The Integral Trees (1984) by Larry Niven

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Not about a crucified Peter Pan.

Question: If an integral tree falls in a gas torus space jungle, and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Answer: Your question is invalid. The tree might waver a bit, but air resistance would restabilize the structure, though it might shift nearer to its neutron star, causing a drought, which might result in the starvation of its inner-tuft inhabitants. Duh.

The last time I reviewed a Larry Niven book, I noticed that his penchant for Hard Science detail impacted not only the setting, for which he is so famous, but also the social structure of his two depicted cultures. The humans are dealt like playing cards: “The Captain,” “The Scottish Engineer,” “The Plucky Female” (effff). The alien culture is built into an all too familiar hierarchy: White on top, Brown on bottom, with little suggestion of struggle or complexity within the system.

I’m sure this is all very satisfying to Hard SF fans who like to fit characters into their proper toolbox compartments, but it’s called “soft science” for a reason. Hard edges are neither plausible nor compelling when dealing with people.

With 1984’s Integral Trees, (which I liked all right and I’ll get to that eventually), we see a continuation of the Hard SF habit influencing other areas of typically, er, soft portrayal. The following is uncut, but with my interjections. I repeat, nothing is missing from the following excerpt: Continue reading

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Emergence (1984) by David Palmer

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Hi again, Posterity. Happy to see me?

What do you mean you forgot about me?

Coming off the heels of the Clarke being awarded to Yet Another Post-Apocalyptic Tale, also known as “The Stand: but this time motivated by a book that is not The Holy Bible,” (that would be Station Eleven, an enjoyable, character-driven read, but weak on the SF elements, lacking in originality, that ultimately let me down), I bring you an even cooler, more original post-apocalyptic tale. YA, epistolary, Hard, and Heinlein-inspired, it sounds like something I would read with gloves, mask, and tongs, so as not to tarnish my pretentious sensibilities.

But this. This is good. Continue reading

The Mote in God’s Eye (Moties #1) (1974) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

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That’s because you helped write it, Bob.

A recent conversation in the Couch household:

“So, um, I’m reading this book…”

“As usual.”

“It’s about these far future humans who encounter unknown aliens in another system.”

“As usual.”

“So, these aliens… they’re kind of like humans, except they’re asymmetrical.”

“That’s weird.”

“Well, because they evolved outside of gravity or something like that, but anyway…”

“Obviously.”

“Well, yeah, but anyway, these aliens… they have a caste system…”

Continue reading

Mission of Gravity (1953) by Hal Clement

MissionOfGravity(1stEd)Clement’s acclaimed 1953 novel Mission of Gravity reminds me of a song we used to sing in my Girl Scouts Brownie troupe: Goin on a squeegie hunt… Oh, no, it’s a tall tree! Can’t go over it… can’t go under it… have to go through it… (Repeat the verse with a new obstacle… and it goes on and on and on. I dropped out soon after. The song may or may not have had something to do with it.) And thus it’s the same for our missioneers, human and alien alike, who encounter new obstacles in each chapter, but overcome those obstacles with sensible, pragmatic solutions, talking out every detail in a calm, relaxed manner that may be just a wee bit boring to witness. Reading this book is like eavesdropping on a housing development planning committee, with the engineer and the architect doing most of the talking. I would totally go on an adventure with these people because I know I would be safe, but I don’t think anyone would want to read about it afterward. Continue reading