1/01/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: TOR/Forge. 365 page hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $32.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-765-2205-0.
check out websites: www.tor-forge.com, www.larryniven.organd www.sfwa.org/members/lerner
'Destroyer Of Worlds' actually sums up the plot of Larry Niven and Edward Lerner's latest novel set in the Known Space reality. The alien Puppeteers quadset of planets are fleeing the galaxy, a millennia ahead of its destruction. The Puppeteers are, if anything, cautious and cowardly. Sigmund Ausfaller and his crew on board the Don Quixote have picked up a team of Gw'oth, an aqua species that the Puppeteers want to discover how much of a threat could be as they replaced a destroyed satellite very quickly. On the way back, they encounter a spaceship containing the Pak, Thssthfok, and that he's only an advance scout and that his people are following and likely to catch up, killing anything in their path. If you're familiar with Larry Niven's novel 'Pak' then you know these are the next stage after Man or breeders, providing they eat tree-of-life which transforms them into something resembling a beaked arthritic-sized jointed sexless being. They are also extremely strong, fast, intelligent and asexual. While they have to stop the Pak from escaping, they have to work out how to stop the threat of his people with limited resources and diplomatic options unavailable because the Pak will always renege on them.
Working out where one author stops and the other takes over in this novel is difficult, especially if there is any blame to be passed. The Science Fiction based dilemmas are always fun to watch being solved and the prose is solid. Thssthfok is a formidable prisoner and he's kept that way only by the occasionally second thinking. It just seems to me that the emotional content is a bit squiffy when you need to consider the stakes involved. If you're going to care for people then you need not only to put them in danger but express the impact when some are hurt or killed. If it's glossed over by the writers then it tends also to be glossed over by the reader which reduces how much you care about the characters. If anything, the story is carried out on a pattern of how things work in real-time that although the Pak are far behind them, there is still time for Ausfaller to spend some time with his family before doing anything. Stories invariably shorten such time lapses so you don't miss them but it can downplay the menace. Other than Thssthfok, you don't really see the Pak problem close up so it ends up downplaying the menace.
That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the book, just that it isn't a masterpiece. However, Known Space readers do need a fix of the reality from time to time so this has something to offer.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA