12 February, 2011

Review - Betrayer of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward Lerner

The Known Space universe is a place I've become very impressed with recently. It is full of aliens and ideas I'd never seen before and I like it.

Larry Niven and Edward Lerner have teamed up again for a sequel to Destroyer of Worlds (2009) [US] [UK] and another prequel to Ringworld (1970) [US] [UK]. Betrayer of Worlds (2010) [US] [UK] is the fourth in this series and as far as I'm aware, also the final installment...for now. :)

Ringworld has made famous the idea of worlds circling a star, a result of Niven imagining a more efficient version of the Dyson Sphere. This idea has permutated the genre showing up in Iain M. Banks' Culture series, Alistair Reynolds' House of Suns, and even Halo (the video game).

Betrayer of Worlds begins with Nathan Graynor (a.k.a. Louis Wu), who is someone people who've read the original Ringworld will recognize. I've yet to read the original, but I did just find it at a used bookstore, so expect a review of that sometime (just don't hold your breath).

Nathan Graynor ended up on the planet Wunderland after a series of unpleasant occurrences, one of which landing him in a hospital, addicted to painkillers.

It is in these set of circumstances that Nathan/Louis is found by Nessus, a member of one of the craziest species of aliens/creatures I've probably ever encountered in my readings. They have two heads, two hearts, two mouths, and hooves. They are also prone to extreme bouts of paranoia and easily apt to catatonia under the smallest amounts of pressure or fear. They are the Puppeteers. So named by humans because of their tendency to do whatever they possibly can to reduce their paranoia - involving no small amount of scheming and conniving to get their way.

At first, I was afraid that the tendency of the Puppeteers toward paranoia would be too comical or take too much away from the story, but it really just ends up being a funny aspect that plays well into the world and plot. Really well done.

After searching, with futile results, for Louis' famous fathers (step and natural), his last option is their offspring, Louis, hoping he will have similar skills to save Nessus and the rest of the Puppeteers from possible disaster caused by the sociopathic, Achilles, who has possibly brought the Puppeteers into conflict with another alien species, the Gw'oth.

The Gw'oth are another interesting species who have developed in technology in a fraction of the time of any other advanced species, having the ability to reverse-engineer almost anything and then improving greatly thereon. The Gw'oth don't play a huge role in the story, outside of the looming threat, but they do add something I don't think I've ever seen in a naming scheme, the second apostrophe. A major player of the Gw'oth, Ol't'ro, is a 16-plex mind that is the leader of a colony planet of the Gw'oth. I really just wanted to show you his name though. :)

There's lots of good space action and only limited reference to the technology used, probably because most of it's been explained already, but I know that scares some people away. The focus is mainly on the story, the action, the "betrayals" as mentioned in the title and it's certainly entertaining.

A lot of the story revolved around the hulls of the ships, the indestructible General Products hulls, which I thought was a bit odd and I really wish the Gw'oth played a bigger part, but other than that I quite enjoyed Betrayer of Worlds and definitely need to get back to the story's roots with Ringworld and its sequels.

Why Should You Read Betrayer of Worlds?

Betrayer of Worlds gives a lot of backstory to a universe made famous by Larry Niven. It's entertaining enough in its own right, but for fans of the world/universe, it's really worth it. Betrayer of Worlds stands on its own with a fully-contained story, although it does reference plenty of earlier events, so beware of spoilers if you plan on only grabbing this one.

3.5 out of 5 stars

4 comments:

redhead said...

I read the first 2 books in this prequel series, and really enjoyed them. bizarre aliens, great chase scenes, fun scifi technology but no infodumping, it was like the good 'ole action adventure movies of my youth. I should read the rest of the books in the series!

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Definitely, lots of fun and like you said, little infodumping, which while important sometimes, is nice to avoid now and then. :)

Tom said...

Where on Earth did you get this nonsense: "So named by humans because of their tendency to do whatever they possibly can to reduce their paranoia."

I suggest you read the "Pierson's Puppeteers" entry on Wikipedia, or better yet, read "The Soft Weapon".

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

@Tom - Sorry I'm late to this comment. Almost exactly what you quoted is mentioned in the book I've reviewed...just worded a thousand times better. :) I'm just calling it how I see it.

I admit to not reading any of the original works though. I own Ringworld though and plan to get there sometime soon...ish.