01/02/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: TOR/Forge. 299 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.99 (US), $16.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2948-6.
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
‘Fleet Of Worlds’ by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner is the start of the Known Space sequence of four novels involving the planetary fleet of the Puppeteers as they flee the galactic catastrophe at the centre of the galaxy. Although it will take many millennia to reach their current position, the Puppeteers lives are motivated by fear and so they started early. I’ve reviewed the middle two books of this series and in some respects they can be read as standalones. Reading the first book, it is now easier to understand the animosity between the Puppeteers and the human colonists.
To themselves, the Puppeteers own name for themselves are the Citizens. The terrain name for them being derived from their two headed appearance that makes them look like…well…some sort of alien glove puppet to the man who first met them. After all, they have three legs and an often decorated mane, depending on how their status is, between their heads and shoulders. The principle Citizen for this story is Neesus. By their standards, Neesus is insane because he can do the occasional things against his nature.
Chief amongst these is leading a Colonist crew of three as they explore the odd passing moon or planet. The Colonists are actually humans. In some respects, this might be regarded as spoiler territory but as this book came out in 2007, some of this is common knowledge now. The Citizens ‘rescued’ a derelict spacecraft containing an embryo bank and raised a colony of tame humans and livestock. They kept secret the human origins and this story is about how they discovered that and what they did next. Any more of the plot, you’ll have to read for yourself.
The story is set two hundred years before the ‘Ringworld’ novel so you aren’t likely to encounter any characters from that time period, even with the kind of longevity boosterspice provided. Saying that, considering that Neesus appears then as well should give you some idea of how long the Citizens can live.
If you’re a fan of the ‘Known Space’ reality, then this book will give some insight into their culture even if the authors replace human appendage reference with tongue or lips for the Citizens. About the only thing I was disappointed with was them calling star systems ‘solar systems’ which they should have known better about as Sol is the name given to Earth’s sun.
The Citizens see other species, regardless of sentience, as being livestock to be manipulated and there’s a certain amount of irony in that they really are puppeteers themselves only humans are often seen as the puppets. An odd side-effect of this is that they see other species in relation to how they treat themselves and tend to look a little bit odd because of that. Considering that humans have done genetic manipulation to other species on their home planet, seeing this from an alien perspective puts things on a different hoof. This, shall we say, more alien approach to things has made the Citizens one of the most finely realised species in Science Fiction and always worthy of your attention.
In many respects, the humans here are almost secondary characters and don’t really stand out as much as they should. I make this observation only as a parallel to Larry Niven’s other characters, like Beowulf Shaeffer, Louis Wu and the Kzin, Speaker-To-Animals, who are better realised but that’s a mote point. I suspect the smaller page count compared to the ‘Ringworld’ sequence contributes to the feeling of lightness so you shouldn’t have any expectations in that respect.
If you own the earlier or should I say future stories of ‘Known Space’ then this four book run will at least fill you in a bit more on the history that led up to it. Now, if someone can direct me to where I can buy a General Products spaceship, I’ll be on my way.
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