Rainbow Mars by Larry Niven
(Tor, $24.95, 316 pages, hardback; short novel (224 pages) plus five reprint stories; published 1999. Nice Bob Eggleston cover.)
Rating: "A-". Light, fast-paced and fun -- a must-read for Niven fans.
Way back in the sixties, Niven started a series of humorous time-travel stories: Svetz the hero-klutz is sent back from the 31st Century to capture extinct animals, but he never quite finds the "right" beastie.... I remembered these as throwaways, but they've aged well. Rainbow Mars is a novel-length sequel, so you'd be well-advised to thumb over to the reprints first, to properly set the stage for the main event....
Which involves -- hmm, how to say this without spoiling the fun -- a very fast-paced visit to a Martian past that's an amalgam of (and homage to) Burroughs, Wells, Bradbury, Heinlein... -- with Integral Tree-style beanstalks thrown in as an illustration of Being Careful of what you wish for. Not to mention a Princess of Mars, and how she learned to surf. And sex in a hot-tub. And enough insider jokes and references to challenge the memory of the best-read fan. And yet another sfnal heroine named Miya=Maya. "This is my take on Mars, and Yggdrasil, and (God help me) the space program" -- done up in a delicious hard-fantasy souffle. Bon appetit!
Niven's pretty near the top of his form here -- he obviously had great fun writing this. I liked the "mature" tone of Destiny's Road (reviewed elsewhere in infinity plus) -- but (to quote Dave Barry), "what I look forward to, is continued immaturity followed by death." Maybe "young Larry" is writing more good old new stuff? Lots more? Hope, hope....
Rainbow Mars is getting mixed reviews; recursive-sf humor clearly isn't to everyone's taste. If you haven't liked previous light Niven -- Svetz, Warlock, Fallen Angels -- this may not be for you. Rainbow Mars may not win him many new converts, but Niven trufans -- and readers who like a tall tale well-told -- will be well-pleased.
Niven mentions in his afterword that "Svetz & the Beanstalk" (the working title) got its start as a collaboration with Terry Pratchett (! -- the mind boggles). That didn't work out, but Pratchett may have a Discworld beanstalk in the works?!? (over to you, Pratchett insiders...)
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© Peter D Tillman 19 June 1999