Book Review: Rainbow Mars by Larry Niven (1999)

This book extends the world created in Niven’s “The Flight of the Horse”. The book comprises the short stories, “The Flight of the Horse”, “Leviathan!”, “A Bird in the Hand”, and others, as well as a new novella “Rainbow Mars”.

The short stories were published independently between 1969 and 1973, so they’re designed for independence and are farily self-contained. They describe enough of the world in which the stories are set that the reader can pick up what he or she needs to know as he or she needs to know it. In a slightly dystopian future, the UN rules the world and the position of Secretary-General is an inherited position, inherited by idiots. The sceintific arms of the UN compete in bureaucratic battles for budget, and the time travellers need to keep the current Secretary-General amused with their procurement of extinct animals. They try, but often they fail with results that we in their past will find amusing.

The longer work “Rainbow Mars”, coming almost thirty years later, builds upon these earlier stories. A new Secretary General is more interested in astronomy than extinct animals, and the time travellers have to find a way to keep themselves relevant–and they do. They need to bring an extinct Martian from the past.

Larry Niven demonstrates that he’s got a great talent for weaving myths, traditional stories, and classic science fiction stories into a narrative that pays homage to many (too many perhaps). Unfortunately, the people who put this book together put it together in the wrong order. “Rainbow Mars” should not lead off the book; it should follow those that came before it to provide context; although I had read the short stories earlier, I could have used the refresher. I guess the people who put the book together wanted to realy differentiate this volume from Flight of the Horse and Other Stories. They didn’t do us readers any favors, though.

So although I’d recommend the book for the Niven fans amongst us, I’d recommend you not read it in the order in which the publisher presents it. Read the short stories, and then the novel. Especially if you can score this book for two bucks like I did.