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Fate of Worlds: Return from the Ringworld

February 25th, 2013 by jimm wetherbee in Reading EKScursions

Fate of Worlds: Return from the Ringworld by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner (TOR 2012)

A common complaint about Niven’s recent offerings has been that they fall short of their illustrious predecessors from forty years ago or so. Let us concede from the start that Fate of Worlds is not the ground-breaking work that Ringworld or Protector were. However, anyone else should agree that few otherwise excellent instances of science fiction can match the audacity of a world that is the equatorial section of a Dyson Sphere or an extraterrestrial species, such as the Pak, that could conform with and at the same time work against our understanding of human evolution or our place in the universe. What Niven and Lerner have done is fill in yet more details and extended the history of Known Space. Fate of Worlds is for those of us who care about the Humans and Puppeteers we have meet in the past as much as the science around them.

Fate of Worlds follows Ringworld’s Children, so the Ringworld has moved itself—against all known physics—into hyperspace to parts unknown. The Human, Luis Wu, and the Puppeteer, Baedeker, have escaped aboard the Longshot, itself a ship that defies what is understood about hyperspace. The disappearance of the Ringworld has more or less shifted the previous interstellar Fringe War to the Puppeteers’ Fleet of Worlds, to Hearth itself. Hearth is in more danger than it knows. Known to very few of the trillion or so Citizens of Hearth, their worlds are not their own. As previously related, the megalomaniac puppeteer Apollo had betrayed Hearth to the Gw’oth. The Gw’oth vaguely resemble octopi and individually are no more intelligent than Puppeteers but are capable of joining in a single group mind. Unknown to everyone is that Apollo’s attempts to regain power not only heightens tensions with rival species but is creating an intelligence that would rival the Gw’oth and has only instrumental use for Hearth. Perhaps the only redeeming feature of this intelligence is that it has the good taste to steal one the most quoted lines from a certain iconic science fiction movie of 1968.

Into the mix are drawn the citizen of New Terra (formally a human colony enslaved on what had be Nature Preserve Four of the Fleet of Worlds) whose leaders would just assume remain anonymous, even from Earth. Here we are reintroduced to Sigmund Ausfaller, Alice Jordan, and the Puppeteer Nessus.

If one can suspend belief for a moment and accept both hyperdrive and that intelligent beings would travel across the galaxy with a technology they don’t understand and which their creators don’t use, the science is solid. This isn’t a space opera, but the science doesn’t take center stage. Through all the various plot twists, one really does come to care about the characters. One rejoices in reunions, is left in dumbfounded grief at sudden loss, and cheers at small victories (one involving a shipload of manure). One even starts to have a greater affinity for the Puppeteers than the Humans (which may be saying something, given that they are cowardly, two-headed herbivores).

In the end Niven and Lerner tie things together nicely and convincingly. Things seem pretty well settled, save for the loose end only the reader knows anything about. So, if you want to go where no science fiction has taken you before, look elsewhere. However, if you are after a satisfying addition to a series you may have come to both love and loath, by all means include Fate of Worlds.