BOOK REVIEW: “Betrayer of Worlds” by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner (2010)

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Seeing as I’m poor, I only buy new books in paperback, which involves some waiting. This book came out in 2010, I couldn’t afford it until 2011, and you’re finally getting my review in late 2012. I’m backlogged. Sorry.

Anyway, so I got in the routine of going to Books-a-Million (“Your Home For Scented Candles, Calendars, Book Lights, Magazines, Comics, and Craft Supplies, but no books!”) with my kids and perusing the SF aisle on my knees (Because “N” is very close to the middle of the alphabet, hence low on the shelves), sighing heavily, lumbering up off my knees, and leaving. Around trip number twenty or so, I got on my knees while looking at Republiboy and not at the shelves, and I sighed, and I said, “You know, I think I’m getting a little burned out on Known Space.”

“Who are you, and what have you done with my father.”

“Killed him and ate him. Bwa-ha-ha-ah-ha! But seriously, I still like it and all, but, I dunno, I just think I’ve done it too much.”

“First Doctor Who, now this.”

“I know, right? It’s weird. It’s like I’m dying or something. I sorta’ find myself wishing that the book would come out so I could get it, review it, and then be done with it for a few years, until I start to feel nostalgic for it. I need some time off.” After a good Kif-from-Futurama sigh, I turned to look at the shelves, and coincidentally - I’m not making this up - right in front of me was the paperback. It had just come out that week, to my surprise. I laughed.

“What?” Republiboy said. I showed him the book.

“Speak of the apathetic devil,” he said. He’s clever, that one.

Anyway: I mention all this by way of introducing the concept that I may be the wrong guy at the wrong time to review this book.

This is the fourth and final book in the “Fleet of Worlds” series. The first book, “Fleet of Worlds,” I loved http://www.republibot.com/content/science-fiction-book-review-2-%E2%80%9...
The second book I pretty much couldn’t care less about
http://www.republibot.com/content/book-review-%E2%80%9Cjuggler-worlds%E2...
The third book was better than the second, but nowhere as good as the first
http://www.republibot.com/content/book-review-%E2%80%9Cdestroyer-worlds%...

Well, if you want the quick-and-efficient review, here it is: This book is exactly as good as the third book in the series. It’s not as good as the first, not as bad as the second.

In more detail:

The story starts out with Luis Wu, hero of the “Ringworld” novels, living on Wunderland, involved in a civil war, and addicted to drugs. Nessus shows up, kidnaps him, and agrees to pay him handsomely and cure his addictions *if* Luis will lead him to Beowulf Schaefer. Not only does Luis not know where his family is, he doesn’t even know his real name. He’d grown up on the planet “Home” undercover. Eventually it starts coming back to him. Nessus basically takes Luis along because he’s got 384 pages to kill, and what else is he going to do? Maybe he’ll turn out to be useful.

On New Terra, Luis falls in love with Alice, the somewhat randomly introduced female character from the previous book. She was in the “Protector” novel in 1973 and….yeah. Now might be a good time to mention that these “Of Worlds” books are not *at all* standalones. They’re self-contained, but you really need a working knowledge of Known Space, or some really good Cliff Notes to follow a lot of this. And since they don’t make Cliff Notes for KS, that means you’ve got a lot of reading to do, my friend.

Anyway, “Alice” and Luis fall in love while embroiled in an ongoing power struggle between Baedecker, Nessus, and the always-tedious Achilles. On top of this we’ve got another power struggle between the traditional Gw’oth in their home system, and the radical rebel Gw’oth who’ve formed a breakaway colony. Seeing as the Gw’oth home system is behind the Fleet of Worlds, and the rebel Gw’oth are ahead of it, the very real possibility of being caught in the crossfire should a war erupt. Of course a war is erupting. War is always erupting. The naturally panicky Puppeteers are panicking. Naturally.

I can’t tell you how this all comes out, of course, but it’s fairly clever and fairly entertaining and the book is worth a read, even if it never really blew the doors off me.

OBSERVATIONS

Ostensibly, this is the last book in the “Fleet Of Worlds” series, and it feels slightly detached from them. Some have complained that it feels more like a prolog to the “Ringworld” series, but I think it feels a bit too detached from that. It’s definitely an intermezzo, half-way between both series. To be honest, the fleet story was kind of a trilogy, even if it was a raggedy-ended one. Though this installment picks up some of the threads and runs with them, it still mostly stands apart from the series tonally.

The Pak character from the previous book was last seen drifting through space in stasis, full of knowledge that would be very, very dangerous if he ever made it back to his own people. We get no payoff for that cliffhanger here. Though Achilles has some dangerous interactions with the Pak in the first part of the novel, the Pak War is over, and that has no real repercussions here.

At one point, Luis is introduced to Twing, the Ringworld hull metal. He gets all excited because “Something strong and lightweight enough for a tether stretching to Geosynch was the roadblock to building space elevators.” But wait: in “Fly by Night,” in which Beyowulf and Luis come to planet “Home,” we’re told they use a space elevator to get up and down from the surface. That story takes place *before* this one.

The Gw’oth were set up as a major - and dangerous - player in the galaxy at the end of the last book. Smart as - potentially smarter than - the Pak, a new force to be reckoned with, and it’s not entirely clear if they’re good guys or bad. In “Betrayer,” here we are about a century later, and they’ve only got *one* dinky little colony? And apart from some trade, they really haven’t played any part in Fleet or New Terran life. This seems odd.

The romance between Luis and Alice is both forced and padded. There’s an entire chapter in which Luis simply gets out of bed, stares at her for a bit, and then gets back into bed. I can forgive the fact that there’s no Teela Brown sizzle here, no whiplash of the heart, but he’s allegedly really madly truly deeply in love with this girl, and I never really buy it.

As with the previous books in the series, the protagonist is different from the previous book, , and the protagonist of the previous book merely makes supporting appearances.

Luis’ memory wipe at the end is just frustrating. There’s no getting around that. Even though they tell you at the start of the book “We’re going to cheat” that in no way lessens the nature of the cheat when it finally happens.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS?

So what happened to Beyowulf and Carlos and their bride and Luis’ Sister?

What about the Pak from the previous book?

What about Alice and Luis’ kid?

In this, his “First” appearance, have we seen the last of Luis Wu? Sequentially, after this comes one short story and the four “Ringworld” novels. Will there be something set after that? Will he get his memory back? Find his lost lady love (Now several hundred years old?), or meet his kid? Will any of the events from this book pay off in the future?

Now that Revolution, The Pak War, and Near-Speciecide are out of the way, what’s next for New Terra? Does the rest of humanity ever find out about them? Is all this stuff resolved prior to “The Thousand Worlds” period?

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS BOOK?

The stuff with the polyandrous Wu/Schaefer family is a bit icky as always, but it’s mostly offscreen. Apart from that, there’s really nothing here anyone would have a problem with.

And that’s about it, folks. This is not a bad book. It is precisely as good as the previous one, which is worth reading even if it doesn’t sing and dance. I know this isn’t my most entertaining or insightful review. I’m sorry not to be more engaged and engaging. Though it’s not the fault of either author, I find myself strangely burned out on Known Space, and I’m not sure why. I think I’ll take a few years off.

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