Larry Niven's first collection of book excerpts, short stories and essays is full of Big Ideas, interesting aliens, and scientific puzzles disguised in story form. There are also excerpts from his book-length fiction and thought-provoking essays on writing, science and technology. It was difficult to pick a small set of favorite pieces. Here are four very, very good selections from the thirty-one chapters:
"Down in Flames" is a paranoid's paradise. It is not a story, but a set of notes for a book that was never written. Fueled by late-night discussions with fellow authors and friends, Niven outlines how almost everything in his Known Space stories could be deception and illusion. Whole species are not who they seem and many important events never really happened. Its scope is staggering.
"Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" is perhaps Niven's most famous nonfiction offering. He speculates in some indelicate detail about the problems presented by physical intimacy, pregnancy and parenthood in the relationship between Lois Lane and Superman. He thinks it through with an engineer's attention to detail and entertains readers with deadpan delivery. It is spot-on hilarious.
"Inconstant Moon" paces through the long, sleepless night after its protagonist figures out the puzzle of the evening sky's too-bright moon. One of his very best tales, it is not connected to Niven's Known Space, nor to any of his other sets of related stories.
"Night on Mispec Moor" is loosely connected to Known Space. It is fundamentally a vampire story rewritten onto a future alien landscape, with plausible biological explanations for the nightstalkers and the potions that keep them at bay. As in many vampire tales, we wonder if our hero will make it through the night.
The collection is recommended to serious science fiction readers as well and to those just looking for good stories. Satisfied readers can proceed to Niven's second book of stories, essays and excerpts, Playgrounds of the Mind
. With forty-nine chapters, it contains even more of the same good stuff--and is really "Volume Two" of this book. I'd buy them both before beginning to read.