Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Fleet of Worlds

Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner co-wrote Fleet of Worlds, a new novel in Niven's Known Space series. The book is a finalist for the Prometheus Award (voting is going on right now; the award will be presented at the Denver WorldCon in August.) According to Wikipedia, the book follows shortly after the events of the short story "At the Core".

The book's setting and some characters will seem familiar to people who have read most of Niven's earlier Known Space stories. The story line involves humans and Puppeteers. The focal characters are a group of humans descended from travellers on a ship captured long ago by the Puppeteers, and kept isolated from their history and the rest of humanity. Nessus (a character who appears in a few other Known Space stories) is leading a team of humans to explore the future path of the Puppeteers' fleet of worlds and ensure there are no dangers there. Thus, these captive humans end up with an unusual degree of freedom and access to historical information normally hidden from their society. They ferret out the truth about their history, and engineer a rebellion against the Puppeteers.

The libertarian appeal is obvious—rebellion against authority—but it's muted here since the rebellion seems to start and end with the focal characters. Their compatriots who have been left behind during the voyage of exploration don't learn the truth until the explorers have planned out how they will gain their release from the Puppeteers. There are barely hints of any dissatisfaction with their lives; the Puppeteers have done a good job of keeping their history hidden, and isolating them from any knowledge of the location of the rest of humanity. Once they find out, it's obvious that they want to return, and the Puppeteers quickly acquiesce, reasoning that they're better off without troublesome humans around, now that they realize that they're captives and not guests.

The story is reasonably well told, has interesting twists and surprises, and contains many likable characters. In addition, we learn a lot about the Puppeteers (procreation, home world, how General Products Hulls work, government, etc.) It's a reasonably fun story, but without much libertarian interest.

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