Larry Niven’s Ringworld novel/saga. I knew of the series and Niven’s name cannot be missed when browsing science fiction and fantasy shelves. So, with Fleet of Worlds, I was introduced to Niven’s Known Space über-saga. This novel also marks the first time Niven has worked with another author on a novel-length Ringworld story, Edward M. Lerner an accomplished short-story writer in his on right. With a character from Niven’s first Ringworld novel (the Puppeteer Nessus), Fleet of Worlds will likely work for readers familiar with the saga, while people new to the Known Space universe (like myself) won’t feel out of sorts.
After the prologue introduces readers to The Long Pass, a starship that ominously disappears, the story jumps over 450 years to the “present” of the novel. The novel primarily tells the story of how humanity, in the 26th Century, uncovers a secret about its past. Humans in this future are somewhat subservient to the Puppeteers as we refer to them, Citizens, as they refer to themselves. Humans are treated a couple of notches above pets, almost a curiosity, and definitely below the Citizens themselves.
The humans who take the stage in this novel, Kristin, Ed, and Omar, are led by Citizen Nessus on exploratory mission in the galaxy to discover new life forms (i.e. potential alien threats). The mission which triggers the plot of the story is an observation of a new alien race, the Gw’oth, as these new aliens call themselves. Whether these scenes of alien discovery were penned by Lerner or Niven, I couldn’t tell, but they were intriguing. The aliens were very strange, with the closest analogue from our world is a combination of an octopus and starfish. Here, as with the later elaborations of Citizen culture, the alien narratives prove very fascinating.
For the intervening 400 years between the disappearance of The Long Pass and the “present” of the novel, humans are told by the Puppeteers/Citizens saved them from the disaster of that long ago ship and helped to bring the race back into substantial existence. When Kristin and her human crew delve deeper into the history of their race and The Long Pass, they hope to find the truth behind the tragedy of The Long Pass.
The storyline of the Fleet of Worlds rotates between Kristen et al.’s search for the truth of their racial origins and the politics Nesssus encounters on the Puppeteer home world. The Puppeteers (as many science fiction readers know) are aliens with two front legs, and a single hindleg ending in hooved feet with two snake-like heads rather than a humanoid upper body. These two heads act almost as hands, too. The details of the Puppeteers politics (both national and sexual) are described very well and add to the depth of the future world. Again, readers familiar with the Known Space saga may find some retreading here, but as a reader new to the saga, these story elements balanced rather well with everything else.
I suppose many readers will find the story of human ingenuity and persistence in the face of an older race of aliens to be familiar. At times the dialogue, particularly the inner dialogue, rang a bit trite, but the overall story was fun and entertaining.
Niven and Lerner are planning to continue the storyline begun in this novel with another Known Space novel set before Ringworld’s discovery. If the follow-up is as enjoyable as this novel, it should prove a worthy addition to what is an already rich and diverse Science Fictional universe. I look forward to reading that book as well as discovering more novels set in this universe.
© 2007 Rob H. Bedford