Book Report: N-Space by Larry Niven (1990)

I bought this book last summer for $4.95 because I didn’t think I was getting enough science fiction in my diet and because I think Ringworld was one of the best science fiction novels I’ve read (and Lucifer’s Hammer/Footfall wasn’t a bad novel, either). So I felt safe buying a collection of Larry Niven short stories. So comfortable, I bought the follow-up collection, Playgrounds of the Mind, at the same time. At $10 for the pair, it was like a penny a page.

The book begins with an introduction by Tom Clancy, who was quite the hot writer at the time. The book collects not only short stories, but also: novel excerpts (which I skipped); introductions to the short stories that provided insight into the science fiction writer’s life of conventions, collabaration, and research; and nonfiction detritus including reminisces about colloquia and assorted musings. In short, it’s a book I’d like to collect someday.

Unfortunately, I found the collection long and daunting. The nonfiction bits really didn’t add much to the stories, and since I bought the book because I am a fan of Larry Niven’s writing and not Larry Niven, I thought they watered the pieces down quite a bit. Some of the stories run fairly long, too, so it wasn’t like a normal collection of stories which allow for quick bits of reading in short time frames. Granted, that flaw simply fits into what I was looking for and is not inherent within the book.

It’s a good enough collection, with evocative, imaginitive riffs with enough hard science to back them up. But I won’t read Playgrounds of the Mind immediately.

One interesting note about the colloquium I mentioned above: it took place in 1980-1981, and it involved a number of scientists, space-thinkers, and science fiction writers putting together a policy paper to submit to the Reagan administration. 1980. The Shuttle program was coming online, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica (okay, BSG1980, which never happened as far as I am concerned) were just going off the air, and man had walked on the moon less than ten years before. It pains me how little we’ve progressed since then, and if I could go back in time to tell them how little the space program and space exploration would progress in the next quarter century, they would probably think I was an agent of an increasingly desperate Soviet Union determined to sap their morale.

Where has that societal optimism gone?