May 25, 2020

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!


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”.