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on 13 July 2007
At his best, Larry Niven is second to none in the SF field. When he gets some good, original ideas, and takes the time to crank up a solid plot and a set of convincing characters, the result is something like "World of Ptavvs", "Protector", or the epic Ringworld tetralogy. In my view, those books are hard to fault in any way if you like hard SF.

"The Draco Tavern" is something different: a confection of relatively lightweight short stories, loosely tied in to a common theme. It is eventful, sometimes provocative, and always whimsically amusing. But it never threatens to grip your intellectual or dramatic interest in anything like the same way as Niven's novels. This is partly because of the flimsiness of the underlying premise. In the near future, the Earth is visited by a race of superhuman aliens, the Chirpsithra, whose vast starships periodically bring a menagerie of intelligent beings from faraway worlds. Rick Schumann, the narrator, is the owner and chief bartender of the Draco Tavern, a bar specifically designed as a meeting-place for aliens of all kinds. That implies the ability to provide all sorts of different environments, each with its own pressure, atmosphere, and radiation levels.

Presumably the whole scenario occurred to Niven in a visual flash: a bar in which all sorts of exotic alien lifeforms rub shoulders, rather like those in the Star Wars movies. A multi-talented human bartender flits from booth to booth, carrying regular cocktails, Irish coffee, and whatever weird potions suit each species. The Chirpsithra do not eat or drink in the Tavern, preferring to administer electric shocks to themselves with a device called a sparker. The hook lies in Rick's conversations with the Chirpsithra and others, in which he learns otherwise unknowable facts and techniques. How to build an intelligent computer, the real reason why stars go nova, whether there is life after death (and if so, for whom); and, on one especially memorable occasion, what the inhabitants of Earth were like when it had a reducing atmosphere. (Some Chirpsithra are really, really old).

These stories are great fun, but there is something fundamentally insubstantial about them. The whole idea of the Draco Tavern is unlikely; would intelligent aliens who live for millions of years really want to sit in a bar and drink, exactly like primitive, short-lived humans? What would the Chirpsithra get out of talking to us? Besides, Niven hardly scratches the surface of the key question his scenario raises: what effect would alien contact have on humans and their culture? Needless to say, the whole Draco Tavern world is radically incompatible with the Known Space universe with its protectors, Puppeteers, and kzinti.

Hence the four stars instead of five. This is a good book, but not a brilliant one. It will amuse and entertain, but the Chirpsithra not linger in the mind like Protectors, Puppeteers, kzinti, or Moties. Niven has not let himself down - this is just what he likes to do in between novels, and the short story format has very definite limits.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 January 2008
This enjoyable paperback brings together in one volume all of Niven's "Alien Cantina" type stories describing conversations with aliens in the bar of the Draco Tavern.

The main warning which has to be given is that most of these stories have been previously published elsewhere. If you've previously read most of Niven's other short story collections such as "Limits" you may already have read three quarters of this book - including the short story "Limits" itself. However, the last three or four stories are new - I particularly commend "Losing Mars" which has not previously been published.

The basic premise is that in the near future star travelling aliens make contact with humans, sending shuttles down for R&R stops in Siberia. The Draco Tavern is a bar which is established for them under UN auspices and each of the stories represents a conversation with aliens in that bar.

Niven does not attempt to find a way round the lightspeed limit imposed by the theory of relativity. As in Anderson's classic "Tao Zero", or in Haldeman's "Forever War" universe but even more so, the interstellar travellers who call at the Draco Tavern universe have spent what seems like years and centuries to the rest of the universe travelling at relativistic speed, e.g. velocities close to the speed of light. Because of time dilation these travellers have hardly aged at all during those voyages.

Some of those aliens who have travelled the furthest distances were born literally hundreds of millions of years ago, so far back that their species has significantly evolved in the meantime and they can remember visiting earth millions of years before the dinosaurs.

This gives Niven's characters the opportunity to discuss issues like God, life after death, biological and artificial intelligence, from the viewpoint of sentient beings who have seen large parts of the universe over a very long period of time. His speculations are always entertaining and often thought provoking.

These stories do not have the sweep or power of Niven's "Known Space" novels or the vast panoramic works he wrote jointly with Jerry Pournelle and others. They are short stories - how could they possibly compete with the kind of detailed worldbuilding he puts into his novels? I can't help feeling that some of the other reviewers are damning this book with faint praise for being a short story collection and not a novel.

If I could give this four and a half stars I would it's perhaps not up there with the very best of Niven's writing but it is very good indeed.
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on 18 February 2006
At last, a collection of Larry Niven's Draco Tavern stories. A pub in Siberia where aliens have a drink and tell tall tales. The Chirpsithra claim to "rule" the Galaxy, rather benevolently though. The stories are all told from the point of view of Rick Schumann, owner and barman of the Draco Tavern.
The early stories have the bite of cautionary tales like his first "Tales of Known Space" short stories. In "The Schumann Computer" the frightening consequences of ultimate knowledge are explored.
The later stories sadly seem to lack that cutting edge a bit, but "Loosing Mars" does have a funny end, almost.
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on 16 July 2012
Niven's Tales of the Draco Tavern are well known among his fans, so a set seemed a good idea. But I suspect some of these are ideas that ALMOST made it, some that he felt SHOULD have made it, and TBH, one or two that really shouldn't have made it.
But it's Niven, so it's always thoughtful, always readable.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 March 2010
A fascinating, varied and deliciously strange collection of short stories. Just what you would expect from Larry Niven on the subject of human - alien interaction. The Tavern is a meeting place for alien visitors to earth but the number of humans present can usually be counted on the fingers of one hand (assuming your species has fingers or hands). The ever-present, worldly wise bar owner, Rick Shumann, acts as fixer for problems of an intergalactic nature. Written between 1977 and 2006, some of the stories are remarkably topical, all of them are vivid, visual and reliably entertaining.

Psychology, philosophy and linguistics collide in a spectacular series of misconceptions, misapprehensions and very near misses in terms of interspecies relations. This is a thought-provoking, imaginative and mind-expanding collection of tales that will bear repeated reading and enjoyment.
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This collection of 27 short stories by Larry Niven is perfect to tuck in the bottom of your computer bag and read while you are waiting for something else to happen. Because the stories are short, straightforward and set in a comfortable and familiar--for Niven fans--setting, you can pop in and out of the book without effort or irritation. For this kind of readability it is nostalgically similar to Isaac Asimov's collections, such as 50 Short Science Fiction Tales and 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories.

Enough about the format--the content is good, too. A series of interesting bar discussions happen in the Draco Tavern. Because the bar is next to Earth's one alien spaceport, it is constantly full of off-planet visitors, consuming exotic drinks and puzzling over the oddities of human culture. Bartender Rick Schumann offers helpful explanations, mediates disputes and cashes in on the occasional million-dollar idea. Readers profit as well, from Larry Niven's fascinating walk-on cast of alien species and his inexhaustible supply of "big ideas."

This book was a 2008 Christmas present from my 13 year-old daughter, Katie, who spent a week's allowance on it for me. It made my Christmas day, as I was able to pop in and out of it while opening presents, cooking Christmas dinner and juggling friendly interruptions from family and friends. Thanks, Katie--a great choice!
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