Footfall (1985) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Footfall1I originally had all these great ideas for making fun of reviewing my latest Niven-Pournelle Hugo-nominated disaster read, the main one being that I was going to list every single character intro in this 100-and-some-odd number cast, a la Ross Putman @femscriptintros, just to demonstrate how ridiculous and sexist these guys are at character descriptions.

Example:

She was about Jeanette’s age, and she would have been pretty if she’d washed her face and put on some lipstick. She was frowning heavily as she drank coffee. (loc. 415).

It would’ve made for a long post, as some of those character descriptions get, er, lingering, but I was up for it.

But then, BUT THEN, I discovered this: Continue reading

Inferno (1975) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Inferno1Abandon all hope… she’s reviewing another NivPourn book.

A comedy: less divine, more contrapasso. Perhaps a small penance for those bloggers who make fun of old classics, including that awesome time-travel story you loved when you were eleven and now you haven’t the social-awareness and maturity to admit to the shortcomings of things you enjoy. I’m sure I had it coming.

In Inferno, Larry and Jerry’s 1975 novel serialized in Galaxy, science fiction writer Allen Carpenter (Jesus reference! Jesus reference!) dies after a drunken fall at a science fiction convention. He recovers to find himself in a timeless void until his guide, some guy named Benito, rescues him from a bottle and takes him through the vestibule and into the ten circles of Hell. The rational, agnostic Carpenter prefers to think he’s in a far-future theme park called Infernoland. Modeled off of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno and C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, Niven and Pournelle parody the pedantic mindset of the Hard sci-fi writer.

But, when even Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle are surprised by the success of one of their books, you know you have stumbled upon an INSIGNIFICANT MOMENT OF GENRE HISTORYYYYY.
Continue reading

The Integral Trees (1984) by Larry Niven

TheIntegralTrees1

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

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

themoteingodseye1

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

Protector (1973) by Larry Niven

protectorIt took me over a week to read this little 200-page book, but not for any reason other than lack of time (and the embarrassment of reading the above pictured paperback in public*). I would have preferred to read it in one or two quick sittings, in order to match the pace and style of the story. The story itself covers lots of temporal space, taking place over a few centuries (and thousands of millennia, really), but Niven’s style is sparse and germane enough to skip over that unnecessary human content and get down to the brass tacks. “Time. Setting. Person. This is what happened. This is what the characters need to find out. This is how they investigate. And this is how a Bussard ramjet works.”

It sounds boring, but it’s not. Niven’s brochure-style writing is enriched by his imaginative ideas about human origins, evolution, and wonked-out space worlds with weird grav. And I really just stuck around for the sweet potatoes. <– this is fun (here, too!) Continue reading