The relentless exploitation of the known universe series continues. In this technically competent and pacey narrative Niven and his henchman Lerner expand the story of the New Terrans and bring in a replacement character for the now damaged Sigmund Ausfaller. After the events of the last volume Ausfaller is not quite the man he once was and cannot be trusted by Nessus to act as an appropriate scout for the Puppeteers. Enter one of the best characters to ever have his back-story over expanded, Louis Wu.
I won't spoil the plot but needless to say this unfolding narrative mess takes place well before we meet Louis again in Ringworld and takes some of the throw-away hints of his life and expands them to the nth degree to provide an entry point into the story. So we meet Louis in disguise as a drug addled mercenary on Wunderland and in dire need of a deus ex machina aid. Enter Nessus and the plot, such as it is, swings into action. After a few pages though the ghost of old EE "Doc" Smith settled onto my shoulder and the hoary old tropes of 1930s space opera descended upon me. Boarding space craft after nuking them? Check! Convoluted booby traps and plot twists? Check! Ham fisted political shenanigans? Check! The lists goes on and on and whilst this is a readable book, in fact I finished it in a single setting, it has just booted more of the heart out of the Known Universe and made it a less magical place. Frankly Larry my own eight year old imagination filled in the gaps around Louis Wu a damn sight better than this book or any of this series has.
But of course you can safely ignore this review, because I, like so many other sci-fi readers of a certain age will buy anything with "Larry Niven" in the author bar on reflex. But please, for the sake of our memories and the sake of your own reputation. Stop now.