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TOPIC: Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Larry Niven

Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Larry Niven 01 Feb 2015 20:35 #197052

Engineer Al shares his love of Science Fiction literature.

I have always loved Science Fiction. Maybe it all started with Saturday Morning cartoons, but I disappeared into novels and short stories at a very young age. When I was a kid in grade school my mother would force me outside on nice days for exercise and “fresh air”, but most of the time I would bring my current science fiction escape and sit beneath a tree in the backyard, lost between the pages. At this point in my life I have collected quite an impressive library, full of old favorites and new acquisitions waiting to be devoured.I thought it would be fun to share my library with my F:ATie friends.

When I was in High School my buddy Dan turned me on to Larry Niven.

“He’s not the greatest writer in the world,” he told me “but he has great ideas.”

Dan loaned me one of Niven's early works, I believe it was PROTECTOR. I was instantly taken. Niven’s Known Space novels have the adventure and world building of Heinlein and the hard science of Asimov, somehow mixed with the outrageous absurdity of Lost in Space. The Kzinti, for example, are giant, war like, cat people. . .

I’ve been reading Niven for many years now. I LOVE all of his early works including WORLD OF PTAVVS, A GIFT FROM EARTH, PROTECTOR, and all of his short story collections from the 1960’s and 1970’s. He is of course best known for his RINGWORLD books, but this to me is the beginning of the end. Some writers get better with age. Niven is not one of them. RINGWORLD is not bad, but his following efforts often feel like a reach for the same thing. RINGWORLD ENGINEERS was dull and disappointing. THE INTEGRAL TREES and THE SMOKE RING were horrible. Some of his work with Jerry Pournelle is surprisingly impressive. I don’t usually like books written by two authors (makes me think too much about who wrote what) but I loved LUCIFER’S HAMMER and especially THE MOTE IN GOD’S EYE. THE GRIPPING HAND, a sequel to MOTE was horrible. Still, it didn’t stop me from abusing myself with RINGWORLD THRONE and especially LEGACY OF THE HEROT which was so bad I literally tossed it in the garbage at the end. I told myself at that point that I was done with Niven, or at least that I wouldn’t read anything he wrote after 1979. Nonetheless, when I saw a NEW Known Space novel in the bookstore a few years ago, (JUGGLER OF WORLDS) I couldn’t stop myself. Oh well. “Fool me twice, shame on me. . .”

Other opinions? Any other Niven fans? I would love to know!

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Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Larry Niven 12 Jul 2017 13:09 #251137

Hey, great article. I'm reading my first Niven novel, Ringworld, good tip on going backwards with him, PROTECTOR next, maybe?
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Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Larry Niven 12 Jul 2017 13:40 #251139

when are we getting to the Twilight novels? I've never even heard of this stuff.
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Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Larry Niven 12 Jul 2017 15:11 #251140

I agree with Al's overall assessment of Niven. Ringworld and his other early Known Space work is great. The Magic Goes Away had some interesting ideas, but was a thin story. Ringworld Engineers was less interesting, aside from a very wild interpretation of the concept of luck. Everything that Niven wrote alone after Ringworld Engineers was worse.

Niven's collaborations with Pournelle are better, but follow the same downward path. The Mote in God's Eye remains one of the all-time great first contact stories. Lucifer's Hammer is one of the best post-apocalypse novels. I love Inferno as a modern sequel to Dante's Inferno. Oath of Fealty had some good ideas, but wasn't great, and the same goes for The Legacy of Heorot. Footfall was forgettable.

I also liked the Dream Park series, co-written with Steven Barnes. Each book tells two stories, one about the characters in a live-action fantasy rpg, the other about the players of those characters in a high-tech future. The first one is great, and third one is nearly as good but has too many characters.

As an overall rule of thumb, nearly everything that Niven wrote before 1981 is good, and nearly everything after that point is average or worse.
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Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Larry Niven 12 Jul 2017 15:32 #251141

I think that my entry point to Niven was his collaboration with Pournelle on Lucifer's Hammer. After reading Inferno and Mote, I went on to check out their individual work, and it was interesting to see the synergy of their collaborations after reading their solo works. Niven is better at writing dialogue and handling relationships between characters. Pournelle tells a more focused story and is one of the sci-fi writers when it comes to warfare. Niven is more imaginative and Pournelle is better with practical details.
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Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Larry Niven 12 Jul 2017 17:21 #251146

I liked Ringworld, enough. Integral Trees and the 3 or 4 other novels I;ve tried did not stick. But I love his short stories, and have all those in collected anthologies.

I would agree that he had great ideas but was not well suited to writing novel prose.

Farmer gets similar treament from me - Riverworld was novel, quirky and at least had an interesting protagonis. But his short stories were the thing that I really enjoyed.
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Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Larry Niven 12 Jul 2017 17:49 #251147

boothwah wrote:
I liked Ringworld, enough. Integral Trees and the 3 or 4 other novels I;ve tried did not stick. But I love his short stories, and have all those in collected anthologies.

I would agree that he had great ideas but was not well suited to writing novel prose.

Farmer gets similar treament from me - Riverworld was novel, quirky and at least had an interesting protagonis. But his short stories were the thing that I really enjoyed.

If you value your sanity and you are a fan of Tarzan or Doc Savage, avoid A Feast Unknown at all costs. It is a vile fanfic written by Farmer during his prime, and actually got published despite book-banning worthy subject matter. And I am normally opposed to book burning.
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Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Larry Niven 12 Jul 2017 18:24 #251149

Shellhead wrote:

If you value your sanity and you are a fan of Tarzan or Doc Savage, avoid A Feast Unknown at all costs. It is a vile fanfic written by Farmer during his prime, and actually got published despite book-banning worthy subject matter. And I am normally opposed to book burning.


I had no idea any such thing existed. So I, in complete reckless abandonment of your well needed admonishment, immediately googled it to see what it was.


I can't imagine what reading the actual prose would do for you. I feel uncomfortable for having read the synopsis.

The plot summary for other curious people too stupid to not stare into the headlights - This will at least save you from the screen shot of the book cover* :

Warning: Spoiler! [ Click to expand ]



*Funny Footnote : That cover bears a striking resemblance to the Shower Rescue Field Guide.
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Last Edit: 12 Jul 2017 18:26 by boothwah.
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Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Larry Niven 12 Jul 2017 20:37 #251156

I hate to hear that about Farmer. I was a huge Doc Savage fan growing up and loved Farmer's "Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life".

I'm not sure what I read first from Larry Niven but I read most everything in the 70's and 80's. One thing I haven't seen mentioned is the Magic goes away series, which I enjoyed. I seem to remember.picking up the Ringworld RPG in college.
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Engineer Al's Sci-Fi Library: Larry Niven 12 Jul 2017 21:45 #251164

Brewmiester wrote:
I hate to hear that about Farmer. I was a huge Doc Savage fan growing up and loved Farmer's "Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life".

I'm not sure what I read first from Larry Niven but I read most everything in the 70's and 80's. One thing I haven't seen mentioned is the Magic goes away series, which I enjoyed. I seem to remember.picking up the Ringworld RPG in college.

I was looking at my boxed Ringworld rpg set just the other day. Aside from a very nice cover, it's only an average quality offering from Chaosium. They did much better work for the Cthulhu Mythos and the Elric series.
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