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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Scatterbrain by Larry Niven. New York: Tor, 2003. ISBN: 0765301377

Larry Niven has always been one of my very favorite science fiction authors. I am especially fond of his "Known Space" novels and short stories, which include the Ringworld trilogy and Man-Kzin Wars books (which include a number of stories by other authors set in the Niven Known Space universe), as well as such titles as World of Ptavvs (1966), Gift from Earth (1968), Neutron Star (1968), Protector (1973), Tales of Known Space (1975) and The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton (1976). Equally wonderful are The Integral Trees (1984) and its sequel, The Smoke Ring (1987). Anyone who enjoys traditional "hard" science fiction but hasn't read all of these has a real treat in store.

Along with those early works, Niven has produced numerous collaborations with the likes of Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes. Lucifer's Hammer (1977) still remains the best "act of God" story (a meteorite--or was it a comet?--strikes earth wiping out much of civilization as we know it) ever, IMHO, spawning a whole raft of recent movies, most of which I've never seen and won't even try to name. Footfall (1985), is the companion alien invasion novel, and is the best of those set in a contemporary era. Both are written using what I've always thought of as the Arthur Hailey Airport and Hotel style of storytelling. Not because he invented it, but because those were the first novels I ever read that used it.

In more recent years Niven has also published collections like this, his latest effort, which combines essays, short stories, and other miscellany that wouldn't fit into a normal scifi collection. This is the third such collection I'm aware of. The other two were N-Space (1990) and Playgrounds of the Mind (1991).

For the dedicated Niven fan, Scatterbrain would be well worth picking up just for the fact that it has a new Gil Hamilton story, "The Woman in Del Ray Crater," a new Beowulf Shaeffer story, "Procrustes," and a new Draco Tavern story, "Smut Talk." While these stories certainly stand on their own, they are probably better appreciated by someone who has read the earlier tales involving these bigger than life characters and settings.

In this book Niven also nods to current technology by including extended e-mail excerpts between himself and his collaborators, which work well to show the collaborative writing process at work. And what librarian (like myself) could resist a book with an "Epilogue" subtitled "What I Tell Librarians"? in which Niven makes HIS attempt to define science fiction: "The brightest minds in our field have been trying to find a definition of science fiction for these past seventy years. The short answer is, science fiction stories are given as possible, not necessarily here and now, but somewhere, somewhen."

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