May 25, 2020

Review: The Man-Kzin Wars XIII Created by Larry Niven

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Galactic interspecies war has never been hotter. And one of the most enduring conflagrations in modern scifi-dom has been between humanity and the cat-like Kzinti. The Kzin were first introduced by science fiction author Larry Niven in his 1966 short story “The Warriors,” and went on to become frequent players in his Known Space stories, including his classic novel Ringworld. [Read more...]

Review: The Man-Kzin Wars Created by Larry Niven: the 25th Anniversary Edition

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I love Niven’s Known Universe saga.  I was first introduced to this hard sci-fi future world via his landmark novel, Ringworld, still one of my all-time faves.

One enduring race in the Known Universe tales is the Kzinti, an intelligent and aggressive cat-like species. The Kzinti (or Kzin) are one of the most fascinating alien races in all of science fiction. I remember eagerly picking up and reading the very first installment of The Man-Kzin Wars series as a young Airman while stationed at Misawa Air Base, Japan.

And it’s hard to believe that it has been 25 years. This week’s review is The Man-Kzin Wars: the 25th Anniversary Edition created by Larry Niven. This new edition, out from Baen Books includes a new forward by the author and an introduction by series cover illustrator Stephen Hickman. The series is one of the longest running serializations in science fiction, and has cranked out thirteen volumes thus far. Number fourteen is due out in December of this year.

Niven reminiscences that he was at first reluctant to hand over the keys to the Known Space universe, but is now glad that he did. The first volume features two short stories and one novelette; The Warriors, by Larry Niven, Iron by Poul Anderson, & Cathouse by Dean Ing.

The Warriors is the original introductory tale by Niven himself outlining the fateful first contact between Man and Kzin. This comes at a time when humans have forsaken conflict for centuries, and have virtually no weaponry. The imperial Kzinti, however, are taken aback by a key piece of our technology, which, in turn, saves our primate hides. I always love how Niven’s stories are grounded in hard science and astrophysics— he’s the Clarke of his generation. Niven himself also notes in the new intro that he “doesn’t do war stories…” Perhaps it was for the best that he allowed other writers to create a new take on the Kzinti universe.

Poul Anderson was a wise choice for Iron, a tale of humans and Kzin clashing over a lost technology. Anderson’s style is much like Niven’s, in that he can paint a convincing planet-scape. The Kzin, while aggressive, have actually co-opted much of their space-faring technology from other races, much like the alien invaders in Niven’s Footfall.

Cathouse by Dean Ing rounds out the book with a fascinating look at the often bypassed female Kzin. As unveiled in the Ringworld saga, contact and war with humanity has also forced the Kzin to evolve as well.

It’s also a small wonder that Niven’s novels (especially Ringworld) have never made it to the big screen.  Perhaps this is actually a good thing, as special effects technology is just now reaching the point where it can finally do justice to Niven’s vision. Fun-filled fact: did you know that the Kzinti were animated in the Star Trek universe of the early 1970’s?

Be sure to check out the anniversary edition of the book that started it all… expect more Man-Kzin Wars reviews on this site soon!


Review: A World Out of Time by Larry Niven.

A Hard Sci-Fi Classic!

This week, we want to take you forward in time via an often overlooked science fiction classic. In the modern era of cyber-punk and sword and sorcery that masquerades as Sci-Fi, author Larry Niven gives us tales that are still rooted in hard science. I like to think of writers of this ilk as counter-revolutionaries, or authors that meld today’s science with the sensibilities of a Clarke or an Asimov. Ringworld put him on the map, and other tales such as The Mote in God’s Eye or Footfall are like manna from heaven for those of us who like our science fiction with a splash of Sagan’s Cosmos. [Read more...]

Review: Solis by A.A. Antanasio

Every once in a while, we come across a book that sat on our shelves for years unread, only to later wonder how we could have by-passed such a gem for so long. Such a find is a book is Solis, by A.A. Attanasio the topic of this week’s retro review. Mr. Attanasio is also the author of another all-time Sci-Fi favorite of ours, Radix. Apparently, he has yet to write a bad novel, as evinced by this 80’s work of the distant future. All of Mr. Attanasio’s novels assume a sleek and sophisticated audience; rather than spoon-feed you an idea or concept, he allows the reader to piece things together.  Solis is a twist on the old Rip Van Winkle theme in Sci-Fi; this motif has a lineage way back to Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but also has its contemporaries in works such as Larry Niven’s outstanding Out of Time, which will also be a subject of review one day. Perhaps only Robert Silverberg’s Son of Man beats out Solis in its sweep and scope of social commentary.

The key protagonist and window into this future realm is Charlie Outis, a 21st century man who had his brain cryogenically frozen in the hopes that future technology could one day reanimate him. This concept isn’t entirely fiction; the Alcor Foundation out of Riverside California promises just such a hope for its customers. Of course, there is much controversy surrounding the concept, as it’s hard to quickly freeze neural tissue without any cell wall rupturing or damage, but in Solis, a future technology has found a way to reverse and repair this, albeit at extreme cost.

However, the parties responsible for Mr. Charlie’s revival turn out to have less than benign motives; instead, they install his brain as a slave controller for an asteroid harvester. Much of the motive for this and the subsequent tale stems from Mr. Charlie’s legal status; being that he was technically “dead” thousands of years prior, his standing in this twisted future technocratic society is little more than that of hardware or property.

Mr. Charlie’s disembodied brain is able to summon Munk, an android with a seemly superfluous sub-program that gives him an affinity for archaic humans, and Jumper Mei Nilli, a spacer with a thirst for adventure. The tale that unfolds on and around future Mars is one of journeying towards cognizance and what it truly means to be human. As they escape and encounter more fellow travelers of their elk, Mr. Charlie and his band must overcome a menagerie of menaces both personal and external. This lends itself towards a very Odyssean-style tale. Their goal: Solis, a mythical haven for humanism deep in the Martian desert. A parallel could also be drawn between Solis and The Wizard of Oz; each character is on an individual quest of self-fulfillment; Mr. Charlie to become human again, and Munk looking to understand human motives.

Like Radix, some of Mr. Attanasio’s wonderful prose is really allowed to shine through in Solis; you actually care about what happens to his characters, and he paints a future universe of autobots, andrones, and neo-sapiens that is totally convincing. I would even put Solis in the select realm of books that are worth re-reading, high praise in this short time span we have on planet Earth.

Read Solis and dig up an undiscovered gem by an under-appreciated author. I would love to see more adventures in the Solis universe, but Mr. Attanasio doesn’t seem to lack a new and unique backdrop for each tale he pulls out of his fertile imagination. I’d also love to see Solis make the big screen one day… are you listening, SyFy?

Note: At the time of posting this, Astroguyz will be live and underway at the STS-132 NASAtweetup… now’s a good time to hit that Follow Me button on this page as we track space shuttle Atlantis’s final mission. A full after-action post will be the topic of next Friday’s review!

Ringworld by Larry Niven

Larry Niven has a way of presenting hard science in an entertaining light. While much of Sci-Fi opted to go the way of fantasy after the 60s’, Nivens’ work carries on the traditions of Clarke and Asimov in that much of his premises are grounded in real science. Ringworld is his crowning work. Several sequels were written, but again, as with Dune and Rama, the original stands on his own. The story is one of Nivens’ first “tales of known space” stories that weaves its thread through much of his later work. Some of the first concepts of the Man-Kzin wars are also introduced here.

The central theme is the discovery of a distant Ringworld found orbiting a remote star by the Pierson’s Puppeteers while on their exodus to the Large Magellanic Cloud. A flat ribbon of a world encircling the star, it is obviously artificial in nature and a sort of scaled down version of a Dyson sphere, which entirely encapsulates its host sun, and along the lines of an Alderson disk. The cast of characters, two humans, one puppeteer, and one Kzin, are sent to investigate. They find technology that is truly stupendous but no sign of the original constructors. Orbiting shadow squares create a simulated night and day cycle, and mountains along the rim keep the atmosphere from spilling out into space. The current inhabitants seem rather primitive.
Other asides are revealed, such as the fact that the cowardly Puppeteers have been manipulating both humanity and the Kzin for specific traits, the Kzin to be more docile and humanity to be more “lucky”! The puppeteers also fear space flight and instead have opted to move their entire worlds during their migration. As with his other noteable works, The Integral Trees and Out of Time, Niven has a knack for presenting a fully fleshed out world with intriguing characters. Ringworld is a must to read when embarking on a journey through “Known Space”.