Book Report: Playgrounds of the Mind by Larry Niven (1991)

Wow, it’s been almost three years since I read N-Space, the collection to which this book is billed the sequel. How do you get a sequel to a collection of short stories, snippets, and novel excerpts? Beats me, I am not a marketing flack for a publisher.

Like that book, I didn’t care for this book too much. For starters, it pads the nearly 500 pages with excerpts and scenes from novels (a disturbing number of which I have already read). It offers a number from his Warlock series, which I haven’t read and might have to look into. Other than that, it dabbles mostly in the Known Space arena.

It did, however, allow me to put my finger on one of Niven’s flaws: his books are best when the science isn’t actually a freaking character within it, particularly the one that speaks most. The later Ringworld novels fell into this trap, as did one of the stories in this book (“The Borderland of Sol”) whose only purpose was for Niven to noodle about the conceit of a quantum blackhole. The narrator is a space adventurer who follows along with Carlos Wu, father of Ringworld‘s Louis Wu, as they uncover a scientist engaged in piracy. The bulk of the story is Wu knowing the science of what’s going on and not spilling it until they’re in the pirate’s lair, where the pirate scientist gives a lecture on quantum black holes.

The nonfiction bits talk about how much Niven likes to deal with the hard sciences and that, in one of the many science fiction convention memories he treats us to, he and a group of artists and writers got a conference room set aside so they could create a world, including the topography, the aliens on it, and their culture. They worked in the room for the whole convention, and that was it: people putting together a world. Niven was surprised that more fans didn’t stop by to see this riveting action as artists created the images, writers wrote up the prose, and everyone brainstormed without a freaking story.

Niven, apparently, lives for this stuff, but readers don’t necessarily. Ergo, this book is okay for real Niven fans, but casual science fiction fans should probably stick to the real novels or the real collections.

Books mentioned in this review:


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