Review by John for: Fleet of Worlds ~ by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner; 2007 (Trade paperback edition – 2011)
Another ambitious and excellent galaxy-spanning novel from Niven and Lerner – one of the prequels to the award-winning “Ringworld”.
About: Fearing the consequences of a supernova chain reaction at the core of the galaxy, the Citizen race (better known as Puppeteers) are fleeing, taking their home planet with them. Not only are they taking their home world on a voyage across the galaxy, but in order to feed the teeming masses of Puppeteers they are taking five agricultural planets with them – forming the Fleet of Worlds.
One of the agricultural planets is home to a colony of humans who gratefully serve the gentle Puppeteers, believing that they saved the humans from a dying starship several hundreds of years previously. In exchange for protection and nurturing, the humans are in effect slaves – though they have never known a different life and the concept of slavery has no meaning to them.
While the Puppeteers are highly developed with access to amazingly advanced technologies, they are essentially all cowards who will do anything to avoid risks. So they use the best and brightest of the humans as scouts to seek out any dangers that the Fleet of Worlds might encounter. But the Puppeteers’ reactions to a new alien race they encounter make the human scouts question the benevolence of their masters. They also start to question where humans came from originally and wonder why there is absolutely no data available about their history prior to the discovery of the doomed starship. What might the Puppeteers be hiding and why?
As the humans strive to uncover a hidden past, political tensions and personal ambitions are in danger of dividing the Citizen race.
John’s Thoughts: A long time ago during my student years I read Ringworld, a tremendous book which deserved the many accolades that it garnered. Last year I got around to reading Betrayer of Worlds (link to 2010 review), which was one of a series of four Ringworld prequel novels written by Niven and Lerner from 2007 to 2010. That too was a great read so we jumped at the opportunity of getting our hands on this first trade paperback edition of Fleet of Worlds.
Chronologically speaking, I’m reading these totally back to front, but each one is a standalone novel with a proper start and a proper end, so what the heck. As with the other two books, I totally enjoyed this read. Niven (and Lerner) spin great stories that have complex plots, intrigue, strong characters, a creative foundation of believable technology and really well constructed worlds and races. They clearly give a lot of thought to the alien races that they create, and the attention to detail adds a lot to the stories.
If anything, I enjoyed this book more than Betrayer of Worlds. With “Betrayer” and other Niven books that I’ve read, there tends to be a long cast of characters and in order to stay on top of the plot I found myself referring back to the cast list a lot and having to reread sections of the story - the complexity was both a strength and a source of difficulty. This time around the cast was a lot shorter and the story somewhat more straightforward – still meaty enough to be interesting and thought-provoking, but easier to read.
I’d rate this book 4 stars. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys hard science fiction; I’m sure it won’t disappoint. For anyone who hasn’t got into science fiction but is tempted to give the genre a go, this might be a nice place to start.
For more information on this book link to our incoming books post and/or check out Macmillan/Tor’s page for the book. http://us.macmillan.com/Book.aspx?isbn=9780765318251
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Have a great Thursday.