Destroyer of Worlds, by Larry Niven
Posted October 17, 2010on:
Larry Niven’s lastest Known Worlds novel is fun, fast, and full of the remarkable aliens his fans have loved for years. Niven has always been known for his wonderfully freakishly alien aliens, and Destroyer of Worlds gives readers the opportunity to intimately know a new bizarre alien race. For readers new to Niven’s Known Worlds series, I suggest starting at Fleet of Worlds, the first book in this mini series, and you can go from there. And if you’ve ever read Niven’s classic SF novel Ringworld, it’s not deja vu, this is a prequel series.
We start off right where we ended in Juggler of Worlds – The planet New Terra is supposedly “free”, but their former Puppeteer masters don’t trust them, don’t want to help them, and still treat them like expendable servants. It is a precarious relationship indeed, as the overly cautious Puppeteers rely on the humans curious nature and the humans rely on the Puppeteers advanced technology.
As we saw in Fleet of Worlds and Juggler of Worlds, the supernova explosion at the center of the galaxy is spreading its waves of radiation, killing and sterilizing everything in its path. The humans and Puppeteers alike will need each others help to escape it and find new worlds to colonize. The radiation wave is moving fast, near light speed travel is faster, but the galaxy is bigger than you can imagine, and it still takes a long time to get anywhere. It may be generations until the wave reaches where the Fleet is right now, but Puppeteers have always been long term thinkers.
In the human scout ship Don Quixote, Kirsten has finally gotten a message from the one-way relay she left in the G’woth system. The G’woth are an ocean dwelling race reminiscent of starfish. They “compute” by forming group minds. Their message begs for help, giving the humans and puppeteers the option to help the little critters, or let them die. Everyone knows about the massive supernova explosion at the center of the galaxy, and the G’woth may yet escape it, but there is something else, something even worse than the radiation that is rushing towards the G’woth, and ultimately the Fleet.
Meanwhile, living, warring, and breeding near the galactic core are the Pak, a race distantly related to humans. Adult Pak have the option to evolve and turn into Protectors of the race. The Protectors do exactly that – they kill and destroy anything they feel is a threat to their clans. What the G’woth have detected is a massive fleet of warring Pak ships fleeing their home system, directly towards the G’woth homeworld and straight into the path of the Fleet of Worlds. Suddenly it is the most important thing in the world for the humans to communicate with the G’woth, but how much technology will they share? How much technology will the Puppeteers allow them to share?
Within the Pak fleet, a damaged ship has been forced to crash land on a primitive planet. Desperate to escape and return to his clan, protector Thssthfok sets himself up as an angry God over the indigenous bat-like residents. He slowly feeds them technological advances, in the hopes they will be able to build him a ramscoop spaceship before the radiation wave arrives.
Through all of this Sigmund and Kirsten are constantly quizzing Don Quixote’s AI Jeeves for information about the location of earth. So many records were destroyed to keep the location secret and the homeworld safe. When they discover a stasis box showing signs of Sol System, everyone guesses at what might be inside, and when they open it, even I was surprised.
Sigmund is one of my favorite Niven characters – old fashioned (and for good reason), paranoid, curious, and aware, he is the accidental hero of this novel. New Terra born humans would never think to keep secrets from the Puppeteers, but Sigmund wasn’t born anywhere near the Fleet, and is loyal only to humanity.
The plot sounds complicated, and at times I had to remind myself who was where and on what ship, but Niven does a great job of packing a lot of information into a small amount of pages without the use of infodumps, and without sacrificing too much detail. That’s a great thing about this particular mini-series, each book focuses on something different – a specific alien race, the plight of the humans, or pure action to save everyone.
Destroyer of Worlds has great descriptions of alien races and their cultures, excellent technologies, but not as much in the way of character development, which won’t be much of a surprise to Niven fans. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great writer, just character development has never been his strong point. Characters in the Worlds series do not experience coming of age transformations or ethical quandaries. The humans mostly have military backgrounds, so they pretty much just do their jobs and try not to get killed.
If you enjoy space operas, science fiction action, action or first contact stories, you will certainly enjoy the Worlds series. Niven’s Ringworld is a classic that inspired much of what we think of as standard SF tropes, I’m happy he’s sharing some new stories of where it all began.